Chris Matthews has been playing "hardball" since the day he was born. From his first political run-in in the first grade to his years working as presidential speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, Matthews grew up loving his country and dreaming of his chance to protect it. In Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, Chris Matthews is at his brilliant, blunt, bulldogged best.
From the Cold War to the Clinton years, Matthews gives the straight-up account of what it means to be an American. Matthews tells us about his "God and Country" Catholic school education in Philadelphia, complete with Cold War air-raid drills, and his early enthusiasm for politics. He shares with us his life's adventures -- two years in Africa with the Peace Corps, the challenge of running for Congress in his twenties, and his three decades deep in the "belly of the beast" of American politics -- using his own experiences to give us an irreverent look at who we are and whom we trust to lead us.
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About the Author
Chris Matthews is the host of MSNBC’s Hardball. He is the author of Jack Kennedy—Elusive Hero; Tip and the Gipper—When Politics Worked; Kennedy and Nixon; Hardball; and now Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: An American Attitude
It was October 18, 2000, the morning after the third and final Gore-Bush debate. I was invited on the Today show to offer my political analysis of who had won. Gore had already declared his previous night's performance to be his "Goldilocks" debate: "The first was too hot. The second was too cool. The third was just right." And his fairy-tale verdict had gone unchallenged by the media. Until Matt Lauer asked me what I thought.
Here's what I said: "I think Gore was more aggressive last night, and if you look at the polls, he won on a couple of points. But clearly the interesting question again is, Who do you like? Bush won."
Matt Lauer leaped on me like a cougar from a tree: "Let's be honest here, you've been saying that all along. Al Gore irritates you."
Me: "The public has been saying that too."
Matt (a second time): "Al Gore irritates you."
Me (again): "The public has been saying that too."
Matt: "But you just don't like Al Gore's style, and it's very hard for you to look past it."
Me: "No, no. I think the interesting thing is I've been studying this election for about a year now the economy should get the incumbent elected. Gore should win. The issue agenda prescription drugs and those kinds of issues are all working for the incumbent administration. So what's stopping the American people? There's some tissue rejection there about Al Gore, something that stops them from saying, 'Okay...Gore.' I think the American people have a problem with him."
Matt: "So let's be clear..."
Me: "They may resolve it. They may say he's better than the other guy."
Matt: "But the American people also haven't taken to George W. Bush."
Me: "That's true, because he's not prepared to be president in many ways."
Matt: "Well, that's a pretty bold statement you just said."
Me: "I think there's a problem between a guy they know who loves government too much and a guy who doesn't know government too much. And they have to choose between two very incomplete candidates. This is not the heavyweight championship here."
Matt Lauer's resistance to my verdict confirmed what I had suspected walking into 30 Rockefeller Plaza that morning. The media cognoscenti had made their call: Gore had not only won, he had cleaned Bush's clock! For Matt certainly was not alone in his thinking. The New York Times ruled that the Democratic candidate "dominated" the debate. Its lead editorial called Gore the "aggressor and pace-setter" of the evening who "seemed to throw Mr. Bush off balance." The Washington Post's Tom Shales, the top TV columnist in the country, called it Gore's "best performance." Times columnist William Safire, a conser-vative, agreed that Gore "came on strong." Soon, the internal buzz at NBC was that I had been expressing opinion rather than analysis. The implication was that I was being biased. How could anyone who had declared that George W. had "won" that debate not be?
I'll tell you how.
Right after Gore's "Goldilocks" performance, pollster Frank Luntz, who MSNBC had hired for the 2000 election, met with thirty-six "undecided" voters. Thirty of those thirty-six "liked" George Bush better than his rival. A Gallup Poll taken immediately after the debate found that slightly more people (46 to 44 percent) judged Gore the better debater. But, by 60 to 31 percent two to one! they said Bush was more "likeable." By the same two-to-one ratio, the public judged Gore to be the "unfair" debater. Bush also was viewed as more "believable" than Gore.
Watching the night before, I, too, thought Gore had turned in his best performance. But after seeing the reactions from the Luntz focus group and the Gallup Poll I realized that Gore's reflexive arrogance, which I had witnessed personally so many times before, was now, after three primetime exposures, turning off the heartland voter. Matt was right. Gore's negative campaigning had long irritated me. The polling now told me it was also irritating much of the country.
The reason Bush is the president today is simple: When millions of voters saw Al Gore campaigning and in the debates, they took away an impression of negativity and condescension. They decided that they would have to go with the unproven, as Gore would say, "risky" alternative. The debate audience preferred the notion of having a guy in the White House who often spoke English as if it were his second language to one who spoke to us as if English were our second language.
