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Analysis of How to Play Hardball by Chris Matthews

Updated on April 20, 2016
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Hardball Book Cover
Hardball Book Cover | Source

Being a Politician

Connections alone a politician does not make, but a connection with which relationship is important does a veteran politician make. In Hardball, Chris Matthews emphasizes the point it is not the people that a politician gets to know that matters the most to his career, but the relationship he builds with them at the opportune time. First and foremost, for a politician to succeed, he or she must curry favor be it a clerk or a senior congressman – but only one by one. Secondly, a politician must learn from the mistakes of political figures, but also imitate the stratagems of the successful ones. Finally, an aspiring politician must glean the tares from the wheat.

Currying favor from another person to do one’s bidding has been an art from centuries past. Whether a person takes four showers in Dodge Hotel like Lyndon B. Johnson did, a relationship must be built. It must be personal so the one trying to build the relationship can relate and extract the other’s motives. A successful politician, according to Chris Matthews will receive rather than give. A relationship is successful only if the other person is willing to do something for the person making a connection. If the person does anything for the connector that proves he or she will cooperate in the future. Matthews give himself a good example when he talks about Lyndon B. Johnson asking Larry King for the amount of sugar and cream in his coffee. Matthews continues to say that after Johnson finishes with King, King dutifully but never without any obligation to Johnson, carries all his baggage down the stairwell. How did this happen? In political terms, King was administered the “Johnson treatment”. The treatment was the senate majority leader giving one-on one attention to King, a mere lackey to a congressman, but he turned out to be important in the senate reelection of 1960. That is how LBJ played Hardball, and an aspiring politician should imitate Johnson in administering the “Johnson treatment”.

In the quest for political power, many have succeeded and failed. But an aspiring politician would learn from the pitfalls of his predecessors and at the same time also imitate successful strategies like the “Johnson treatment”. Rudimentary as this may sound, like Johnson, a politician must make a checklist of strategies used and to be used to make his or her career successful. A checklist consisting of the “Johnson Treatment”, retail politics, wholesale politics must be checked off if they were not successful in the past. Matthews once again provides us with an example; this time about president Jimmy Carter. President Carter made his own campaign platform from scratch with his code word Washington. But Carter’s failure according to Matthews was he “ declared war on the very people he was working with”. An aspiring politician trying to get a foothold on Capitol Hill will learn to be like Reagan, who also campaigned against the government but unlike Carter he was highly successful. A would be politician should imitate Bill Clinton who got phone numbers on napkins and would years later exploit them to his benefit. Bill Clinton made connections and he had got to know them personally and at the opportune time he used them to win against Bush who had a successful campaign in the Persian Gulf War. A successful strategy is to be imitated and Chris Matthews himself employed one when he took his education credentials and searched for one similar to that of his to get a foothold on Capitol Hill. Chris Matthews looked for similarities of his own background and any other congressman’s that would match. He played Hardball.

To glean the tares from the wheat is no easy task as they both might be uprooted. A politician should know how to make good and keep good connections. But he must be careful not to make any unwanted ones as they might haunt him or her in the future. When favors are given, they are automatically expected back. If favors are not given and asked of the most beneficial people, an aspiring politician’s career can be skewered. In other words politicians should have ‘ good friends’. As usual Matthews once again provides an example; this time about president George Bush. Bush did not know of Saddam Hussein’s intentions to invade Kuwait, but according to Matthews, he was coolly signing baseballs with the president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak at a baseball game. Bush became a friend of the Egyptian president, but kept himself away from Hussein and his intentions. When time came, Mubarak convinced the Arab League to issue economic sanctions against Iraq. Bush again used his old contact King Fahd to launch a large-scale repulsion of Iraqi forces from Saudi soil. How did he do this? Bush kept in touch with the right people and in the opportune time, he exploited them to his benefit. President Bush played Hardball.

Over the years many have aspired for power. But a politician’s true power lays in his ability to make a personal, long, beneficial and essential relationship with those on Capitol Hill or anywhere in the world. If favors are received then a politician is successful because he just got something done with out asking. Chris Matthews makes the point to imitate great politicians as he himself has done by doing his “ homework” like LBJ did when he was on a campaign. A politician must also possess sound judgment and make the ‘right’ friends. If not they might haunt him forever and can become a thorn in the side no matter what heights he or she shall rise to. To be successful, a politician must play hardball.


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    Adrian Woods 5 years ago

    I would like to say to you that I been watch this msnbc for a long time and I ain't never seen nothing this bad where a like him would bring the World to a end by running for President.So he need to wake and let President Obama do his job and think about what 2005 when he first got ask would he run.