Chris Matthews Battles Nancy Pfotenhauer Over Elementary School Civics

11/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday, Sarah Palin was asked to describe the duties of the Vice President, which is something she'd never before been briefed on by anyone other than maybe Dick Cheney, because she answered by straight making stuff up off the top of her topsy-tailed dome:

PALIN: A Vice President has a really great job because not only are they there to support the President's agenda, they are like the team member, the teammate to the president. They are in charge of the United States Senate. If they want to, they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that make life better.

Oh. But? No! Of course, the Vice President is not "in charge" of the Senate, and, similarly, does not have the opportunity to "really get in there with the senators" and "make a lot of good policy." I know this to be the case because, if Palin became Vice President, she'd face a Senate run by ... uhm ... the Democratic Party. I also know this because I successfully graduated from elementary school.

But someone had to go on Hardball tonight and battle Chris Matthews over this weird statement from Palin, and, apparently, "real Virginian" Nancy Pfotenhauer drew the short straw. Since she couldn't just go on and say something truthful like, "Chris, look. I don't know if you've noticed, but our Veep candidate is sort of a dumbass with a lot of pluck," she instead had to say weird crap like this:

I'm not a Constitutional scholar, but I have been reading a commentary on this that seems to be that people are parsing her words and she was trying to explain to a young child what the Vice President would do.

But Palin wasn't talking to a young child, she was talking to a grown-up news reporter! And you don't need to be a Constitutional scholar to know that the duties of the Vice President is to step in as President if the Chief Executive is unable to perform their duties, and to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. You can glean this just by being a Constitutional reader. Or just a listener to someone -- anyone -- who knows what the heck they are talking about.

Pfotenhauer, nevertheless, keeps up her crazy attempt to defend Palin, first explaining that Palin was "simplifying the explanation" for the absent child, when in reality she was badly complicating the VP's role, and getting it wrong to boot. Then she insisted that the same standard be applied to Joe Biden, who's never demonstrated a similar ignorance of the role. Eventually, all she can do is sort of sit there and let Chris Matthews shame Palin again and again, by saying things like: "The clothing allowance was right and the prep sessions were not ... By the way, I like the red leather jacket, but what's underneath it is a problem."

Anyway, for once, it was a good day to be Tucker Bounds.

[WATCH.]

MATTHEWS: I want to talk about the role of the Vice President. I want to give you a shot at this. You are not somebody in from out of town. What is the role of the Vice President under the U.S. Constitution? Simply put, you know it or you don't. Either a person understands the role of the Vice President or they don't. What, as you understand it from the Constitution, as a professional, is the role of the Vice President? We are filling the part.

PFOTENHAUER: That's right. Obviously the role of the Vice President is to support the President, but also to preside when necessary over the Senate. This is also --

MATTHEWS: That's not the role of the Vice President. I gave you a shot, Nancy. Try again. What is the Constitutional role of the Vice President in the Constitution. What's written in the Constitution?

PFOTENHAUER: I'm not a Constitutional scholar, but I have been reading a commentary on this that seems to be that people are parsing her words and she was trying to explain to a young child what the Vice President would do.

MATTHEWS: Nancy, I appreciate you coming on the show. It's a tough defense of Sarah Palin. She doesn't understand the role of the Vice President. Let me state it vetr clearly right now. It's to replace the president if necessary. as Colin Powell said, to stand ready in the tragic circumstances to replace the President. Now, that's one role. The other is to have only a tie-breaking role as presiding officer in the senate. That's it. The Constitution specifically prescribes that. In fact that's all that the person has the right to do. Here's Sarah Palin with her definition of this role, which sounds strange to me. I have been in this city for a long time and never heard anybody say -- it's similar to what she said in the debate with Joe Biden. Where does she get her civics? Here's Sarah Palin.

PALIN: A Vice President has a great job because not only are they there to support the President's agenda, they are like the team member, the teammate to that President. They are in charge of the senate. if they want to, they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better.

MATTHEWS: Continue that thought, Nancy.

PFOTENHAUER: I think she is clearly just trying to break down what it means to preside over the U.S. Senate upon occasion to a young child. Having raised five, I can tell you that you obviously have to simplify things when you discuss it. I think you guys are --

MATTHEWS: She is talking to a news reporter at the time. She had been asked the question earlier by a second grader, but this time she is talking to a news reporter. Either she's right about the role of the Vice President or I'm wrong. I would say the role of the vice presidency is limited to breaking ties in the U.S. Senate. It has nothing to do with policy making or Senate leadership on either side of the aisle. There is no policy role for the Vice President. If you even watched "John Adams" on television a few months ago, you would know that going into the beginning. The Vice President has a formal role only. She believes somehow that the Vice President has a commanding policy development role to lead the Senate. Where did she get that.

PFOTENHAUER: You can't just apply this criticism to Governor Palin and not apply it to Joe Biden, who is constantly inferring...and Barack Obama as well. He is going to offer a function as a chief foreign policy adviser. Off the record, claiming that Barack Obama is basically going to make our enemies nervous enough that they will contrive...

MATTHEWS: It is so obvious to everyone watching that you are changing the subject. I want to ask you because you know the answer, what is the legislative authority of a Vice President?

PFOTENHAUER: From the standpoint of ... they cast tie breaking votes. I don't even know how you are parsing legislative authority. Obviously legislation is drafted in the House and the Senate. Certain legislation like revenues or tax bills have to be in the House and passed in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Does Governor Palin know this? She thinks she set up policy shop in the United States Senate.

PFOTENHAUER: You know the Vice President has a permanent office in the U.S. Senate. They engage casually -- maybe not formally, but casually -- all the time with the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

MATTHEWS: No, no, no.

PFOTENHAUER: Yes, they do.

MATTHEWS: Let's watch her again. You are missing what she is saying. She is saying she will be a leader developing policy. It's very important we get this right. The clothing allowance was right and the prep sessions were not. Let's take a look. By the way, I like the red leather jacket, but what's underneath is a problem. Let's take a look.

PALIN: A Vice President has a really great job because not only are they there to support the President's agenda, they are like the team member, the teammate to the president. They are in charge of the United States Senate. If they want to, they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes that make life better.