Not Being Able To Connect With Historical Or Social References

In the Wall Street Journal today I stopped to read a story about the New York Knicks.  Long-time readers are saying, “What?”  ( I am known not to be a sports fan.)  But the story revolved around Spike Lee and a dust-up about what door he could use when making his way into the stadium to see his favorite team play.  Jason Gay is one of the few sportswriters I pay attention to as he has a way with words that makes even this topic worth a read.

Gay did not prove me wrong as half-way through his story he wrote the following line. The Knicks losing Spike is akin to LBJ losing Cronkite.

The line jumped out at me for far more than the story about Lee.  Rather it fit with the narrative that has played out this week.  There was the blowback following the description from MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, who made a remark about World War II following the Nevada Democratic caucuses.

“I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940,” he said. “And the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says: ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.’ So I had that suppressed feeling.”

One of my on-line friends called the comment obscure, not knowing at all what Matthews was talking about from a historical point of view.  But at the same time, she was demanding that  ‘something be done’ as her Bernie Sanders friends claimed he had made a “Nazi” remark.

Later this week another on-line friend wanted me to know it was utterly absurd that I could possibly defend Joe Biden after he called a woman at one of his campaign events a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier”.  Once again the lack of cultural references and touchstones to our past demonstrates how unattached we are from one another.

It’s not even the first time Biden has used the phrase. At a 2018 campaign event, talking about the Republican senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Biden said: “As my brother, who loves to use lines from movies, from John Wayne movies … there’s a line in a movie where an Indian chief turns to John Wayne and says: ‘This is a lying, dog-faced pony soldier.’”

Biden’s spokespeople said the line comes from a John Wayne film – but it’s not clear it does. There is a 1952 western called Pony Soldier, but it does not star John Wayne, and no one is called a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” in it, according to Slate.  The general consensus seems to be that Biden is probably thinking of the 1952 Tyrone Power film Pony Soldier, in which a character says, “The pony soldier speaks with a tongue of the snake that rattles.”

The continuing erosion of our national commonalities has long been a concern of mine. I voice that issue, from time to time, on this blog.  The lack of reading the classics, having mainstream sources of news where a vast majority of citizens get their news (as in the era of Cronkite), and failing to teach history in a thematic manner all have contributed to this larger problem.

More and more it becomes so apparent that normal discussions have to be watered down or hyper-explained to carry along some in a conversation. It not only is trying on a personal level but works to add more fractures to the national tension that runs high.

P.S. When CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite let it be known at the end of one his broadcasts that the war in Vietnam was lost, President Johnson knew he had lost this country’s faith.  Johnson stated that when he lost Walter, he had also lost the country.

Chris Matthews Was All About Institutional Memory, Will Be Sorely Missed

It comes with a heavy heart that news of Chris Mathews retiring from Hardball was made known this evening. His insight and desire to get to the heart of the story ranks among the top of any such personality on television. But what made him essential in this troubling time in our politics is the decades of institutional memory that he demonstrated night after night.

To post about this news tonight requires one example as to show who he is, and what we all have lost. Even for those too young to grasp how important any of this matters.

This story comes from 2012 and is a perfect ending for Matthews.

Earlier today I was musing about the excitement generated by the Republican Primary in Michigan.  I mentioned Teddy White, who seems to always be on my mind on Elections Day, and hoped somewhere tonight he was able to look down and watch the action.

With that in mind as I watched MSNBC’s coverage (flipping along the various news channel options for this and that interview, etc.) I landed on Chris Matthews talking with longtime newsman and political watcher Tom Brokaw.  As they discussed the political landscape of Michigan, and the various components of the contentious nominating process this year, it was Matthews who invoked the name of White, and how much he would have enjoyed this night.  Matthews added that it was White who talked about “the primitives” in the GOP during the 1964 Goldwater election.

I was sitting in the living room, and just smiled.

Yeah, I know there is a huge segment of the younger viewers that have no idea who Matthews was referring to, and no idea what the “Making of the President” series is all about.

But for the segment of the audience who recalls the curious and informative man who loved politics, and had forgotten more than anyone around him ever knew about elections and campaigns–it was a great moment.

Thanks, Chris!

Get Well, Chris Matthews

We love Chris Matthews at Caffeinated Politics. So this news today is disconcerting.

