CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: … Today, with the violence getting worse in Iraq and the election just a week away, Republicans found their weapon of mass distraction. In a choreograph of press releases, Republicans collaborated in a chorus of attack on former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for something he said last night. In a string of attacks on President Bush last night, Kerry ridiculed Bushâ€˜s lack of education on the Middle East which Kerry said got us stuck in Iraq.
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SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Education, if you make the most of it and you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you donâ€˜t, you get stuck in Iraq.
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MATTHEWS: Republicans from Rush Limbaugh to Tony Snow to John McCain to Denny Hastert have said Kerry was really maligning the troops, implying that American servicepeople only join up because they are educational failures. This violent interpretation of Kerryâ€˜s words let the senator to issue this blistering counterattack today.
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KERRY: John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Dick Cheney for misleading America. He ought to ask for an apology from the president for lying about the nuclear program in Africa. He ought to ask for an apology for, once again, a week ago referring to al Qaeda as being the central problem in Iraq when al Qaeda is not the central problem. Enough is enough.
Iâ€˜m not going to stand for these people trying to shift the topic and make it politics. America deserves a real discussion about real policy, and thatâ€˜s what this election is going to be about next Tuesday.
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MATTHEWS: Just to clarify what happened in context, yesterday at Pasadena College, John Kerry, the senator for Massachusetts and the former Democratic candidate for president, was talking about President Bush. He made a couple of shots. Let me read you from the Associated Press at the time.
Kerry opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one liners, saying at one point that Bush had lived in Texas, but now, quote, â€œlives in a state of denial.â€
He then said, â€˜you know, education if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart and you can do well. If you donâ€˜t, you get stuck in Iraq.â€ He has talking about the president, not about the people fighting our war in Iraq. …
… MATTHEWS: Well, this s a good crowd for the president, we can see that. Itâ€˜s a good opportunity to score his licks against John Kerry. Iâ€˜ve got joining me right now former Republican leader of the House Dick Armey.
Mr. Armey, what do you make of thisâ€”well, itâ€˜s a rhubarb I guess in politics terms. What is it? Is this a real catch him, we got him, or is it theyâ€˜re making it look like theyâ€˜ve got Kerry saying something?
DICK ARMEY (R), FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, itâ€˜s pretty standard fare in political discourse. You misconstrue what somebody said. You isolate a statement, you lend your interpretation to it and then feign moral outrage. And Democrats have been doing it for years.
Yes, the foundation of all conservative ethics and morality — Jimmy did it, first. But at least Armey was being honest about what actually happened. The Republicans isolated a statement by John Kerry, lent their interpretation to it, and feigned moral outrage to stir up media attention and take focus away from failed Republican policies.
MATTHEWS: So itâ€˜s a bicoastal, bipartisan opportunity.
ARMEY: And I would say to John Kerry, look, you live by the P.C., you die by the P.C. I mean, the P.C. was a Democrat creation, so share and share alike.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean the P.C.?
ARMEY: Political correctness, you know, feigning moral outrage for what might be perceived to have been a possible slight, given my interpretation of what was said.
One of these days I’m going to have to do a post on what “political correctness” actually meant, originally, before righties took it over. As I remember it, PC was an outgrowth of identity politics that attempted semantic equality but often just got silly — “differently abled” for “disabled,” for example, or “exceptional” for “brain damaged.” It was actually just a brief phase that some leftie issue advocates went through and mostly got over years ago. I never had much patience with it, myself. But the Right was so traumatized by having to learn not to call people “cripple” or “retard” that they’re still whining about it, and rightie mythos has blown up it up into something else entirely that exists mostly in their own imaginations.
And exactly how did Senator Kerry “live by the P.C.,” pray tell?
MATTHEWS: And so the presidentâ€”well, according to the prepared statement we have gotten a copy of, will jump on Kerry defending the troops when, in fact, Kerry may well have meantâ€”according to reading the script of what he said and the account of it, he was trashing the very man who is now defending the troops. He was trashing Bush himself and Bush says donâ€˜t say those terrible things about my troops!
MATTHEWS: So this is a bit of theater orchestrated well by the White House. They have got the American Legion commander out there making a statement. They got him to do it. Iâ€˜m sureâ€”I assume that most of these people didnâ€˜t read the whole statement of Kerry yesterday, but they are happy to jump on the quote they got.
