They call him Tweety Bird for a reason. Chris Matthews is the guy, with his political talk show on MSNBC, Hardball. He flits around, topic to topic, you never know what he’s going to say next, and he loves to ask strange hypothetical political questions, which he thinks are provocative and really challenge his guests, but when they begin to attempt a response it seems something totally unrelated occurs to him and he starts talking about that, and asking himself question after question, until something else occurs to him. Maybe it’s too much coffee, or a severe attention deficit disorder, but most guests figure out what to do – you’ll be cut off after three words and never be able to even hint at what you might want to say, but you don’t take it personally. You let it all wash over you. You bask in it. You let your mind wander – the wife and kids, what might be for dinner, when you’ll pick up the dry-cleaning. And what the heck, you’re on national television and people can see you, the expert. Visuals will do – any exposure is useful. But watching the show is kind of like being trapped in a working class bar near the docks in Philadelphia with the hale and hearty Irish-Catholic old man who is full of blarney and not terribly insightful political ideas, which he enthusiastically regales you with, grabbing your lapels and grinning and asking you what you think, but not giving you a microsecond to reply before he’s off on something else. It’s exhausting. It makes you wish Rocky would walk in and deck him. They’re both from working-class Philadelphia, after all.
The only one who ever made a dent in all this was Jon Stewart, but that was when Matthews was a guest on Stewart’s show. The occasion was Matthews promoting his book – Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me about Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success.
What’s that about? Just that “everything in life” is a campaign “to sell products” and get ahead by packaging yourself, just like politicians do. You see, life is a PR campaign in which you get ahead by convincing people you’re listening, even if you’re not, and by saying what people want to hear, even if you don’t really believe a word of it. Stewart countered, pointing out that political campaigns are about slick packaging and not truth, and that Matthews’ readers will find “nothing in this book about ‘be good, be competent.'” Matthews said that’s okay, as someone else had already covered all that stuff – “It’s called The Bible. It’s been written.”
But the classic was this:
Chris Matthews: You’re trashing my book!
Jon Stewart: I’m not trashing your book. I’m trashing your philosophy of life.
That shut him up, for maybe three seconds.
But he was soon off again with off-the-wall observations. During MSNBC’s coverage of the Potomac Primary, Matthews said he was blown away by Barack Obama – “I have to tell you, you know, it’s part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”
Much hilarity ensured, and endless bad jokes, and a great deal of outrage from the right, saying it was now clear that MSNBC was in Obama’s pocket and not really a news organization. But mostly people grinned and shrugged. Tweety was at it again. And many on the right let it drop. The guy was just like that. You don’t take the slap-happy garrulous old drunk seriously. It’s better to worry about someone who matters.
And everyone knew he’d change, as about a year later Matthews was saying this of Obama:
He is leading with his chin on just about every issue out there – healthcare, terror trials, job losses, even the breast cancer report. He’s exposed and vulnerable. His poll numbers are dropping.
Is he just too darned intellectual? Too much the egghead? Why did he bow to that Japanese emperor? Why did he pick Tim Geithner to be his economic front man? Why all this dithering over Afghanistan? And who thought it was a wonderful idea to bring the killers of 9/11 to New York City, the media capital of the world … so they could tell their story?
Is Obama channeling Adlai Stevenson for heaven sake?
It seems someone wants to start a bar fight and Steve Benen has these comments:
During last year’s presidential campaign, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews had some annoying habits. Particularly when it came to sizing up Barack Obama, the “Hardball” host repeatedly questioned whether the candidate was disconnected from regular ol’ America.
For example, Obama ordered orange juice in a Pennsylvania diner, and Matthews complained ad nauseum – real Americans order coffee at a diner, not OJ. When Obama demonstrated poor bowling skills, Matthews whined incessantly about Obama’s alleged difficulties in making a “regular connection.”
And then there was this. Matthews argued on the air that Obama’s appeal may be limited to “people who come from the African-American community and from the people who have college or advanced degrees.” Matthews couldn’t see how Obama had any appeal for the “regular people.” Only the chronically constipated would vote for Obama?
