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Matthews: Obama Policies 'Conservative,' Dems 'Created' Middle Class

On Wednesday's Countdown show on MSNBC, shortly before the beginning of the State of the Union address, as Keith Olbermann discussed the speech with Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, after Olbermann brought up the possibility that President Obama would give a divisive FDR-style speech, Matthews seemed to lament that such a speech would "spook" the middle class, and, as he credited the Democratic party with actually "creating" the middle class, he argued that Democrats are a victim of their own success. After claiming that it would have been "unpatriotic" not to increase government spending in time of recession, he went on to describe President Obama's economic policies as "conservative": "Everybody who studies economics knows if you have no business spending, no consumer spending, the government has to spend. That is reasonable and I would argue conservative economics."

At about 8:57 p.m., after contending that President Herbert Hoover "proved to every single American that the Great Depression was Republican doing," Matthews made his extraordinary claim about Democrats "creating" the middle class:

The Democrats - through the Great Society, through the New Deal, through the New Frontier - created a middle class through student loans, through Social Security, through job program protections, everything that they did was to create a middle class. ... Today if you try to talk like Roosevelt, you'll find the slightly better than middle class people saying, "My God, he's coming for my money to pay for the people slightly below middle class." And I'm telling you that's the problem. The Democrats ... suffer from what they gave to the American people, which is a middle class. And you can't rabble rouse with the middle class in this country or they will get spooked.

It was about 9:02 p.m. that Matthews characterized President Obama's economic policies as "conservative":

I don't think you could objectively say he's been too liberal. He was stuck with a terrible economic situation that he had to operate against. And if he hadn't, it would have been unpatriotic. And everybody who studies economics knows if you have no business spending, no consumer spending, the government has to spend. That is reasonable and I would argue conservative economics. You have to do it. Unfortunately for him, the public relations looks bad because he has a $1.3 trillion deficit as a result of doing what he had to do.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Wednesday, January 27, Countdown show and State of the Union coverage on MSNBC:

8:57 p.m.

KEITH OLBERMANN: Will there be big themes, big words? I mean, you heard that Roosevelt clip that I played earlier from 1936. Anything like that? Is this the time for soaring speech?

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Keith, you make me think. And I loved Roosevelt in '36, and he spoke at Franklin Field and gave that great speech, and I have to tell you that one at Madison Square Garden you quoted from was wonderful. They may change again. One is really important. Hoover was in office under Republicans for four years and proved to every single American that the Great Depression was Republican doing. It was totally their fault, nobody could walk away, so by the time it was 1936 you had 70 Democratic Senators on the way to 76 Democratic Senators. One party had taken the complete responsibility for the Great Depression. The other party was clean-handed. And that's why the President could be that divisive effectively.

The second thing is - and this is one of the great ironies of the life you and I lead and have benefitted from - the Democrats through the Great Society, through the New Deal, through the New Frontier, created a middle class through student loans, through Social Security, through job program protections, everything that they did was to create a middle class. And now we have one. We didn't have a middle class in '36. We had working poor people and a few very rich. If you wanted to start a fight, you definitely start a fight the way Roosevelt did. Today if you try to talk like Roosevelt, you'll find the slightly better than middle class people saying, "My God, he's coming for my money to pay for the people slightly below middle class." And I'm telling you that's the problem. The Democrats benefit, I'm sorry, they suffer from what they gave to the American people, which is a middle class. And you can't rabble rouse with the middle class in this country or they will get spooked.

...

9:02 p.m.

OLBERMANN: Well, Chris, that begs the question that is, I guess, at the heart of this, the idea of the President's, if it's not failings it's lack of the success he wanted and so many who saw him elected wanted, is that the result, and have they concluded in the White House which the answer is, is that the result of him being too liberal in the last year or too conservative?

MATTHEWS: Well, I don't think you could objectively say he's been too liberal. He was stuck with a terrible economic situation that he had to operate against. And if he hadn't, it would have been unpatriotic. And everybody who studies economics knows if you have no business spending, no consumer spending, the government has to spend. That is reasonable and I would argue conservative economics. You have to do it. Unfortunately for him, the public relations looks bad because he has a $1.3 trillion deficit as a result of doing what he had to do.

-Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.