In turned out that George W. Bush "won" that debate even more decisively than, forty years earlier, Jack Kennedy had beaten Richard Nixon. The proof was in the polls. Gore led Bush by 47 to 44 percent in the Gallup during the thirty days prior to the debates. He fell behind Bush 47 to 43 percent in the fifteen days after.
The Gore people had thought their man's performance in the third debate would be the deal maker. With the strong economy at his back, the Democratic vice-president would overtake the rival he and much of the media dismissed as a know-nothing frat boy and go on to score a clear-cut victory in November.
They were wrong. The candidate with the undeniable bragging rights on the economic front tripped over his own I-know-best personality. The debates for which Gore had lusted ended up giving Bush the momentum. Had the Texas governor not suffered a pair of postdebate stumbles an out-of-the-past leak of an old driving-under-the-influence charge and a lamebrained claim that Social Security was not a federal program he would have ridden that Big Mo right through to election day.
Instead, Bush lost the popular vote, needed the intervention of the Supreme Court to win in the Electoral College, and inherited a country that would remain as politically divided as it had shown itself that first week in November 2000.
Here's What I Really Think: Al Gore lost one presidential election and may well lose another because of who he is and who we are. I think there's such a thing as an American attitude. It manifests itself in the candidates we like and in those we don't. Just as a human being possesses a soul as well as a body, this country has a spirit as well as a geography. You're ill-advised to tread on us, our self-respect, or our Social Security.
Above all, we Americans are an optimistic, democratic people. We will forgive just about everything from our politicians but condescension. Al Gore did worse than lie to us. He talked down to us.
He's not alone. The Democrats don't have a monopoly on this crap. What about Dick Cheney cooking up energy policy in secret meetings with the oil boys? Locked doors, a bunch of policy wonks around the table, each pushing his agenda and ideology. Sounds like Hillary's recipe for health care. I don't like watching either party playing Father or Mother knows best.
This political assessment wasn't cultivated in a petri dish. It comes from thirty years that were roughly divided between working for politicians and covering them. Even as an insider I kept an outsider's attitude. When I wrote speeches for President Carter, my drinking buddies taunted me during the yearlong humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis. When I worked as right-hand man for Tip O'Neill, I never forgot how much I had liked Ronald Reagan all those years on GE Theater. But before all that, I grew up in the America I talk and write about in a family that, to use a discarded Clinton line, worked hard and played by the rules. Dad was intensely self-reliant. Mom was just as intensely suspicious of the country's cultural elite. My family background is as much a part of my political commentary as what I see in Washington.
It's what I know of this real America that fills these pages. The big fights today are not about economics we pretty much agree on things like balanced budgets and free trade. It's not even about the usual laundry list of issues the politicians mentally or literally pull out of their pockets when asked what the next election is all about.
It's about this attitude of ours.
When you think about it, we Americans are different. That word "freedom" isn't just in our documents; it's in our cowboy souls. We are the most freedom-loving people in the world. We'd rather have guns than live under a government powerful enough to collect them all. We regularly say "no" to a British-style national health system, fearing it means a regime of long lines to see strange doctors. Many people with grave concerns about abortion would rather see women individually decide the matter rather than live under a government repressive enough to deny them the freedom to decide.
Nor are we Americans as cynical as some older cultures. After more than two hundred years of existence in a complex world, we continue to see life as a battle between the good guys and the bad guys. That's one reason Europeans love looking down on us. Why can't we be more sophisticated, more worldly? Yet it is that very good guys versus bad guys mindset of ours that the same Europeans call upon when they face a real bad guy like Hitler or Stalin or Milosevic.
I know that mindset firsthand. My first job when I came to Washington three decades ago was as a .38-caliber-toting officer of the U.S. Capitol Police. It was in the old days when senators and members of Congress used the police jobs as patronage. Some of the slots went to sons of political pals so that these fortunate fellows could go to law school in D.C. My 3:00 to 11:00 P.M. shift was payback for working in a U.S. senator's office writing speeches and answering letters during the daytime.
But the core of the force was made up of lifers from the military, enlisted guys who'd done long hitches with the Army, Navy, or Marines.
I'd spend hours hanging out with these guys. My favorite was Sergeant Leroy Taylor. He was one of those citizen-philosophers who instinctively grasped this country's real politics, the kind that people live and are ready to die for. He and the other country boys would talk about how they would do anything to defend the Capitol. More than some of the big-shot elected officials, my colleagues in blue revered the place and what it meant to the republic. It wasn't about them, but about something much bigger.
