Guest: Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews
High: Wrap-up of the president‘s prime-time news conference.
Spec: Politics; Economy
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: With the repeated promise that his stimulus program was not only necessary, urgent, but will produce 4 million new jobs -- 90 percent of them in the private sector. But with bipartisanship or the lack thereof, seemingly, the main focus of the reporters in the room—President Barack Obama thus concludes his first news conference as the nation‘s 44th president. And yes, his answers to two of the first three questions of that first news conference—thorough and eloquent and crafted—were roughly seven minutes long each.
Keith Olbermann, back in New York, with you for an abbreviated edition of COUNTDOWN.
Let‘s turn immediately to two of my MSNBC colleagues, Chris Matthews the host of “HARBALL,” and Rachel Maddow, the host of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”
And, Chris, I‘ll start off with you here. The reference that the president just made at the end there, the ideological blockage, and the presentation of this by the questioners as the stimulus bill representing some sort of bipartisan failure—you get three Republicans to jump-ship in this partisan times, is that a failure or an extraordinary development of success that people think of it themselves?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL”: Well, it‘s a necessity to get past 60 votes. We can argue about that Senate procedure. I thought he was very eloquent tonight and very useful to our representative democracy into explaining why he‘s not getting tougher with the Republicans.
He used the velvet glove a couple of times, saying, “Look, it‘s hard for me not to be tough on people who doubled the national debt. It‘s hard for me not to recognize the deficiencies in the argument of politicians who disagree with almost all economists.” He was very nice about it, even subtle. But clearly, he was making his points but he‘s really making an effort, it seems, to build a four-year record ahead of him.
I have never seen such forward-looking attitude from a politician. He kept saying, “I‘m not doing this for this week, I‘m doing this for the next four years,” which is to try to build civility and to get past these bad habits of partisanship.
OLBERMANN: Rachel, that point that Chris raises, the idea that there is a reality to what he is saying, and yet, he‘s pulling no punches, and yet, it doesn‘t seem to be gloating, and yet—as soon as you think, “Well, he is really extending the olive branch to the other side,” there is a then suddenly a reminder that they were the ones in charge as this thing developed. It is quite—it‘s almost no middle and all extremes as opposed to a presidency of the last eight years that was really just one extreme and no middle, and certainly, not the other extreme.
RACHEL MADDOW, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”: I thought he very seems like a man who has very large majorities in both houses of Congress. And so, if you are in that sort of position and you‘re not sort of fighting 50/50 on everything, if you got a near filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a miles wide majority in the House, then you really don‘t have to bash the other guys all that much. You probably win a few over by reveling in your own high public opinion ratings, and in the fact that you have a talent for making your own positions seem reasonable.
I think Chris is right that he sort of—it was sort of a velvet glove. That he did take a couple of little whacks at Republican positions here, but nothing like we have seen actually in the last few days when we saw some real—a lot more aggression from him. I thought he seemed sort of calm, cool and collected here.
OLBERMANN: Rachel, the idea of this as presentation: Is this—if you are sitting at home and you‘re not a member of the media and you‘re not a political wonk and this has come on, you know, Channel Two and you just saw this, is this the environment in which you get convinced that these large amounts of money, these numbers that are being thrown around, nearly $1 trillion, when you know that we are in the red as a nation—is this the environment in which you would be convinced or should they be doing those town halls at night and leave the news conferences for the middle of the afternoon?
MADDOW: Well, I think that they are trying to bridge that gap. I mean, that‘s why the whole start of the statement was about—sort of very, almost moving statement about how bad it is in Elkhart, Indiana. The idea of, you know, the food banks being advertised through local media even though they don‘t have enough food to give out and the sort of hopelessness in a place that‘s had unemployment rate triple over the last year. He is trying to bring that sense of urgency to Washington rather than trying to explain what‘s going on in Washington in the rest of the country.
I think that‘s the effort. And that‘s why he‘s going to be going to Illinois on Thursday; that‘s why he‘s going to be going to Fort Myers tomorrow. This is an effort just to try to make it seem this is not just a regular political problem.
OLBERMANN: Chris, address this. What is this like looking at this from home rather than from one of us in a studio or from somebody sitting there in that East Room asking one of these questions?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think our breed looked pretty good tonight. I think the press looked very good tonight. I think they asked great questions. I love—I would be very impressed with the press tonight. I think Mara Liasson‘s question, Jake Tapper‘s questions, Chuck‘s questions were very sound.
