If MSNBC was looking to officially become the cable channel of the far left, it may have finally succeeded Wednesday night with the airing of Chris Matthews' documentary "The Rise of The New Right."
MSNBC -- the network whose hosts routinely mock Tea Party activists as "Tea Baggers" -- aggressively promoted the documentary, with Matthews appearing on "Morning Joe" and "The Daily Rundown" Wednesday morning, as well as throughout the day.
Matthews clearly believes, as "Hardball's" website says, "the new right is an emerging fact of life in 21st century." As such, it was time to launch a thorough analysis into this nascent phenomenon and (as MSNBC's documentary website says) "investigate in-depth some of the most important stories of our time." Sadly, though, Matthews' hour-long documentary effort left us with more questions than answers.
To be sure, the program came equipped with the perfunctory ominous music (meant to let you know when to be scared) and interviews ranging from respected former Majority Leader (and now president of Freedomworks) Dick Armey to Orly Taitz, the "unofficial leader of the Birthers," who recently lost a GOP primary in California by a landslide.
The documentary also features members of the Michigan Militia at their survival training camp (who were calm and well spoken), and interviews with Kentucky GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul from the campaign trail. Surprisingly, it also featured the positive portrayal of a suburban Hispanic mom named Ana, who has become a Tea Party activist.
But overall Matthews is guilty of attempting to find the most extreme elements of the right, and trying to paint the conservative movement with that broad brush.
The title, "The Rise of The New Right," harkens back to Richard Viguerie's 1981 book, "The New Right; We're Ready to Lead." Vigurie introduced Americans to some of the up-and-coming conservative leaders who would be a part of "Reagan's Revolution." But Matthews mixes in mainstream conservatives and Tea Party activists with fringe elements, and implies that conservatives are motivated by "class and racial resentment."
"The Tea Party movement I know looks nothing like the one portrayed on MSNBC," says Armey in an e-mail to me. "The movement is made up of good, hardworking, honest, smart people that love their country. . . . Chris Matthews and MSNBC have an axe to grind, but it will only backfire. I wouldn't be surprised if the Tea Party movement responds forcefully against these outrageous charges."
(Based on the way Matthews covers conservatives, I expect him to interpret Armey's notion that Tea Partiers may "respond forcefully" as a personal threat. In fact, as is the case with most civil American political rhetoric, Armey intends for Tea Partiers to seek revenge at the ballot box.)
The documentary features selective editing of heated political rhetoric that both parties regularly use. For example, while promoting the documentary on a recent episode of "Hardball," Matthews said the Tea Party movement is engaged in a debate over "whether the federal government deserves toppling." As evidence, the documentary features a video of Rand Paul saying, "We've come to take our government back."
Matthews feigns that this is dangerous talk, but the "take our country back" slogan has been around forever -- and employed by both parties. As Matthews' own documentary shows, MSNBC's Pat Buchanan used the line back in 1992. But Matthews fails to note that Howard Dean even wrote a book titled "You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America."
(Did Howard Dean think that Bush overthrew democracy? Did Dean want to topple our government and "restore democracy"? Of course not!)
This program comes on the heels of Rachel Maddow's April documentary on Timothy McVeigh on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing (at the time, liberal pundits like Maddow and even Bill Clinton were attempting to tie the current anti-government political sentiment with the Oklahoma City bombing). Of course, that comparison was both insulting and disturbing.
Ultimately, the Matthews' documentary failed to engage the central question repeatedly raised by the activists interviewed: Is the government too big, doing too many things, spending too much money? It is a discussion the left does not want to have.
Click play below to watch a clip about the documentary:
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