Chris Matthews is not known as a particularly right-wing television talk-show host nor, by the standards of the profession, a particularly foolish one. NBC considers him to be such an asset, it gave him his own Sunday program, in addition to the nightly cable shoutfest Hardball.
Within MSNBC, Matthews represents the “center” between the right-wing Tucker Carlson and the taken-for-a-liberal Keith Olbermann. It’s worth taking a closer look, therefore, at just what passes for classy, centrist and sane in today’s Fox-driven cable cosmos.
Like anyone who spends much time on live TV, Chris Matthews tends to say a lot of silly things. (I did too during the two years I was so employed.) But patterns and passions tell a tale, and those exhibited by Matthews are revealing. Like Elvis, Matthews can’t help falling in love. And also like the King–who developed a thing for both Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover late in life–the object of Matthews’s affection is invariably a tough-talking, self-styled Republican macho-man. And when he gets going on one of these guys, his style of punditry owes more to, say, Tiger Beat or Teen People than the Trilateral Commission.
Going back to 9/11, Matthews found himself blown away not by Bush’s political or military response but by his ability to throw a baseball. He compared the man to–I kid you not–Ernest Hemingway. “There are some things you can’t fake,” he explained breathlessly. “Either you can throw a strike from sixty feet or you can’t. Either you can rise to the occasion on the mound at Yankee Stadium with 56,000 people watching or you can’t. On Tuesday night, George W. Bush hit the strike zone in the House that Ruth Built…. This is about knowing what to do at the moment you have to do it–and then doing it. It’s about that ‘grace under pressure’ that Hemingway gave as his very definition of courage.”
And remember that now-infamous Mission Accomplished moment? True, Matthews did not join his guest G. Gordon Liddy in admiring–still not kidding–the President’s pretend penis, but he was no less focused on Bush’s fashion statements. “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West,” he cooed. “We’re proud of our President. Americans love having a guy as President, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton…. Women like a guy who’s President. Check it out.”
Matthews’s man-crush on Bush continued longer than that of most of the mainstream media, leading him, for instance, to assert that “everybody sort of likes the President, except for the real whack-jobs,” at a moment when the percentage of Americans telling New York Times/CBS pollsters that they “liked” Bush had fallen to 37 percent.