In Defense of Chris Matthews

Matthews was being honest and hardly racist in his remarks.

Matthews is getting some hot water about saying, in the midst of praising not only Obama’s SOTU speech but the President himself, that while he was listening to the speech, “I forgot he was Black.”

Can we just stop this, please?

Obama is a unique politician because he can (sometimes) transcend the racial poison that has characterized much of this nation’s history.  Matthews sees that, and he admires it.  We can, should, and must accept colloquial (and clearly non-racist) descriptions of the scene without all the fancy apparatus of faux detachment.

Obviously, I’m hardly uncritical of the President, but he is at his best when he treats the public like grownups.  So why don’t we act like it?  Matthews did, and so should the rest of us.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Chris Matthews”

  1. I can’t think of a commentator ever praising a white politician by saying “I forgot he was white”. If shedding one’s blackness is a praiseworthy accomplishment but shedding one’s whiteness isn’t, then we’ve got a lot of racial poison left to transcend.

  2. No argument that "we've got a lot of racial poison left to transcend." That we notice Matthews' assumptions could be seen as increased sensitivity to racial bias. Remember when we said things like, "He's smart, for a (fill in stereotyped ethnic group or nationality here)." Or "She's ___ for a women." We're learning to recognize our assumptions, and although it isn't always pretty, I believe it is a good thing.

    Does anyone mind that "I felt Obama was on my side," or "I felt we had a lot in common" ?

    As I recall, Newsweek said that what many people dislike about the President is that he THINKS and is thoughtful, even if that means he doesn't emote much. That is what I voted for and what I like. He THINKS. He consults. He learns. This morning I've heard some (progressive) commentators nitpick about whether all his facts meet Price-Waterhouse accuracy standards. My observation is that his statements, while necessarily brief and even simplified, are more true than untrue. (And don't forget the shennanigans that CPA's have been responsible for in the past.)

    I like Obama's optimistic outlook; his habit of addressing problems and fears directly, his refusal to act or lashing out at anyone, opponents included, in panic.

  3. "As I recall, Newsweek said that what many people dislike about the President is that he THINKS and is thoughtful, even if that means he doesn’t emote much."

    Typical Newsweek error. No, we dislike that he's really good at giving the superficial IMPRESSION that he thinks and is thoughtful, and find his typical low affect reading style, (You can't really call it a speaking style when he's so teleprompter dependent.) rather disturbingly like a moderately well programed voice synthesizer. It's the speaking version, I suppose, of wearing sunglasses to hide one's expression.

    If he really WAS thoughtful, I suspect he would be a somewhat more competent President.

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