Chris Matthews Breaks Down Spitting Video on Hardball

Chris Matthews, on Tuesday's Hardball, broke down video of a tea party protester, allegedly spitting on Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, like it was the Zapruder film as he and his guest John Heilemann of the New York magazine both claimed it reminded them of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, as Matthews blurted: "You know I just saw one of those pictures the other day, a woman down in...Little Rock back in '57 when they were integrating Little Rock Central High School with that wicked look of anger. I mean contorted face. Look at this guy!" [audio available here]

As Matthews dissected the video to determine whether or not the protestor landed a loogey on the congressman, one couldn't help but reminded of the classic Seinfeld scene that parodied Oliver Stone's crackpot conspiracy theory movie JFK as Jerry analyzes whether or not Kramer and Newman were hit by a "second-spitter."

The following exchange was aired on the March 30 edition of Hardball:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Okay enough of bipartisanship. Here's some nasty partisanship. At least this is from a heckler, a very unhappy guy. You're watching Emanuel Cleaver, see that guy, he's a member of Congress. He just swatted back a guy. He looks like he spat at him. Look at this, wait until you see him now as he continues up. He's really angry, this member of Congress. Because that guy did something with his mouth. Watch this, he's still angry at the guy, watch, watch his right hand now. You know - you want to watch that again? There he is again, somebody, that guy did something to him right there. I think it was worse than yelling something nasty at him. He hit him on side of the face with spittle or something, intentional or not. Chris Cillizza I can only interpret that one of two ways. Either he actively spat on the guy, the member of Congress, which it looks like he may well have done. Or he did what I guess mad comics, used to call bawlshall where your mouth just spittles while you're talking, what do you make of it? While you're yelling.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: You know there's a very fine line between anger and passion that can be directed, you know, against someone and people have a right to be angry if they disagree and crossing a line. And I think we've seen some of these incidents of crossing the line of late, this being one of them. It's a hard thing, Chris, because passion in politics is what both sides want. You know they, they want their supporters to be both energetic for their side, and energetic to go defeat the other side. That's what elections are about, getting your base out voting. The problem is at what point do you cross the line where that energy is both destructive to the, the general conversation, the body politic and also dangerous to individuals. It's just a very hard line to walk.

MATTHEWS: You know it's one thing to throw tomatoes at politicians like they did for the last or three or four hundred years. Spitting on a guy, that's what they did to Adlai Stevenson in Dallas before Kennedy that's a sign of real contempt.

JOHN HEILEMANN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Chris is right. It's a hard line to walk and it's a hard line to locate. But I think that scene, that scene-

MATTHEWS: There's a big difference between yelling and spitting.

HEILEMANN: That scene we've gone on the wrong side of the line. And I'll tell you what that picture looks like to me. You know it looks to me, I mean it has this resonance of the, of the Deep South, during the civil rights movement.

MATTHEWS: You mean when the young women were being integrated.

HEILEMANN: Right and you know this African-American congressman walking along here next here to an all white crowd...

MATTHEWS: I mean you gotta wonder about the ethnic piece though.

HEILEMANN: ...spitting on the guy. It seems, it's very, it's very retrograde.

MATTHEWS: Look at this guy! He won't even quit yelling, either. He's just-

HEILEMANN: It looks like a scene from a different generation. It looks like a scene, not, it's not what you think America is supposed to look like in 2010.

MATTHEWS: You know I just saw one of those pictures the other day, a woman down in Little Rock, Chris, Little Rock back in '57 when they were integrating Little Rock Central High School with that wicked look of anger. I mean contorted face. Look at this guy! He won't stop. And he knows, this is where the chicken aspect of this is. He knows that guy can't do anything about it because he's a public figure. He knows, Chris, that, that Congressman has to just take it.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the senior news analyst at the Media Research Center.