But we only understand broad labels here!
On "Hardball" today, Chris Matthews tried repeatedly to get Howard Dean to accept to the pro-choice label. In various ways, eight times, Matthews tried to shape the debate and force the label on Dean and the Democratic Party. He simply would not allow Dean to talk about abortion in the context of a greater issue -- governmental intrusion into personal decisions.
Dean was absolutely correct to stick to his guns and force Matthews to debate on his terms. In fact, Dean appears to understand that the only way Democrats will ever regain any control of the government is by regaining control of the debate.
Matthews, on the other hand, represents the problem for intelligent discourse in America. Not only does he resist any deviation from the binary script that the media has locked itself into, but he actually cited the public's inability to understand "complicated" issues as the reason to keep the conversation at an elementary school level (emphasis mine):
DEAN: This administration continually wants to insert themselves into the family's business, the Terri Shiavio case, that's the family's business, not the government's business... all these abortion cases, that's the family's personal business. That's not the government's business and we'd like to keep the government out of the people's private and personal lives.
MATTHEWS: So the Democrats are the pro-choice party, period.
DEAN: Well, the government...
MATTHEWS: The Democrats, your party, is the pro-choice party.
DEAN: No, my party respects everybody's views, but my party firmly believes that the government should stay out of the people's personal lives.
MATTHEWS: But, you're the pro-choice party, are you not? You sound like you're against them for being pro-life. Are you pro-choice?
DEAN: I'm not against people for being pro-life. I actually was the first chairman who met for a long time with pro-life Democrats.
MATTHEWS: This is a complicated thing for people. The people believe the Republican party, because of its record, supports the pro-life position. Does your party support the pro-choice position?
DEAN: The position we support is, a woman and a family has the right to make up their own mind about their health care without government interference.
MATTHEWS: That's pro-choice.
DEAN: A woman and a family have the right to make up their own minds about their health care without government interference. That's our position.
MATTHEWS: Why do you hesitate at the phrase "pro-choice?"
DEAN: Because I think it's often misused. If you're "pro-choice" it implies that you're not also pro-life. That's not true. There are plenty of pro-life Democrats. We respect them, but we believe the government...
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in abortion rights?
DEAN: I believe the government should stay out of the personal lives of families and women. They should stay out of our lives. That's what I believe.
MATTHEWS: I find it interesting that you have hesitated to say what the party has always stood for, which is the pro-choice position.
DEAN: The party believes that government does not belong in personal decisions.
MATTHEWS: OK. I'm learning things here about the hesitancy I didn't know about before. We'll be right back with Howard Dean.
DEAN: You know what you're learning...
MATTHEWS: Now, you're getting hesitant on the war and hesitant on abortion rights. It's very hard to get clarity from your party.
The Democrats were not giving him enough "clarity?" In what way was Dean's single sentence unclear?
And finally, what happened to Matthews' memory? Perhaps Dean learned a lesson from watching "Hardball" and realized that labels aren't helpful.
Dean fully explained his position, and Matthews just tried to get him to say "I am. Yes."
Gee, that really worked well for the last guy who followed Matthews down that road:
MATTHEWS: Would you like to have your sentences cut down like to a third of their length and let people decide on the first three or four words what you meant by the 20 words? Let me repeat it again, what he said. I'm not going to argue this any further tonight. I think [the Bush campaign] should consider taking this off your loop. I think the president ought to be shown this tape so he knows what he's talking about, instead of having it fed to him by somebody who doesn't show them full sentence. Here it is. Let's take it in. Can we show the tape again of John Kerry, what his answer was?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you think you belong in that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war? The way it's been fought? Along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean, and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt? Are you one of the anti-war candidates?
KERRY: I am. Yes. In the sense that I don't believe the president took to us war as he should have, yes. Absolutely. Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris. Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was and we should have done it right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
This is what the RNC-related web video used:
MATTHEWS: Are you one of the anti-war candidates?
KERRY: I am. Yes.
MSNBC.com even had a page devoted to the way his little sound-byte label of Kerry was manipulated by the Republicans... because Matthews was upset about it. Now, he doesn't even seem to remember it. DB is glad Dean seems to have learned from it.
UPDATE: This post was completely rewritten after DB got to listen to the interview again and realized just how bad the level of discourse is these days.
Also, four percent of DB's brain regrets not going for the easy post, which would be to howl about Matthews' way-out-of-line race baiting all day. But the remaining 96 percent feels good about focusing on smaller details like this, while every other blog crucifies him for the big transgression. Plus, DB couldn't have said it any better than this.