Appearing on colleague Andrea Mitchell's eponymous 1 p.m. Eastern program Tuesday, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews to viewers that Monday's South Carolina GOP presidential debate was chock full of "dog whistles" and racially-tinged "code words." What's more, according to Matthews, there's no point trying to argue with him on this because "you either see it or you don't."
Perhaps Matthews's dopiest claim was that Newt Gingrich calling Fox News debate panelist Juan Williams by his first name was a thinly-veiled way to attack Williams's ethnicity before a "conservative white" audience in the South:
There were interesting aspects to that, wasn't there some applause when he called him Juan? I mean it's an interesting thing here. I mean, I once, it's very clever - I mean Newt is a very smart guy. He knows how to play an audience.
There was a wonderful exchange between George Herbert Walker Bush and Pete DuPont one time where he answered a question to him and he said, "Let me help you with that one, Pierre."
Now it is his name, and Juan is his name, but there's an interesting way it's used and to personalize it, and Juan Williams has a lot of guts getting in front of that audience that's conservative white in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and asking a question which is a reasonable question.
[T]his is going to get very, you know, very ethnic, very racial, it's going to get very hot.
And I think you saw it there in that audience there the other night. And I think it's going to be bad. I don't like it. And I think we're looking for signs of coaxing people back to their sort of tribal attitudes. You know, and how it's done and that use of the name Juan, the way he does it. You can't argue these things. You either see it or you don't. It's just the way he did that.I sensed a little applause when he said "Let me help you," when he answered the Juan question.
Matthews realizes his arguments about racism are patently unprovable, but he had a ready defense for that: it's a secret code that racists understand and he, the ever-enlightened student of politics, also gets, even if you at home disagree with him:
Well, we know what's going on. And everybody knows what's going on. And to argue with it, the problem with arguing with it, is that the people who don't hear it don't want to hear it, or they hear it and don't want to admit it. You can't argue a person into it. You can't say to a person "that's code" because the people that don't want to hear that it's code will say it's not and the people who clearly hear that it's code will. It's not something that you can argue with a person.
In other words, there's no point arguing with Chris about this. Making a rational argument based on facts and evidence don't matter to the Hardball host, it's all about a pre-determined narrative intent on reading racism into ripe circumstance.
Thanks to MRC intern Jeffrey Meyer for the transcript, which appears below:
ANDREA MITCHELL: There were some pretty remarkable exchanges revealing racial attitudes not only by the candidates but by the audience. Chris Matthews is the host of MSNBC's Hardball and joins me now. It was stunning watching some of it. Let me play a bit of it for you of what we saw. This was an exchange between Gingrich and Juan Williams, one of the co-moderators of the debate.
JUAN WILLIAMS: I gotta tell you that my e-mail account my twitter account has been inundated with people from all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities, we saw some of that reaction during your visit to a black church in South Carolina. It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people.
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any President in American history.
MITCHELL: Of course, you could come up with the data to point out that we are in the worst recession in decades or coming through the worst recession and that the population has exploded so there's a natural increase in food stamps which are pegged to entitlements that are approved by congress that have nothing to do with the White House.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, we know what is going on. And everyone knows what's going on. And the problem with arguing with it, and the people that don't hear it don't want to hear it or they hear it and don't want to admit it. You cannot argue a person into it. You cannot say to a person that is code, because the people that don't want to hear that it's code will say it's not and the people that clearly hear that it's code will. It's not something that you can argue with a person. There were interesting aspects to that, wasn't there some applause when he called him Juan. I mean it's an interesting thing here. I mean it's very clever. I mean, Newt is a very smart guy. He knows how to play an audience. There was a wonderful exchange between George Herbert Walker Bush and Pete DuPont one time where he answered a question and he said let me help you with that one, Pierre. Now it is his name, and Juan is his name, but there is an interesting way it was used and to personalize it and Juan Williams has a lot of guts getting in front of a white audience that's conservative white in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and asking a question which was a reasonable question. I don't happen to agree with Juan on this. I think that all work is good... To work is to pray. Janitorial work is just as good as any other work. It serves a purpose. Kids can probably do. I went to Catholic School where the kids do most of the work. That's how Catholic schools operate. The kids do everything.. They deliver the milk. They clap the erasers they clean the blackboards they fix the books at the end of the year so the next year's kids can have them. There's a lot of things they do that I'm all for. Now, you can argue whether janitorial means black or not, but you know, these are codes for some people in some cases to some people.
