Listen: Chris Matthews has become unstuck in time. Last week he flickered through the years like a fourth-dimensional Forrest Gump - defending "states' rights" over civil liberties like a plantation owner, describing lawbreaking as "the President's job" with a Future Dictator's doublespeak, and standing up for sleazy politicos as if he were Warren G. Harding's personal secretary.
And wait'll you hear his "whites-only country club" defense of Alito. Buckle your seatbelts and ride with us as ...
FLASH! It's 1974 and Watergate is in full swing. The Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) is guilty of burglary, wiretapping, and a variety of other criminal acts. It's an all-Republican scandal like today's, but our hero is right there serving the GOP cause:
Don't you have to be a real ideologue, a real partisan to believe that one party's more crooked than the other?
Oh, wait - that wasn't 1974. It was last week, when Matthews claimed - despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary - that current corruption scandals point equally to both parties. Then ...
FLASH! It's 1863, and he's standing up for up for the right of states to decide whether or not to permit slavery:
What's wrong with letting the people make the decision on whether people should be kept in slavery state-by-state?
No, hold on - he didn't say that. He said "What's wrong with letting the people make the decision on whether people should have a right to an abortion, state-by-state?" - which means, "what's wrong with letting the people decide what a woman does with her own body state-by-state?" (You don't have to agree with this position to understand that - right or wrong - any alleged constitutional righit needs to be decided by the court, not the popular vote.)
When his guest, Dick Durbin, rightly linked Matthews' argument to the old states-rights/anti-civil rights faction, Tweety fought back tooth and nail. This was not a man playing devil's advocate:
... we've stopped arguing about civil rights and public accommodations and fair employment because you guys (the Senate) voted on it as a Democratic/Republican body and it's over with.
("Over with"? The fight for equality is "over with"??) He continues to press his point, and ...
FLASH! It's 1948, at Chris is standing with the Dixiecrats at the Democratic Convention:
... we'll never end this argument if it's somebody--some big daddy in Washington decides it for us who's a judge in a robe for lifetime appointment. As long as it looks like somebody's telling us what to do, you guys are going to never stop arguing about this thing, are you? Ever?
Only a rich white pundit could conclude that the struggle for equality is over - and only a right-wing "ideologue" could argue that a judge affirming the constitutional rights of citizens is a "big daddy" in Washington. He concludes, "When is the last time we argued about civil rights in this country?" And then ...
FLASH! He's in some future, totalitarian America, defending the Great Leader's right to spy on any American at any time. From Tuesday's broadcast with whistleblower Russell Tice:
MATTHEWS: We're under attack on 9/11. A couple of days after that, if I were president ... and somebody said we had the ability to check on all the conversations going on between here and Hamburg, Germany, where all the al Qaeda people are or somewhere in Saudi ... and we could mine some of that information by just looking for some key words ... I'd do it.
TICE: Well, you'd be breaking the law.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, maybe that's part of the job.
The next night -- FLASH! We're in the Administration of Warren G. Harding, as his ally Mr. Matthews argues that his scandals are no big deal. Staffers may be implicated, but you know how those staffers are, don't you, President Harding!
First Chris makes his infamous quote, that only an "ideologue" could think that one party's more corrupt than the other. The wretched Charlie Cook agrees with him, of course, and blames "partisanship" (using a Republican code word that Hatch had already trotted out three times on the program). Says Cook: " ...part of the problem we have today, is today nobody's wrong, they are evil. And that's the fundamental view of the partisan." And what a politically convenient time for this insight. Ccriminality is being unearthed at all levels of the Republican Party, but to call it that is "partisan."
Then, it's on to those wacky staffers ...
MATTHEWS: (after comparing Jack Abramoff to Satan) Satan, if we believed in the religion, is a seducer. He gets people to do bad things. He tricks them into it, he says this is going to be great for you, this is a good thing to do, do it now, don't think about it. That's what he did with these young staffers.
He said, "Here, I'll get you the suit and I'll get you the nice tan and the week vacations and you'll be making six figures. It will be great for you and your family too." And they take the sleazy route in life. That's why he's Satan.
Aww ... some poor innocent staffers got seduced (Hey - wasn't Matthews a staffer once?), and that's all there is to it. Then ...
FLASH! We're back in the 1950's, where Matthews, Cook, and commentator Stuart Rothenberg consider it "character assassination" (Cook's term) for Democrats to criticize Alito's claim of membership in an organization that slurred minorities and mocked women.
MATTHEWS: If a guy has a racial problem, American has a racial problem, I mean, what's new in this country?
Everybody's a little racist. So what else is new? I call this one the "whites-only country club defense," because that's basically what it is - hey, so his club won't allow blacks or Jews? Big deal - everybody's got a racial problem, so shut up and let the man play a little golf.
Yep. Like Billy Pilgrim, ol' Tweety has become unstuck in time, jumping from one sordid moment in US history to another. Ugly opinions are even uglier when they're dressed up as folksy TV chatter.
I hope Kurt Vonnegut won't mind my using his Slaughterhouse-Five character, but day after day time-traveling Chris Matthews and the other Beltway Billy Pilgrims remind us that the ancient uglinesses of American politics are still a living reality.
And so it goes.