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Chris Matthews Show: 'Boss Rush Limbaugh' Stoking Racist Anti-Obama 'Venom'

NBC's Norah O'Donnell, guest hosting for Chris Matthews over the weekend, repeatedly questioned her Chris Matthews Show panelists why there was "So much hate," and "venom," directed at Barack Obama at town hall events and Time's Joe Klein responded it was all Rush Limbaugh's fault as he depicted opponents of Obama as racists that are "being egged on by the demagogues in, in the Republican Party, by Boss Rush Limbaugh. And I call him the boss because there isn't a single Republican elected official who's willing to call him out on his lies."

The following exchange was aired on the September 13 edition of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show:

NORAH O'DONNELL: The summer was rife with craziness in those town halls. But September? Has sort have been just as nutty. There was the uproar over the President's speech to school children with opponents warning kids needed to be shielded from the President. Then there was the congressman who called the President a liar during his speech. What is causing the anti-Obama outrage? Is there something different from what other presidents have faced? Well we put it to the Matthews Meter, 12 of the regulars. Is the anti-Obama venom unavoidable?...Joe, you say the craziness and anti-Obama hating was unavoidable.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Well I was, I was at some town meetings this summer, most recently in Arkansas. And this is an awful lot about race. You just can't avoid it. I mean he was born black. But it isn't only about the fact that he's black, or the fact that his middle name is Hussein. It's a, about the fact in middle-America among white people, especially working class white people they're seeing all of this stuff. They're seeing Latinos in Arkansas, quite a few of them, move into the neighborhoods. They're seeing South Asians, you know running a lot of businesses. They're seeing intermarriage. They're seeing all these things that they find threatening. And they believe that the America, that they knew, which was always kind of a myth, has disappeared.

O'DONNELL: Why is this being voiced now in this health care debate?

KLEIN: Because they're being egged on by the demagogues in, in the Republican Party, by Boss Rush Limbaugh. And I call him the boss because there isn't a single Republican elected official who's willing to call him out on his lies.

The above was the most incendiary item of the show but as the following transcript demonstrates O'Donnell and her fellow panelists persistently portrayed Obama's opponents as hate-filled, "nutty," "crazies."

O'DONNELL IN OPENING TEASER: And finally, why so much hate? That congressman who yelled liar. The fears that the President wanted to indoctrinate school kids. Was all this venom against Barack Obama unavoidable?

...

O'DONNELL: Now polls taken since then showed that the President did find some success in reasserting command, at least for a while. And of course there was that outburst from Congressman Joe Wilson, the guy who yelled, "You lie!" While most other Republicans were more polite, but still some said forget about it. Not polite? Listen to what Rush Limbaugh said.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: That speech last night was a fraud. It was dishonest. It demeaned the office of the presidency. Having attacked and lied throughout this thing, he then claims he wants to work with Republicans, with whom he has not met since April.

...

O'DONNELL: People being scared is being fueled by this fear-mongering, in some ways. Did Joe Wilson's outburst, from the floor there, did that help or hurt the White House, Helene?

HELENE COOPER, NEW YORK TIMES: I think the White House was thrilled with Joe Wilson's outburst, to tell you the truth. And did you see Nancy Pelosi?

O'DONNELL: What do you think Rahm was doing when he picked up the phone?

COOPER: Oh yeah, hi thanks for your apology! You know that's one of those cases where they can sort of stand back and let the Republicans hurt themselves. [To Klein] You disagree.

KLEIN: My, my first reaction was: And the voice of the cuckoo was heard in the land. But, but over the succeeding days it has become a real debate about whether or not you're going to insert in the bill a provision that people are gonna have to prove their citizenship. Now that is a ridiculous provision. Because there are all these elderly people who show up at hospitals all the time. They're gonna have to locate their birth certificates, that you know were lost 40 years ago. That's crazy!....News flash, we are paying for the health care of illegal immigrants right now.

O'DONNELL: Because if they go into a hospital they get covered.

KLEIN: Right. If someone gets their, you know their hand chopped off, in one of these meat packing plants and they go to the hospital we're going to treat them. We do it now.

...

O'DONNELL: As for a bottom line, we asked the Matthews Meter, twelve of the regulars, has the President got command back in this debate? And the answer? It's unanimous. 12-zip. Howard and Joe, you're in that group. Howard? Got it back?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Yeah I thought it was the President's speech. I thought it was one of his best combinations of practicality and focus with a little bit of philosophy there at the end about the role of government, which I thought was useful and I thought it was one of the best simple explanations that he gave, where he said, "Look gang we've got to do this for the good of everybody."

O'DONNELL: And Ceci is he gonna be able to keep it, through this fall? This new control, this new command? This mojo?

CECI CONNOLLY, WASHINGTON POST: Well we shift back into the messy business of legislating and we're already hearing about additional delays up there on Capitol Hill. So it's not going to be easy. But I think one of the things that was most powerful about that speech the President gave was he spoke to Main Street in a way that this conversation had gotten away from.

O'DONNELL Joe?

KLEIN: Yeah I think that one of the things the White House may have learned in August is that it's better to have him out there, even if he's being accused of overexposure than, than to not have him out here, there so you can watch all the crazies screaming about him. And so you even had the big speech this week about the anniversary of the financial meltdown. And he will find some way to be in your face on this issue, until the thing gets passed.

