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Confused Matthews: What Does Patriot Mean These Days?!

On Wednesday night's Hardball (aired only at 12 midnight EST Thursday morning because of the Olympics) Chris Matthews brought on his liberal compatriot from Salon.com Joan Walsh to double team Let Freedom Ring's Colin Hanna and slander the tea partiers as racist nuts that represent the new face of the conservative movement, and dismissed those who seek to reassert the country's founding principles, like those who signed the Mount Vernon Statement, as increasingly irrelevant. [audio available here]

However it was the two liberals who received a lesson on the Constitution from Hanna who left Matthews so bewildered he blurted: "What does a patriot mean these days?"

First up Matthews began the February 18th edition of Hardball by slandering the entire tea party movement and mocked them as "Original Intent" characters:

MATTHEWS: Here's the scary part. They allow, well let me, Joan get in here. It seems like that tent is so big it includes people who think you can secede from the Union, like Rick Perry of Texas, been talking that up. You got that other candidate Debra Medina down there talking about nullification. I thought we got over that in the sixties. They've got birthers, truthers, secessionists, nullifiers, people that are gun nuts, who believe they're should be no gun control, at all, right up to having bazookas and automatic weapons and God knows what you should be allowed to have. My question. And Birchers by the way. My questions is, if you follow these fundamentalists on the Constitution like you are (points to guest Colin Hanna), you go all the way down to the back of, well we couldn't have the Civil Rights bill in '64 because that was a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, using interstate commerce clause. These, these, first, Original Intent characters would never have allowed the Civil Rights bill to be passed. Your thoughts, Joan?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Well yeah Chris. I mean what, one of the things I really resent. Mr. Hanna said it's an inclusive movement but it certainly doesn't include people like me and that's their prerogative-

HANNA: No it's your prerogative.

WALSH: But more than that it demonizes liberals, it demonizes Democrats. Thank you it's mutual here. But it demonizes liberals, it demonizes Democrats as though we're hostile to the Founders, we're hostile to the Constitution. And I think those of us on the Democratic side really look back on a wonderful set of Founders a wonderful set of founding documents but say back in the day women could not vote, African-Americans were mostly property. Asians and Latinos were excluded and so we've needed some updating. We needed Social Security and Medicare because the life expectancy of people back then was about 35 or 40. So we've needed some updating. We're proud of the updating we've done, but we are, we still hue to the original values and to the original principles. And so I never liked being told that we're not patriots or we're not respecting the Constitution. I don't see that at all.

As the discussion turned to the document that the tea parties revere, Matthews repeatedly got confused, even stating that the GOP existed at the time of the Constitutional Convention.

MATTHEWS: If the original document, the Constitution, was so perfect, why did we need 10 amendments right up front Colin? Why do we need the 2nd Amendment for the gun guys, right up front, if it was a perfect document. We started amending pretty early, didn't we?

HANNA: Actually we started the amendments, Chris, if you, well before the actual document was made.

MATTHEWS: Well to get them approved because the Republican Party insisted on the amendments.

HANNA: No, no, no. Many of those things that became the rights are laid out in the amendments, the first 10, the Bill of Rights were, in fact, derivations of other documents that actually predated the Constitution.

MATTHEWS: Oh sure, sure. The colonial documents. Well not colonial but the, the, the state charge. But look-

HANNA: Right. But look here's, here's, here's the point. Here's the point...

MATTHEWS: But here's the point. Don't we have, if you get into this first principle thing we can't even have an Air Force. There's no Air Force in the Constitution. Is there?

HANNA: You're, let's not confuse principles with policies.

MATTHEWS: Okay.

After Hanna delivered the history lesson to Matthews and Walsh on the Constituion, he mentioned the most recent assertion of the founding principles in the form of The Mount Vernon Statement, to which Walsh felt compelled to dismiss the signers, including MRC President Brent Bozell as "older people from another generation," that didn't represent any "new thinking," and claimed that in "The Age of Obama," there was "a looking backwards that sometimes can carry racial connotations," and worried that "A lot of these documents and a lot of these gatherings are rather hostile to the America that we are becoming."