As for Matthews’ latest, Benen adds this:
It’s a challenge to respond to this nonsense quickly; Matthews said a lot of dumb things in a short period of time. But it’s worth noting that Obama isn’t “leading with his chin” – he’s tackling the issues in front of him. That’s what presidents do. Obama bowed to the Japanese emperor as a matter of protocol, and no one cares except the media establishment. Obama isn’t “dithering” – though it’s good to know Chris Matthews is willing to read directly from Dick Cheney’s script – he’s crafting a forward-thinking U.S. policy, which is what Bush/Cheney should have done a long time ago.
And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed isn’t being invited to NYC for story-telling — he’ll be on trial for mass murder.
As for the general nonsense about “eggheads,” anti-intellectualism, alas, remains alive and well.
One of Benen’s readers adds this:
Chris Matthews makes five million dollars a year. He doesn’t have the right to speak for regular people anymore. He hasn’t seen a regular person in years, and he certainly doesn’t spend any time with them.
His egghead comments are comical; he doesn’t even have a “real” job by his own lights – he just sits and talks into a camera. He’s paid to have the kinds of conversations he’d have in a bar. He’s the luckiest man on earth, and he should keep the pie hole closed. And I often like him…
Yes, the guy in the bar can be charming, but blarney is blarney.
But Digby at Hullabaloo watched the whole show:
He and Ron Brownstein and Susan Page of USA today went on to discuss the fact that Obama is an egghead and an elitist who’s listening to Ivy Leaguers who think they know everything – instead of Real Americans who “went to state schools.” (I’m not kidding, that’s what they said.) I guess Matthews hasn’t heard that song for awhile, and as with his favorite Pat Boone album, he just has to get it out and play it now and again.
Not that I think Obama is doing a terrific job of speaking to the everyday concerns of Americans. But it’s not because he’s too smart and went to Harvard fergawdsakes.
Yes, she spelled it that way, on purpose. But then Matthews is just riding the wave, whatever he finds interesting. Look – something bright and shiny!
And the bright and shiny thing at the moment was Sarah Palin. Watch her interview with Bill O’Reilly:
O’Reilly: Let me be bold and fresh again. Do you believe you are smart enough, and incisive enough, intellectual enough, to handle the most powerful job in the world?
Palin: I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the, um, the, ah – kind of spineless – a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with elite Ivy League education and – “fat resume” that’s based on anything but hard work and private-sector, free-enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I’m not saying that that has to be me.
Matthews seems to want to get him some of that. It’s hot, the current bright and shiny thing.
And there’s this:
O’Reilly: Okay, but is it fair for you to criticize Obama’s lack of experience when somebody could make the same criticism about you on the national stage.
Palin: If you’re talking about executive experience, I would put my experience up against his any day of the week. I have been elected to local office since 1992, and was a city manager, strong-mayor form of government, was a chief executive of the state, and was an oil and gas regulator. There was some good experience there that could have been put to use in a vice presidential ticket. We’ve to remember too that I wasn’t running for president.
O’Reilly: No, but that’s the key question. Because John McCain is up there in years, you had to be qualified to take that office over.
Palin: Right. But I – I’m saying I was running for vice president, just like Joe Biden had been running for vice president. I never once heard you or anybody else question Joe Biden and his experience.
O’Reilly: Well, he’s got a lot of experience.
David Neiwert comments:
That’s the whole absurdity of Palin claiming she has more “executive” experience, as though being mayor of a small town places her on the same level of experience as a United States Senator. The issue of experience isn’t related to the organizational context, but rather the scale of it: Joe Biden has nearly a half-century of wrestling with national and international issues – the kind a president has to deal with – and has an established track record there.
When Palin was Wasilla’s mayor (and before that a council member), the issues she was dealing with involved placement of a sewage-treatment plant and deciding whether someone’s driveway needed paving. Oh, and let’s not forget the vital issue of building a new gym with taxpayer dollars.
