Beltway Confidential

Why Chris Matthews is sad even though he got to interview Obama

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Beltway Confidential,Charlie Spiering,Barack Obama,Chris Matthews

Even after MSNBC's Chris Matthews got a rare opportunity to interview President Obama last week, the blustering former chief of staff of longtime House Speaker Tip O'Neill admitted that part of the interview made him sad.

During the interview, Obama signaled that he had learned there was only so much one man could do in the presidency, despite his desire for change.

"Well ,of course I didn't like hearing it. I guess some of his enemies liked hearing it," Matthews said glumly to host Alex Wagner on MSNBC after the interview. "Kind of a profound recognition of limitations from a man who spoke of wanting to lead a transformational presidency."

Matthews referred to another part of the interview where Obama pointed out that great change can only happen in America when one political party has a strong majority.

"That's sad to me because I don't think we'll get one party for a long time. I see us split down the middle for a long time," Matthews added. "He's basically saying we can't do anything big as long as that's the case. That bothered me."

Mathews frequently refers back to the era of President Reagan and his former Democratic boss O'Neill, who found a way to work together despite their political differences. His eighth political book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, is a look back at a political era that Matthews believes was part of the golden age of American politics.

"I'm saying it's good for the country when leaders like Tip and Reagan do what they did. If you watch my show, I argue for this all the time," he said in a recent book interview. "The older I get, the more I care about the system and getting things done."

In another book event at the University of California, Matthews was more blunt about Reagan and O'Neill.

“[T]his is not some frickin' bromance story here, this is about two guys who are professionals in their 70s that knew this had to get done. No more screwing around,” he said.

During his interview, Matthews pressed Obama on the idea of compromise in the hopes that the president would take some tips from his political journey.

"Why not strike a deal, and then you can blame [House Speaker John] Boehner for the parts of the deal you don't like, and he can blame you for the parts that he doesn't like?" he asked.

"I think, Chris, it's fair to say that I have always been prepared to not only negotiate, but to go ahead and push forward on principled compromises," Obama said pointedly. "In fact, sometimes on your station, MSNBC, I've been blasted for being too willing to compromise."

Obama would rather negotiate with hypothetical conservatives than the ones who now hold the majority in the House of Representatives.

Obama blamed Republican conservatives for his failure to compromise.

"[Y]ou've got a faction of the Republican Party that sees compromise as a dirty word, that has moved so far to the Right that it would be difficult for a Ronald Reagan to win the nomination for the Republican Party at this point."

Matthews is a hard-charging partisan on television, but his softer side dreams of an America where everybody works together despite their idealogical differences.

It's clear that Matthews understands that conservative Republicans are unwilling to work with the president, but I think he realizes Obama hasn't done enough to give Republicans incentive to work with him.

At this point, it's clear that Obama will spend the rest of his presidency blocking Republicans and trying to shore up his support among liberals at MSNBC and in the left-leaning media.

That might make Matthew's MSNBC colleagues happy, but part of Chris Matthews will always be sad that Boehner and Obama have abandoned the Reagan/O'Neill model he clings to so fiercely.

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