Chris Matthews: Remember how friendly politics used to be, right-wing extremists?

In case you didn’t instantly understand why a call for bipartisan bonhomie from Tingles, of all people, is a surreal joke, Noah Rothman has 15 paragraphs at Mediaite explaining. All I’d add is this: Is it really too much to ask of America’s lefty talking heads that they either demagogue grassroots righties as racists and militiamen or lecture the public on the need for more comity and civility in politics? It doesn’t seem like much. The whole “civility” pageant is, after all, just a pose they’ve developed after the Tucson shooting to score political points when an opportunity presents itself, before getting back to calling conservatives terrorists. The GOP shut down the government so now it’s time for a new episode of Reasonableness Theater. Let’s drop it, at long last. Say it loud — I’m a cutthroat partisan and I’m proud.

It’s applicable to marriage, work relationships, and most especially to rivalries: “Always be able to talk.”

I believe Speaker O’Neill and President Reagan honored that truism to a T. When I first met the conservative hero — he had come to Capitol Hill to give an early State of the Union — I tried breaking the ice. “Welcome to the room where we plot against you,” I offered. “Oh no,” Reagan countered. “It’s after six. The speaker told me that here in Washington we’re all friends after six.”

Critics can say what they will to diminish the importance of that sentiment. I believe it masks a far deeper value. It said that after all the fighting, all the battling of left and right here in this country, we’re in this thing together. In the end what matters is the system of self-government itself. It’s what gives us the chance to make things better.

All those hours of social time between the liberal speaker and the conservative president, all the shared birthday parties and over-the-top Irish toasts, all the Saint Patrick’s Days spent together, served to keep open the lines of communication.

Reagan’s alleged chumminess with Tip O’Neill is always — always — mentioned by old Hill hands when they want to lament the passing of the age of the Beltway as a Republican/Democrat buddy movie. Your homework assignment: Read Jay Nordlinger’s piece from earlier this year about how nasty O’Neill could get in criticizing his supposed chum. Here’s what the good ol’ days were like before the left had its own cable network devoted to calling Republicans stupid, crazy, and evil 24/7 except for the occasional “Lockup” and “To Catch a Predator” re-runs.

Reagan and O’Neill had some friendly moments — particularly when O’Neill saw Reagan in the hospital, after the latter had been shot. The two said the Lord’s Prayer together, I believe.

But look: By and large, O’Neill was a nasty piece of work, who constantly slandered and defamed Reagan as a hater of the poor, a warmonger, and an idiot. O’Neill may not have been a warmonger, but he was as ugly a class warrior as we’ve ever had. He was one of the most partisan men who ever lived…

Listen to O’Neill in 1984: “The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”…

I could spend all day quoting O’Neill’s invective and nonsense, but let me give you just another slice or two. O’Neill said of Reagan, “He only works three to three-and-a-half hours a day. He doesn’t do his homework. He doesn’t read his briefing papers. It’s sinful that this man is president of the United States. [That’s a weighty charge, coming from a faithful Catholic.] He lacks the knowledge that he should have, on every sphere, whether it’s the domestic or whether it’s the international sphere.”

If Boehner called Obama “evil” and said it was “sinful” that he was president, we’d be treated to a full week of Very Special Episodes of “Hardball” about the political End Times descending. Instead, this is the guy Matthews holds up as a model for political chatterers to follow. Judging by his own network, they already are.

Here he is just 24 hours or so ago, reaching for a way to explain that tea partiers overestimate their political influence and coming up with something … totally predictable. Exit question: What’s worse, that the MSNBC crowd really believe the smears they launch at tea partiers or that they might not believe them but have no problem pushing them anyway?

Jazz Shaw Apr 12, 2021 2:31 PM ET