HANNA: What, the mistake Joan was making was that she was talking about how some of the policies of the 18th century didn't follow the principle of liberty for example. That's entirely true. There were all kinds of policy errors that we made, certainly the tolerance of slavery, all of those things are things that can and should be corrected. No one is arguing for them as any kind of standard of perfection. But the fundamental principles of the founding. The principles of individual liberty, of ordered liberty, of, of, of limited government, those are principles that today when we look at them they appear to be very conservative. But in point of fact, that was the center of the spectrum at that time and that's what's being re-established right now, Chris, with this Mount Vernon Statement that was signed today.

MATTHEWS: I guess I don't know what you mean in terms of principles right now. Let me get Joan. Your thoughts here. Because I think the question you've raised is updating.

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: We did decide as a country, in the thirties, that it was better for people who survived their earning years into their sixties, seventies and eighties, that they had some safety net, that they have some basic income.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: We decided that as a country. Should we go back beyond that?

HANNA: No, because that's a policy.

WALSH: No and I, you know-

HANNA: The point is the principle is-

WALSH: Actually he was talking to me, Colin. He was talking to me and I want to give you credit, I want to thank you

HANNA: He was looking at me.

WALSH: Oh sorry. That's the difference. It's difficult being-

MATTHEWS: Go ahead Joan. You're first on this. Your thought. Joan?

WALSH: Thanks, Chris. You know it's, it's, it's very difficult. I'm glad to hear Colin say he is against slavery and I believe most people are. I really do believe that. But there are other ways that they haven't been happy with our updates. And also the Mount Vernon Statement, there's really nothing objectionable in it except the idea that those of us who disagree on the Democratic side really aren't patriots. It's also the excitement. You know it harks back to that Young Americans for Freedom statement in 1960 that William F. Buckley made very popular by publishing in the National Review. That was from the Young Americans for Freedom. It was an exciting movement. When I looked at the list of signers, with no disrespect, I'm not a teenager myself, these are older people from another generation. We've got Ed Meese, we've got Brent Bozell. We, there's not a lot of youth and new thinking there. It's more of a restoration of the Reagan administration. So I'm just not feeling it right now.

HANNA: Well the tea party movement was represented by two of the national coordinators from Tea Party Patriots - Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler. That's, that's the source of energy and excitement and youth in the, in the conservative movement right now. There were any number of younger people. Kathryn Jean Lopez certainly represents that next generation of leadership and, and thinking, and, and righting on the, on the conservative side through National Review. So it's not one-sided. But Joan I want to come back to one comment that you made just a few moments ago-

WALSH: Sure.

HANNA: -when you said you felt excluded and somehow not included in a definition of patriotism. There's nothing in the Mount Vernon Statement, to make you feel that way. I'm sorry that you feel that way but it's not because of the statement, it's because of whatever you feel is the appropriate reaction to that statement. That's a very inclusive statement and a very foundational statement.

WALSH: It's the statement in context, it's the statement in, it's a statement in context of needing the statement in the quote, "Age of Obama." That something has happened since we elected our first African-American.

HANNA: There's nothing in the statement that talks about the Age of Obama.

WALSH: It's coming in this context and there's, and you know, there's, we've suddenly got this movement for liberty and to restore values when we got our first African-American president. And I'm not calling you racist at all, Colin. I don't mean to say that. But there is a looking backwards that sometimes can carry racial connotations. The tea party movement is not exclusive. It's not mainly a movement of young people. And it is most definitely a movement of white people. And so I feel like a lot of these documents and a lot of these gatherings are rather hostile to the America that we are becoming, which is multi-racial, which is younger, in which women have the right not merely to vote but to be president. And it's turning back the clock.

MATTHEWS: Okay, can I just ask one question?

HANNA: Ken Blackwell and Herman Cain would've argued with you on that point. And they were in the room today.

MATTHEWS: Okay I know they're conservatives. I agree with that but let me ask you. Here's a question, I just want to jump in. It's a good debate, we'll have it again. I think you're a good guest. Joan's always a great guest because she raised some things I really like Joan. That "updating." I love that word because it's so appropriate. We didn't have the need for an Air Force in the 17th or 18th century. We didn't have airplanes. So you had to adapt that way. We didn't have people living beyond their working years to their seventies, eighties, and nineties with the regularity which good medicine has-

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: -and being able to live but not being able to provide for yourself in any reasonable way.

WALSH: Right.

