I’m listening to Chris Matthews on MSNBC and he’s doing what he always does — he’s interrupting his guests and sticking in his three, four, five cents.
This is a host whose guests have it easy. They sit there and listen to the host pontificate. Then they listen to the host’s long-winded questions. Then they start to speak.
If they’re smart, they know they’ll never reach the end of their answers, so they speak quickly. If they’re really smart they’ll walk into the studio with half-baked ideas and half-finished sentences just to see, just as a joke, how half-preparing is more than enough when playing "Hardball With Chris Matthews."
Here’s the rub, a hypocritical rub that highlights everything wrong with pundits and spinners and the supposed pros who digest the news, then spit it out for public consumption.
Listen to what Chris Matthews had to say about Time Kaine’s performance after Tuesday’s debate: "He didn’t wait his turn. Obviously, if he had just waited his turn, the back-and-forth nature of this kind of event, he would have had his opportunity. I don’t know why he kept interrupting, because with two people debating, the other guy gets the chance to speak. He couldn’t wait for that. I think that hurt him."
Seriously? Is Chris Matthews so shameless that he’s blind to what he does, night after night after night?
The reason Matthews interrupts, the reason interrupting has become the Matthews trademark, is because interrupting pushes the conversation, fast and faster. In a time when our attention spans are as long as a tweet, he’s onto something.
Good for him — his shtick has kept him prime time for a while.
The other reason he interrupts is more insidious. Rat-tat-tat questions beget controversial answers. That’s what 24-hour news cycles crave. They ask quick-trigger gotcha questions to elicit responses that will, ideally, make news.
Tim Kaine was taking a play out of the Matthews playbook. I didn’t mind when Trump interrupted Clinton. I didn’t mind when Kaine interrupted Pence.
Tim Kaine knew he’d expose Pence’s biggest weakness — no matter how much he denies it, Mike Pence does not, cannot agree with many of Donald Trump’s ideas.
The Pence doth protest too much, methinks.
A debate should highlight an exchange of ideas, a point/counterpoint dynamic which, if the debate is good, moves from polite to something more charged, more vibrant, more intellectually stimulating.
While there was a framework of rules for this debate, in order for a political debate to be successful (and entertaining) there has to be some room for improvisation, for interjecting when a fact is false; for counter-punching a punch.
Don’t we want to see our future leaders in action, working off the cuff, thinking on their feet?
If you at all appreciate the debates in England’s parliament, where intellect and wit are displayed with bravado — with the kind of smart, articulate confidence I’d think we’d want in our leaders — then you appreciated Tim Kaine’s performance, interruptions and all.
De Gustibus. Concerning taste. But for my money — despite what pundits like Chris Matthews said — Tim Kaine won this debate handily.
He was strong. He was assertive.
He didn’t sit idly by when Pence gave misinformation or, worse, when Pence refused to answer directly-posed questions. Since moderator Elaine Quijano wasn’t skilled enough to help the debate flow, to look up from her script and riff when riffing was needed (that’s what a good moderator does), Tim Kaine took charge.
He pinned Pence on where Pence disagrees with Trump.
He called out Pence for citing false facts.
What did Pence do? He recited some names, sounding them out phonetically, and recited some statistics without the underpinning of nuanced understanding. And he told some stories, those tired, personal, man-among-the-people stories that are supposed to add a touch of humanity to our politicians but actually make them come off as false, rehearsed, and disconnected.
The personal story has become a transparent formula. Step one: Don’t really answer the question. Step two: Squint your eyes with method-acting emotion. Step three: Look at the camera. Step four: Tell a personal story about X (make sure to include the full name of X, the great state where X resides, and the wholesome job X has diligently held for so long), which illustrates and how X is being hurt by the current system.
These formulaic anecdotes, smacking of made-for-TV-movie sentimentality, signify nothing except that the politician has nothing much to say. That was Mike Pence on Tuesday night. He’s not as smart, not as sharp, not as quick as Tim Kaine. He couldn’t riff.
But hey, Mike Pence would make one hell of a guest on Hardball.
Pence’s answers, slow and rehearsed and formulaic, were ideal for interrupting.
That’s what Chris Matthews would have done. That’s what Tim Kaine did. Good for him.
Adam Berlin is the author of "Both Members of the Club" (winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), "The Number of Missing,” "Belmondo Style" (winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and “Headlock." He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-edits "J Journal: New Writing on Justice" (AdamBerlin.com). For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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