Basically, Hertzberg says that Chris Matthews is a great American because... because... because... it's not clear why, other than that Chris Matthews was good to Rick Hertzberg when Rick Hertzberg was young.
Hullabaloo: The Villagers Defend The Perimeter: There are times lately when I feel as if I'm back in 2003. I'm being told that up is down and black is white and that what i'm seeing just isn't real. It's actually much more disorienting than it was then because this time it's coming from the left side of the dial.
Those of us who love Chris Matthews have to rate this near the apex of our Top Ten Matthews Moments list. In the unlikely event you missed it: [insert Youtube of Matthews humiliating a random wingnut radio talk show host on the word "appeasement]
Now for the “full disclosure.”
I have more reasons than most to love Chris Matthews. When I first met him, thirty or so years ago, his hair was a different color, he was skinnier, and his neckties were more random, but he was otherwise pretty much the same political jabber machine he is today. The biggest difference is that back then I was able to spend ten hours a week listening to him talk without recourse to electronic gadgetry. Nowadays that pleasure requires the use of a television set.
It goes on to describe their long friendship and what a great guy Matthews was back in the day. Apparently Rick gave Chris his first big break in "journalism" when he published in TNR his brilliant insight that Ronald Reagan's first calling was actually as an announcer instead of an actor, which means that he was "host" for the whole country. (I'm serious.)
Anyway, Hertzberg does acknowledge that his pal went off the rails a tiny bit for a while:
In my opinion, Chris went kind of haywire during the Clinton years. I have my own theories about why. Theory one: he and Clinton are too much alike. Same age, same size, same crazed gregariousness, same gift of gab, same manic energy, same thirst for attention, roughly similar political views and non-élite backgrounds. (A similar this-town-ain’t-big-enough-for-both-of-us dynamic, this one focussing on rival good-ol’-boy personae, poisoned the relationship between Howell Raines, then the editorial page of the Times, and Clinton. In my opinion.) Civil wars are always the bitterest.
Theory two: it had something to do with the difference between Irish Catholic and Southern Baptist views of sin and forgiveness. As many people noticed at the time, the Lewinsky brouhaha drove not just Chris but also Michael Kelly, Tim Russert, and Maureen Dowd completely round the bend. For the Catholics, sins are to be confessed in the privacy of a closed booth to a priest who is the bottom rung on a ladder of long-established authority that runs upward through the hierarchy, the Pope, the saints, and only then to the Supreme Judge of the Universe. Forgiveness is administered via prescribed rituals sanctified by centuries of uninterrupted use. For low-church Protestants like Clinton (and Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker), confession usually comes after you get caught, is noisily public, and is so bound up with high-profile damage control that its sincerity cannot be assumed.
Right, yeah. Whatever. I guess it's fine that the country was held hostage to a group of elites' religious differences. But this is where it gets good:
Chris was a mildly conservative Democrat when I met him, and he still is. His Lewinsky-era anti-Clintonism built ratings for “Hardball,” but I don’t believe for a moment that it was a calculated or cynical move. Chris was quite clearly against the Iraq War when that position was unpopular with Americans in general and cable blowhards in particular. Yes, he is prone to hyperbole. Yes, he is apt to tell a guest that he or she is a “great American” whose current collection of ill-researched columns is “a great book.” Yes, his obsession with cultural-populist tropes, especially the horseshit assumption that the ideal male, maybe even the default human being, is a fortyish white non-intellectual in a baseball cap holding a can of beer, is annoying at best. Yes, the internal censor that keeps most peoples’ ids in check functions rather intermittently in his case. But that reckless freedom of his yields at least as many brilliant connections and startling metaphors as it does howlers. And his “liberal” outbursts are at least as numerous as his “conservative” ones, and maybe more heartfelt. Admittedly, I don’t have a file full of examples at hand. Nor are there any among the three hundred and fifty-two items in Media Matters’ Matthews dossier. (The clip at the top of this post, for example, doesn’t make the cut.) But it’s my impression, subjective and biased by friendship though it may be, that, certainly in the past five years or so, Matthews has been considerably tougher on the right than on the left. He was fierce on the Swift Boat slanderers. And on the war he has been magnificent.
