Tuesday, October 9, 2007

PROVOCATIONS: Chris Matthews Is Not An Issue

It continues to amaze that the Republican field allows Chris Matthews to moderate its debates. Matthews is easily the most obnoxious and rude political talk show host on the air today. His compulsion for interrupting his guests has grown so pathetic that "Hardball" long ago became unwatchable. He should re-name the show "Nutball" for accuracy purposes.

I used to watch him regularly when he debuted ten years ago during the impeachment glory days. I have read his books, especially the wonderful "Kennedy and Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America." But something happened to him along the way. Perhaps since he worked for President Jimmy Carter and Speaker Tip O'Neill he decided that being a raw partisan is more comfortable.

There has been much talk by Republican activists and commentators that the candidates should "take on" Matthews today, especially in light of his statement that the Bush administration had "finally been caught in their criminality." That's a major mistake. It's undignified.

Chris Matthews - and other media figures - should never be presidential campaign issues. Any candidate can pander to the party base by blasting a Chris Matthews or a Rush Limbaugh. When it comes to addressing the foreign and domestic issues confronting our country, that political tactic is utterly worthless.

A candidate who does make Matthews an issue would also engage in one of the elements of modern American politics that I despise: Ignoring a question and going to the talking points. Television hosts and debate moderators far too often allow candidates, elected officials and their supporters to quickly pivot to the topic they really want to talk about. In fact, those who excel at this rhetorical cowardice are not condemned. They're celebrated.

John McEnroe famously said to a chair umpire: "Answer the question! The question, jerk!" I'll be thinking of McEnroe when or if Matthews becomes an issue. And given his Clinton-style slickness and propensity to tell an audience what they want to hear, Gov. Mitt Romney probably will either start or eagerly join in any Matthews-bashing.