Last night, Tom DeLay appeared on "Hardball With Chris Matthews." This was no surprise, because DeLay seems to like Matthews -- on Monday night, Matthews was one of the few reporters DeLay talked to about his resignation. Most big-time journalists -- including those at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the TV networks -- had to make do with talking to DeLay's associates on background. But Matthews got to speak to the man himself. And when a powerful person like DeLay calls you up to tell you something so big, you're going to feel a little indebted to the guy. Which must, I'm thinking, explain Matthews' almost obscenely obsequious behavior Tuesday.
It began with Matthews all but begging DeLay to list all the extremist things Democrats would do if they take over Congress in November. "What are the stakes for the voter out there who is thinking about voting ... trying to decide which party to vote for this November?" he asked. "What would happen if [California Democrat] Henry Waxman got the subpoena power in the Government Reform Committee? What would happen if [Democrat] John Conyers of Michigan got the subpoena power? Would they go after the president?" Not much later on, he asked: "You have an inside view, Congressman, of what they will do. I know their records. I know their philosophies. But you tell me ... do you believe that the Republicans, if they lose the House, will turn over the subpoena power to people who will try to impeach the president?" And then: "Do you think they're going to push for -- which one do you think they're going for, his head or just a big wound?" Matthews also wondered whether Democrats would reverse the popular late-term-abortion ban (which many Democrats voted for).
When DeLay said that he'd done nothing wrong in the Jack Abramoff case and that his former aides who've pleaded guilty in the case acted on their own, Matthews bought the line. He asked, "I worked on the Hill years ago, and staffers were loyal to members. Is the loyalty still there?" And: "Did you make some mistakes in hiring people, like Mike Scanlon?" "What's the character problem with these people?" "Do they just want a big-shot job so they can become lobbyists fast?"
Matthews switched to the Clinton impeachment, which DeLay forced in the House. "You accomplished what the Senate didn't accomplish. The Senate Republicans couldn't get their act together one way or the other. You had a House that was committed to the impeachment of Bill Clinton for acts of obstruction of justice and perjury, and you had it figured out. And you got a majority to do it. After all the bad election results in 1998, you still got it done. Are you glad?" More: "Do you think [Clinton's] wife should bear some blame for making accusations like it was all a vast right-wing conspiracy when her husband was caught lying?" And then: "Do you think the fact that you were so successful with impeaching Bill Clinton ... that the Democrats, like people like Conyers, some of the red hots, won't be coming back and trying to do it in that same spirit, and saying, 'You did it to us, we'll do it to Bush?'"
Finally: "Do you think that the biggest case for the Republicans this fall in holding the Congress is what the Democrats would do if they got in?"
Needless to say, DeLay ate this up. It's useless to quote him because you can guess what he said given Matthews' softballs -- that the Democrats are extremists, they're "pro-abortionists" and they're going to ruin the country, and Republicans are good and moral, etc., etc. But this is what you'd expect from DeLay. He's the partisan politician. Isn't Matthews supposed to be a reporter?
But that's not the worst of it. Today Harry Shearer, who covers the media for the Huffington Post, posted an outtake from the Matthews-DeLay lovefest, a clip apparently filmed during a commercial break or right before the interview began. It is a piece of work. Do watch it.
But if you don't, let me write up a rush transcript: "Thank you for calling me," Matthews begins," as assistants shuffle about the set and producers call out the time in the background. "It was a good thing for me."
DeLay: Was it?
Matthews: Oh of course it was. We went on the air as fast as we could ... Have you seen this new focus group stuff on the candidates?
DeLay: No I haven't.
Matthews: It's great stuff!
Matthews: I'll send it to you. It's great, it's great stuff.
Matthews: Hillary, John Kerry, all these guys ... Frank Luntz did it. [Matthews is referring to the conservative pollster.]
DeLa: Oh, I like Frank Luntz.
Matthews: Hillary did not do well.
Matthews: Kerry did well.
DeLay: You're kidding!
Matthews: I am not kidding. They didn't like [John] Edwards, they thought he was a rich lawyer pretending to care about poor people.
DeLay: Too slick.
Matthews: Hillary was know-it-all.
DeLay: Nothing worse than a woman know-it-all.
The chumminess here is at once fascinating and sickening. At first I couldn't decide what was worse -- DeLay's sexist remark or Matthews' desperate effort to impress the sexist with his insider knowledge of Democratic presidential hopefuls' prospects. But after watching the video about a dozen times, I have to say -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- it's Matthews who fares worse. DeLay is pretty much just responding to Matthews' "guy who wants to impress this girl he has a huge crush on" attitude. DeLay is typically annoying; Matthews is aggressively so.
That's right: In a contest of unpleasantness, Chris Matthews beats Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay!