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A Tale of Two Chris Matthews(es)

2:47 PM, Oct 3, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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He was the best of candidates. She was the worst of candidates. And, usually for doing the same things.

The most flexible man in political reporting offers a truly remarkable display of October contortion between judging the presidential debate Sept. 26 and the vice presidential debate Thursday. Hey, at least fighting media bias comes with some laughs.

On politics as performance:

Last week:

MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk TV values, because, in many ways, subconsciously, when you pick a candidate for president, you only pick him on not just on issues, but who do you want to listen to for four to eight years... I mean it really is part of the way we look at these things...Do you think-let‘s start with John McCain. Do you think he was too troll-like tonight? You know too much of a troll?"

This week:

MATTHEWS: But did you get the sense that for an hour and a half you were watching a director say, "Cue the energy speech, cue the tax part, cue the...

SIMON: But that's what politics is! It's a performance.

MATTHEWS: You're so cynical, Roger. Let's step back into the world of substance. Did we learn anything about her except for her ability to recite tonight?"

On the role of expectations:

Last week:

Ironically, when they got to foreign policy, I thought Barack Obama was quite able to defend himself, quite able to debate a man who‘s been in public life for many more decades than he has. He showed equality in terms of the debate. Maybe on the points you could disagree with him.

This week:

(Roger) SIMON: Joe Biden went through like, what, 20 primary debates. He's pretty experienced at this. Sarah Palin, this is her first national debate.

MATTHEWS: Right.

(Roger) SIMON: You're honestly going to say...

MATTHEWS: You like people that, when you ask them a question, turn to the camera like this, like it's candidates' night?

On the importance of style, even over the scoring of debate points:

Last week:

(Eugene) ROBINSON: There one was confrontational, one, you know, seeking consensus. And, you know, I mean, I think, I frankly think Obama did well tonight, even though, initially, we didn‘t think he scored as many points as McCain.

MATTHEWS: You know, Pat, you and Gene, I remember the boxing days, just to go for stylistic.

This week:

Look, let me ask you about the style question. The winking, the "Let me call you Joe," the-the manner of the whole thing about bringing the baby up at the end, I mean, all that stuff, I mean, it's 11:00 at night, and she's got the baby out, hugging it.

I mean, excuse me, those were stylistic points, weren't they?

On talking about the future:

Last week:

ROBINSON: That, no, his better tactic was, you know, to play his game and to look forward and to be more optimistic and, you know, perhaps visionary...

MATTHEWS: I know, I think very time he used the word future he was killing his opponent."

This week:

MATTHEWS: Well, she said that was looking backward, that was backward finger-pointing.

(Howard) FINEMAN: That's not going to sell. That's not going to sell, I don't think.

MATTHEWS: In other words, you can't get out of the trap of being a Republican by saying, that's backwards."

On Jerusalem:

This week:

MATTHEWS: When she talks about recognizing Jerusalem as the exclusive capital of Israel... does she know that-and she put it together in a couple sentences. And I really question if she knows what she's talking about.

She talked very persuasively about Israel having put together a very good treaty with Jordan, the kingdom of Jordan... and, of course, the Egyptian country as well...

Doesn't she know that, if you move the capital, by the United States' standards, and move our embassy down there, that that breaks apart both those treaties? Does she really know what she's talking about, Pat?...Does she know what she would-that she would vitiate those two bilateral arrangements?

On the week of June 5, when Barack Obama flip-flopped on the basic foreign-policy concept of an undivided Jerusalem within 24 hours of supporting it in front of an AIPAC audience:

June 5: Um.
June 6: Err.
June 9: Uhh.
June 10: What?
June 11: Hey, who wants to talk about how great Barack Obama is? Huh?