Matthews compared Bush performance at press conference to Lincoln

Video ››› ››› JOE BROWN

During MSNBC's special coverage of President Bush's May 25 press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chris Matthews touted Bush's repudiation of previous remarks in which Bush stated that he wanted Osama bin Laden brought to justice "dead or alive," and in which he seemed to dare Iraqi insurgents who would attack U.S. troops, stating, "Bring 'em on." Matthews stated that Bush's remarks contained a "little bit of Lincoln" and that the "shared grief with the American people" expressed by Bush during the conference was "what Lincoln felt too."

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During MSNBC's special coverage of President Bush's May 25 press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Hardball host Chris Matthews and chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell effusively praised Bush. Matthews and O'Donnell touted Bush's repudiation of two of his previous remarks -- in which he stated that he wanted Osama bin Laden brought to justice "dead or alive," and in which he seemed to dare Iraqi insurgents who would attack U.S. troops, stating, "Bring 'em on."

Matthews stated that Bush's remarks contained a "little bit of Lincoln" and that the "shared grief with the American people" expressed by Bush during the conference was "what Lincoln felt too." Matthews further asserted that Bush "elevated himself above his critics and his supporters" by acknowledging that he "see[s]" the human "price" of the Iraq war "every day."

O'Donnell stated that for Bush "to be so open" in acknowledging his own mistakes suggests that he is "willing perhaps to change" and "again seek reconciliation," adding that Bush is "looking towards his legacy."

From MSNBC's special coverage of the May 25 press conference, featuring Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas and Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown:

MATTHEWS: Well, we're joined, of course, right now by MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell. Let me ask you a second question. Do you think that's going to be the headline tomorrow in the newspapers? The admission of error.

O'DONNELL: I do. You know, the president, when he was asked that question, he kind of joked and said this is becoming a familiar refrain, because he is frequently asked, "What mistakes have you made?" And he has resisted ever admitting that he makes mistakes.

And for him to be so open, so open tonight suggests a reflectiveness, suggests a man in his second term who's willing perhaps to change, who is willing to again seek reconciliation. And saying I -- that I said, "Bring it on," "Dead or alive," that cowboy image in the world that he is viewed. It also suggests, I think, in some ways that he's looking towards his legacy.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Keith, let's take a look right now at what the president said in that amazing moment of reflection we saw near the end of the press conference.

BUSH [video clip]: Saying "Bring it on." Kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people, that I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know, "Wanted dead or alive," that kind of talk. It -- I think, in certain parts of the world, it was misinterpreted. And so I learned from that. And, you know, I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time.

MATTHEWS: A little bit of Lincoln there, I think, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, the idea, of course, then becomes, what did the president think that those statements -- how did he think those were going to be interpreted originally when he made them? They were not all made at once, they were made over a series of days after 9-11 and before we went into Afghanistan, if my chronology serves me, here. So, again, I think your point is well taken about this window inside the president's appreciation of where his comments played and how they played internationally. But, they do raise those two other questions, which is, why are we just hearing this now, and some of these things were said 3 1/2 or more years ago and what -- what, entirely, do they mean in terms of openness against that backdrop where, during the debates two years ago, he literally had no answer to the question "What are your most -- what things do you most regret?"

[...]

MATTHEWS: Let's go into our -- let's go to colleague Joe Scarborough [host of MSNBC's Scarborough Country]. Joe, I know at this moment there's some people in the anti-war front who are saying, "I told you so," and are going to jump on that. I'll tell you, this is a moment, I think, where Bush elevated himself above his critics and his supporters by saying, you know, "I'm a wartime president. This is not a happy time for me, and I don't like this death scene we're watching. I maybe have a policy, but I see its price every day."

[...]

MATTHEWS: Evan, there is an old expression in politics, "Don't get so far ahead of the parade that you can't hear the music." Is it possible that what the president was trying to do tonight was to reconcile his own sort of tough views of the war with what he knows to be the sad views of most Americans about this war? He knows we're sad about the war, right, left, and center. As long as he looks too cheerful about it, too upbeat about it, he's out of sync. He has to at least step back into crowd again and say, "Although we disagree on whether we should fight this war, we both agree on one thing, this is painful. We're coming up to Memorial Day. I share your grief about this war, even if we disagree."

THOMAS: I thought he sounded vaguely depressive tonight.

MATTHEWS: Depressive.

THOMAS: Depressive. He was so weary that it was like a guy who's sleepy because he's depressed. Now, whether that was calculated, a tone that he's trying to, as you're suggesting, trying to show a sadness to the American people or that's just the way he feels.

MATTHEWS: It's what Lincoln felt, too, so I'm giving him that credit. It is something that a great leader should express in wartime. Not joviality, in fact, not even overconfidence, but a shared grief with the American people. Every day he has to bury some more people, and he's certainly the president, the commander in chief, who has to write the letter, and it's -- maybe it's a good time to admit that.

THOMAS: It's not just writing letters. He's meeting with these families on a regular basis.

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MSNBC
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Chris Matthews
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