I find myself in a strange place after the Nevada caucuses.
There’s confronting the possibility that, yes, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont might indeed become the Jeremy Corbyn of America, a socialist as the nominal head of the official party of the center-left.
There’s the fact that the Nevada caucuses, usually a tossed-off afterthought to entertain the politically ravenous class in between New Hampshire and South Carolina, actually seemed to matter this year.
And then there’s the odd feeling I had when I actually felt the obligation to stick up for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
I’m not just talking about agreeing with Matthews. I didn’t even do that when the cantankerous “Hardball” host went on his rant about socialism and executions in Central Park — which was putting too fine a point on it, I thought, but had tocsin of truth about it. It was also wildly entertaining.
But to be caught agreeing with Matthews is to be a teenager caught enjoying the same music that your parents did — so I just laughed and moved on.
This time was a bit different.
Perhaps this was just my personal impression, but MSNBC seemed to stay with the Nevada caucuses a lot longer than their competitors. By the time it was clear Sanders was going to win and was going to win big, CNN had cut away to its execrable original series “Road to the White House.” I hadn’t tuned in to Fox all night because I find it entertaining to watch avowed liberals alternately embrace/lose their cookies over Comrade Sanders looking as if he’s marching toward the nomination.
This meant even from the beginning, MSNBC gave its talking heads a lot of space to talk, for better or worse.
Maybe I was on CNN at the time or perhaps the moment flew over my head, but Matthews made a comparison between the surprise domination of the Sanders campaign thus far in the primary season that involved the Nazis toppling France and the subsequent reaction of a French general.
When I watched it, the outrage still went over my head.
“I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940 and the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over,'” Matthews said.
“And Churchill says, ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.'”
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews likens Sanders victory in Nevada to Nazi Germany overrunning France in 1940: “It’s too late to stop him … it’s over” pic.twitter.com/6GJetLoDkq
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) February 22, 2020
So now, naturally, Chris Matthews is supposed to be out of a job.
Sanders’ communications director, Mike Casca, didn’t directly call for Matthews’ resignation but doesn’t sound like he’d be too disappointed with it, either.
Casca said in a tweet Saturday that he “never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the nazis to the third reich. but here we are.”
never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the nazis to the third reich.
but here we are. https://t.co/2G1bqZ6bkI
— mike casca (@cascamike) February 22, 2020
There were plenty of members of the blue-checkmark brigade that were completely willing to call for Matthews’ head, though.
It is absolutely unacceptable that Matthews is making comparisons between Bernie Sanders, whose family was murdered by Nazis, to Nazis.@HardballChris needs to retire. Immediately.
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) February 22, 2020
Chris Mathews has been generous to me on a number of occasions, even blurbing my book. However, his constant references to political violence and today Nazism to describe Bernie Sanders campaign is beyond the pale. @HardballChris must resign or be fired from @MSNBC.
— Arun Chaudhary (@ArunChaud) February 22, 2020
For once, I’m not being sarcastic here. I’m dead serious.
I’m really, really insulted by a major pundit on an allegedly liberal news network comparing a Jewish candidate’s overwhelming caucus victory to the French losing a battle with the Nazis.
Get this lunatic off the air. https://t.co/HZXWl3ceS7
— Alex Kotch (@alexkotch) February 22, 2020
It’s amazing. As members of the media and the Bernie brigade watched the results trickle in from Nevada, the scales suddenly fell from their eyes.
As they tried to get those scales out of the rug (tricky work, that) they realized that perhaps making comparisons involving politicians and the Third Reich might be politically fraught territory and that caution ought to be used.
Then they turned to outrage — except in the wrong circumstance.
In no way did Chris Matthews call Bernie Sanders a Nazi.
In no way was there a comparison between the ideology of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and the Sanders campaign. None of this happened.
What Matthews did was make a rhetorical point: Much like the Maginot Line, the Democratic field — in particular, former Vice President Joe Biden — thought they’d buy themselves some time between the first few Sanders-centric primaries and South Carolina by a fractured vote and consistent coverage of how extreme the Vermont senator’s positions are.
Matthews himself has been very clear about that last point, comparing the current race to the 1972 Democratic primaries that yielded South Dakota Sen. George McGovern as the party’s nominee. McGovern still remains the most far-left standard-bearer in modern presidential history. Matthews talked about the Democratic National Convention that year, “when the people on the left were dancing in glee” — McGovern got wiped out in the general election, losing 49 states to Richard Nixon.
That ideological Maginot Line was crossed in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Sanders was pretty much the only top vote-getter with a national base. At least his percentages were in the mid-20s in both of those, however. In Nevada, Sanders came dangerously close to 50 percent.
Anyone with the most rudimentary grasp of history would have gotten what Matthews was saying here. They didn’t want to. Matthews doesn’t like Sanders or the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party and therefore Matthews has to go.
And again, it’s interesting to see Chris Matthews pilloried for making a Nazi reference when Godwin’s Law has all but been suspended for the entirety of the Trump presidency. It’s socially, morally and professionally acceptable to compare the president’s immigration policy to the institution of “concentration camps” or to call various figures — up to President Donald Trump himself — “white nationalists,” as if that term hasn’t ceased to mean anything.
It’s a difficult and ugly thing to have to stand up for the hypercaffeinated straw-haired scold of MSNBC, but there you have it. The only offensive thing in this whole controversy is the counterfeit outrage of the left.
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