Matthews’ Obama Accomplishments Gotcha (Updated)
Much has been made the last couple of days over Chris Matthews embarrassing Texas state senator Kirk Watson by asking him to name one of Barack Obama’s legislative accomplishments and then letting him hem and haw in ignorance.
Watson has already issued a self-deprecating “what I wish I’d said” essay indicating that the problem is that he was surprised, not that Obama hasn’t achieved anything. Hilzoy, though, thinks he should never have been asked the question.
Chris Matthews, by contrast, is paid large sums of money to provide political commentary and insight. I assume he has research assistants at his disposal. He could have done this work a lot more easily than I did. But he didn’t. He was more interested in gotcha moments than in actually enlightening the American people.
So here’s a challenge for Chris Matthews, or anyone else in the media who wants to take it up. Go over Clinton and Obama’s actual legislative records. Find the genuine legislative accomplishments that each has to his or her name. Report to the American people on what you find. Until you do, don’t accept statements from either side about who has substance and who does not, or who traffics in “speeches” and who offers “solutions”. That’s lazy, unprofessional, and a disservice to your audience.
I’m not a fan of the gotcha game and it’s particularly unfair with someone like Watson, who is not a regular in the national television spotlight. As a general rule, show hosts shouldn’t embarrass their guests — let alone in an ambush.
There was, however, something instructive in this particular exchange. Watson is, presumably, a fairly bright fellow with an above average knowledge of politics. He was invited as a guest on a national program to talk about why he was supporting Barack Obama for president. Quite obviously, his rationale has nothing whatever to do with Obama’s achievements as a Senator.
That Obama in fact has more legislative accomplishments than one would expect of someone so junior is to his credit and would seem to buttress his contention that he’s got the skills to forge compromise. But they’re not at the basis of his campaign. Nor, despite the fact that they are available in great detail for those who wish to see them, are his policy proposals. Rather, his appeal is his charisma, likability, and ability to convey a sense of confident optimism.
That understanding is worth conveying to an audience and exploring in debate.
Nor is it necessarily a criticism. While Ronald Reagan ran on a policy agenda, there’s little doubt that his personal charm and oratorical skill were a major factor in his getting elected. Ditto Bill Clinton. But both Reagan and Clinton had extensive experience as state governors before launching their presidential bids; Obama is a relative novice.
Update (Dave Schuler)
Actually, according to Thomas, Sen. Obama has been busier than the average senator, having sponsored 113 bills in the 110th Congress alone. That’s more than the average senator. Not as many as Clinton (150) but significantly busier than McCain.
Like most senators lots of the bills he’s written and sponsored have been flummery but at least a dozen are substantial. For example, S.115, a bill reforming energy policy, is a serious piece of legislation. There are many others on a variety of subjects.