David Shuster Insists Dems Hate Hitler Analogies - But Chris Matthews Didn't In 2005 When Bob Byrd Did It

On Monday, MSNBC host David Shuster insisted Democrats would never stoop to Nazi analogies: "[W]henever we asked Democratic leaders, 'Look, do you support using a Hitler moustache on a poster of George W. Bush?' Every single time, they said 'Absolutely not, we do not approve of that. We want, of course, we want people to protest. But not like that.'"

Shuster should take a nice look at the MSNBC archives - for Hardball on March 4, 2005. Sen. Robert Byrd compared Senate Republicans to Hitler for opposing the unprecedented use of the filibuster against Bush judicial nominees. Chris Matthews and his Democrat guest Steve McMahon agreed this was a "fake foul." Matthews suggested it was at best a "venial sin" and a "gotcha game," and insisted that his Republican guest Charlie Black should also attack the pope or Catholic cardinals for using the word "holocaust" to describe abortion. He even suggested Byrd was sort of a religious interpreter:

Now, when that sacred thing to him, the filibuster, is threatened, is it wrong for him, as a human being, to use over-the-top language? Don't you cut him a little slack? To Bobby Byrd, the filibuster is almost religious. And to have it broken by a bunch of new members of the Senate, who basically come in and say, hey, we're here. We want to get this done. Let`s get rid of the rule. To him, that is sacrilegious.

So in this Church of the Filibuster, it's apparently an acceptable sermon to compare the Republicans to genocidal fascists. Halfway through the March 4, 2005 Hardball came this segment:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. West Virginia senior Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat, came under fire this week from Jewish groups and Republicans for drawing an historical analogy, a comparison, between the tactics of Adolf Hitler and Republicans in the Senate who want to end the practice on unlimited debate known as a filibuster. Here is Senator Byrd from the United States Senate floor this Tuesday.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler's dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law. And he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that, 'Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.' And he succeeded. [Edit] And that's what the nuclear option seeks to do, to Rule 22 of the standing rules of the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Senator - Steve McMahon, by the way - I almost said senator - Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist. And Charlie Black is a Republican strategist, both friends of the show. So, let's keep this on an even keel. I saw that picture, gentlemen, and I saw a staffer about to get fired for suggesting he use the comparison to Hitler when arguing whether about whether it's called the nuclear option, which is basically to say no more filibusters. Steve, are the Democrats right here? Are you guys right in saying this is a big issue, that he did something really wrong here?

STEVE MCMAHON: Well, listen, I think he did something that was in poor judgment and in poor taste. I can't imagine what Jimmy Carter would have done if you had handed him a speech like that, but he probably wouldn`t have read it. I don`t think, though, that Senator Byrd had a malevolent intent. He was making an historical reference. He normally, Senator Byrd, quotes Cicero and Socrates.


MCMAHON: And nobody understands him. (Matthews laughs.) This time, he quotes - he makes a metaphor, an unfortunate use of a metaphor, that I think he probably wouldn't have used again today or tomorrow. And I don`t think you'll much of that.

MATTHEWS: Charles Black, do you share that view, that it was a modest, venial sin here?

CHARLIE BLACK: No, I think it was a terrible thing. And I agree with Abe Foxman of the ADL, who said that Senator Byrd should apologize to the American people.

MATTHEWS: What did he do that offended them? What's wrong? Who gets hurt by this comment, that he said the Republicans here are using muscle tactics? They're coming in. They're getting rid of the filibuster rule. They're denying us to unlimited debate. And they're using this tough hardball technique here. What's wrong with saying this is what Hitler did back in '30-something?

BLACK: Well, to Jews, the Holocaust is the most unique thing in history.


BLACK: And Hitler is the worst guy in history. So, as Abe Foxman said, it`s a complete misunderstanding of who Hitler was to compare that to changing the rules of the Senate. And, by the way, it`s the Democrats who have changed the rules by beginning for the first time in history to filibuster judges.


BLACK: To block judges who have a majority in committee and on the floor

MATTHEWS: So, it's any comparison - any comparison to the Holocaust in any other reference is bad, offensive?

BLACK: Well, I think so, unless there's something...

MATTHEWS: Remember the pope? Remember the cardinal from New York used to do this? He would say that the amount of babies or preborn children, or fetuses, whatever you want to say, whatever language you use, are being killed every year in abortion, that`s like the Holocaust? Was he wrong to do that? You want to go after the pope now?

BLACK: I wouldn't do it. I think...

MATTHEWS: You wouldn't do it. It's not the same as saying something is wrong.

BLACK: Well, I also think that the murder of millions of unborn babies is more comparable than is changing the rules of the Senate. But I wouldn't use metaphors about Hitler.

MATTHEWS: But he was talking, Steve - particularly, Charlie, he was talking about a parliamentary maneuver that would change the name of the game. And he compared it to Hitler's use of parliamentary tactics to get the law changed so he could be a dictator.

BLACK: Well, nobody is trying to be a dictator here.

MATTHEWS: He`s not saying that they're gassing people or killing people or even penalizing an ethnic group.

BLACK: Well, why did he bring Hitler up then? What is Hitler known for in history?

MATTHEWS: He`s known for being a tyrant, as well as other things.

BLACK: ... inappropriate and offensive. He should apologize for it. If he apologizes, I`ll get off his case.

