I like Chris Matthews; I watch his show most days, and I appreciate his genuine love of politics and politicians. (He likes politicians so much that he wanted to be one; he lost the primary for a House seat in 1974 and flirted with running for the Senate from Pennsylvania in 2010.) He stands out because he is not cynical about politics -- and, at age 63, once a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and chief spokesman for former House Speaker Tip O'Neill, he has seen enough that one might expect him to be. I like to watch him; when he gets excited by a personality or an issue or an argument the spittle flies. I never know what he might say; he seems to lack the filter that prevents his less voluble colleagues from displaying their biases in such a flagrant manner. Best of all, he has one of the most expressive faces in television. When he's discussing his least favorite republicans he often looks like he has serious heartburn or like he has just swallowed curdled milk.
He can also be an annoying bully. That side was on display Monday, December 7 when he interviewed USA Today's Susan Page and Politico's Jonathan Martin about Sarah Palin.
Page had seen Palin up close the Saturday night before at the Gridiron Club and Martin had seen her Sunday in a Sioux City, Iowa bookstore, signing Going Rogue. To Chris Matthews that Iowa venue meant that Sarah Palin is running for president in 2012.
The very thought made him apoplectic.
He pushed Page and Martin to agree with him how terrible it is that Palin did not write her own book and yet is out there signing it as if she had. Matthews seemed to find it equally egregious that Palin delivered her jokes at the Gridiron Club but did not preface them with an admission that they had been created for her by a professional joke writer, whom she might have even paid.
"Don't you essentially disrespect somebody," Matthews bellowed, "who walks in and puts a book on the table and said they wrote it, when you know somebody else did, who comes in there and gives a speech that you know somebody else wrote all the jokes for and gave it to her, and she paid for it probably?"
I kept waiting for Page or Martin, both of whom defended Palin, to respond by reminding Chris Matthews that when politicians -- Democrats and Republicans -- go to the Gridiron Club, they almost always have professionals write their jokes. When politicians and important public figures, such as cabinet secretaries, write books -- no matter how literate, how intelligent, how liberal, how conservative, they almost always work with a professional writer -- think Ted Kennedy, John McCain, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, think just about anyone. Think upcoming books by Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.
Matthews mentioned that he writes his own books, and he does and they're good. I keep his first book, published in 1988, Hardball :How Politics Is Played--Told by One Who Knows the Game on a shelf near by desk, but Matthews is not a politician--or at least not yet.
Personally, I'd love to see Matthews become President Obama's press secretary. The daily press briefings would be the best show in town.