If you’re a consistent viewer of MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews, you’ve probably been wondering where the host has been in recent days. Steve Kornacki, a regular Matthews fill-in, reported on Matthews’ status: He is presently recovering from prostate cancer surgery. It is currently not clear when Matthews will return.

CP sends the best to the guy we love to watch and learn from.


Chris Matthews Goes Out On Limb Over Hillary Clinton

Last night on Hardball, MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews declared that he’s so confident that the drama surrounding Hillary Clinton‘s e-mail server won’t result in her dropping out of the presidential campaign that he’d end his show if she quits.

Matthews was speaking with GOP strategist Kellyanne Conway about the Clinton situation when he ended the segment by saying, “When Hillary Clinton quits this election, we’re going to shut down this show, OK?”

I do not fear losing Matthews, one of my favorite guys to turn to for analysis, as I too do not think Clinton will not drop out of the race.  I do think someone else will join the race, however, and make this a real contest.  Even though it is very late and campaign operations really need to already be assembled this is a different election cycle and we are seeing that anything is possible.

This is simply all very fascinating to watch unfold on a daily basis.

Take Heart Partisan-Weary Book Readers

I rarely read history books that take up topics happening after 1980. I much prefer to explore the world that I did not live or read about in the daily newspapers.

But I have taken to Tip And The Gipper by Chris Matthews as a reminder there are better ways for the competing political parties to operate.  We read constantly of the pressing down–ever harder and harder–from each party to the point that policy and governing comes far behind pure partisan wrangling. That clearly does not serve the nation.

So it comes as a tonic to replay President Reagan coming to terms with the need to increase taxes for economic reasons, or how House Speaker Tip O’Niell compromised to solve the Social Security funding crisis.  These events and others serve as a reminder that it takes real leaders who can find a common space from which to operate that then shapes policy to best meet the needs of a nation.

I am always supportive of Mathews due to his show Hardball.  I sincerely value his political analysis.  But it takes more than that to allow me reason to pick up a book that deals with a topic from a period I generally do not spend time when it comes to history.  With gentle pacing and some old-fashioned virtues this book hits the spot for partisan-weary readers.  It is worthy of your time.


Book You Need To Know About–The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

Chris Matthews interviewed Kate Anderson Brower on Hardball yesterday and simply put there is no way to not be super excited about a new book regarding an inside look at the White House as told from the view of the staff.  Brower spent four years covering the Obama White House for Bloomberg News and is a former CBS News staffer.    Her book, The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House seems the perfect way to start spring reading in your favorite sunny spot.  If you love history, presidential politics, and also a dose of inside tidbits this book is just for you–and me!

In the voices of the residence workers themselves—sometimes wry, often affectionate, always gracious and proud—here are stories of

  • The Kennedys—from intimate glimpses of their marriage to the chaotic days after JFK’s assassination
  • The Johnsons—featuring the bizarre saga of LBJ’s obsession with the White House plumbing
  • The Nixons—including Richard Nixon’s unexpected appearance in the White House kitchen the morning he resigned
  • The Reagans—from a fire that endangered Ronald Reagan late in his second term to Nancy’s control of details large and small
  • The Clintons—whose private battles, marked by shouting matches and flying objects, unsettled residence workers
  • The Obamas—who danced to Mary J. Blige on their first night in the White House

One of my favorite historians gave fantastic praise to the book.

“Kate Andersen Brower’s The Residence is one of those rare books that is both elegant portraiture and highly readable, important White House history. The anecdotes are fresh and the analysis cogent. The stories about Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama are irresistible. Highly recommended!” — Douglas Brinkley, editor of The Reagan Diaries.

Chris Matthews’ Wife To Run For Congress

Kathleen Matthews, Marriott International’s executive vice president and chief global communications and public affairs officer, and wife of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, is planning to run for the seat of Rep. Chris Van Hollen.  Van Hollen has announced that he’ll seek the seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Chris Matthews Mentions Seab Cooley From “Advise And Consent” On Hardball

Once again Chris Matthews mentions a character from the Pulitzer prize-winning novel Advise And Consent on Hardball.  A couple weeks ago it was Fred Ackerman.

After showing a clip of South Carolina Senator Graham listing off ideas on how to make Russian President Putin feel some world reaction to the crisis in Crimea Mathews said “the senator was channeling Seab Cooley the old southern rascal, anti-communist from the Advise and Consent series”.

Allen Drury lives on.