Review of HARDBALL (by Chris Matthews)
Before I started reading the book Hardball, by Chris Matthews, I had a preconceived idea of what the content of this book would be. From the title of the book I drew the conclusion that Matthews would write more about the darker side of politics and how it is ‘really’ played. I don’t really know much about politics, and frankly, I don’t care much for politics. However, when I hear the word hardball in the context of politics, I think of blood shed. I think of dirty tricks and blackmail and money changing hands in dark places. I even think of the mafia to some degree when I hear the word hardball. Perhaps my notion of hardball was a bit more than what Chris Matthews describes in his book. After reading the book, I think I understood Chris Matthews’ meaning of the word hardball. Maybe I had the wrong idea, or my idea was too exaggerated. Hardball, as I understood after reading this book is “hard-politics”, or “raw politics”. If every instance of the word ‘ball’ in the book would be changed to “politics”, the meaning would remain intact. Therefore, this book describes the art of playing “ball” in Washington and being successful at it. My first impressions of the book were that it was easy to read, made very interesting by the anecdotes Mathews includes, very informative, very logical and understandable. Just as I found out after reading the first book by Susan Guber, the strategies involved with politics can be seamlessly applied to life in general. The book teaches a series of axioms that all politicians ought to learn to be successful. There’s a lot to be learnt from the different tactics described and I can see how someone following these strategies would have an easier time ‘getting ahead’ in life. However, I must also make mention that some of the methods he talks about are not exactly worthy of respect. The content of this book is best described on page 17 where Matthews describes speaking to a congressman in the Democratic cloakroom about writing the book. “Quietly, I confided to one of the members that I was writing a book about the rules of politics, including all the tricks I had overheard in the off-the-record hideaways like this. He look at me, a crease of pain crossing his forehead, and said with dead seriousness, ‘Why do you want to go and give them away?” By describing the concern of this individual, Matthews conveys to the reader that he’s actually going to give detailed accounts of how politicians operate in Washington. The congressman is concerned about what the public would think if they had detailed knowledge of how politicians operate, and that’s actually the most compelling reason for reading this book.
Matthews relates a myriad of examples of how some of today’s most successful politicians rose to the top. The successful politicians are those who learned how to play hardball. They learnt that there were other people besides themselves on the playing field and that when you throw ball in the game of politics, someone is going to be on the other side to catch it and throw it back, and you must be ready for it. This is perhaps most evident in the section of the book called ”Enemies,” where Matthews describes “the rule of power: Keep your enemies in front of you,” as President Reagan did by appointing James A. Baker his first White House chief of staff. Baker had fought Reagan very effectively while working for Gerald R. Ford and George Bush. Keeping your enemies closer even closer than your friends may seem like just another old clich but in retrospect, it is an important aspect of the politician’s arsenal. In the chapter on loyalty, there’s another important lesson on playing ball. This chapter is entitled, ”Dance with the one that brung ya,”. Among other things, Matthews recalls how fatally John V. Lindsay of New York and John B. Connally of Texas were hurt by switching party allegiances. There’s another lesson on playing ball in the chapter on the art of accepting favors, ”It’s Better to Receive Than to