MITCHELL: Here is Newt Gingrich defending himself. Let's hear that.
GINGRICH: You could take one janitor and hire thirty some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor and those thirty kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would be getting money, which is a good thing if you're poor. Only the elites despise earning money.
MATTHEWS: Well that's a great line. I'm all with him. This is so mixed up. This is all going to be about coaxing people to go back to where they are going to vote. Now, I see in Mitt Romney's campaign for example, a brilliant kind of boredom that you cannot blame a candidate for running a boring campaign but it's going to be about a return to this normalcy.
Mitchell: It's almost rope a dope.
Matthews: Remember the campaign of Harding back in '21 after eight years of Democrats.
MITCHELL: Frankly, I don't.
MATTHEWS: It was like return to normalcy. We have had this exotica with Obama. This sort of international globalony, we've been international, we have a guy that gets cheered over in Berlin so now we're gonna call him a European welfare socialist and all that.. It's this sort of idea, this has been kind of a turbulent time, let's go back to something boring and bland again, and I think that Romney will offer himself up to do that. Obviously there are racial aspects to that. You cannot blame the guy for being a racist or anything. This is all going to be part of this campaign.
MITCHELL: You are not saying he is.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think that sometimes it's just very interesting to watch how it's done. Because I do think that Romney is going to benefit from that, you know, David Brooks on his column today, boy is he smart, talks about the sense that he watched the debate down there in South Carolina and the campaign down there, and there's a sense of a reseeding white culture of the past trying to reclaim something, almost like I said, return to normalcy, regain what they had in terms of the white majority.
MITCHELL: One of the signals that was really out there was Rick Perry talking about state's rights
Matthews: Oh secession. He had talked about secession. It's almost like nullification, we're hearing these words again.
MITCHELL: In South Carolina, watch.
RICK PERRY: I'm saying that the state of Texas is under assault by federal government. I'm saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration.
MATTHEWS: This whole idea of voter id cards. We've had big cities. Look, you and I know Philadelphia, there have been some irregularities there. A good reason over there. There has been cheating. I cannot stand the idea of a person cheating in an election. You go to South Carolina, not everyone has a driver's license, you're 70 or 80 years old, you are a black voter, you don't have a drivers licence. You don't own a car. And so all of a sudden you say we gotta have an ID card. Well what would an ID card be.
MITCHELL: The Justice Department says minorities are 20% less likely to have a drivers licence.
MATTHEWS: It's called voter suppression. You know obviously it's going to get very ethnic and racial. It's going to get very hot. And I think you saw it in that all white audience the other night. It going to be bad and I don't like it. We are looking for signs of coaxing people back to their tribal attitudes. You know how it's done. That use of the name Juan, the way he does it. You cannot argue these things. You either see it or you don't. It's just the way he did that. I sensed a little applause when he said let me help you, when he answered the Juan question.
MITCHELL: In the eye of the beholder.
MATTHEWS: Its in the eye of the beholder. Oh and by the way, calling somebody a racist is the worst way to get them to stop being a racist. Because everybody gets defensive. Honestly, they say don't call me a racist. And then they get mad about it, it's stupid to say it. But if you notice it, you sort of ought to blow the whistle. Because there's a dog whistle going on here in a lot of cases and you have to deal with it. But boy is it tricky. People watch me right now and say Matthews is calling something that is not there. Others are saying it about time somebody called this.