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David Sirota
David Sirota
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Matthews vs. McNulty


If television is the nation's mirror, then no two TV characters reflect the intensifying "two Americas" gap better than Chris Matthews and Jimmy McNulty.

A recent New York Times profile of Matthews describes a name-dropping dilettante floating between television studios and cocktail parties. The article documents the MSNBC host's $5 million salary, three Mercedes and house in lavish Chevy Chase, Md. Yet Matthews said, "Am I part of the winner's circle in American life? I don't think so."

That stupefying comment sums up a pervasive worldview in Washington that is hostile to any discussion of class divides. Call it Matthews-ism — an ideology most recently seen in the brouhaha over Barack Obama's statement about economic dislocation.

The Illinois senator said that when folks feel economically shafted, they get "bitter." Matthews-ism spun the truism into a scandal.

The Washington Post labeled Obama's statements "Bittergate." Tim Russert invited affluent political consultants on "Meet the Press" to analyze the "controversy," with millionaire James Carville saying, "I'm hardly bitter about things." Hillary Clinton called Obama "elitist," ignoring her mansions in Washington and Chappaqua, $109 million income, career as a Wal-Mart board member, and legacy pushing job-killing policies like NAFTA.

This sickening episode was topped off by ABC's Charles Gibson, who only months ago humiliated himself by insinuating that typical middle-class families make $200,000 a year (95 percent make less). Last week, while moderating a debate, Gibson segued from the "bitter" comment into a tirade against rescinding capital gains tax breaks, implying the proposal would hurt most Americans. This, even though the tax cuts in question delivered the vast majority of their benefits to the richest 1 percent.

By downplaying inequality and couching royalism in middle-class arguments, the Beltway elite pretend there are not two Americas but only one: theirs.

Matthews routinely turns discussions of economic issues into debates about tactics, and then heads home to Chevy Chase telling himself he isn't "part of the winner's circle." Tim Russert asks millionaires to explain working-class struggles, and then reminds viewers he roots for the Buffalo Bills — as if that proves he speaks for blue-collar America.

Hillary Clinton makes a career out of speaking for powerful corporations, and then shows up at an Indiana bar to decry "elitism." Gibson suggests six-figure salaries are common, and then says the masses should worry about rich people like him having to pay slightly higher taxes.

In sum, economic blindness, sports symbols, beery photo-ops and uninformed idiocy have become the iconography of working-class solidarity that disguises the ongoing class war.

How could this happen, you ask? How could it not?

Pop culture tells us "The Cosby Show's" economically privileged family represents the ordinary black experience, politics tells us a money-controlled electoral system is "democratic," and pundits tell us that aristocrat George Bush is a "regular guy." Propaganda is ubiquitous — and it results in Jimmy McNulty.

He is the cop from HBO's "The Wire" — the quintessential everyman. For a time, he tries to understand politics by watching vapid Matthews-style talk shows, but quickly becomes frustrated. "It doesn't matter who you've got [running for office], none of them has a clue what's really going on," he says, lamenting that politics treats him "like a [expletive] doormat" — as if the day-to-day challenges he faces are "some stupid game with stupid penny ante stakes."

McNulty may be fictional, but McNulty-ism is a very real reaction to Matthews-ism. When the media responsible for explaining our world deny the existence of the world most of us inhabit, they breed — yes — bitterness. And the more the Matthewses treat us McNultys like reality is just "stupid games with stupid penny ante stakes," the wider the gulf between the two Americas will become.

