I took a break from Matthews for a while after he remarked that Hillary Clinton won the NY Senatorial race solely because her husband publicly chased skirts and people felt sorry for poor Hil. He took some deserved flak for that one, but it didn't stop him from running his mouth over and over again. He got Michelle Bachmann to say she thought congress should be investigated to see how many "anti-Americans" were lurking there, and even now he boasts about his role in Bachmann's rise to celebrity status--as if that's something anyone would be proud of.
He reminded me of a certain aunt who verbalizes every tiny thought without slowing down for even a second to do the necessary mental editing. If you're too fat or too thin or you're wearing your hair funny or you don't know how to pronounce "nucular" you and everyone within range will hear about it. If you open your mouth to say something it becomes a contest to see who can talk over the other the loudest and the longest. She always wins.
It's that way with Matthews on Hardball, but then again it's his show. Every guest who makes an appearance on Hardball knows the routine: They'll open their mouths to speak, words will start to come out, and something in those first few words will trigger a memory in Chris's head and he will not hear another word. He'll be off and running and the invited guests will become the audience and all they can hope for is that the few words they did get out were good enough.
But on the morning of the first day of the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa, Matthews, a "Morning Joe" panelist, was surprisingly quiet. Even when Republican chairman Reince Priebus began talking--not about the wonders of the convention and the virtues of the candidates within, but about the evils of President Obama's policies, Matthews kept his mouth shut. If Priebus, poor man, had stuck to the truth, he might have finished the segment with his dignity intact. Instead, he got into the already disabused lie about Obama getting ready to drop work requirements for welfare recipients.
At this, Matthews sat up, talons out, ready to swoop. "I have to call you on this, Mr. Chairman," he says politely, but within seconds we realize (with undisguised glee--at least in this house) that feathers will fly, blood will flow, and it ain't gonna be pretty.
But observe for yourself. It must be seen to get the full effect. And watch the reactions of the other panelists. It's as close to a free-for-all as you'll get outside of "The Housewives Of" shows. (I'm guessing Joe and Mika won't be inviting Chris back for Frappuccinos any time soon.)
There are going to be times in the future of Hardball when Chris Matthews will annoy the hell out of most of us. He got where he is because he is who he is. But one thing Matthews requires of the people who sit in front of the cameras is that they tell the truth. Sometimes they forget that, and that's when it gets interesting.
Something has happened to Matthews in the last year or so. He is far from an Obamabot, but he knows unfairness when he sees it. When the Republicans would not back down from the birther issue, it was as if a tiny sliver of his inner Murrow awakened and he hasn't let up since.
The old Tweety would seek and find a silly kind of shallow humor in almost everything political, and he wasn't above exploiting it. The new Chris Matthews sees hurt where it exists and feels compelled to advocate for a fix. His concern for the disenfranchised and dispossessed is palpable and sincere.
He still forgets his manners when he has guests at his table. He still loves the sound of his own voice. But he has grown up. Maybe now he deserves a real name.