Greenfield and now Matalin defend Obama-Middle East references as a joke

››› ››› KURT DONALDSON

Mary Matalin said discussion about Sen. Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, is "really about nothing" and responded that co-host Alan Colmes should "get a sense of humor" after Colmes requested that Matalin ask her "conservative friends to drop the 'Hussein.' " CNN's Jeff Greenfield had similarly claimed that he was joking when he likened the style of Obama's clothing to that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On the December 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Republican political strategist Mary Matalin said discussion about Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) middle name, Hussein, is "really about nothing" and responded that co-host Alan Colmes should "get a sense of humor" after Colmes noted "many conservative bloggers and some conservative talk show hosts [are] emphasizing his middle name," and requested that Matalin ask her "conservative friends to drop the 'Hussein.' "

Two days earlier, CNN senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield had explained on the CNN website that he was making "a joke" when, on the December 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, he compared the similarity of Obama's "business casual" clothing to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "jacket-and-no-tie look."

During the discussion with Matalin, Colmes noted that "the blogosphere is bubbling with chatter" about the topic of Obama's middle name and asked Matalin, "Should we make a lot about that?" Matalin responded, in part, by dismissing it, asking, "Who cares what his name is?" After Matalin complained that Colmes should "get a sense of humor" about the topic, Colmes noted, "[Y]ou know what the real subliminal message is, saying his middle name is Hussein. Don't play naïve with me, Mary." Later in the discussion, co-host Sean Hannity asked "if his middle name is Hussein, what is wrong with people that bring up his middle name? ... [A]re we that sensitive now, that if we actually say somebody's name, that now that's out of bounds?"

Greenfield introduced his CNN report on Obama by saying: "[I]n the spirit of retched excess, let's take a look not at what [Obama is] saying, but at another crucially vital matter: what he is wearing." After comparing Obama's "business casual" dress to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) -- who, Greenfield said, wore "the kind of casual look you see at country clubs and lawn parties in the Hamptons" -- President Bush, former President Ronald Reagan, and former President Richard Nixon, Greenfield asked, "Is there any other major public figure who dresses the way [Obama] does?" Greenfield responded, "Why, yes. It's Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ... And maybe that's not the comparison a possible presidential contender really wants to evoke." Greenfield added:

GREENFIELD: Now, it is one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful. But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the Axis of Evil? Why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread. Or is that threads?

In his online response to criticism of the report, Greenfield stated that the report was "a joke -- not to be taken internally, externally, or most of all, seriously" and that it was "an obvious, patently absurd parody of muddled political thinking." Greenfield added that "[m]ost of what happened here, I think, is a demonstration of the hair-trigger instincts that have grown up among some of the bloggers."

On the weblog Talking Points Memo, Joshua Micah Marshall noted:

Greenfield says it was a joke. No kidding. Of course, it was a joke. I know that. It was a just a very odd one -- picking up on an association I really don't think had occurred to anyone else, and which builds with an odd eagerness on the already iffy focus on finding which of Obama's names sounds like which terrorist mass-murderer.

From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: And meanwhile, the blogosphere is bubbling with chatter about the senator's middle name, Barack Hussein Obama. Should we make a lot about that? Joining us now is former adviser to President Bush, Mary Matalin. Mary, tell me you're all bent out of shape -- first of all, there she is -- you're all bent out of shape about Barack Obama's middle name. This proves that he's not fit to be president, right?

MATALIN: Alan, Merry Christmas. I see you're in the holiday spirit.

COLMES: Merry Christmas to you. I don't mind, by the way. I have no war on Christmas. Thank you for saying that.

MATALIN: And Happy Holidays or whatever. I wasn't trying to make a political point there. But I do want to make this political point: You wonder why people across the country wonder -- think that we're in a parallel universe? Who cares what his name is? Who cares what his [unintelligible] is?

COLMES: Then why are so many conservative bloggers and some conservative talk show hosts emphasizing his middle name every time they mention him?

MATALIN: I think what people on the conservative side are noting about Barack Obama is how illustrative, indicative he is of where the Democratic Party is. He shoots off to be the number-two or the number-one challenger to Senator Clinton, and he's a nothing, based on nothing. He's an empty vessel. But it does say something, an important validation of the election we just went through, which are people want to turn the page. They want a different tone. They want civil debate. They want real dialogue. And even though he's not talking about anything --

COLMES: All right, then tell your conservative friends to drop the "Hussein" as if that's significant, and let's not --

MATALIN: Oh, for Pete's sake, get a sense of humor, for -- Lord, have mercy!

