Book review of This Country: My Life in Politics and History by Chris Matthews

Book review of This Country: My Life in Politics and History by Chris Matthews

Of course, the book is meant to be an account of a man living through history, not a personal memoir, and Matthews is clearly a man determined to participate fully in the times in which he lived. Yet he seems so wrapped up in the minutiae of his own career that he often misses the more interesting narratives in his path. For example, he spends pages discussing how, as a legislative aide, he fought for an amendment to protect mobile oil drillers, pushed for a 1971 public works bill and worked to kill a federal employee pay freeze that nobody remembers. Yet he seems utterly lacking in curiosity about the life of his colleague Virginia Rishel, the top aide to his boss, Sen. Frank Moss, and the first woman to be a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate. If Matthews ever asked Rishel what it was like to be one of the only women legislative assistants in the Senate in the 1970s, or wondered later about whatever happened to her, he never shows it. Instead, he seems obsessed with the now-irrelevant machinations of now-irrelevant senators, thrilled to have brushed shoulders with obscure political bigshots from the 1970s and ’80s. “I heard these familiar figures chattering among themselves like baseball players in the infield,” he writes, adding that it felt like “the country’s grand political stage had been replaced by a small gathering of men from the neighborhood.” Throughout the book, there’s the persistent sensation of hearing about long-ago baseball games, often not particularly dramatic ones, where nobody can remember who won or who lost, and nobody really cares.

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