When talking points go wrong

Chris Matthews skewers GOP congresswoman for bringing up Ayers and Wright and saying Obama "may have anti-American views."

Published October 17, 2008 11:20PM (EDT)

Here's the problem with talking points, especially the ones coming from the right that paint Barack Obama as anti-American because of his associations with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright: At some point, someone like Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., will be called upon to defend that message.

What Bachmann  showed Friday, in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, was that, really, those talking points were all she had. She didn't seem to understand the context, or really know what she was saying or why she was saying it. She just knew the words she was supposed to repeat.

Bachmann was also unlucky in that she was going up against Matthews, who has been persistently and successfully challenging these kinds of talking points on his show recently. In this case, he did a good job of exposing just how far this argument goes, especially by bringing up Sarah Palin's recent implication that some parts of the United States are anti-American. When Matthews pressed Bachmann on that subject, she wouldn't even comment on whether she believes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are pro- or anti-American.

Here's one segment of the exchange between the two:

MATTHEWS: How many members of Congress, do you think, are in that anti-American crowd you describe? How many congresspeople you serve with? I mean, there's 435 members of Congress ...

BACHMANN: You'd have to ask them, Chris. I'm focusing on Barack Obama and the people that he's been associating with. And I'm very worried ...

MATTHEWS: But do you suspect there are a lot of people you serve with?

BACHMANN: ... about their anti-American nature.

MATTHEWS: Well, he's a United States senator from Illinois. He's one of the people you suspect as being anti-American. How many people in the Congress of the United States do you think are anti-American? You've already suspected Barack Obama. Is he alone or are there others? How many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American?

BACHMANN: What I would say -- what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating exposé and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would be -- would love to see an exposé like that.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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