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Saturday, December 10, 2016

For those few who don’t rise with the sun to watch Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and their revolving cast of journalistic characters on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “What I Learned Today” is how the show often concludes — as everyone stands before the cameras and recites a 10-second lesson gleaned from the discussion. Not having stayed on set until the end during my appearance today, I can only offer here what I learned there.

As a former Republican congressman, Joe Scarborough is a past master of fake indignation, so it is wise to be careful with jokes (and historical quotes).

There is simply no possibility that Joe, who generously noted that we are “friends” before I left the set, believes I called him “a Nazi” or would ever do so.

My joke was to cite a famous quote from Winston Churchill, “The Hun is always at your throat or at your feet,” which of course doesn’t include the word Nazi. But failing to recall that the wartime prime minister uttered those words in a 1943 speech to Congress, I assumed that the use of the word “Hun” indicated an earlier period, when that term was much more in usage.

Checking afterwards, I found video of Churchill’s speech and the text of the full quote: “The proud German army has by its sudden collapse, sudden crumbling and breaking up, unexpected to all of us, the proud German army has once again proves the truth of the saying ‘The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet.'”

Which at least suggests that the “saying” derived from an earlier conflict with Germany, as I had assumed. Still, I must admit that I got the date wrong.

Knowing that I would never call him a Nazi, or any other vile insult, Joe nevertheless “exploded” — and then filibustered over my supposed offense to his honor for much of my remaining airtime. (Another lesson is that Joe has little interest in exploring topics I tried to discuss despite multiple interruptions, like the double standard applied to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address, which provokes far greater outrage than Colin Powell’s precisely similar conduct – except that Powell destroyed all of his emails, of course, including the official ones about Iraq’s WMD. Or the Bush White House’s private email addresses and unlawful email wipes, which involved millions of messages, some possibly concerning crimes.)

So why did I think that Churchill quote was funny?

Listening to Joe describe Bill and Hillary Clinton with such insults as “corrupt” during an earlier segment, I decided to remind him of his broadcasts from Clinton Global Initiative, where — like many other media figures who now eviscerate Bill and Hillary and all their works — he publicly paid homage to the former president.

Keeping in mind that Joe once voted to impeach Clinton, and now attacks both Clintons almost every day, Churchill’s observation seemed profoundly and amusingly apt.

At the 2010 CGI session, for instance, Joe’s praise for President Clinton during their interview was extravagant enough to disturb some of his Republican viewers. The right-wing Newsbusters website huffed disapprovingly that Joe sounded as if he actually wishes Clinton could run for his old job again, disparaging the 22nd Amendment that forbids a third term. The website described the interview as “a slobbering love fest for the former president” and highlighted several of the host’s most glowing remarks:

“Listening to you talk right now, you’ve always been known as the brightest, the first-class, however you want to put it – but you’ve had the ability the past decade to go all around the world, start this initiative, understand issues – you’ve understood issues better than anyone in Washington, when you were president….

“We go out and give speeches all across the country, and sometimes to progressive crowds, and I always start with when I ran in ’94, I couldn’t stand Bill Clinton’s image on TV! And they’ll all rustle out there. I’ll say ‘I came up to Washington, DC,’ and I’ll go through this, and as I explain the story away, well, he didn’t really like us that much, either.

“But look what we accomplished together. Look what we – we learned. I learned so much from those five years, and they were tough, tough years for you, and for Hillary, and for a lot of people…We balanced the budget four years – for four years, the first time that happened since the 1920s, reformed welfare, created 22 million new jobs. And those were two sides that didn’t exactly love each other.

“Could you explain to Washington, DC, on both sides – how did you do that? How did you rise above it? How did everybody learn to work together, even if they fought each other like hell?”

Clinton replied, “Well first of all, you’ve got to know the difference between something that’s real and something that’s show.”

And that’s what I learned from today’s Morning Joe.

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