David Sirota is a bestselling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," will be released in June of 2008. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at



3 Comments | Post Comment
David, Right on with McNulty. None of the beltway candidates or pundits has a clue about the life and kitchen-table economics of everyman (below upper-econ. class), except, possibly, Lou Dobbs; maybe Cafferty. Matthews is particularly nasty in looking for 'gotcha' ways to spin events into expose and controversy. I will never, ever, forgive him for spinning the Wellstone public funeral into a political controversy.
If they would roll down the tinted windows on their limos, and take a route through working-class neighborhoods, they would see all the roofing and construction now being done by non-English speaking Hispanics; take lunch at a Subway, for example, and be served by Spanglish-speaking clerks; visit a meat-packing plant or manufacturing plant and see who is working their now-all jobs done by working class locals just a couple of years ago-they might just get some idea why working-classers are pissed off about NAFTA and the SHAFTAs that are destroying hispanic rural economy and shoving cheap labor over the Rio Grande and through ports in containers for sub-union wages in the U.S.
Obama is right, McNulties are bitter; but he's wrong about the cause of McNulty's objection to the SHAFTAs. The effect of the SHAFTAs on his, and his nation's, economy, is wht causes his resistance; it also makes him bitter. Obama doesn't seem to think enough of McNulty's rationality. What is most worrying about Obama and trade is that he thinks it is a good thing and proposes only to work for SHAFTA changes that will improve labor and environment IN MEXICO and the trade partner countries. Obama says nothing about scrapping the SHAFTAs and going to trade that benefits the working-class economy of this country. Hillary is equally silent on this. They are both beltway elitists on this. McCain is even worse. Barack's also wrong on why McNulties like their guns and religion. Elitist FDR got a populist education (some help from TR); maybe Obama can be educated, too.
Talk about elitist--McCain recently bought a condo (yes, a 9th residence) in Phoenix--under conditions where the other residents of the development had to sign an agreement not to talk to him or his wife (see Ed Schultz for reference).
Hillary's populist credentials are also suspect in that she refuses to consider raising the cap on FICA. None of the pundits ask her "why?" Nor do they push her or Obama on whether or not, given a Dem. House and Senate, they would push for single-payer. Nor do they ask how they plan to lower the cost of universal and adequate health care so that everyone can afford it-if not via single-payer.
Positive populist points for Barack over Hillary are his proposal to raise the FICA cap and to attack the off-shore tax haven dodges of hedge-fund managers. I hope this includes the off-shore tax dodging of Corporations getting U.S. contracts, like Halliburton and KBR, and corporations that sell in the U.S. Check on this please. Thank You, RLP
Comment: #1
Posted by: richard patten
Fri Apr 25, 2008 9:18 AM
You state the following:
'The Illinois senator said that when folks feel economically shafted, they get "bitter."
Matthews-ism spun the truism into a scandal."
TURISM???... Your liberal bent is showing!! Like the Obama loving media talking heads,
you choose to focus on the ONLY word in his ill advised speech, ("bitter"), that can possibly
be morphed into a defence of the indefencable, choosing to accept as a GIVEN, his not so
subtle remarks that all but accused small town Americans of being gun toting, bible
thumping, racist, zenophobic, isolationists!!
THAT, my dear sir, is a PERFECT example of what you like to call a, "Matthew-ism".
You apparently choose to live in the same liberal bubble as Mr. Obama, with as little
respect, or understanding, of the average blue collar worker that he so aptly displayed
in his demeaning remarks.
Unfortunately for him, you can't UN-spill milk, and a TRUE picture of Obama
is starting to emerge from the insulated cocoon the national media had so willingly provided
for him.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Sandy
Sat Apr 26, 2008 12:03 AM
What a great read! You are so on the money. How dull and closed-minded so many have become; do they forget the "keeping up with the Jones's" mentality that got most of them into this mess, and didn't they love bush & cheney? Obama hit it on the nose, they hold onto the things they hold dearest rather than admit they made a mistake and not only elected these idiots into office but didn't have the follow through to impeach them. Crazy, they'll want to impeach a President for cheating on his wife, but the Bucheney's cheated on the entire country, no call for impeachment there...what's up w/that? I don't envy anyone the task of trying to right all the wrongs the Bucheney's have done. Some may never be "righted", Barak see's it, calls it the way he see's it and is hammered for speaking a truth that resonates with thinking people. Give the dullards their due, they'll probably elect another Bush clone before it's over and then protest too much, wonder why, and blame it all on the next President.
Comment: #3
Posted by: liz
Fri May 2, 2008 6:39 AM
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