Chris Matthews Opines Over The "Optics" Of The Obama Presidency

Chris Matthews takes his best shot at attempting to turn President Obama into Jimmy Carter. This from the man who said this about George Bush when he
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Chris Matthews takes his best shot at attempting to turn President Obama into Jimmy Carter. This from the man who said this about George Bush when he decided to play dress up on the aircraft carrier:

MATTHEWS: What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?

[...]

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?

[...]

MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Bob Dornan, you were a congressman all those years. Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?

I guess Obama needs to get himself a cowboy outfit and do some brush clearing or a flight suit and play war hero and maybe Tweety will be impressed.

Transcrict via Nexis Lexis.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. The word these days is optics, visuals, signals. In the Carter presidency, the optics were not exactly robust. And Ronald Reagan rode that to a big victory in 1980. Is the Obama White House sending some Carter-esque signals these days? Some see that in the deep bow to the emperor of Japan, an unforced error, say the critics. Then there was--there was what happened in China. Obama got nothing in the way of concessions over there despite playing the polite visitor. And his effort to speak directly to the Chinese was jammed by the government. Third, that decision to try the terrorists up in that federal court in New York City. Again, nothing had to be done, and critics say--the critics say it shows that Obama, his team doesn't understand this is a war we're in.

David, that's the question. These optics are everything in a presidency. Carter used to carry that garment bag over his shoulder. This president, is he making mistakes like in China, like in Japan?

Mr. IGNATIUS: I think he's coming across as stiff. He's talking too much sometimes and communicating too little to us, so the opposite of what we saw during the--during the campaign. Although the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York apparently was Eric Holder's, strikes me that it really is a mistake. I mean, there's too many bad things that could happen. There's no reason to have--to have had to have done this. And, you know, just a political feel for decision-making that--wonderful, the thing you just did about President Johnson's feel for the moment. That's what I think is missing now with this group in the White House. I don't know where it's gone. They certainly had it during the campaign. Maybe they'll get it back, but it's missing now.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. It's the political touch. And you were in China. You just got back. Tell me about that. Well, the president tried to speak to the Chinese people and apparently it was jammed. Tell me about that.

Ms. KORNBLUT: This was the big moment of the whole trip to Asia, in fact, eight days in Asia, that he was going to speak to Chinese students in Shanghai, unfiltered at least in his answers. And in fact the Chinese government, you know, they allowed the event to take place, but it was only shown locally on Shanghai television. People didn't see it. The one piece of news he made in it saying that the Internet should be free and people should have access dribbled out to the Chinese public and then started being deleted from all the Chinese Web sites. So--and then the following day he held a quote, unquote "press conference" with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, in which there were no questions and they read statements. Now, this is, of course, this is the Chinese, it's their home turf. They were allowed to do what they wanted to. That was the White House's argument. And the White House haggled with them to try and get it more open, but...

MATTHEWS: Well, did they get--did the White House get jammed here? Did they--did they know this was coming, that it wouldn't get to the people?

Ms. KORNBLUT: They--sure. They knew. Previous presidents had been allowed to reach to Chinese public. They knew that it might or might not. It did. But they didn't have to stand there at a press conference, call it a press conference and not answer questions. And I think their expectation--they may have raised expectations a little high...

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Ms. KORNBLUT: ...for how much they were going to be able to do.

Mr. KLEIN: There are--there are two points I'd would make about this. First, what president has brought anything back from China since Nixon? This guy has actually made some real progress on diplomatic issues like Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea with the Chinese. But the optic that I thought was the most out of--most jarring was him at the Wall all alone. No Chinese guy could come and show him the Wall? He couldn't bring Hillary or Ron with him?

MATTHEWS: What did that say to you, that picture?

Mr. KLEIN: It made him seem a loner.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Mr. KLEIN: It made him seem out of...(unintelligible)...

Ms. O'DONNELL: This is a...

Ms. KORNBLUT: (Unintelligible)...

Mr. IGNATIUS: This is a photo opportunity. It was such a stagey picture, I thought.

Ms. O'DONNELL: But listen, that's what these trips are about. There's very little that presidents accomplish on these foreign trips.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Ms. O'DONNELL: I've done them.

MATTHEWS: The picture says a thousand words.

Ms. O'DONNELL: They're the apex summit.

MATTHEWS: It's that important.

Ms. O'DONNELL: I mean, there's very little ever--if ever accomplished.

Mr. KLEIN: (Unintelligible)...

Ms. O'DONNELL: And so it is about visuals.

MATTHEWS: OK, Norah...

Ms. O'DONNELL: It is about signals.

MATTHEWS: ...I know...

Ms. O'DONNELL: And not only how you're viewed back at home, but how you're viewed around the world.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Ms. O'DONNELL: And those pictures give impressions to people.

MATTHEWS: I know in the bad part of it back in my brain that somebody politically over the next two or four years is going to use that picture of our president bowing to the Japanese emperor below the head of the emperor and say that's kowtowing, to use an Eastern expression, and it shows his weakness.

Ms. O'DONNELL: No doubt that picture is going to be used that way. It think it's baloney. Just as many people showed the picture and made judgments about President George W. Bush holding hands with the king of Saudi Arabia and making judgments of that. That's why these things matter.

MATTHEWS: David?

Mr. IGNATIUS: You know, I'm sure--I'm sure it'll be used. I'm still remembering pictures of Gerald Ford stumbling down, you know, airplane steps.

MATTHEWS: Chevy Chase killed him.

Mr. IGNATIUS: Well, he could have--but you know, it won't--it woke up--again, you know, if he can get his mojo back, if he can--if he can really seem to be committed--people forget about the bow. I mean, it's a photo.

MATTHEWS: So you--the optics matter?

Mr. KLEIN: Yes.

Mr. IGNATIUS: Yeah, they matter in both directions.

Mr. KLEIN: They matter in a huge way.

Ms. KORNBLUT: Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS: These pictures, I think people will remember them more than the words.

Mr. KLEIN: But I think that the him--but I think that him all alone is the image that he has to worry about, because if the image becomes that he's this academic who is isolated from, you know, average Americans, that's the biggest thing he has to worry about.

MATTHEWS: Dreamy doesn't work?

Mr. KLEIN: Yeah.

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