It’s about as good as it’s billed, but bear in mind the larger context of Chris Matthews’ world. I give him full marks for essentially pushing Jack Conway into a corner where the Attorney General of Kentucky has to say on national television that he takes the unsworn, uncorroborated, anonymous claim from a woman about an incident from 30 years ago as more substantive than Rand Paul’s denials, a standard that should have every judge in Kentucky on watch for Conway’s next foray into court. Matthews made Conway look absolutely ridiculous on national television, and the crowd around him gets quiet indeed as he does, but Matthews has also set up a defense later for someone a little more thrilling to him than Conway (via The Daily Caller):
MATTHEWS: Look, I know the story here. But you’re basically trusting a woman’s word here against Dr. Paul’s.
CONWAY: Because, in any number of instances, I don’t think he’s told the truth.
MATTHEWS: So you just prima facie say, prima facie anyone who makes a 30-year-old charge against your opponent, you will exploit that for a TV ad.
CONWAY: No —
MATTHEWS: That’s what you’ve done here. You exploited the un-on-the-record comment of a woman who won’t come forward as the basis for a [unintelligible]. You’ve said, “He mocked Christianity and Christ.” He says the Bible — should I ask you questions about the Bible, what you believe? Should I start asking you questions about whether you believe in the seven days of Creation? If you believe in angels? Should I start asking politicians those questions? Personally, I refuse.
Matthews is actually holding Conway to the standard Matthews demanded during the 2008 presidential campaign when people began questioning Barack Obama’s ties to Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United when Wright’s unhinged sermons came to light. He argued at the time that questions about Obama’s faith or lack thereof should be considered out of bounds and castigated those who debated the issue. In that sense, Matthews is making good on his preferences for the parameters of political debate, and that’s at least much less hypocritical than we see from partisans during election campaigns, and Matthews should be praised for that. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait deserve credit for this, too.
But one has to presume, given Matthews’ professed leg tingles for President Obama, that he’s also essentially protecting that turf for the 2012 campaign. He wants to ensure that the Wright questions remain on the sidelines in Obama’s re-election effort. That, however, is probably turf that doesn’t need defending. The Wright issue didn’t derail Obama in 2008 in either the primary (where Hillary Clinton hit him hard with it) or in the general election. And his first two years have given Republicans more than enough ammunition for a 2012 challenge already without delving into Obama’s past mysteries. In 2012, Obama will be a known quantity, not an unknown, and that won’t be a plus for the incumbent.