Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Many Man-Loves of Chris Matthews

The Many Man-Crushes of Chris Matthews
Eric Alterman

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.

But nobody, save Fred Barnes, thinks Bush is cool anymore, and so Matthews has had to go cruising for a new crush. For a while it looked as if he and John McCain would hook up. "A lot of people," he explained coyly, naming no names, "like the cut of John McCain's jib, his independence, his maverick reputation." This led Matthews to declare the election all but over, announcing that as far as he was concerned, McCain "deserves the presidency."

This was just a warmup, however, for Chris's latest flame: the "perfect candidate"--the one who "looks like a President," who "acts and talks like a President," who "rises to the occasion" and is "the one tough cop who was standing on the beat when we got hit last time and stood up and took it," and who, to top it all off, got "that pee smell out of that subway." Say one thing about Chris Matthews, once he switches loyalties, he's really loyal. He got so mad at that meanie Hillary Clinton for wanting to be President against his new love, Rudy G, he gave a big fat warning to her homies about her husband. Again, I promise I'm not kidding. When Hillary staffer Ann Lewis showed up on Hardball, she was instructed three times by its host that Bill Clinton had "better watch it." And when former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe came on to promote his book, Matthews told him six times that Clinton had better "behave himself," lest his "social life" become a "distraction."

Just what so worried Matthews could only be inferred, as he was, like, too shy to say what he really meant. It's possible his concern was sartorial in nature, as the candidates' clothing has proven a Matthews obsession in presidential elections past. In 1999, for instance, he grew obsessed with Al Gore's suit buttons. "What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?" he asked a guest. "Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don't know, I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants." Indeed, Matthews thought the button development so significant, he returned to it five nights in a row.

Certainly Matthews couldn't have meant Bill Clinton's sex life. First off, it's Hillary who's running this time. And when it comes to screwing around while in office, well, the ex-President is the proverbial pisher compared with Mr. Pee Smell Out of the Subway. While serving as Mayor of New York, Rudy moved in with a couple of gay guys to facilitate cheating on his wife, and let the mother of his children know he wanted a divorce by holding a press conference. This led Mrs. Giuliani (Donna Hanover) to complain about yet another affair he'd apparently conducted with a member of his staff and to seek a restraining order to keep his new girlfriend (now wife) out of Gracie Mansion.

One would think, as my colleague at Media Matters Jamison Foser has so sagely noted, "On the distraction scale, that would have to rate pretty darn high."

Can this romance be saved? Too early to tell, but perhaps Rudy shouldn't be picking out silverware patterns just yet. The race is still wide open. Newt's got that handsome head of hair, and Fred Thompson, well, the guy is practically George Clooney--for a Republican. And hey, let's not forget Mitt Romney. He may not be a credible conservative or even (really) a Christian, but according to Chris, "He's got a great chin, I've noticed."


clockwork_watchmaker said...

Chris Matthews holds a bizarre and unrealistic image of the president, shaped by what legitimately appears to be a homoerotic urge towards authority figures in nice suits. More disturbingly, I would be willing to bet it's an image quite common among the minds of Christian American males.

So ingrained are we in a competitive capitalist culture, action films, and contact sports, so entwined are they with the identity of the American male, that they pervert of perceptions. So pervasive are these perversions that they that when our thoughts turn to the image of the man with supreme executive authority of our nation morphs from a Washington policy-maker to some disgusting mega-macho combination, equal parts Rambo and George Washington.

This proves a separate point I made to a friend a few weeks back. If there had been a television in every home sixty years ago, I earnestly believe we would have never elected a man in a wheel chair. Come 2008, we will have a black president or a woman president. We may one day have an Asian or Hispanic president. In fact, I think we'll even have homosexual, transgender, and, dare i say, even an atheist president one day. But the president is such a symbol of power, I think last of all this strange nation, with it's hypocritical idolization of physical stature over intellect, will ever knowingly elect a physically-disabled person.

Anonymous said...

I'm so utterly confused about this article because it seems that Chris Matthews has these little political candidate crushes for who is ever so popular at the time (i.e. Bush, McCain) however I thought he wasn't a Republican because he and Ann Coulter get into arguments? I know he has previously had her on his show about the incident with the presidential candidate John Edwards' wife. This was where Elizabeth Edwards asked Coulter to stop the personal attacks on her family (the deceased son is what Coulter apparently mentioned) as well as the other candidates. However does anyone not remember the debate between Chaney and Edwards, where he brought up Dicks daughter being a lesbian (that was very low)!!! (Why did John Edwards have his wife call in the first place? Honestly, how is he going to be able to run a country and handle terrorism if he can't even stand up for himself against Ann Coulter? Is Mrs. Elizabeth going to have to do that to?) Matthews went on to say in that instance, to why does Coulter in her books talk about how chubby Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky are! So to me, this article is portraying Matthews as being more in the eye of a Republican, where as in reality he has got in arguments with hardcore Republican, Ann Coulter.
However, it is very stupid to actually say on public tv about the look of presidential candidates. Isn't that a bit superficial? (Oh Romney has a nice chin, Thompson is a George Clooney, Bush has a nice fashion sense and great muscles or Rudy G who "looks like a President") Is this really what our country is being degraded down too as well stereotyped as? Catherine McKinnon would be very against this as well! Not only in the sense against women but as well as the degredation of it all.

Anonymous said...

Chris Matthews just brings up these things about republicans is because he is skating around the real subjects. He wants to talk about President George W. Bush throwing a strike in Yankee stadium, what he does not want to talk about is the President Bush's declining approval rating and what the cause of this drop is from. Matthews does not want to talk about how Hillary Clinton stands on certain issues he wants to point out that her husband in office was committing adultery and this is breaking a commandment. He does not care what she would do in office because I think deep down Hillary in office does not sound too bad to him. I have to agree with the first comment that it seems like Chris Matthews has homoerotic fillings toward republican men in high positions. He would rather be discussing men and being in the company of men just like in the movie my fair lady.

davidb said...

It sounds to me like Alterman is following Mathews career a little bit too much. He's actually gone as far as naming off Matthews' "man crushes" from Bush to McCain. My question to Alterman would be why? Why is this significant in anyway? Who cares that Matthews likes the way Bush throws a baseball? This article of Alterman is just as foolish as the person he did it on. He's a host on hardball! Stop taking him so literally and the show for that matter too.

Cheri said...

Thanks for writing this.