ARMEY: A fundamental premise of politics is we can make this work if people just never figure it out.
You see why I’m calling this post “True Confessions.” Whatever happened to confession magazines, btw? I don’t think I’ve seen one for years.
And is Dick Armey saying the American Legion is stupid? Seems to me he is.
MATTHEWS: Well, Kerry is out there once again today. Weâ€˜ll have more of his quotes today later in the program, Kerry out there trying to prove that he learned something from the Swift Boats, attack, counter attack. Donâ€˜t let it go, and today heâ€˜s out there. Weâ€˜re going to have that in quotes, but I want to be very deferential to the president.
Odd thing to say, that. Does Matthews mean the President demanded that MSNBC use up 50 minutes of Hardball with his speech?
I understand Kerry has cancelled speeches today. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. On the one hand, it looks like an admission of guilt; on the other hand, he might have thought that by removing himself from public view the hysteria would settle down. But once again, by sheer bellicosity and mad-dog aggressiveness, the Right shoved the media and the Democrats around and took the nation’s attention away from real issues.
There is a war going on — and I don’t mean the fake one between the White House and John Kerry. I mean the real one, in Iraq.
And each and every day, there’s more evidence that President Bush’s strategy for winning that war isn’t working.
The troops are owed an apology, all right — from George W. Bush.
While the Right Blogosphere whoops it up over John Kerry jokes today, the news from Their War is grim. Michael Gordon of the New York Times reported that, according to United States Central Command, Iraq is moving toward chaos.
A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command portrays Iraq as edging toward chaos, in a chart that the military is using as a barometer of civil conflict. …
…The conclusions the Central Command has drawn from these trends are not encouraging, according to a copy of the slide that was obtained by The New York Times. The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from â€œpeace,â€ an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked â€œchaos.â€ As depicted in the commandâ€™s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.
An intelligence summary at the bottom of the slide reads â€œurban areas experiencing â€˜ethnic cleansingâ€™ campaigns to consolidate controlâ€ and â€œviolence at all-time high, spreading geographically.â€ According to a Central Command official, the index on civil strife has been a staple of internal command briefings for most of this year. The analysis was prepared by the commandâ€™s intelligence directorate, which is overseen by Brig. Gen. John M. Custer.
George W. Bush’s feet should be held to a fire over this. Instead, he’s prancing around the country faking outrage at John Kerry, and news media play along. Disgusting.
But not everyone on the Right is staying on message. I was stunned by Al Kamen’s Washington Post column today:
… eyebrows popped up last week when none other than Richard Perle, former Reagan assistant secretary of defense, former Bush brain-truster on the Defense Policy Board, and a key promoter of the war to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, blistered the administration as “dysfunctional” when it comes to stopping someone from bringing “a nuclear weapon or even nuclear material into the United States.”
“Knowing that there are people who wish to do that,” Perle said, “knowing they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, you would think that we would have put in place a system or at least be working assiduously in the development of a system that would allow us to detect nuclear material entering the New York Harbor or Boston Harbor or what have you.
“But we haven’t done that,” he said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies gathering. “And the reason we haven’t done that is hopeless bureaucratic obstruction. Somebody needs to shake that loose.” Perle added that while some have tried to overcome the bureaucracy, no one has succeeded.
“I think we have an administration today that is dysfunctional,” Perle said. “And if it can’t get itself together to organize a serious program for finding nuclear material on its way to the United States, then it ought to be replaced by an administration that can.”
Wow. But if you think Perle grew a brain, the next paragraph bursts that bubble nicely.
But President Bush , Perle emphasized, is not to blame for this sorry state of affairs. “I haven’t the slightest doubt that if one could . . . put this proposition to the president, he would first be shocked to learn that we don’t have the capability. Secondly, [he] would immediately order that we develop it.”
Shocked? Well, let’s see. Bush . . . Bush . . . Ah, yes, 202-456-1414.
Don’t mind Perle. He’s exceptional.
Update: See also Christy Hardin Smith, “On Iraqi Orders, Bush Abandons American Soldier To Al-Sadrâ€™s Militia.”