Another edition for Matthews’s ‘Greatest Hits’

ANOTHER EDITION FOR MATTHEWS’S ‘GREATEST HITS’…. There was some memorable rhetoric in President Obama’s State of the Union address, but one of the more notable remarks of the night came after the speech on MSNBC.

Chris Matthews, reflecting on what he’d seen, based his analysis on race. “I was trying to think about who he was tonight. It’s interesting; he is post-racial, by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour,” the host of “Hardball” said. “He’s gone a long way to become a leader of this country and past so much history in just a year or two. I mean it’s something we don’t even think about. I was watching and I said, wait a minute, he’s an African-American guy in front of a bunch of other white people and there he is, president of the United States, and we’ve completely forgotten that tonight — completely forgotten it.”

Talking later to Rachel Maddow, Matthews tried to clarify matters, saying he was explaining an “epiphany” he had while watching the address, touting the president’s ability to provide national leadership that gets Americans “beyond these divisions.”

I want to give Matthews the benefit of the doubt, and I’m trying to understand his observation. After watching it a couple of times, I think Matthews is effectively trying to say how nice it is that the color of the president’s skin is no longer relevant when evaluating his performance in office.

But it’s hard not to notice that Matthews stepped on his own observation in a strikingly clumsy way. He’s impressed by how irrelevant race is in evaluating Obama … which leads him to immediately talk about race in evaluating Obama.

It’s also troubling because of Matthews’ history when it comes to his preoccupation with issues related to racial identity. During the 2008 campaign, for example, Matthews argued on the air that Obama’s appeal may be limited to “people who come from the African-American community and from the people who have college or advanced degrees,” but not with “regular people.” It was an observation that was offensive on multiple levels.

He’s going to have to do a lot better than this.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.