Chris Matthews manages to encompass absolutely everything right and wrong with modern politics and media news. The MSNBC talk show host can be seen on a nightly basis salivating on screen over every speech, campaign manoeuvre and dirty trick done in the name political discourse.
It is the horse race that gets Matthews' juices pumping, and he whips himself into a frenzy watching the debacle that passes for U.S politics. Matthews displays a schizophrenic attitude to politicians, allowing his infatuation with performance and rhetoric to cloud his judgment. He is an intelligent analyst when he feels inclined, sharply criticizing the neocons in the wake of the Iraq war, and more recently making an honest assessment of the Democratic Primary.
'This contest is essentially over," said Matthews to his co-hosts after the hoopla of the Pennsylvania primary.
"Barack Obama is going to win the most elected delegates," he continued candidly. "I think in the efforts of the media to keep this thing going, we've created the delusion that somehow this race is still open. I don't think it is open. I think if you look at the numbers, Barack has to really blow it in the weeks ahead to really lose it."
Pointing out what only the blogosphere seems to understand, Matthews is capable and honest when he puts his mind to it. Unfortunately, he does so for about 3 minutes of every 60 he is on air.
The glitz and glamor of campaign politics and sophistic theater is enough to get Matthews jiggling in his seat, throwing reason and serious journalism out the window. He stated that while listening to a speech by Barack Obama, "I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often."
Matthews also admitted of another speech that, "It was the best speech I've ever heard. ... And I'm tearing up, and I'm writing down notes, and I'm trying to keep track of this thing. ... His heart must've been broken last night."
No one can blame Matthews for being inspired by an Obama speech (you'd be hard pressed to find someone who isn't), but Matthews was also mightily impressed with Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' speech back in 2003.
"We're proud of our president," gushed Matthews. "Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president."
Not bothering to point out that the U.S had just illegally invaded a sovereign nation, killed thousands of people and destroyed half of Baghdad, Matthews went on,
"Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president."
This type of subservient, superficial and frankly stupid analysis has become a trademark of Matthew's 'Hard Ball' show, and he continues to degrade serious issues with inane commentary.
Take for example, Matthew's and David Shuster's break down of Obama's performance in a Diner:
MATTHEWS: He's [Sen. Barack Obama] not that good at that -- handshaking in a diner.
SHUSTER: No --
MATTHEWS: Barack doesn't seem to know how to do that right.
SHUSTER: -- he doesn't do that well. But then you see him in front of 15,000 people in some of these college towns, and that's why, Chris, we've seen Chelsea Clinton and Bill Clinton in Bloomington and South Bend and Terre Haute. I mean --
MATTHEWS: What's so hard about doing a diner? I don't get it. Why doesn't he go in there and say, "Did you see the papers today? What do you think about that team? How did we do last night?" Just some regular connection?
SHUSTER: Well, here's the other thing that we saw on the tape, Chris, is that, when Obama went in, he was offered coffee, and he said, "I'll have orange juice."
SHUSTER: He did. And it's just one of those sort of weird things. You know, when the owner of the diner says, "Here, have some coffee," you say, "Yes, thank you," and, "Oh, can I also please have some orange juice, in addition to this?" You don't just say, "No, I'll take orange juice," and then turn away and start shaking hands. That's what happens [unintelligible] --
MATTHEWS: You don't ask for a substitute on the menu.
MATTHEWS: David, what a regular guy. You could do this. Anyway, thank you, David Shuster. I mean, go to the diners.
If this passes for political analysis, then Fox News really is 'Fair and Balanced'. The worst part is, Matthews actually gets paid to participate in this type of ludicrous programming.
Matthews probably knows he is filling the majority of his air time with vacuous bullshit, but understands that he is locked in a rating war with the other news networks. Maybe it is his conscience that kicks in every now and then and inspires him to act in the public interest on occasion, but for the most part, he plays an integral role in the massive public antipathy towards politics in America.
Not to leave on a negative note (as Matthews does actually seem like a genuinely nice person), let's look at the serious Chris Matthews. When Republican strategist Ron Christie came on his show in March of last year to support the surge, Matthews gave him a royal grilling. Check out the following excerpt of a much longer inquisition:
MATTHEWS: I'll ask you a HARDBALL question. What percentage of the Republican Party would be supporting this war in Iraq, 150,000 troops in an ethnic struggle way around the other side of the world, that may have an unclear result, right, and may be there for murky purposes, even...
MATTHEWS: How many of your party would be supporting this if this was Bill Clinton's war? What percentage?
CHRISTIE: I can't answer that! I mean...
MATTHEWS: Well, then, I think you're a follow-the-leader party.
CHRISTIE: No, I am not--no, I am not a follow-the-leader person! I think that this is...
MATTHEWS: I'm asking you, would you support this war if it were Bill Clinton's war?
If Matthews dedicated even half of his time to doing interviews like this, Hard Ball would go a long way in living up to it's name.
Would the real Chris Matthews please stand up?
Ben Cohen is the editor of www.thedailybanter.com and a contributing writer to www.espn.com. He can be reached at email@example.com