But she says she’s smart enough, and incisive enough, intellectual enough, to handle the most powerful job in the world. How hard could it be? Obama and the rest may know all those facts, but she was mayor of a small town, and a governor of a minor state, before she quit in the middle of here first term, as she had more important things to do. Mathews seems to be still trying to figure that out.
Matthews should have turned to Matt Taibbi:
Palin – and there’s just no way to deny this – is a supremely gifted politician. She has staked out, as her own personal political turf, the entire landscape of incoherent white American resentment. In this area she leaves even Rush Limbaugh in the dust.
She has found the sweet spot:
The reason for that is that poor Rush is an anachronism, in the sense that his whole shtick revolves around talking about real political issues. And real political issues are boring.
Listen to Rush any day of the week and you’ll hear him playing the old-fashioned pundit game: he goes about the dreary business of picking through the policies and positions and public statements of Democrats and poking holes in them, arguing with them, attacking them with numbers and facts and pseudo-facts and non-facts and whatever else he can get his hands on, honest or not, but at least he tries.
The idea is to move beyond facts or even the idea of facts. That explains her laughing at people like Obama with a “fats resume” and that sort of thing:
Sarah Palin’s battlefield, on the other hand, is whatever is happening five feet in front of her face. She is building a political career around the little interpersonal wars in the immediate airspace surrounding her sawdust-filled head. And in the process she connects with pissed-off, frightened, put-upon America on a plane that’s far more elemental than the mega-ditto shtick.
And there is something to that:
Most normal people cannot connect on an emotional level with Rush’s meanderings on how Harry Reid is buying off Mary Landrieu with pork in the health care bill. They can, however, connect with stories about how top McCain strategist and Karl Rove acolyte Steve Schmidt told poor Sarah to shut her pie-hole on election day, or how her supposed allies in the McCain campaign stabbed her in the back by leaking gossip about her to reporters, how Schmidt used the word “fuck” in front of her daughter, or even with the strange tales about Schmidt ordering Sarah to consult with a nutritionist to improve her campaign endurance when she herself knew she just needed to get out in the fresh air and run (If there’s one thing Sarah Palin knows, it’s herself!).
And pissed-off, frightened, put-upon America doesn’t want facts. They want attitude. And that is often fact-free, or as some call it, lying.
History professor and Alaskan David Noon is not at all happy with Palin for repeating the common nonsense about “Seward’s Folly” – the purchase of Alaska in 1867 by Secretary of State William Seward. Palin says in Going Rogue:
Critics ridiculed Seward for spending so much on a remote chunk of earth that some thought of as just a frozen, inhospitable wilderness that was dark half the year. The $7.2 million purchase became known as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’ Icebox.” Seward withstood the mocking and disdain because of his vision for Alaska. He knew her potential to help secure the nation with her resources and strategic position on the globe… Decades later, he was posthumously vindicated, as purveyors of unpopular common sense often are.
From David Noon:
So far as public opinion was concerned, most newspapers actually supported the purchase. The major exception was the New York Tribune, which was owned by Horace Greeley, a Republican who was nevertheless one of William Seward’s avowed enemies. (Greeley believed Seward had been too radical on the slavery issue, among other things.) Even Democratically-aligned papers in the North – while not missing the opportunity to crack wise about polar bears and walruses – tended to support the purchase, mainly because there was no compelling reason to oppose it. And at the end of the day, the treaty with Russia passed the US Senate by a vote of 37-2, with no significant expressions of opposition during the floor debate. …
Most educated Alaskans are aware of all this, at least in its broad outline. It’s taught in the schools, and the few textbooks that have been written about Alaskan history all incorporate Wright’s findings into their treatment of the Alaskan purchase. Certainly someone who claims to know and love the state as much as the abdicated governor does should know that the “Seward’s Folly” myth survives because most people outside the state know very little about Alaska and are perfectly comfortable substituting fable for fact when thinking about its history, culture and geography. But since Sarah Palin’s entire shtick requires an audience that believes the myth – that believes, for example, that we can drill the shit out of the state without wrecking its ecology – I’m not surprised that she believes it as well.
