It is official: Chris Matthews has lost all credibility. The MSNBC host recently compared Tea Party members of the Republican Party to racist whites of apartheid-era South Africa, saying their goal is to forge an independent racialist ministate within America. Even by the standards of MSNBC, this is beyond the pale. Mr. Matthews is either completely disconnected from reality or a dangerous demagogue fomenting political violence.
On Monday's "Hardball" program, Mr. Matthews asked the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman why the GOP was taking a tough line on the debt-ceiling negotiations. "What's going on here as I see it is a kind of slow-motion secession," Mr. Fineman said. "This is an ending of the social compact. This is two, three generations' worth of agreement about Social Security, about Medicare, about the role of the federal government."
Mr. Fineman added: "The Tea Party people are saying, 'We want to secede from that society. And the way to do it is to draw the line on spending and taxes, to starve the federal government so that it loses power, so that we aren't part of the social compact anymore.' "
For Mr. Matthews, that conjured up images of apartheid South Africa and the efforts by some militant whites to create their own separatist enclave.
"This sounds like - I spent two years in southern Africa - [it] sounds like what the whites talked about doing," he said. "Eventually going into some circle, like Custer's Last Stand, against the United States."
Mr. Matthews should be ashamed of himself. He is mendaciously engaging in inflammatory rhetoric to smear the Tea Party movement as being rife with neo-Nazis. It's no accident his shameful comments came several days after the Oslo terrorist atrocities, in which Anders Behring Breivik is charged with slaughtering innocent Norwegians in the name of white supremacy. Mr. Matthews' implication was obvious: The Tea Party is full of potential Breiviks, evil murderers bent on imposing a racial nationalist state.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Tea Party has called for secession - never mind emulating apartheid South Africa. It is a figment of Mr. Matthews' imagination, a libel for which he should apologize. Moreover, the Tea Party has never demanded the dissolution of the "social compact." Nor has it called for the end of the welfare state. In fact, the very opposite is true: The movement wants to save the welfare state by making it economically sustainable.
The Tea Party understands that we are going broke. Lavish social programs, record deficits and skyrocketing debt threaten to send America off a financial cliff. Unless spending is slashed, budgets balanced and entitlement programs reformed, America is heading the way of Greece. This is not ideological politics; it's simple mathematical reality. Hence, Tea Party Republicans - those who refuse to give President Obama a blank check to continue the reckless borrowing-and-spending binge - are rightly insisting that the debt-ceiling crisis is a wake-up call: Become fiscally responsible or face national bankruptcy.
Also, entitlement reform does not end the social compact. Raising the retirement age for Social Security or introducing means testing for Medicare would not shred the safety net. Rather, those changes would revamp the welfare state. Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and House Budget chairman, wants to update and streamline the New Deal-Great Society for the 21st century, not wreck it.
Mr. Matthews knows this - and doesn't care. He is not a principled liberal progressive, but a ruthless Democratic hack who tows the line. He resembles a Brezhnev-era apparatchik, whose role is to be the party's ideological enforcer, constantly getting more hysterical as he seeks to smear opponents. There is nothing genuine or professional about him.
In fact, Mr. Matthews has made a litany of embarrassing and demonstrably false statements. He claimed President George W. Bush was presiding over "a regime" akin to fascist Germany. He says America routinely "tortures" jihadist suspects. He has called Republicans "terrorists." He has fantasized on air about the shooting of Rush Limbaugh. And during the 2008 campaign, he publicly admitted that every time then-candidate Barack Obama spoke, Mr. Matthews felt a "thrill running up my leg." Those aren't the statements of a responsible journalist. They are those of a rabid Democratic ideologue - a shameless party functionary.
This should come as no surprise. Mr. Matthews rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party. In particular, he was a top aide to late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, cutting his teeth on old-style, corrupt Democratic politics and street brawling. O'Neill frequently clashed with his nemesis, President Reagan. O'Neill was known for two things: his fondness for whiskey and tax-and-spend liberalism - in that order. Mr. Matthews was O'Neill's political thug, the hatchet man who lashed out at GOP critics. His formula was simple: The wilder the accusation, the better.
Mr. Matthews' subsequent rise from columnist to TV talking head reveals the rot at the heart of the so-called "mainstream media." There is nothing objective or independent about it. Rather, it serves as a rotating door where former Democratic officials - George Stephanopoulos, James Carville, Paul Begala, Eliot Spitzer - can act as mouthpieces for the party.
Mr. Matthews is in full panic. He and his fellow liberal Democrats spent decades building a cradle-to-grave entitlement society. It is crumbling - a victim of its own massive weight and bureaucratic inertia. The bill has come due, and Americans can no longer afford it. Mr. Matthews would prefer to live in a fantasy bubble - his own mental padded cell - than confront this harsh truth. It's time for him to retire.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.
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