This week’s Sunday NYT Magazine profile on Chris Matthews is fascinating. Though I think Matthews is a bit of a buffoon, I still find his show interesting and I tune in to watch whenever I can. But he’s clearly operating in the politics of another era. Consider:
Matthews is as pure a political being as there is on TV. He is the whip-tongued, name-dropping, self-promoting wise guy you often find in campaigns, and in the bigger offices on Capitol Hill or K Street. (“Rain Man,” NBC’s Brian Williams jokingly called Matthews, referring to his breadth of political knowledge.) He wrote speeches for Jimmy Carter, worked as a top advisor to Tip O’Neill, ran unsuccessfully for Congress himself in his native Philadelphia at 28. In an age of cynicism about politics, Matthews can be romantic about the craft, defensive about its practitioners and personally affronted when someone derides Washington or “the game.” He can also be unsparing in his criticism of those who run afoul of his “take.” “I am not a cheerleader for politics per se,” Matthews says. “I am a cheerleader for the possibilities of politics.”
…Cable political coverage has changed, however, and so has the sensibility that viewers — particularly young ones — expect from it. Matthews’s bombast is radically at odds with the wry, antipolitical style fashioned by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or the cutting and finely tuned cynicism of Matthews’s MSNBC co-worker Keith Olbermann. These hosts betray none of the reverence for politics or the rituals of Washington that Matthews does. On the contrary, they appeal to the eye-rolling tendencies of a cooler, highly educated urban cohort of the electorate that mostly dismisses an exuberant political animal like Matthews as annoyingly antiquated, like the ranting uncle at the Thanksgiving table whom the kids have learned to tune out.
His brand of “romance” about politics is out of date, and for good reason. Politics has changed in the last 30 years. Matthews made his bones when there were 28 lobbyists in Washington. There are now over 30,000. The game has changed. It’s the difference between Aaron Sorkin’s view of politics (The West Wing) and David Simon’s (The Wire).