O'DONNELL: Helene are they feeling that way in the White House? That he's got his mojo back? That they're on campaign mode? They're gonna-

HELENE COOPER, NEW YORK TIMES: They definitely are but he, he always does well when he, when he steps up to the plate and he can deliver a very good speech. And he was definitely getting a lot of complaints about being too distant and too removed and he's getting that in a lot of areas too.

FINEMAN: They looked at what had gone wrong in the summer and they and they dealt with it. Which shows that they can learn from what's going on here.

...

O'DONNELL: When we come back, that Congressman who yelled, liar! We'll get into it....Alright so why all the hatred? Not just from one congressman but from many quarters? Was it unavoidable for this groundbreaking president or did he make some mistakes to give permission slips to the haters?

...

O'DONNELL: The summer was rife with craziness in those town halls. But September? Has sort have been just as nutty. There was the uproar over the President's speech to school children with opponents warning kids needed to be shielded from the President. Then there was the congressman who called the President a liar during his speech. What is causing the anti-Obama outrage? Is there something different from what other presidents have faced? Well we put it to the Matthews Meter, 12 of the regulars. Is the anti-Obama venom unavoidable? Or is it partly a result of his own mistakes? Well six say it was unavoidable but six say he partly brought it on himself. Howard and Joe, you're in the meter and you're split. Howard, you say the President has made some mistakes. What's he done wrong?

FINEMAN: Well I think it relates to what Helene was saying in the last segment which is that he hasn't always spoken to Main Street. And I think in his situation, being who he is, as the historical figure that he is, the change agent that he is, he needed to be, and needs to be ever aware, maybe unfairly so, but ever aware of reassuring people on the right side of the street on Main Street.

O'DONNELL: Joe, you say the craziness and anti-Obama hating was unavoidable.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Well I was, I was at some town meetings this summer, most recently in Arkansas. And this is an awful lot about race. You just can't avoid it. I mean he was born black. But it isn't only about the fact that he's black, or the fact that his middle name is Hussein. It's a, about the fact in middle-America among white people, especially working class white people they're seeing all of this stuff. They're seeing Latinos in Arkansas, quite a few of them, move into the neighborhoods. They're seeing South Asians, you know running a lot of businesses. They're seeing intermarriage. They're seeing all these things that they find threatening. And they believe that the America, that they knew, which was always kind of a myth, has disappeared.

O'DONNELL: Why is this being voiced now in this health care debate?

KLEIN: Because they're being egged on by the demagogues in, in the Republican Party, by Boss Rush Limbaugh. And I call him the boss because there isn't a single Republican elected official who's willing to call him out on his lies.

O'DONNELL: Helene there were people that hated President Bush, there were people who hated President Clinton. There are now people that hate President Obama. Why is it about race?

HELENE COOPER, NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's about race for, for, for two reasons. One, on one side, you have a lot of whites, particularly in the South who are just really angry at the idea that there is a black president. That's something that they just don't like. We've had several stories in the Times recently about sort, sort of some of the numbers that President Obama got for instance in South Carolina, in Arkansas. The number of whites who voted for him, the very low number and they're very angry. And then you had the flip-side, you have a lot of blacks who love Obama and who are so emotionally attached to him because he's black. And I think that plays off of each other, so you get, you, you get an electorate that's even more stratified.

FINEMAN: I think this White House, and again maybe unfairly, needs to be constantly sensitive to those fears that, that Joe is talking about. Now it can paralyze his presidency if he does it too much, but I don't think, at every moment they're aware of that, the way they were during the campaign. I think they were very aware of it during the campaign. I think once they got here to Washington, once they started focusing necessarily on the economic crisis and so forth, they got away from it. The other factor is quote, "big government." Obama was dealt a hand where he had to act like a liberal Democrat in the beginning. That reinforced the fears of a lot of those people that Joe is talking about.

CONNOLLY: I'm gonna be a little bit of a contrarian here because I think going back to the beginning of the Republic we've always had a certain cranky element out there who's complained and, and been unhappy with their leadership. It's just that they haven't had the Internet, they haven't had cable television to air those views. I mean-

KLEIN: Usually you had legitimate leaders of a political party who would shout those haters down. That's not what is happening here.

O'DONNELL: Right, I mean here's the question. Is someone pouring gasoline on what is-

COOPER: I think that's, absolutely people are pouring gasoline. But beyond that, remember a few weeks ago when these posts, these polls came out that showed that President Obama's approval ratings were going down at the same time that people believed that we, we were not out of the economic recession but that things were starting to turn around. How do you figure that? Think about where we were back in January when you're looking at, you know where the Dow Jones was and what the economy and now people, economists are starting to talk, to talk about the fact that we may, at some point soon, be coming out of it. It's not looking quite as dark as it was then. And yet you had these approval ratings that are coming in. What's that about?

FINEMAN: Well I agree with Ceci, I agree with Ceci that over time there have been hair-raising things said about presidents. Whether it was Thomas Jefferson or, or Lincoln, or Roosevelt or whatever? Franklin Roosevelt. The difference here is race. There was vitriol then. You pour the race in and you have a more volatile mix.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the senior news analyst at the Media Research Center.