The Idiot Button

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews really comes through. Here he is commenting on the difference between Obama’s handling of the aftermath of the Iranian elections and the reaction of his Republican critics:

MATTHEWS: What strikes me, David and Bob, is the difference between the president, who is being very calm and not jumping up and down, and those on the right who are hitting the idiot button right now. And the idiot button is the one often pushed by Sarah Palin, but this week by John McCain and others.

They’re all jumping at-Mitt Romney. They’re all saying phony, bogus, let’s attack Iran. That seems like exactly what the bad guys in Iran want us to be doing.

Well said! Actually, Chris’ guests, Washington Post reporter David Ignatius and writer Robert Baer, also had many interesting things to say, so go have a look at the full transcript.


  1. #1 kathy
    June 17, 2009

    I haven’t heard Romney or McCain say, “Let’s attack Iran.” I have heard them say the President should encourage the freedom protesters with words of support, to lift them out of their despair, and to denounce the elections as fraudulent. That seems to be the right course. To date, Obama has been, as Romney put it, a “timid advocate for freedom.”

  2. #2 Russell
    June 17, 2009

    That might be a reasonable course, if the US hadn’t overthrown a democratic Iranian government in the 1950s, to install the Shah. Given US history with Iran, any overt support for the protesters by the US president would feed directly into Ahmadinejad’s hand, allowing him to paint the protesters as US foils.

    The most important thing for Obama to do now, with respect to Iran, is to prevent the turmoil there from seeming to be about us, or connected to us. I’m encouraged that we have a president who understands that that is the best way to support the protesters, rather than one who foolishly thinks scoring rhetorical points must come ahead of that.

  3. #3 abb3w
    June 17, 2009

    I think a hair more diplomatic subtlety might be called for, kathy, given the history that Russell notes.

    Perhaps somewhat more subtle support: “The government and people of the United States will continue looking forward to the prospect of normalizing diplomatic relations with the Iranian government, once that nation has resolves its internal question of who the hell that is.”

  4. #4 Kevin (nyc)
    June 17, 2009

    “I haven’t heard Romney or McCain say, “Let’s attack Iran”

    really? you havn’t they and the entire right-wing war machine agitate over and over for bombing Iran?

    Giuliani, McCain: U.S. should prepare to use force against Iran … Oct 18, 2007 … The Israel Factor: Think how McCain’s position on Iran fared better than Giuliani’s · Think tank: Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear program … – Cached – Similar
    Attack Iran, Elect McCain, Wait for the Punch(line) « OPEN … Elect McCain. Attack Iran. CNN Political Ticker Apr 19, 2007 … John McCain was asked if there is a plan to attack Iran. McCain began his answer by changing the words to a classic Beach Boys’ song. …

    Mitt is a lying sack of political crap. He is a front man for war interests. Iran has NOT violated the NPT.

  5. #5 JohnV
    June 18, 2009

    I like how in bizzaro-world, freedom equates to forcing other countries to do what we want them to. Not even do what we do, since we seem to have an inability to run elections without a myriad of jackassedness, just do what we want them to do.

  6. #6 Russell
    June 18, 2009

    Hmmm. So let’s be clear: a nuclear armed Iran would be an unfortunate development, greatly adding to the risk of nuclear war in the near future. There could be an argument for armed response to prevent it, depending on the future circumstance where it develops. The problem with Romney and his chorus isn’t with that premise, but that they are loudly belligerent when they ought to be quiet, that their rhetoric is aimed at pandering to to their domestic, jingoistic base rather than to helping American interests, that they ignore world history, and that all of that leads to reflexive rather than thoughtful responses.

  7. #7 Bezoar
    June 18, 2009

    So, the idiot button has a red white and blue elephant on it??

  8. #8 FastLane
    June 18, 2009

    I see a great opportunity for a photoshop of the ‘Easy button’.

  9. #9 Kevin (NYC)
    June 18, 2009

    “Hmmm. So let’s be clear: a nuclear armed Iran would be an unfortunate development, greatly adding to the risk of nuclear war in the near future.”

    “Hmmm. So let’s be clear: a nuclear armed Isreal would be an unfortunate development, greatly adding to the risk of nuclear war in the near future.”

    “Hmmm. So let’s be clear: a nuclear armed India would be an unfortunate development, greatly adding to the risk of nuclear war in the near future.”

    “Hmmm. So let’s be clear: a nuclear armed Pakistan would be an unfortunate development, greatly adding to the risk of nuclear war in the near future.”

    So since 3/4 of those countries have had nukes for years, I guess that then next one will change everything?

    THe last NIE says that there is NO evidence of a nuke weapon program in Iran. Iran has complied with the NPT.

    “There could be an argument for armed response to prevent it..”

    THere could be an argument but it would be a bad argument. Iran was attacked by Iraq and fought a war for ten years. The more we threaten to attack, the more likely it is that they will consider nukes a necessity.

  10. #10 llewelly
    June 18, 2009

    The idiot button has been stuck in the down position since about 1998.

  11. #11 Coriolis
    June 18, 2009

    Kevin, it won’t change “everything” it will just make things more and more unstable. Just like it did when the countries you listed got nukes – except significantly worse because Iran has had a history of support and involvement with terrorism, much more so then any of those. And because after they get it, all the Arab states who are afraid of Iran would want nukes as well. The worry that they would use nukes themselves isn’t a terribly big one to me, but if they give them to terrorists…

    Let’s put it like this, after 9/11 we invaded two countries and killed 150K to 2 million people depending on who’s estimate you believe. About 3000 people died on 9/11. Can you even imagine what we would do if there ever actually was a nuclear attack in a major american city and millions of people died? It would be insane.