Of course that’s just one of many. But it doesn’t seem to matter. And you could argue she didn’t even write the book – Lynn Vincent did. But see Moe Hong, a sarcastic commenter on Amazon.com – “So what if Sarah Palin didn’t write this book? Even God used early scribes to write the Bible.” Matthews has to get him some of that.
And see Bella DePaulo on this matter:
From my post as an outside observer, it seems to me that Sarah Palin doesn’t care much about the truth. In that way, she is a very special liar. Instead, Palin seems to love the effect her disingenuous pronouncements have on her audiences and so she just runs with them. Her fans adore her claims about “death panels” and about Obama supposedly “palling around with terrorists” and all the rest. Look at how they roar with approval and fervor when she tosses that red, bloody moose meat to them – how can the mere (non) truth-value of what she is saying ever compete with that? Plus, the fact that her taunts drive her detractors over the edge – well, that just adds to the fun!
Sarah Palin seems to relish the reaction she gets to her claims and complaints. Among her core fan base, the theme that the mean media and the full-of-themselves campaign staffers were unfair to noble, authentic, small-town Sarah seems to be a winner. Whether it is really true is almost irrelevant.
I do love the irony of Palin flaunting her authenticity with lies.
Matthews has to get him some of that too. It’s all the rage. After all, the man who find facts when there are none, Glenn Beck, on Saturday, November 21, announced his Hundred Year Plan – he will lead a new American Revolution, hold conventions, provide “specific policies, principles and, most importantly, action steps” to move us beyond Democrats and Republicans and all that stuff. It may take a hundred years, but he will be the new George Washington, for the New America. Follow him.
The New York Times’ Brian Stelter talked to Beck for a pre-reveal story. “We’ll be looking for ways to get people involved in politics,” said Beck. “I hear people saying, ‘Okay, now what?’ They’re calling their representative, but it’s time to get more proactive.” Also from the Times item – “He says he will promote voter registration drives and sponsor a series of conventions across the country featuring conservative speakers.” But he seems to mean real conservatives, not Republicans. He will give the thumbs up or thumbs down. Someone had to do it. He’s answering the call. (And it seems Rupert Murdoch is funding the effort – his Fox News gives Beck his national platform and his HarperCollins published the Palin book.)
And you know Beck:
At 18, following high-school graduation, Beck relocated to Provo, Utah and worked at radio station KAYK. Feeling he “didn’t fit in”, Beck left Utah after six months, taking a job at Washington D.C.’s WPGC in February, 1983.
It was while working at WPGC that Beck met his first wife, Claire. The couple married and had two daughters, Mary and Hannah; Mary was born in 1988 with cerebral palsy, the result of a series of strokes at birth. The couple divorced in 1994 amid Beck’s struggles with substance abuse. Along with being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Beck has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He cites the help of Alcoholics Anonymous in his sobriety and attended his first AA meeting in November 1994, the month he states he stopped drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
In 1996, while working for a New Haven-area radio station, Beck was admitted to Yale University through a special program for non-traditional students. One of his recommendations for admittance came from Senator Joe Lieberman. Beck took one theology class, “Early Christology,” and then dropped out.
Well, George Washington wasn’t perfect either – wooden teeth, you know. And see the Alexander Zaitchik book-length bio of Beck:
Whatever else it may be, the Glenn Beck Story is a radio story. It begins in the early 1980s, decades before Beck’s famous televised breakdowns, when a talented young DJ turned a fascination with Orson Welles into a successful career in the high-rolling here-today-gone-tomorrow world of Top 40 morning radio. It continues into the 1990s, when Beck made a name in talk radio by identifying the sole unoccupied niche in the industry: confessional, lighthearted, “independent” conservatism. Now, in the new century, Beck has taken his radio formula to TV, and with it his bipolar unpredictability and maudlin dramatics.
And his playground is the entire landscape of incoherent white American resentment. No wonder Matthews wants some of that.