I will never forget what Leroy once told me and the wisdom it contained: "The little man loves his country, Chris, because it's all he's got."
I have never heard a better rendition of what I see as our unique American attitude. Or a sharper measure of the distance ordinary people feel from the economic and educated elites. Or a finer explanation of why, even with last year's then still-booming economy as his trump card, Al Gore isn't in the White House. Or why, when a real political gusher blows in this country, the establishment's finest always will be the last to yell. Or why, thank God, a guy with a partisan rap sheet like mine has earned the trust of so many conservatives, independents, and liberals as well who, like me, know just what Leroy Taylor was talking about.
Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Matthews
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why I Interrupt
1. An American Attitude
George W. Bush
2. The Man with the Sun in His Face
3. God and Country
4. People Who Work Hard and Play by the Rules
John F. Kennedy
5. Freedom Is Contagious
6. Common Ground
7. "The Worst Form of Government"
9. Worldly Wisdom
10. Playing Hardball
What People are Saying About This
Alissa Macmillan New York Daily News Matthews dispenses the wisdom he has gathered from his years at the Capitol [and] explores what it means to be an American.
The Washington Post A collection of reflections, aphorisms, and reminiscences for political junkies curious about the thinking, and the life, behind the drive-by quips that Matthews regularly delivers on his cable talk show Hardball.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is not so much a book as a screed. Written just after 9/11, it is patriotism as we were all feeling it at the time -- at a pitch. But his slavering admiration for W, and his arrogant dismissal of Clintons and Gore because of their "arrogance," and his ethnocentric class consciousness that scorns everyone else's ethnocentricity and/or class consciousness was just too much. I couldn't make it past the second disc. I would like to hear how much he has revised his opinions in the dreadful seven years since.
Chris Matthews writes just as he talks - direct, honest and right "to you". I love this book. I thought I knew everything there was to know about John Kennedy, but evidently not. Great, great job. A terrific gift for any Kennedy patriot....
Chris Matthews is our best hope for a democratic (small-d) host in this country after the Rush Limbaughs and the O'Reilly's took over. The latter being a traitor to our Irish roots. I would call him that to his face if I saw him that. Anyway, to the book, Matthews makes collateral damage at both the Clintons and Al Gore for his horrible, morbid 2000 campaign and the cowardly Democratic party as a whole. Where is the Trumans of the party or Kennedys, either Bobby or John? John, as he alluded to of course being his hero and the goad in the 1960 Presidential race for his fascination into politics even though he rooted for the continual underdog Richard Nixon and Goldwater. He tells wonderful stories of the Washington years when it was less on 'focus groups' and more on backroom dealing while being less partisan. At the same time he talks courage sly (not found often) about race in America and other polarizing issues like AIDS, abortion, gender, and science and faith with a fairness towards all sides. He writes eloquently of his times and his stay in the Peace Corps, Congress, White House, and a succession of other jobs.
Chris Matthews is generally well known as the best analyst of modern American politics out there. What he serves up in this highly informative yet entertaining prose book comes from personal experiences and observations about world leaders like his number one hero Winston Churchill or domestic politicians like Kennedy, his favorite American politican. What seemed surprising to me in this book was Matthews' genuine honesty in dealing with leaders and his own experiences like going to peace corps or serving with Tip O'Neill. A tough Democrat, he makes aat is an excellent riff against the Clintons (especially Hillary) that is refreshing for us Democrats who had our doubts about Clinton. He also gives a positive portrait of Reagan and a touching chapter for his hero that made him into a Democrat, John F. Kennedy. Quick but very thorough reading! If you are into Hardball, you won't put the book down.
Chris Matthews, the author of Hardball, pours the American spirit into Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, his account of American History. The author offers nothing but in your face truth about the problems that Bush, Gore, Clinton, Kennedy, Churchill, O¿ Neil, and Reagan faced. Exposed to thirty years of American politics, Chris Matthews carries an analytical conversation on the aforementioned people¿s political campaign (a political adventure) and intertwines personal experiences to illustrate his thought. Chris Matthews¿ depicts a number of items such as; George Bush¿s great leadership was forced upon him and Bill Clinton controlled the democrats by telling their itching ears what they wanted to hear. By far, Winston Churchill¿s bold temperament makes him the one character I admire. At times, the American people can relate (including me) to the former British Prime Minister. His sharp tongue put him in difficult situations; I myself experience the same problem. I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Matthew¿s book due to his sharp wit. I do concur that I found Chris Matthew¿s parallel of Al Gore¿s split personality to Nixon¿s personality to be the most intriguing. What I found unimportant and utterly useless was the personal reference to the gigantic snake in the drive across Swaziland. If I had the chance to alter the text I believe I would remove his Peace Corps. experience because it lacked reverence to the backbone of the issues, which generally dealt with freedom. Chris Matthews¿ study of the American Society and how people tend to accept political leaders that represent the wild nature of freedom amplifies why the outcomes of the political campaigns. I recommend the book to liberal, conservative, or even someone that is non-affiliated. Although quite liberal in his attitude, he claims not only liberal and conservative traits, but the attitude of an American.
