Switch Hitter

J$P Extra! Chris Matthews thinks politicians who cross party lines are disloyal cretins acting out of expediency. At least that's what he thinks this week.

Chris Matthews, the Democrat partisan chosen by MSNBC to anchor its convention coverage, had a well-publicized spat with Zell Miller Wednesday night. But long before it happened--even before Miller spoke--Chris was on the warpath. He had already seen the speech and went into full pre-emptive damage control mode.

Matthews's talking point of the day was party switching, and when Matthews gets his teeth into a talking point, you might as well try to take a bone away from a pit bull. These are just some of the fair and balanced questions that Chris screamed at guests hours before Zell Miller began his address:

MATTHEWS:  Senior Senator Zell Miller—-he‘s a Democrat. On the record, he was elected as a Democrat, elected governor as a Democrat. Tonight, he‘s going to endorse the Republican ticket for president and vice president. Do you think that‘s an honorable thing to do?

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t it an easy switch, an obvious advantage for a guy to move to the more popular party and get elected and become more popular? Where‘s the guts here?

MATTHEWS:  It just seems, Senator, that all my life I‘ve watched people switch to the more popular party in their state. They never moved to the less popular party.... Does anyone ever switch to a less popular party and show a profile in courage, or is it always expediency?

MATTHEWS:  Would you think that—-if somebody in your party switched to the other party, would you think they were honorable?

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have any problem with people—-you don‘t have any problem with party disloyalty? That‘s not an issue with you?

MATTHEWS:  And tonight, the question is, Is Zell Miller a credible man when he says he is surprised at the change in the Democratic Party, when he has lived under liberal rule in the Democratic Party since he was born?

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it might be more noble for a person to resign after being nominated by one political party and elected with the votes of all the Democrats of one party, rather than use the platform you‘re given by one party to knock it and to endorse the other party?

MATTHEWS:  If you had a Republican senator from Texas who was elected by the Republican voters of Texas, who went out and went to—-rang doorbells and handed out literature and gave all of themselves to get this person to speak for them, and then after all that, all that support, they just decide to switch and say, Well, I‘ll endorse the other party candidate, would you like that?

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about tonight‘s events here. Let‘s start with the one I‘ve been pushing, the issue of Zell Miller. Are you comfortable with a member of one party endorsing the other party‘s candidate?

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you‘re a man of the cloth. Do you find character in a guy who goes where the action is?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just not getting anywhere with you folks tonight. Everybody says, Whatever will work is OK. I was just thinking of the old values of loyalty, you know, things like that.

The recurrent themes--loyalty, courage, character--couldn't have been repeated more often if they had just put Matthews on a tape loop. But how did Matthews react when Republican Jim Jeffords announced he was leaving the GOP and swinging the balance of the Senate to the Democrats? Pay special note to the tone of the questioning, and how much attention Matthews pays to the issues that, this week, are his obsession:

MATTHEWS: Right. In your state, sir, your--you said in the paper today, I read it in The Washington Post, and let--and let me say--give you a chance to say it again, 'Jim Jeffords will be more popular this weekend than he was last weekend if he becomes a d--an Independent vote--Democratic-voting member of the Senate.'

MATTHEWS: Now as a man of the left, you see no betrayal here or no deceit in the fact that a United States senator's being elected as recently as November of 2000 and switching parties, in effect, within six months? You don't see any problem with that? Do you think a person should stay with the party they're elected to, per--per se, no matter what party it is?

MATTHEWS: It's local politics.

MATTHEWS: I like the way you've said this, because you know what? I believe you, sir. I don't think it was just personal tiffs between... I don't think it was some--some little thing at school where somebody was mean to me. I think this guy wanted to become what he is tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: John Connolly switched in Texas, John Lindsay switched in New York, both for the fact that they wanted to get in sync with the local people.

What Jim Jeffords did was simply local politics and an attempt to get in sync with the local people, because he wanted to become what he is tomorrow. But when Zell Miller crosses party lines to make an endorsement that's disloyal expediency.

Does Matthews question Jim Jeffords's courage? His credibility? Does he suggest that Jeffords is not noble? Those thoughts couldn't have been further from his mind when Jeffords switched parties. But with Zell Miller, Chris Matthews has deemed it to be a character issue, "the one I've been pushing". Only this time, Zell pushed back.

posted: Thu - September 2, 2004 at 11:10 AM       j$p  send