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Political Animal

Silly Season

By Brian Morton | Posted 12/10/2008

Nature abhors a vacuum, and nothing sucks in the stupid quite like the period after a big, paradigm-changing election. It's the moment after the long run where you take a deep breath and inhale a bug. It's the time when your special teams blow the coverage on a kickoff return after a triumphant score and the opposing receiver zooms right through your guys for a touchdown. It's the silly season.

The next elections are two long years away, and nobody knows anything all over again, so the political media feel free to speculate on the basis of hot air. People get all sort of ideas that, bereft of an actual environment of reality to sustain them, float into the absurd.

For instance, let's look at the latest rumor making the rounds this season.

Time was, once long ago, there was a political staffer and speechwriter who sat at the feet of some very wise politicians and learned some very smart things. He moved from the Hill to become a columnist for a West Coast newspaper, and wrote a fairly sage column that did a good job of explaining the political rules and traditions governing Washington.

I met this guy after he published his 1988 book laying out those rules and maxims--I have a copy of it inscribed, "Here's hoping you can put these tactics to use in your career. Hit a homer!" I gave copies of this book out as holiday gifts more than once; I felt it was a very modern, updated take on Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince as applicable to Washington (and that is not meant in the negative sense, if you haven't given any serious study to Machiavelli, whose name is more often used in the pejorative sense.)

Somewhere along the line, this staffer-turned-journalist jumped to television, and that's when it all went to hell. Come 10 years after the book, the sage author was a blustering, bullying, logorrheic half-baked-opinion-every-minute gabmeister.

The book was titled Hardball, and it's author was a man named Chris Matthews.

Matthews is currently rumored to be investigating the possibility of mounting a campaign to challenge sitting Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010. Specter is 78, has survived two separate bouts of Hodgkin's lymphoma and narrowly escaped a primary challenge from Rep. Pat Toomey. Toomey was supported in that race by the right-wing Club for Growth (the same people who backed Maryland's Andy Harris over incumbent Wayne Gilchrest this past election, thus giving the Democrats a seventh seat in Congress in Frank Kratovil) to the tune of $2 million. Specter barely eked out a 1.7 percent margin of victory in that race, after George W. Bush ignored all of Specter's off-the-reservation votes and gave him an endorsement. After that race, Specter did the Bush White House's bidding, going so far as to be considered the Senate office that snuck into law the provision allowing Bush to attempt to name U.S. Attorneys without subjecting them to confirmation by the Senate.

But of all people to take on Specter, why Matthews? The list of boneheaded, insensitive and tin-eared statements he's made on the air in the last 10 years would stretch from Philly to Pittsburgh, with a stop-off in Breezewood for pancakes and scrapple. There's not enough space for me to list the times he's implied that the only "regular folks" in America that Obama had to win over were "white folks." Or all the intemperate things he's said about the Clintons going all the way back to the impeachment unpleasantness (including his comment that Sen. Hillary Clinton didn't win her race in 2000 on her own merits; it was because "her husband messed around"), including comments so sexist that he might have caused a backlash that allowed Clinton to win the New Hampshire primary. In the last 10 years, Matthews has become a Neanderthal with a microphone who doesn't know when to shut the hell up.

So now Matthews has met with Democratic officials in the state, and Rasmussen, the automatic polling operation, has come out with a poll supposedly showing Matthews only three points behind Specter in a hypothetical matchup. And cynics claim the talkmeister is only using the potential race as a ploy in his upcoming contract negotiations with MSNBC.

Note to the TV suits: Call. His. Bluff. If Matthews leaves for a race, a real politician like Rep. Patrick Murphy will hand the Chevy Chase carpetbagger his hat (Matthews has lived in Maryland for more than 25 years, even though the North Philly native once ran for a House seat from there in 1974), and we can be rid of him once and for all.

It's times like these when the inauguration can't come soon enough.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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