Adlai Stevenson once wrote, ¿When an American says that he loves his country, he means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.¿ Chris Matthews mirrors a true American who uses his words to convey his true feelings on politics. In Now, let me tell you what I really think, Matthews explores the goals and realities of leaders such as Al Gore, Winston Churchill, Kennedy, and Clinton. He uses their missions and their outcomes as a way to express his political beliefs on issues concerning America. More importantly, he identifies the faults and successes of these leaders to present his standpoint. Matthews¿s liberal views are blatantly evident throughout his book and he centers this subject on common issues that ail our land today. This book creates an atmosphere for the average American. As he explores issues like abortion, sexual preferences, and deadly diseases that are very important in this day and age. These are the agendas we need to tackle in the coming years. Matthews takes the initiative to give his opinion through a liberal viewpoint. His analysis of each problem and the need for its resolution struck me. I think Matthews should pursue a career as a government leader, for he supports all the main issues that hit the people of this nation all the time. In retrospect, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It clearly portrays the problems with our leaders, yet also reflects upon their positive doings. In addition, certain issues are hit right on point with a strong answer. Chris Matthew¿s book is a great piece of literature for the liberal mind. Those who are open to ideas would enjoy this book and its ability to present truths of everyday matter.
Chris Matthews is the host of MSNBC¿s Hardball, in Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, he gives an insight of his personal and political opinions around the world. Matthews does just what the title suggest by speaking his mind as he gives an unbiased opinion in a very blunt manner about various politicians including George W. Bush, and Al Gore. He has a simple narrative structure in which he recounts a short history, followed by his brusque analysis of the subject. Throughout the entire book my favorite part would have to be when he analyzes the personality and character of George W. Bush and Al Gore. Matthews thinks of Bush as a ¿young leader rising to the occasion.¿ He conveys President Bush as a man of the people, in contrast to the stiffed-neck, robotic, Al Gore type. Matthews shares the same feelings as I when it comes to President Bush; he is capable of forming a bond and trust with the American people and is the only president who ¿united the American people on a course of both purpose and peril.¿ I find Matthews¿ attitude toward Al Gore quite funny as it brings a sense of humor to such a serious book. He depicts Al Gore as a confused man with his multiple personalities and characters. It is quite intriguing to find Matthews offer such contrasting opinions about politics in relation of him supposedly being a liberal and a democrat because of his political background. Matthews¿ book is exactly like his TV program Hardball, for those fans of his program out there I would suggest reading this book as it would allow you to understand where he is coming from with his past political and journalistic experiences. Even for those who have never watched his show, this book will be an interesting read, however, figuring out whether he is an democrat or republican may prove to be the most confusing part. This book would catch they eyes of readers who are of either political parties, as long as you are an American, this book may just give you new insight on politics and society.
I read this book in a couple of days. It's alright as far as 'no-brainer' books go. I feel he could have made it more interesting.
I have to say that I enjoy him even more now having read this book. I am 21, and I have just recently (past 3 years) become interested in politics, and everyday Chris has been holding my hand through my learning process. He has been asking the questions that I have wanted asked, and I thank him for that. My respect for him has grown enormously, just by the, perhaps lesser known facts about himself and the issues that he believes in or against. I enjoyed looking into his mind for an evening or two, because that is all it took for this page turner!
