LAS VEGAS — Political commentator and syndie talkshow host Chris Matthews took the stage first Sunday morning, offering up a presentation that was part political science and part media history.
On the eve of the Iowa caucus, Matthews singled out the television moments that most impacted presidential politics with “Boss Tube Beats Out Boss Tweed — How the Electronic Media Took Over Electoral Politics.”
Matthews explained that in the past 50 years, television’s power as an opinion swayer had completely surpassed that of the back room politics that had determined presidential hopefuls for centuries. “The bosses, the party — they don’t pick the candidates. The candidates pick themselves, show up on television and hope we choose them,” said Matthews.
History was first changed in 1952 with then-Senator Richard Nixon defended his integrity as a VP candidate with his infamous Checkers speech.
“I’m being nonpartisan,” said Matthews. Footage in his survey included the 1960 Nixon/Kennedy debates, the riot outside the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention and, most recently, the Bush/Gore debates. Still, Matthews good-naturedly took at swipes at Bill O’Reilly in his comments and described an ashen Nixon in 1960’s debates as “having the look of a hunted man pulled out of a $5 a night hotel.”
Looking forward, said Matthews, “You can expect more history-making pictures in the coming months.”
In taking questions from the audience, Matthews touched upon the appeal of Jon Stewart (“he’s the best”), as well as the current administration’s control of the media (“very tough on message management”). He found it difficult to predict which candidate would win the Democratic ticket, explaining his role: “There aren’t any pundits that call the shots. I help people think and get them excited.”