Friday was yet another day when I wished Obama could be locked up in a room alone with Chris Matthews. In my imagination—and I bet in Chris’s, too—the host of Hardball would yell in Obama’s ears until he really was “fired up,” as he still likes to say he is, and ready to fight for something real.
Before Obama’s press conference and the Republicans’ willful misinterpretation of his clumsy remark that “the private sector is doing fine”—he meant, of course, compared to the devastated public sector—Matthews was on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. passionately urging Obama to turn his and the country’s prospects around with a big-spending infrastructure program.
Matthews was on fire—admittedly not hard for a man whose normal temperature is just short of kindling. Too often dismissed as an overexcitable, unintentionally comical pundit, Matthews has been arguing for months now that Obama needs to go “big and bold.” He thinks the president should brag about his accomplishments, talk more like Bill Clinton, and send out more and better surrogates, because he seems eerily alone out there. Coaching Obama on how to market both his presidency and Keynesian economics itself, Matthews practically barked at him to go all Harry Truman–meets–Paul Krugman and rail against the Do Nothing Congress.
"He’s got to be aggressive. He’s got to be big time,” Matthews said. “Stop this nickel and dime, ‘a couple bucks for the teachers, a couple bucks for the firefighters. I’m going to reduce the payroll tax.’ This is piss-ant. You can’t get re-elected with tactics. He needs a strategy. Which is, ‘we’re different from the Republicans.’ ”
“Go as big as possible and let [the Republicans] say no,” Chris advised. “If they’re going to say no to Spam, they’re going to say no to steak,” so offer steak and you “offer something big the American people can wrap their minds around. Then when Republicans say no, they will have something” to visualize, to understand, and to fight for.
When former George W. Bush deputy press secretary Tony Fratto, another guest on the show, started to argue the GOP talking point about tax cuts creating jobs, Matthews cut in, “Here’s that idiot Republican argument,” and later, “I feel like I’m teaching first grade here.”
Government has to take action because investors won’t and consumers can’t, he said. The Republican House won’t even pass the popular transportation bill, trying to block any job creation before the elections in order to sink Obama. When Fratto said, “This Republican obstruction story is fantasy,” Matthews drove a bulldozer over him: “You’re the roadblock party, the other party is the highway party.” (A possible slogan?)