Amid reports that President-elect Barack Obama has decided to nominate Clinton Justice Department veteran Eric Holder to be attorney general, Chris Matthews criticized Obama on Hardball: "You could do this in any bureaucratic state, you could do it in the old Soviet Union. ... You don't need elections for this crap." But in 2001, Matthews said of George W. Bush's Cabinet picks, which included veterans of past administrations: "There's some real heavyweights in terms of experience."
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On the November 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, amid reports that President-elect Barack Obama has decided to nominate Clinton Justice Department veteran Eric Holder to be attorney general, host Chris Matthews said, "This is what you do when you don't have elections. You simply promote the people ... who had the deputy jobs. You could do this in any bureaucratic state, you could do it in the old Soviet Union. ... You don't need elections for this crap." But in 2001, responding to then President-elect George W. Bush's selection to his cabinet of veterans of prior administrations, Matthews offered a very different assessment of such actions. Purporting to quote "an NBC driver" on the January 3, 2001, edition of Hardball, Matthews said the driver, a Vietnam veteran, is "like a lot of guys you meet," and said, "They want guys who've been around and survived." Matthews then said of then-President elect George W. Bush's Cabinet picks: "You've got it in this Cabinet. There's some real heavyweights in terms of experience."
At the time, Bush had nominated Donald Rumsfeld to be secretary of defense, the same position he held under President Ford, and Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush, to be secretary of state. He had also named Dick Cheney, defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush, to be his running mate.
While Matthews raised the question of whether, in his Cabinet picks, Bush "risk[ed] being overwhelmed by their maturity and veteran status," he did not suggest that Bush was mimicking "the old Soviet Union" in selecting people who had served in previous administrations.
From the January 3, 2001, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews (retrieved from the Nexis news database):
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about this big fight over the Cabinet. First of all, it's -- the most impressive Cabinet appointment in the world right now is -- is Colin Powell, your friend.
BILL BENNETT (secretary of education under President Reagan): Well, obviously...
BENNETT: ... hailed worldwide and everyone in America loves him.
MATTHEWS: Probably the most impressive Cabinet appointment since Jefferson or whatever back in the early days of our republic. Do you think he might find his way into a vice-presidential nomination in four years?
BENNETT: Sure he can. And who knows what Cheney wants to do? He could have found his way into a presidential nomination. If you remember, some of us were encouraging...
MATTHEWS: But this will be the less -- this would be less dramatic. This would be a smooth transition.
BENNETT: Yeah, this would be an easy transition. Exactly right.
MATTHEWS: And he -- I've been thinking about this overnight. The Bush people have a tremendous ace in the hole. It's Colin Powell. He may run the next time. That ticket would be undefeatable.
BENNETT: Well, it's an ace in the hole for that. It's, also, an ace in the hole, I think, for some serious issue of foreign policy. If we need an appeal to the nation, the president makes it. Colin Powell can also speak and persuade a lot of people.
MATTHEWS: I had an NBC driver the other day, I was doing the TODAY show, and he said something really powerful to me, like a lot of guys you meet. You know what he said? He said people -- and he was in Vietnam for -- he said people like to be around veterans. They like to be with a guy who's been there 10 months. They don't want to be surrounded by raw recruits, and...
BENNETT: That's right.
MATTHEWS: ... and guys that -- you know, just guys who were brought in -- grunts, as they were called.
MATTHEWS: They want guys who've been around and survived. You've got it in this Cabinet. There's some real heavyweights in terms of experience.
MATTHEWS: Does your guy, the president elect, risk being overwhelmed by their maturity and veteran status? I mean, you've got Dick Cheney in the room. Don Rumsfeld, the former secretary of Defense. You've got Colin Powell, a world hero. And you're the least...
MATTHEWS: ... impressive guy in the room.
BENNETT: Well, I don't think so, but very strong. I -- you know, when I went to a university once, the president of the university told me if your department chairman -- there's only one test for a good department chairman -- hire people whose -- who are -- whose light will shine brighter than his, that's a secure guy. This is a very strong bunch of people. It's also -- and a lot of people are somewhat surprised -- a conservative Cabinet. I mean, it's...
BENNETT: ... diverse and all this, but this is a very strong, conservative Cabinet.
From the November 18 edition of Hardball:
MATTHEWS: But first tonight, as President-elect Obama assembles his governing team, some of the members of the new administration charged with change look awfully familiar. Joining me, MSNBC's political analyst Pat Buchanan and American Prospect editor and author of Obama's Challenge Robert Kuttner.
Pat, let's take a look at some of these faces. I mean, they are not the new kids on the block. Eric Holder tonight, for attorney general. Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. Joe Lieberman stays on as senator from Connecticut and prime member of the Democratic caucus. Look at this list. We've got Lieberman on, [John] Podesta [co-chairman of Obama's transition team], [Rahm] Emanuel [incoming White House chief of staff], Holder, Clinton -- the list goes on. I'm looking for the new face. Pat?
BUCHANAN: Well, we're in -- look, we're in retread city, is what's going on. This is the Nixon -- I mean, the Clinton alumni association showing up here.
MATTHEWS: No, you're a Nixon alumni association.
BUCHANAN: I'm Nixon alumni. But you know, but Eric Holder is, I mean, he's a very competent, able man, but the thing he's most famous for, as you mentioned, is a pardon -- Frank Rich's pardon, which he expedited on behalf of Bill Clinton. He was going to run for mayor of D.C. He's as local as you can get. I mean, I don't see anyone from outside, real change here. I mean, these people are undeniably competent, but this is what you'd expect if someone else had won.
MATTHEWS: This is what you do when you don't have elections. You simply promote the people -- Robert Kuttner -- who had the deputy jobs. You could do this in any bureaucratic state, you could do it in the old Soviet Union, do it anywhere you have a bureaucracy. You don't need to hold elections to promote deputies to the top job when it comes time, right? You don't need elections for this crap, do you? Robert?
KUTTNER: Well, I was disappointed --
MATTHEWS: You just keep promoting people from within in any old, tired bureaucracy. That's what you do. You don't think. It's very Republican thinking, Pat, by the way.
By the way, he didn't pardon Frank Rich of The New York Times; he pardoned Marc Rich.
BUCHANAN: It was Marc Rich.
MATTHEWS: I know you've got Frank on your mind. But, uh -- just kidding. We all make mistakes here.