Chris Matthews Racism Watch

by Cara on June 6, 2008

in 2008 election, assholes, Barack Obama, class and economics, Democrats, media, politics, race and racism, stereotypes

Like I’m sure you did, as it became more and more likely that Obama would be the Democratic nominee, I started to worry about Chris Matthews. After all, the man makes his living from misogyny. More specifically, I’m pretty convinced that he actually lives off of it — saying horrible things about women is his equivalent of air. If Hillary Clinton is out of the picture . . . now what?

Fear not, dear readers. Chris Matthews, impressive journalist that he is, is adaptable. I’m sure that he had a few teary nights when he realized that his gravy-train may soon be coming to a halt — and that it’s possible he had some small part in applying the brakes. But what did Matthews do? Pulled himself up by his bootstraps, of course! Wannabe kings of hardball, take note: when life takes away your female punching bag, you make racist lemonade.

Matthews has eagerly jumped on the “elitism” train. In fact, as far as I can tell, he’s the conductor. Obama, Matthews says, is an “elitist.” He can’t connect with most Americans. He’s different — not like you and I. Matthews made this most clear when he said this last month:

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about how he — how’s he connect with regular people? Does he? Or does he only appeal to people who come from the African-American community and from the people who have college or advanced degrees?

I hope that anyone with any comprehension of racial relations can see the problem with suggesting that “working class white Americans” are undeniably “regular” people, while African-American people are, well, black. Not “regular.” Not like “us.”

This is also what the accusations of elitism do — try to position Obama as “not one of us,” and therefore (more subtly than above) position “us” as “not black.” Sure, John Kerry got the same “elitist” crap — but in the same way that picking on Hillary Clinton’s looks took on an entirely different meaning from making fun of male politician’s looks, positioning Obama as “elitist” in this context also morphs into a racist trick.

Honestly, I think it’s a distinction that’s easy to miss. Or maybe I just think that because I originally missed it. But in April, this op-ed was published in the LA Times. And though I disagree with the implication that politicians and political analysts, whose jobs are to manipulate people’s prejudices and emotions, have no idea that what they’re doing plays into racism, it’s otherwise an excellent piece that you should read in full. An excerpt:

[W]hen his opponents branded him an elitist and an outsider, his race made it easier to drive a wedge between him and the white, rural voters he has courted. As an African American, he was supposedly looking down from a place he didn’t belong and looking in from a distance he could not cross.

This could not happen as dramatically were it not for embedded racial attitudes. “Elitist” is another word for “arrogant,” which is another word for “uppity,” that old calumny applied to blacks who stood up for themselves.

At the bottom of the American psyche, race is still about power, and blacks who move up risk triggering discomfort among some whites. I’ve met black men who, when stopped by white cops at night, think the best protection is to act dumb and deferential.

Furthermore, casting Obama as “out of touch” plays harmoniously with the traditional notion of blacks as “others” at the edge of the mainstream, separate from the whole. Despite his ability to articulate the frustration and yearning of broad segments of Americans, his “otherness” has been highlighted effectively by right-wingers who harp on his Kenyan father and spread false rumors that he’s a clandestine Muslim.

Like I said, I didn’t pick this one up on my own. My white privilege left me with a big old blind spot there. But after having it pointed out, I sure as hell can’t deny it. And I also can’t believe that Chris Matthews, who has made an entire career off of manipulating white men to be afraid and resentful of other people who are not white men, doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. I listen to Chris Matthews, and hear things come out of his mouth that are as stupid as stupid gets. I used to mistake this for him being stupid. What a mistake indeed.

When Matthews makes the “observation” that “[T]his gets very ethnic, but the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody,” he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s making sure that no one watching his show can go on for more than 2 minutes at a time without consciously recognizing that Barack Obama (whose lineage is actually equally white) is socially perceived as a black man — not a candidate, a politician, a person, and certainly not “regular.”

He also knows exactly what he’s doing when he calls Obama’s “Americanism” into question and paints him as ungrateful:

MATTHEWS: OK, one thing you don’t do is you don’t do what he does. You don’t thank America for giving you what you got, like, I got all these degrees, I got all these advantages, so I thank America. Love of country is not because you got certain things from it. It’s not a transaction. You don’t thank people for giving you stuff. It’s like loving your parents. You don’t thank them for giving you a nice school and education. You thank them because they’re your parents. They’re your parents. You love your country — it’s called patriotism. It’s love of fatherland, of country.