    Having said all that, I doubt that we can really stop them, so let’s hope what’s happening in Iran right now does lead to a more moderate regime that is satisfied with peaceful nuclear power (although of course going from peaceful nuclear power to nukes is pretty quick). In that sense Obama is certainly doing the right thing by keeping his mouth shut mostly, and the republicans are once again demonstrating their ignorance.

  12. #12 eric
    June 18, 2009

    Have a look at the full transcript, he says. I’ll have you know I was blissfully ignorant of Sarah Palin/Dave Letterman exchange up until I looked at that transcript. Hopefully that information will be knocked out of my brain soon by something of higher value…like yesterday’s weather. Or beer.

  13. #13 John Kwok
    June 18, 2009

    @ Kathy –

    Yours are excellent points. As for the President, I think he should speak up on behalf of the protesting students (Makes me really feel nostalgic for the Clinton years, since I am certain Clinton would have said something by now.), especially since he is taking a more assertive – and one could say too belligerent – stance with respect to North Korea. As for others stating that McCain and Giuliani have been advocating for war against Iran for years, the only comment I have that’s worth noting is that they’ve been warning of the potential for conflict with Iran, if Iran becomes a nuclear-armed state.

    Appreciatively yours,


  14. #14 Jim Harrison
    June 18, 2009

    In these discussions it’s always a good idea to remember some historical background. The Israelis and their American agents have very good reason not to trust the Iranians when they insist they aren’t building nuclear weapons. After all, the Israelis lied about their own nuclear program back in LBJ’s time. They know how it’s done. By the same token, the Iranians are doubtlessly aware of the Israeli precedent. If you can change the subject and throw dust in everybody’s eyes long enough, your nuclear arsenal will eventually be a fait accompli, even if, like the Israelis, you never admit to having the bombs.

  15. #15 John Kwok
    June 18, 2009

    @ Jim –

    There is a major difference between Israel’s nuclear arms program and Iran’s. Israel was threatened with outright extermination from its Arab neighbors back in the early to mid 1960s, and thought that the only means of ensuring its survival was to build nuclear arms as a deterrent. On the other hand, Iran is seeking to become the regional hegemon in the Persian Gulf and to export its “peculiar” form of radical Shi’ite Islamist radicalism (as demonstrated for example, in its involvement in ongoing sectarian strife in Lebanon, and less successfuly, in Iraq). So to claim that there are identical parallels between Israel and Iran is, at the very least, quite disingenuous, and, moreover, ignores the realities of what both states dealt with in developing their nuclear arms programs.

  16. #16 Kevin (nyc)
    June 18, 2009

    “except significantly worse because Iran has had a history of support and involvement with terrorism, much more so then any of those.”

    cough cough… go google and see. all of those countries supported terrorists.

    Iran supported Hezzbolla as fellow Shittes in Lebanon. Name one Hezzy terror attack in the last ten years. Okay they have been fighting the IDF for years

    but they got a bug about the Shaba Farms. Isreal’s response was an invasion of Lebanon.

    Other than that? what? the 1992 and 1994 attacks in Argentina? maybe

    so anyway a) we have no info that Iran is going for a bomb and b) all current activities are allowed and inspected under the NPT and c) let’s get over the hostage crises everyone…

    we have more in common with the Iranians than the Saudis.

  17. #17 Jim Harrison
    June 18, 2009

    My point doesn’t depend upon whether you are pro-Israeli or pro-Iranian or simply chose not to be taken in by the moral posturing of either side. For myself, I don’t want the Iranians to become a nuclear power and I wish we had been able to prevent the Israelis from having acquired nuclear weapons.

  18. #18 Troublesome Frog
    June 18, 2009

    I think those who are urging restraint are spot on. The people in that region don’t usually think, “Let’s see who the US is supporting and get behind them!” Throwing our support behind the protestors is the shortest route to having them labeled as American proxies and robbing them of any legitimacy they currently have.

    I know we don’t normally use our brains before acting “boldly” when faced with delicate political situations in that region, but this might be one time to actually try it and see what happens.

  19. #19 John Kwok
    June 18, 2009

    @ Kevin (NYC),

    Since the 1970s – and I should note even before the 1979 Iranian revolution – Iran has shown ample signs of interest that it was seeking nuclear weaponry, of which, among the latest signs is the fact that it is cooperating in both missile and nuclear reactor technology with North Korea. The fact remains that Iran is interested in becoming the Persian Gulf’s hegemon, and paradoxically, should it acquire nuclear weaponry, then you will see Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates seeking these weapons too, merely as deterrence from possible Iranian aggression against them.

  20. #20 Kevin (nyc)
    June 18, 2009

    Kwok: you are wrong

  21. #21 Mogens Michaelsen
    June 19, 2009

    I think Obama’s reaction is the best solution to a dilemma:

    1) There is no clear evidence of election fraud:

    (saying that would probably be interpreted as US interference, especially if it turns out not to be true)

    2) Saying that the outcome of the election should be respected, means that you accept the Iranian system as being a true democracy – which is clearly not correct.

    The core of the problem is, that a religious-authoritarian state like Iran today is not a real democracy. On the other hand, they have actually had an election. To interfere with that, might very well be counter-productive, if you want the country to become a true democracy in the future.

  22. #22 Keanus
    June 19, 2009

    For the US to opine at length, especially to imply some kind of endorsement of one side or the other, would be wholly counterproductive. A US expression of interest in the outcome that favored one side or the other, or could be interpreted that way would be used as a cudgel by one side to beat the other over the head. For politicians who are not President sticking their oar in is a cheap shot done entirely for domestic political reasons. It makes them feel good but is ignored by the foreign nation (in this case Iran), and they know that.

New comments have been disabled.