COLMES: Well, I -- you know what the real subliminal message is, saying his middle name is Hussein. Don't play naïve with me, Mary. You know it better than that.

MATALIN: I'm not -- I'm -- you know what? This -- we're not going to go through another campaign like this. The people spoke, and they sent a message to both parties.

COLMES: Right.

MATALIN: They didn't validate any Democratic agenda, because the Democrats didn't put out one.

COLMES: Well, they sent a message to your party.

[...]

HANNITY: Now, if his middle name is Hussein, what is wrong with people that bring up his middle name? Why -- is -- are we that sensitive now, that if we actually say somebody's name, that now that's out of bounds?

MATALIN: I personally am so callous, to having worked for and loved a president who's called everything from a liar to an idiot to anti-science to -- you know, they can't find enough horrible, vile things to say about this president or this vice president, for that matter, so whatever this conversation is, it's really about nothing. And I'll say again, that's the message that the electorate sent in this cycle was, "Get off it. Can we talk about some issues here?" Which he hasn't been doing, but hopefully he will.

HANNITY: Three things. Tom DeLay says Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. Clinton has hired Hillary a faith guru to try and get evangelicals on board. And then there's this article, actually has a picture of somebody very famous that you know today in the New York Post, and that would be your husband, James Carville, Paul Begala, Joe Lockhart. "Bubba's buds chew over 2008 with Hil." So, she clearly is running. Do you agree with Tom DeLay? Is she the next president of the United States?

MATALIN: Oh, I think -- no, I don't agree with that. I think she's likely to get the nomination. I don't think it'll be a coronation. I think she'll have to fight for it. But, you know, and I don't mean this pejoratively, but Barack Obama is an empty vessel, and Edwards is an empty suit who's leading in Iowa, and Kucinich is empty-headed, so, you know, she's got the most heft of all of them. And she's a very methodical candidate. I don't see how anybody beats her.

From the 4 p.m. ET segment of the December 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: And as Jack just noted, he's clearly a rising political star, and he's a favorite among many Democrats looking toward the next presidential election. And that means a lot of scrutiny for the Illinois senator, from his head right down to his clothes. Let's turn to our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Wolf, the political community has gone predictably hysterical over Senator Barack Obama's presidential flirtation. So, in the spirit of wretched excess, let's take a look not at what he's saying, but at another crucially vital matter: what he's wearing.

[begin video clip]

GREENFIELD: The senator was in New Hampshire over the weekend sporting what's getting to be the classic Obama look. Call it business casual: a jacket, a collared shirt, but no tie. It's a look the senator seems to favor, and why not? It's dressy enough to suggest seriousness of purpose, but without the stuffiness of a tie, much less a suit. There is a comfort level here that reflects one of Obama's strongest political assets, a sense that he's comfortable in his own skin, that he knows who he is.

If you want a striking contrast, check out Senator John Kerry as he campaigned back in 2004. He often appeared without a tie, but clad in a blazer, the kind of casual look you see at country clubs and lawn parties in the Hamptons and other tony locations.

When President Bush wanted to campaign in casual mode, he skipped the jacket entirely. Third-generation Skull and Bones at Yale? Don't be silly. Nobody here but us Texas ranchers. You can think of Bush's apparel as a kind of homage to Ronald Reagan. He may have spent much of his life in Hollywood, but the brush-cutting ranch hand was the image his followers loved, just as the Kennedy seafaring look provided a striking contrast with, say, Richard Nixon, who apparently couldn't even set out on a beach walk without that "I wish I had spent more time at the office" look.

But, in the case of Obama, he may be walking around with a sartorial time bomb. Ask yourself: Is there any other major public figure who dresses the way he does? Why, yes. It's Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, unlike most of his predecessors, seems to have skipped through enough copies of GQ to find the jacket-and-no-tie look agreeable. And maybe that's not the comparison a possible presidential contender really wants to evoke.

[end video clip]

GREENFIELD: Now, it's one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful. But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the Axis of Evil? Why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread. Or is that threads? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield reporting for us -- Jeff, thank you very much.

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