Actually, as someone who is persistently bemused by patriotism, I always distinctly got the impression that publicly declared love of America was entirely about crediting it with all it has “given” you, as though there is no “opportunity,” free speech, right to vote or college education elsewhere, and that if there is, it’s certainly not better. I also find it (angrily) amusing because so many conservatives demand that black people start acting more grateful precisely because of what America has “given” them. It’s dizzying logic: black people should be more grateful about how well they are supposedly treated in America, what with their mostly being able to vote, and so they shouldn’t say anything bad about the U.S.; but if they express their love for America based on the benefits of living there, they’re uppity elitists who don’t know how to be grateful for their country. Obama, lucky him, gets both.

Matthews also knows exactly what he’s doing when he tries to paint Obama as unimaginably wealthy:

MATTHEWS: I agree. Well, I think he’s right. I think, being an African-American, it’s all the more important to get in there and show who you are, introduce yourself as a person, not as an identity group –

FINEMAN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: — but as a human being, and connect with people. I think that’s still going to be his challenge. Playing pool, not a bad start, but it’s not what most people play. People with money play pool these days.

FINEMAN: Oh.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. The guys who have pool rooms in their house in the basement. You know what those tables cost?

In other words, black people aren’t really “people” until they grovel to be perceived that way to Matthews’ satisfaction, and when they don’t do that, they think they’re better than you. Also, if they don’t grovel properly, they must be chastised for having more than they deserve/white conservative assholes are willing to give them. Starting to see a trend here?

Lastly, Matthews knew what he was doing two nights ago when he tried to make the argument that Obama is both too rich and too poor.

MATTHEWS: But isn’t there something missing — isn’t there something really missing in his biography that people can identify with? He’s gone from being a poor kid, growing up in Hawaii, in Indonesia, part of his youth, mixed family background, had to struggle, worked with community organizations; went to these incredibly elite schools, Columbia and Harvard Law, making Law Review and all that. He missed the middle part. Most Americans don’t know anything about being dirt poor and don’t know anything about the Ivy League. They’re sort of in this struggling class. The people in the middle worried about paying bills, for whom going to the movies, paying 35, 40 bucks for the whole cost of going to the movies with your wife, is just too much money, OK?

FORD: Senator Obama a few years –

MATTHEWS: Does he have that experience that people — most Americans have? Does he connect on the basic struggling-class level? And I’m not sure he does.

As Ford goes on to explain, Matthews is actually dead wrong — and while Obama is absolutely financially well-off, he is worth a hell of a lot less than most nationally recognized politicians. So, Matthews simply changes topics. His goal isn’t to be right — it’s to paint Obama as both a poor black welfare child and an affirmative action case who needs to be ashamed that he’s in a financial position better than most white Americans. He succeeded at it, therefore felt no need to apologize and will most likely do it again. And again. And again.

No, Chris Matthews isn’t stupid, he’s just a shitty person. If he was only capable of making dumbass remarks without an agenda, he wouldn’t have a job. As it stands, he has a job that’s great for him and really bad for the rest of us.

If it will make you feel any better, Media Matters has the contact information for Matthews, Hardball and MSNBC.


cross-posted from Feministe

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{ 4 comments }

1 Jon June 9, 2008 at 2:00 am

I’m glad he’s redefined patriotism. I blindly love everything my country does. We’ve never fucked up or anything like that. We’re perfect because we perceive our perfection.
Also I unthank people for giving me present, education and white male privilege.

2 GallingGalla June 10, 2008 at 12:17 pm

David Shipler sez: “Clinton is no racist…”

Dude, what are you smoking? Saying “Hard-working Americans, white Americans” and making veiled-threat assassination comments isn’t racist?

The more I hear that blind-patriotism crap come out of the mouths of Matthews and those like him, the more sympathetic I get to Jeremiah Wright’s viewpoint. I wish Obama had had the moxie not to repudiate Wright so broadly (not that is isn’t ok to disagree with specific aspects of Wright’s statements).

I wonder, will Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinham and NOW condemn the racism being directed at Obama with anything even approaching the vigor that they condemned misogyny directed at Clinton? Methinks not.

3 Veronica June 10, 2008 at 11:14 pm

Can I just say, I love you for this post?

Particularly — “I also find it (angrily) amusing because so many conservatives demand that black people start acting more grateful precisely because of what America has “given” them.”

Everytime I hear something to this end I want to — I don’t even know. Shake something, is the first thing that comes to mind. I’m glad I’m not the only one that finds such idiocy (and the fact that it’s easily spread!) maddening.

4 Marilyn May 5, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Keep it sweet and short…Chris Matthews is a dick!

He thinks he’s open-minded – but every time he speaks about anything to do with people of color, he shows that he is anything but…

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