The segment concluded with Matthews distressed about the use of the words "patriot," and "states rights" within the tea party movement as he questioned Hanna, "Why do you use the word patriot?" and charged "I think a lot of states rights, that I'm watching on television, would like to go back to pre-'64 where states like Alabama, Mississippi decide how to run their states and I keep hearing what Joan hears. And I hear the racial tinge to it. I hear it."

MATTHEWS: Therefore you need some sort of net, safety net. That's, but here's what I object to.

Back in the beginnings of our country - and you're a student, we all are, of our history - there was a real honest debate between how strong a central government we have and how much should it be distributed among small farmers. The sort of Jeffersonians against the Hamiltonians. But Jefferson didn't accuse Hamilton of being unpatriotic. He didn't say "You're not one of us." He said, "You have a different view." The trouble with your crowd is if you take a strong big government view, if you think we ought to have a little bit more socialism like health care, which is a point of view, you guys say we're not American. And I've got say wait a minute, you can have people on the left who are just as American as people on the right. You've got people on the right who want to secede from the Union! Don't tell me somebody wants to secede from the Union is more patriotic than somebody who would like to see a national health care system like Tony Weiner. I'm sorry, just because you disagree doesn't mean the other guy ain't one of us! And that's what-. I hear this word "patriot," and I don't like it. I think it excludes people who aren't with your point of view. That's all I'm saying. And what does a patriot mean these days? This isn't a re-enactment play!

HANNA: I would fundamentally disagree with you because-

MATTHEWS: Why do you use the word patriot?

HANNA: Because you're using entirely negative terms and I don't think that this is a movement, either the conservative movement or the tea party movement which is using the negative terms in anything like the way you are. They are using positive terms and if you feel excluded by the positive terms-

MATTHEWS: Yeah I do.

HANNA: Frankly Chris, that's your problem-

MATTHEWS: It is my problem!

HANNA: It's not, it's not our, it's not our problem, because we're stating it positively.

MATTHEWS: Okay last word, Joan. Because I feel words are negative when you say, "I hate Washington! I hate big government! I hate the IRS!"

WALSH: "I hate Washington!"

MATTHEWS: "I hate the Fed! I hate everybody who works in Washington!"

WALSH: Well you know, and look...

HANNA: No. We, we hate arrogance in office.

MATTHEWS: Yeah well you keep on-

WALSH: It's also, there's also a lot of arrogance in office on both sides. And it's also very rich this is all happening against the backdrop of finally really learning that the stimulus is working, the stimulus that go no Republican votes in the House, three in the Senate. That, that Republicans are now out having ribbon cuttings and, and boasting about the pork that they brought to their districts.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

WALSH: And not even pork, the jobs that they brought to their districts. This is a fundamental disconnect. Because even Republicans know that we need government to work. But they're very busy obstructing the government and this president. And that is a, it's a-

MATTHEWS: Okay.

WALSH: It's a new phenomenon in politics. It really is.

MATTHEWS: Okay I had all these fights in high school. I think the federal government does have to tell states they can't have "separate but equal" schools. The federal government has to say, you have to have safety rules at the workplace. The federal government has a big role to play. I thought we settled all this stuff.

WALSH: Yes we do.

MATTHEWS: You can't discriminate against people in housing and in hotels and restaurants. You can't say "No blacks," even though the state wants to do that. Do you believe states should make those decisions? Those decisions?

HANNA: I think there are lots of decisions-

MATTHEWS: No, those kinds of decisions?

HANNA: No I think that those, that those, that those are fundamental decisions as to who we are as a people.

MATTHEWS: And so the government and the federal government should make those decisions?

HANNA: I have no problem with, with...

MATTHEWS: Because I think a lot of states rights, that I'm watching on television, would like to go back to pre-'64 where states like Alabama, Mississippi decide how to run their states and I keep hearing what Joan hears. And I hear the racial tinge to it. I hear it.

HANNA: I've talked to thousands of tea partygoers and leaders and I have never, ever heard anything like that.

MATTHEWS: It's implicit! It's implicit. States rights.

HANNA: Then, then, then-

WALSH: Are you seeing the signs? Are you-

MATTHEWS: Anyway. Thank you.

HANNA: I think you see what's not there.

MATTHEWS: Okay I hope, I hope I'm wrong. Colin, Colin, Colin Hanna. Former county commissioner of Chester County. Joan Walsh. Thank you.

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