I think they asked interesting questions. They covered a range of American topics, from the stimulus package to the situation in Afghanistan, the Pakistan border, even into the question of A-Rod. They are asking questions that most people want answers to. So, I think the press looked very good tonight.
Secondly, I thought the president showed his analytical mind. I think there is a challenge to the presidency right now. These are complicated issues. We want to hear the president‘s mind working. We don‘t just want to hear his final decision, his bottom line—that‘s useless to us.
We want to know how he gets there. How does this decision to push the stimulus package get us down the road to a turned-around economy? How does it work? He tried to explain that.
He said, “We are trying to stop the downward cycle, the downward spiral. We are trying to put money in people‘s pockets. We‘re trying to loosen up the credit markets. We‘re trying to get public works going out there to get jobs created.”
He said, the benchmark, the metric he should be judged by, in the fist instance is 3 million to 4 million new jobs. After that, certainly, the credit market is loosening up, and after that, the housing situation stabilized.
He was precise and I was very impressed with his amazing ability standing in front of the American people on a roadblock—by the way, you couldn‘t find a channel, hardly, that he wasn‘t on tonight—a roadblock of American attention and he was at his best intellectually. I think it was great example of how his mind works. And I think we‘re going to have to know that in the next four years—how is he thinking on this thing.
OLBERMANN: And there was nothing cut out. “At this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life.” That is a pretty strong statement.
But you just hit on something here that‘s almost—it‘s half a question of style points and half a question that evokes the old Woody Allen joke about how people‘s standards have been lowered systematically by television over the last 50 years. This is an entirely different experience for anybody who really perhaps only knew in their young lives President Bush and didn‘t know anything before that—this news conference in which a president will answer a multipart question with a series of four different answers, all of them absolutely common sense and also intellectual and will take seven minutes to answer them. Is this .
OLBERMANN: Is he going to adjust to where people were with George Bush‘s kind of more truncated performance or is he anticipating the democracy to be participatory and people are going to go in there—and believe me, I‘m the last person to criticize anybody for being expansive on television—but is he going to demand, you know, citizens to go along with him and listen for the whole seven minutes?
MATTHEWS: Well, he is asking us to touch on all the points and agree when he does, and it‘s worthwhile to do so. I think it was the difference in the old quiz shows, between the $64,000 question when there was a multipart question—by the way, some of that was rigged obviously. But a multipart question which required knowledge in a number of areas and you had to put it together as opposed to “Jeopardy” where you quickly give an answer.
I think he showed his ability to go around the room with a flashlight to the question you put. You ask a question which is a holistic question, so let me look at this part, that part. He does—what a mind he has. And I love his ability to do it on television. I love to think with him. I think the more we get through this thicket of economic quandary right now, the more we are going to need to hear how our president is going at it. And he showed us tonight.
MADDOW: I would just—I do think, though, that there is a cost to the seven-minute answer and as a person who is prone to that myself, I understand what that cost is. And then, as you do sometimes need to send people home with a sound bite, send people home with a bumper sticker so that they hold on to the big idea of what it is that you are selling them, really.
I mean, that is one criticism, I think, of the stimulus effort which is that there isn‘t—it doesn‘t have a name. It doesn‘t have a single big ideal. There isn‘t a representative program that he‘s asking America to get behind and to think about when we think about the stimulus.
What we are being asked to think about is a sort of macroeconomics 101 concept about there are not enough spending in the economy and the government being able to fill that gap.
MADDOW: That‘s not a bumper sticker, and maybe we need one sometimes.
OLBERMANN: Well, perhaps that‘s the next part of the participatory democracy. We‘ll just give this crisis a name. People send in their suggestions. We‘ll bring this to a brief pause here. Rachel Maddow is back in a moment with you for a live edition of her show. Chris Matthews is back at midnight Eastern for a special live edition of “HARDBALL.”
Thanks to both of you for your presence in this immediate wrap-up.
MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.
MATTHEWS: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I hope to see you at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific for a late-night live edition of COUNTDOWN, not just the news conference but also, Bushed, Worsts, the interviews with Captain Chesley Sullenberger of Flight 1549. And you heard the president answered a question about Alex Rodriguez. The former media relations director of the New York Yankees is now a media crisis adviser, of all things, on the crisis now faced in the media by the Yankees‘ Alex Rodriguez after his admission that he used steroids.
See you live for COUNTDOWN at 10:00 Eastern. Our coverage of President Obama‘s first news conference continues. And here again is Rachel Maddow—Rachel?
MADDOW: Thank you, Keith. I look forward to that live “COUNTDOWN” at 10:00 o‘clock.
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