While researching a piece I’m doing on tyranny and taxation, I found this little diatribe byChris Matthews:
Well, we`ve got the response to that. Here`s — here`s — you know, this guy is no frail flower, if you will. He doesn`t hide. Here`s what Rush Limbaugh said to “The D.C. Examiner” today. Quote, “Never in my life have I seen a regime like this, governing against the will of the people purposely — purposely. I have never seen the media so supportive of a regime amassing so much power, and I`ve never known so many people who literally fear for the future.”
This is to me — I`ll just give you a little editorial (INAUDIBLE) I`ve never seen language like this in the American press, referring to an elected representative government, elected in a totally fair, democratic, American election — we will have another one in November, we`ll have another one for president in a couple years — fair, free, and wonderful democracy we have in this country. And this guy, this walrus under water, makes fun of this administration, calling it a “regime.” We know that word, “regime.” It was used by recent presidents (INAUDIBLE) by George Bush, “regime change.” You go to war with regimes. Regimes are tyrannies. They`re juntas. They`re military coups. The use of the word “regime” in American political parlance is unacceptable, and someone should tell the walrus to stop using it.
Me: Let me say up front, I partially agree with Matthews. I don’t like this “regime” talk. He’s wrong when he says that regime only refers tyrannical juntas and the like. A regime is a larger concept that means not just an administration or “government” in the parliamentary sense, but a system of government itself. That’s why the “First Things” controversy was such a big deal. A number of conservatives raised the question of whether the American regime was losing legitimacy. I don’t want to revisit that old argument. But the point is I don’t think we should use “regime” as interchangeable with “administration” or anything like that. Administrations come and go, the American regime has endured.
But Matthews is entirely and typically full of it when he suggests that Rush Limbaugh is the first or even a particularly egregious abuser of the term. It’s clear that Rush is (mis)using the term to simply refer to the Obama-Pelosi administration, as it were. And his larger point is entirely valid.
But here’s the thing: the Democratic Party, almost in toto, used this “regime” formulation for most of the Bush presidency. I don’t have time to go look, but I would be shocked if Matthews himself didn’t use “regime change” more than once in precisely the way he’s now condemning. As the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry talked about “regime change” starting at home (which I objected to at the time on similar grounds). If Matthews missed this, and countless other examples, he should be officially disqualified as a serious political observer.
Update: A few readers object that I’m unfair to Rush because he was merely being satirical. A lot of readers meanwhile, think I’m being unfair to reality by suggesting that Chris Matthews was ever a serious political observer.