Her uncles get drunker than yours: For our money, Chris Matthews’ relationship with Jack Welch is the great unexplored story of modern pseudo-journalism.
That said, we liberals aren’t even allowed to know that this question exists! We’re programmed to cluck about Rupert Murdoch. At the same time, we’ve never heard about Welch and NBC News and Clinton, Clinton and Gore.
Joan Walsh maintains this embargo in today’s Salon. Absurdly enough, Walsh is assigned to profile Matthews, the fellow who helped her earn her bones as a cable news star. For that reason, Walsh is willing to start the day’s con like this:
WALSH (10/1/13): Anyone who enjoys MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews will like his new book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” because it’s Matthews’ story too. From a job as a Capitol policeman to a place on Air Force One writing speeches for President Carter to his stint as a special assistant to House Speaker Tip O’Neill throughout most of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Matthews shows how he developed the ideas about politics he shares with his guests and his viewers daily.Yay! We get to hear Matthews’ story too! For the record, this new book involves part of Matthews’ story, the part we’re permitted to hear.
A lot of what he tells President Obama he ought to try, he and O’Neill tried with Ronald Reagan and the 1980s Republicans. And sometimes, it worked.
On both Hardball and in “Tip and the Gipper,” Matthews’ realism vies with his romanticism, and his frank desire to like the politicians who serve us—even if they don’t deserve it. His Ronald Reagan is a good guy of genuine if harsh convictions who might have turned out like Tip O’Neill if he’d represented O’Neill’s North Cambridge district, he says.
With that in mind, excuse us? Does Chris Matthews really possess “a frank desire to like the politicians who serve us?” We’d love to see Walsh connect that desire to the many years Matthews spent trashing Clinton, Gore and Clinton in the most reprehensible ways possible, with terrible consequences for the nation and for the world.
(Matthews was actually quite influential in the late Clinton/Gore years.)
Almost surely, Matthews was simply serving Jack Welch, especially in the twenty months he spent savaging Candidate Gore. But Walsh will never ask him about those years or about that conduct. She is sitting on the inside. To her, Salon readers serve as the rubes.
That profile of Matthews’ “frank desire” was our first complaint with this ridiculous interview. Our second complaint concerns the way these two gigantic hacks began playing the tired old game, We Irish.
Yecch! The analysts always wail when Walsh goes into throwback mode and starts discussing “her people:”
MATTHEWS: Tip could never figure out Reagan’s hold on people. He’d say, “He’s cutting all these programs!” I mean, Tip thought more like you, he thought in terms of policy, not personality. He couldn’t believe a guy whose policies were tough on working people could win working people—My uncles get drunker than yours! This throwback Irishism would simply be annoying if it weren’t so clear that Irishism played a key role in the way the East Coast Irish Catholic crowd went crazy about Bill Clinton’s blow jobs, then turned against Candidate Gore as an extension of their cultural frenzy.
WALSH: The Reagan Democrats—my people—
MATTHEWS: He got the Irish, the Italians—the “Subway Alumni,” people who didn’t even go to college, because of “Knute Rockne, All American.” I think that’s one of the best things in the book, I show how Reagan won the “Subway Alumni.” It’s an old cultural thing. I still check the Notre Dame score—they lost to Oklahoma Saturday—and then Holy Cross. The first thing Tip and Reagan talked about was Knute Rockne.
MATTHEWS: [Tip] was also a human being. He’d sit in that chair, I’d be scared to death. He’s 300 lbs., he’s 6-foot-3—he was the only white guy in his Weight Watchers group, it was all black women, he would go to these meetings to try to lose weight, but he couldn’t deal with it. But you know what? He liked to eat.
WALSH: He didn’t just have a bad metabolism—
MATTHEWS: No, he’d eat corned beef hash with an egg on top, he’d say, “Got another muffin? With butter on it?” When I’d meet him for lunch, sometimes I’d have eaten, and he’d say, “Don’t you dine at noon?” And when we’d go out and have a drink, and I was trying to quit, he’d say, “Can’t you take the stuff?”
MATTHEWS: And the answer was no, I can’t take the stuff, and I did quit. Reagan didn’t really drink at all, by the way, he was afraid of the Irish curse, his father had it. And you can’t argue with it. It’s the Irish curse.
WALSH: Yeah, I have it in my family, too. What do you think it is?
MATTHEWS: I don’t know. Maybe it’s that we still think it’s cute. It’s what you do.
WALSH: My father had to quit at 35, and some of my uncles had a hard time with it, he was no fun anymore. One of them used to spike his drinks to try to trick him.
MATTHEWS: Tip thought it was a discipline issue. He didn’t believe in alcoholism, you just had to control yourself.
As Chris said to Joan about something safe, “It’s an old cultural thing.” At any rate:
In a truly strange and comical move, Welch reinvented NBC News as an East Coast Irish Catholic preserve. The cultural values of that group played a blindingly obvious role in the chase against Clinton and Clinton and then against Candidate Gore.
But as liberals, you aren’t allowed to think about that. Let’s talk about Rupert Murdoch instead. Hey, look over there! Roger Ailes!
How ridiculous is Walsh? Try to believe that Chris said this without a burp from Joan:
WALSH: Do you think Hillary Clinton should run in 2016?He's keep a lot of the old Clinton stuff! Is this piece on loan from The Onion?
MATTHEWS: You know, I saw her yesterday, I ran into her at the airport. And if she’s as healthy as she looks, she should run. I actually thought, “You know, maybe I should drop everything and help her.” I get these impulses. Because she needs guys around her like me. Guys who have a little more traditional attitude. She should put up with guys like me, because then she’ll win 70 percent.
WALSH: What would you tell her?
MATTHEWS: I’d keep a lot of the old Clinton stuff: Stand up for “the people who work hard and play by the rules.” “Make abortion safe, legal and rare.” And work on the culturally conservative people. You’ve already got the left. Be careful on the war issues. Don’t be hawkish. Don’t let Howard Dean or somebody go to your left on the war, and force you to the right. This party was burned by the Iraq War, all the leaders of the party burned us, except for Barack. Biden, Kerry, they were all wrong. They have this default to sign onto war. Which I hate. She starts with the women’s movement, women my age. Then she turns to the white working class, the Appalachian folks, even the folks with race problems like her, she did well with them. She has a chance to be Lyndon Johnson in ’64. I don’t know who could beat her.
As Walsh knows perfectly well, Matthews’ behavior toward Hillary Clinton was unvarnished poison from the 1990s right through 2008. Now, he says that a future Candidate Clinton should sign him up as her brain!
Joan knows she mustn’t say boo about this. Chris is her beau ideal.
By the way: Did all the leaders of the Democratic Party “burn us regarding Iraq, except for Barack [Obama]?” If memory serves, a fellow named Gore gave several speeches warning against that war.
But so what? This is the way Matthews was talking about Gore at that time. He said this on the radio to his pal, Don Imus, with all of Washington listening:
MATTHEWS (11/1/01): He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even.In the wake of September 11, Al Gore didn’t seem very American to Chris.
Joan has forgotten all that. She hopes you will forget it too. Hillary Clinton should hire Chris Matthews! Everyone can see this!