MATTHEWS: Backing Charlie up, here`s a statement from a fellow I know pretty well, Matt Brooks, the executive director from the Republican Jewish Coalition - quote - "'With his knowledge of history and his own personal background" - here it comes - "as a KKK member, Senator Byrd should be ashamed for implying that his political opponents are using Nazi tactics." This is a Jewish Republican guy. He's saying he's wrong on a number of accounts. One, he was calling the kettle black, I guess, by using tactics against a fellow right-winger, I guess he`s saying here, because he used to be in the KKK.

MCMAHON: Well, listen, I'm not surprised that the Republicans are coming out and attacking Senator Byrd and taking this, I think, a little out of context, blowing it up. The next thing you know, they`ll be calling it a crisis and saying he has weapons of mass destruction and calling in the Army.

Look, the guy made an unfortunate reference to the - the - to Hitler. And you're right. He was talking about a parliamentary maneuver. And what the Republicans don`t want to talk about is the assault on the filibuster, which has been a tradition in the Senate. There are two 22 standing rules. You know, when Bill Clinton was president, the Republicans had the opportunity to use the filibuster. They chose not to. Charlie is right. The Democrats are now accelerating their - their - - their opposition to some of the president`s appointees. But, you know, the president, after they`re turned down one time, just brings them back. So, you know...

BLACK: He brings them back because they have a majority of votes on the floor. The Democrats are changing the tradition of not using the filibuster on the floor against judicial nominees and executive appointments.

MCMAHON: But, Charlie...

BLACK: It's your side who is trying to change the rules.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you guys...

BLACK: We can have a civil debate. We don`t need to talk about Hitler or...

MATTHEWS: Look, can we get back to Earth here? This guy, Senator Byrd, may be a bit out of date. He may be anachronistic. And, as you point out, he`s always quoting Cicero. He's been in the Senate. It has been his life since the mid-'50s, his life. And he believes dearly, almost in a religious sense, in these rules. He believes dearly in the rules of the Senate, which say any member can filibuster. Now, when that sacred thing to him, the filibuster, is threatened, is it wrong for him, as a human being, to use over-the-top language? Don't you cut him a little slack? To Bobby Byrd, the filibuster is almost religious. And to have it broken by a bunch of new members of the Senate, who basically come in and say, hey, we`re here. We want to get this done. Let`s get rid of the rule. To him, that is sacrilegious.

BLACK: Chris, let me tell you something.

MATTHEWS: I mean, if you want to understand Byrd. If you don`t want to understand Byrd, why argue about it?

BLACK: I do understand what you`re saying, but I ask for consistency in Senator Byrd. In the '70s, when you and I both worked on Capitol Hill, the Senate changed the filibuster rule. They moved it from a two-thirds vote...


BLACK: To 60. That was at the initiation of liberals. Byrd was against it then. But he didn`t compare any of these liberals to Hitler.

MATTHEWS: Right. By the way, you know who really tried to get rid of the filibuster rule, Richard Nixon, vice president, president of the Senate in 1957. Came in the second term and had the guts to try to get rid of the filibuster rule. And guess who wouldn`t back him up? The liberal Democrats, who said they wanted civil rights. They wouldn`t back him.

BLACK: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Even though he was trying to fight for civil rights. That was a good day of Dick Nixon.

MCMAHON: That was a good day. There weren't very many. But that was one of them. And, you know, you know, Charlie - Charlie's asking for consistency. Senator Byrd has been perfectly consistent. And the one thing you can count on Senator Byrd to oppose is anything that diminishes the power of the United States Senate. He views the Bush administration, I believe, as a bunch of folks who came to town and think they own the government, instead of are entrusted with it. And they want to change all the rules that are inconvenient for them. The filibuster has been available, Charlie, when Bill Clinton was president. The Republicans had the opportunity to use the filibuster.

BLACK: Nobody tried it on the floor on judicial nominees.

MCMAHON: Nobody tried to take it away from them because they didn`t like what they do with it.

BLACK: Byrd was majority leader. And he wanted to govern. Every time he had 51 votes, he wanted to pass something.


BLACK: And that`s all we`re asking. We got the votes on the floor for these nominees. If we didn't, we'll shut up.

MATTHEWS: Can I ask you a yes-or-no question? Are we now in an era where the only purpose of politics or journalism is to wait for somebody to say something and then jump on them for two or three weeks? Is that what it`s about?

So the guys, the nobodies on Capitol Hill, the bureaucrats, the politician who never say a word on any issue of any importance, the nobodies, the 400 of them on the Hill you never hear of on television, they're the winners, because the guys that speak out, like Byrd, they're the bad guys, because they might just offend. And, in fact, I bet in West Virginia, he doesn`t get a vote against him on this. Do you think he will? Do you think you guys are going to beat him in West Virginia on this?

BLACK: I hope it's not just a gotcha game.

MATTHEWS: I think it's a gotcha game.

BLACK: There are some very serious, important issues out here.

BLACK: This one was way over the line.

MATTHEWS: I think it's been way overplayed. But you might be right. And if people are offended by it, they have a right to raise hell with the guy. Do you think this was a fair issue?

MCMAHON: I think - I'm not surprised that the Republicans did what they did. I think it`s been taken out context and overplayed.

MATTHEWS: Is it a fake foul?

MCMAHON: It's a fake foul.

Matthews closed the segment by joking to McMahon "I'll give you some more lines next time."

-Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.