The fact that he voted for Bush notwithstanding, of course.
And yes, on the war, he certainly has been magnificent:
- As Media Matters noted, Matthews was chief among the cheerleaders when Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, in which he declared that "[m]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended," all the while standing under a banner reading: "Mission Accomplished." Despite lingering questions over the continued violence in Iraq, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, and the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, Matthews fawned over Bush: "He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. ... He looks for real. ... [H]e didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does. ... We're proud of our president. ... Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president."
- On the January 31, 2005, edition of Hardball, while praising that month's Iraqi election, Matthews falsely claimed that no insurgent attacks had occurred at polling places on Election Day. In fact, attacks on Iraqi polling places were widely reported during the January 30 elections.
- Before Bush had even delivered his November 30, 2005, speech at the U.S. Naval Academy laying out a "Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Matthews used variations of the word "brilliant" twice to describe it, while deriding Democratic critics of the Iraq war as "carpers and complainers." Media Matters noted at that time that Matthews's over-the-top praise for Bush included his claim that "[e]verybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" and his statement that Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility."
- On the December 16, 2005, edition of Hardball, Matthews stated, "If [Bush's] gamble that he can create a democracy in the middle of the Arab world" is successful, "he belongs on Mount Rushmore."
- On the July 31 edition of Hardball, Matthews stated that if Democratic critics recognize that Bush made a "smart decision" to invade Iraq, then Bush "deserves to have a place in history" because "[y]ou can't say he did the right thing but he didn't quite do it right."
- During a roundtable discussion about the August 8 Democratic senatorial primary in Connecticut, Matthews accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) of having employed a "bob and weave" with her position on the Iraq war, contrasting her with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT), who Matthews said "hasn't cut and run." In doing so, Matthews adopted the terminology employed by the Bush administration, and repeated by many in the media, to attack Democratic critics who have called for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- a position polls show most Americans support.
- In recent months, Matthews and his guests on Hardball and the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show have repeatedly gushed over McCain and Giuliani as potential presidential candidates in 2008, even though both have been supporters of the war and Bush. For example, Matthews stated on the May 10 edition of Hardball that he was "still hanging in there for a McCain-Giuliani ticket."
I'm sure that everyone in the Village is thrilled to welcome Matthews and his "celebrity heat" (born, by the way, on the back of mindless sexism as Eric Boehlert demonstrates here ) on to the "A" list. After all, his only fault was that he was a good Catholic boy who couldn't forgive presidential fellatio. Who doesn't agree with that? On pretty much everything else, he's been great.
Hertzberg ends his column with this:
Chris Matthews is a net plus for American politics and American society. If he decides to pack it in and run for office, I plan to max out.
You know, I hear a lot about the need for change in our politics --- that we need to turn the page and inject the system with some new blood. And I hear a lot of it from allegedly liberal pundits like Hertzberg and Matthews who, without irony, tell tales of their earlier flights on Carter's Airforce One and recount their adventures in the Reagan years and the crazed politics of the 90s. And it never occurs to anybody that it's the liberal punditocrisy that's stale and tired and most in need of changing.
If we are now believing that Chris Matthews is a "net plus" for American politics, then the reality based community has followed the Bush administration straight down the rabbit hole.
Oh, and as for the "appeasement" humilation that everyone took so much pleasure in, I'm sorry, but it reminded me a great deal of an earlier episode this year where Matthews browbeat Texas state senator Kirk Watson for several minutes because he couldn't name Obama's legislative accomplishments. Let's just say that I'd be a lot more impressed with Matthews' pitbull routine if he used it, just once, on somebody with some real clout instead of low level nobodies who don't appear on TV regularly. Bullying people without power just doesn't impress me much, especially when you have people on the show every day who actually have some and you kiss their asses with gusto. Sorry, not impressed.