Chris Matthews is best known as the host of Hardball on MSNBC. He is also known as someone who likes to hear himself talk (he frequently interrupts his guests) and as an unabashed promoter of his own books. The initial reaction from any self-respecting reader might be to avoid anything that is so shamelessly marketed. However, in the case of Matthews, that would be a mistake.
A couple of years ago he published the best-seller, “Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero.” Matthews has never shied away from the fact that he idolizes Kennedy since the 35th president provided the inspiration for him to join the Peace Corps. That experience changed Matthews’ life and propelled him on the road to a life in politics. I have always been intrigued by Kennedy’s life myself but assumed that Matthews’ account would be a love-fest. Instead it was an even-handed biography that didn’t gloss over Kennedy’s many physical and personal failings. I was impressed.
Matthews’ latest offering is “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” a look back to the 1980s when House Speaker Tip O’Neill clashed with President Ronald Reagan over a host of issues. Matthews is an appropriate person to tell the story because he was a close aide to O’Neill for six years. He also kept a daily journal of his time with the Speaker.
Despite Matthews’ admiration for O’Neill he is very complementary towards Reagan. Matthews notes that although Reagan may have had a black-and-white view of the world he was very well informed and engaged in the process of governing. In other words, he was no dummy. Similarly, while many of O’Neill’s detractors viewed him as a political hack he was actually quite sharp and knew how to use his position effectively.