When Howard Dean appeared on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” last night alongside his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, it seemed as though Matthews might very well have had Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond serving as guest-host, judging by the frenetic tenor of the segment’s questions. There’s no way that questions this shallow could otherwise be accepted as having been asked on a so-called legitimate news program (For what it’s worth, neither Bill O’Reilly nor Larry King host legitimate news shows, at least by the time-tested standards of lobbying softballs to sympathetic guests. This is, after all, “Hardball”).
While it may be argued that when one interviews a presidential candidate alongside a potential future First Lady–a la Diane Sawyer’s similar session with Mr. and Mrs. Dean the other night on ABC–the questions should be more lighthearted and whimsical, this hasn’t been the practice (again, check out the transcripts of the Deans’ appearance on “PrimeTime Live”).
Some highlights of the appearance, in the “so absurd, this borders on Hammond-esque hilarity” category:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, MSNBC’S “HARDBALL”: Are you a maverick?
DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE HOWARD DEAN: I don’t know. I say what I think, is that a maverick? I guess I am.
MATTHEWS: (to Judith Steinberg Dean) What’s it like being married to a maverick? Because he is one.
Her response is rendered irrelevant, because you can already picture Matthews’ piercing visage seeking out her answer. After her demurring response, Matthews keeps up the absurdly base line of questions. You’d almost think he were interviewing George and Laura Bush with lines like these:
MATTHEWS: Do you ever say to him, “Why are you so gutsy? Why don’t you just go with the crowd on some of these things?”
STEINBERG DEAN: Absolutely not. He is who he is, he’s really really honest, you call it gutsy, I call it honest. I just think he says what he thinks.
MATTHEWS: Do you ever feel like your husband is being treated like a transfer student by the establishment? Like when you go to a new high school and everyone says “who’s this kid?”
STEINBERG DEAN: I think he is a bit of an outsider, but I think he’s very smart and people will hear what he has to say.
MATTHEWS: Do you ever say to him when you go to bed at night, “You should really cool it on that one?”
STEINBERG DEAN: (laughs)
DEAN: She’s being modest, the answer is yes.
Governor Dean does get in one gentle swipe at the First-Lady-as-delicate-wallflower image, however:
MATTHEWS: The President runs the West Wing, which is the business of government, and the First Spouse runs the state dinners, travel with foreign dignitaries… a lot of business, the First Lady has a big staff. Are you open to playing that role? Are you happy about it?
DEAN STEINBERG: We haven’t really spoken specifically about what role I’d play, but I’d certainly have to do some of the ceremonial duties and I think I’d probably get a lot of help with the business.
MATTHEWS: You have to decide things like whether they have dinner outside with a bigger tent, or in the East room…
DEAN: No, she doesn’t have to decide that stuff. She has to show up, but she’s going to be practicing medicine most of the time. She is going to do some state dinners, but there are people you pay to do that stuff. You know, social hostesses and all that.
Here’s hoping this “invisible wife” motif works as a nice, centrist compromise between the past models of Hillary “vast, right-wing conspiracy” Clinton and Laura “I have no right brain, nor left brain” Bush.