Matthews on Hillary: Good point, then a weird point

MSNBC host offers sound advice, calls her "Chinese."

Published November 8, 2006 3:33PM (EST)

In the aftermath of making a pretty good point early Wednesday, MSNBC's Chris Matthews may have insulted Chinese people, if enough Chinese people can figure out what the heck he was talking about.

Watching video of Sen. Hillary Clinton at her victory rally, Matthews pointed out that with her wooden speaking style, Clinton in front of a raucous crowd in a ballroom made for terrible television, and that politicians who play to that small crowd in the room come off as shrill to the far more numerous viewers at home.

Howard Dean learned that the hard way, co-host Keith Olbermann pointed out.

Matthews said it would play much better for the winning candidate to conduct one-on-one interviews in a hotel room, to speak directly to the American people, the way movie actors and directors do on their media junkets.

Then, watching Clinton clap rhythmically with the crowd as she approached the microphone, Matthews ranted, "And that clapping. I just don't get it. It's not appealing. It's Chinese or something. I mean, what is this applauding yourself thing all about? I don't get it." (Watch the video here.)

What? Chinese?

At that moment, Bill Clinton, standing alone on the stage behind Hillary, appeared on-screen, also clapping. "This gigantic guy behind her," Matthews said, "and he's just there. It's a strange sight."

Moments later, Matthews admitted that he and Olbermann were a little punchy. It was 1 a.m.

But before the apparent insult -- what's unappealing about being Chinese, Chris? -- he made a good point. It doesn't seem possible for candidates to avoid addressing their supporters in the room on Election Night without seeming strangely reclusive and managed, but for the vast majority who don't look great in that situation, they can make it short and sweet, and then also make themselves available for quieter one-on-ones where they can control the atmosphere better.

And Hillary would be well-advised to avoid that "strange sight" of standing alone onstage but for her far more charismatic husband, the former president, standing behind her and looking sort of stoned. It's easy enough to get a crowd up there, as many candidates do, and avoid sending the literal and figurative message "Look who's standing behind Hillary."

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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2006 Elections Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton Msnbc War Room