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That Long Lost Chris Matthews Piece

Here's a link to that Matthews piece I mentioned yesterday--the superheroes at TNR Online just unearthed it. I think it more or less holds up, though Matthews's leftward drift in response to the war and the Bush administration generally slightly complicates the picture. If you read the piece, keep in mind that I wrote it only a couple months after Bill Clinton left office.  

The first few grafs for those who want the gist:

New York representative Peter King likes to tell a story about his friend, the cable television talk-show host Chris Matthews. Last May, King was a guest on Matthews's show. Rudy Giuliani had just hinted that he was about to drop out of the New York Senate race, and King's colleague, Rick Lazio, was preparing to step in as his replacement. King, who had once eyed the nomination himself, wasn't especially keen on the upstart from Long Island. But Matthews was even more dismissive. At one point in their banter, Matthews briefly sized up Lazio's chances: "He said he knew Lazio was going to lose the first day he wore that prep school outfit," King recalls.

When I ask him about the anecdote, Matthews disputes both the syntax ("I said, 'You don't get elected senator with khakis on.' Not preppy clothes--khakis") and the implication ("I was just saying the guy's got to grow up. He's running in the New York Senate race; the guy should put a suit on"). But then Matthews betrays himself. Before we can move on, he insists, with his trademark manic laugh: "I don't have any class resentment. Why? Because Lazio went to Vassar? You know, give me a break... My son wanted to go there till we straightened him out." ...

There's a lot to be said for Matthews's and O'Reilly's populism. It implicitly justifies aggressive questioning, which provokes more revealing answers than the deferential style of, say, "Face the Nation." And when politicians evade a question, Matthews and O'Reilly don't meekly move on; they jump in with answers of their own, answers that are blunt, entertaining, sometimes infuriating, and--in Matthews's case, at least--informed by an impressive grasp of American political history.

But there's something odd about the Matthews-O'Reilly worldview: For them, the term "working class"--the group both men consider their primary constituency--is defined not by income but by cultural values such as hard work, devotion to family, and respect for authority and tradition. And these value questions do explain a lot about American politics: why Bill and Hillary Clinton aroused so much hostility, why Al Gore fared poorly among blue-collar men, why Americans resented welfare. What they don't explain is why Democrats ever win. If working-class Americans have distinct cultural preferences that lean to the right, they also have distinct economic preferences that lean to the left. And it's these working-class economic interests that Matthews and O'Reilly--despite their in-your-face populism--generally ignore.

--Noam Scheiber