Mr. Matthews uses this book to develop several points: How he developed his political consciousness and views; the purpose behind his Hardball television show; describing the key points of the top politicians he has known; defining what it takes to get elected as president in America, defining what is best about America, outlining where the political discussion needs some refocusing, and how to succeed in life. These elements are loosely and nonsequentially combined in chapters loosely build around themes like ¿freedom is contagious,¿ ¿truth,¿ and ¿common ground.¿ The reader will often have the feeling that Mr. Matthews is having four conversations with himself at the same time . . . all at high speed. With all of this ground to cover, Mr. Matthews skims at or above the surface. The best part of the book comes in the brief profiles of the politicians that Mr. Matthews has known. He sees George W. Bush as a likable man rising to the occasion in responding to the foul attack of September 11th, Al Gore as someone who should have taken a stand that the president must not lie to the American people, ¿I have no idea who William Jefferson Clinton is¿ but he had ¿astounding skill at political positioning,¿ Tip O¿Neill was a principled political warrior who was uncomfortable in the spotlight, and Ronald Reagan was a quick-witted man with a multiple decade run for the presidency. Unlike many journalists, Mr. Matthews likes politicians, which he candidly confesses. Mr. Matthews is a democrat whose family was of a conservative republican persuasion. ¿I¿ve got a conservative gut, tolerant mind, and a heart . . . .¿ He identifies with the middle class as the people who work hard and play by the rules. The middle class will elect people as president who are taking an outside the Beltway perspective. ¿Look for the candidate you picture with the sun in his face.¿ Those you think of in a suit in an office will not succeed. He feels that he never recovered from JFK¿s death. As a young man, he joined the Peace Corps to avoid Viet Nam service, and learned a lot about the challenges of Africa, serving in Swaziland. The book details important thoughts about the moral need to respond to the AIDS crisis in poor countries. As to practical advice, it is basically to ¿Show Up! Ask! Believe!¿ As to Americans, there were two quotes that I was particularly struck by. ¿We will forgive just about anything from our politicians but condescension . . . Gore talked down to us.¿ He feels Senator Hillary Clinton has the same problem. While with the Capitol police force (his first paying job after the Peace Corps), Sergeant Leroy Taylor told him, ¿The little man loves his country, Chris, because it¿s all he¿s got.¿ As we pull together to counter the terrorist threat to American society and deal with other new challenges, perhaps more of us will come to feel that way. In defending his tendency to interrupt guests, Mr. Matthews points out that viewers like a fast pace, and don¿t want to hear a politician¿s preplanned talking points. Then, more candidly, he points out that he cannot help himself. Each section ends with a blunt statement like that, under the heading of ¿now, let me tell you what I really think.¿ The candor was refreshing. Ultimately, Mr. Matthews points out that ¿Democracy is a noisy business.¿ Make some noise! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise
What is it that we find compelling in each other? If you are curious about what makes Chris Matthews tick, it's (almost) all here. His reverence for Winston Churchill. His crazy days in the Peace Corps. His 1950s Catholic school education. Matthews weaves personal history, opinion, and political anecdotes into a charming and deeply entertaining book. Ten succinct chapters each end with a summary that begins, 'HERE'S WHAT I REALLY THINK.' But did you expect anything less from the man who is famous for playing hardball? Matthews' discussion of a uniquely 'American Attitude' is especially relevent now. He declares that Americans are the most freedom-loving people in the world. How our love of freedom manifests itself in the coming years is perhaps a topic for a future book. Chapter nine, 'Worldly Wisdom,' is well worth the purchase price of the book in itself. Here we glimpse Matthews as professor. He offers three fundamental precepts for success, and it is a generous gift. Sugarplums like, 'When you ask someone for help, you are implicitly asking them to take a chance on you' and 'There's a magic that results when a person invests in you' are sprinkled throughout this chapter. He offers his advice heartily, and tenderly. I saw Chris Matthews speak about this book in a Washington DC bookstore appearance. He simply emanantes joy. It's not an act. The sparkle in his eye is no trick of television. He's the real thing. And his love of this country is palpable. To borrow from Matthews, HERE'S WHAT I REALLY THINK: This is a book you should buy, not borrow, because you'll want to return to it again and again.
This book, while short in length, is long on scintillating and provocative topics. Matthews offers insight to his always strong viewpoint by sharing with us the hybrid mix of his Republican Catholic upbringing and his democratic history on Capitol Hill. His ability to storytell, highlights being from his time in Africa with the Peace Corps and his political oddessey through the sixties, is a pleasant surprise. This book is a fantastic afternoon read, one that leaves you wanting to meet the author in person.
I haven't finished reading the entire book, but it already is clear that Chris is still foaming at the mouth on Clinton. It's getting old and tired. If he pounded on other lying pols as much as he does Clinton he wouldn't sound so bitter and hateful. Clearly he is surrounding himself only by those who agree with him. He ought to get out mingle more. Just a thought.
This book is excellent. I am 16 years old, and many of my peers would laugh at me for reading a book about politics. However, I continued to read the book and love it! I would say that I agree with everything that Chris says. Hardball is the best show on TV, and the only show I watch. I give this book 5 stars!
While this book was moderately entertaining, Chris Matthews fails to form an actual hypothesis in his book. He also makes it abundantly clear how NOT Republican or Democratic he is over and over. It is a good book to read when you need something easy to read and distracting. There is not much depth to his thought process.