Okay, first things first: This space is going to be a 'cackle'-free zone. No poking fun at irrelevant personal characteristics or foibles. At least not this week. That's why this writer didn't pick up on the "Chucklegate" story yesterday, which referenced "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart. I'm just not going there.
But that doesn't mean Stewart's off-limits altogether, right? Last night, Jon Stewart had one of his best jousts with a TV talking head since the immortal "Crossfire" "I'm not going to be your monkey" segment where he slashed and burned the cable news argumentation format.
His guest was MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews, who was on to plug his new book "Life is a Campaign."
It was a gleeful wincefest, with Stewart himself lapsing on a few occasions into some weird cringe posture at his interview desk. The segment even began awkwardly, as Matthews walked on-set with his arms crossed, and some godawful synthesizer music played that made me think I was watching an '80s game show like "Card Sharks." (Pat Gavin slapped the video of the segment up on DCFishbowl, if you're not in a reading mood.)
Jon Stewart: Life's a Campaign. Now if I read this correctly, and I believe I read this book correctly, what you are saying is: People can use what politicians do in political campaigns to help their lives.
Chris Matthews: Yeah. It's irony isn't it?
Jon Stewart: It strikes me as fundamentally wrong. It strikes me as a self-hurt book, if you will. Aren't campaigns, fundamentally, contrivances?
Chris Matthews: Yeah, campaigns can be. But politicians, the way they get to the top, is the real thing. They know what they're doing. You don't have to believe a word they say, but you have to watch how far they got. How did [Bill] Clinton get there? How did Hillary get there? How did all these guys get there? Reagan. They have methods to get to the top.
Jon Stewart: So you're suggesting that even if noone believes a word you say, you can be successful.
Chris Matthews: Yes.
Jon Stewart: Now that seems to me to be a book about sadness. Is it not?
Chris Matthews: No.
Jon Stewart: How? In what world?
Chris Matthews: Can I give you one example of the truth here? Bill Clinton, when he was in college, would get women, girls, in bed…
Jon Stewart: Not just in college.
Chris Matthews:: … by listening. He listened to them. When friends of his couldn't get the girls, he'd tell them 'you gotta listen to them.' I thought, growing up, that you drank beer and you bragged. But he says, you have to listen to them – it's flattering. And it works.
Jon Stewart: It works if you care what they're saying. But politicians often listen, but it's a contrivance.
Chris Matthews: It's not a contrivance. I'm listening to you.
Jon Stewart: No, you're not.
Chris Matthews: How can I not? You're trashing my book!
Jon Stewart: You don't listen to anybody! I'm not trashing your book; I'm trashing your philosophy of life. Your book is an excellent recipe –
Chris Matthews: Do you want to succeed?
Jon Stewart: I've succeeded!
Chris Matthews: Do you want to have friends?
Jon Stewart: I have friends! I want real friends! Wait a minute. If you treat life like a campaign, at the end of your life do you give a concession speech?
Chris Matthews: No.
Jon Stewart: Well, then, it's not a campaign.
Chris Matthews: It is a campaign. Everything about getting jobs, it's about convincing someone to hire you. It's about getting promotions. It's about selling products. It's always a campaign. It's a campaign to get the girl of your dreams. It's a campaign to do everything you want to do in life.
Jon Stewart: But there has to be some core of soul in there …
Chris Matthews: I'm not denying that. You're a hard sell. Watch the Clintons. Watch how successful they are. Watch what they do. They do listen to people. Hillary Clinton went on a listening tour of the state of New York and won a Senate seat.
Jon Stewart: Labelling something a 'listening tour' doesn't mean you're listening. That's what I'm saying. President Bush had a sign that said "Mission: Accomplished." That doesn't make it accomplished.
Chris Matthews: He wasn't listening.
Jon Stewart: What campaigns are, are photo opportunities that are staged. And there's nothing in this book about 'Be Good. Be Competent.'
Chris Matthews: That's the Bible. It's been written.
Jon Stewart: This book has been written, too! It was called "The Prince."
Chris Matthews: This book is better. Did you read it? What'd you think?
Jon Stewart: Yes, I read it. I thought it was a recipe for sadness. Only because when I read it I thought 'This strikes me as artifice. If you live this book, your life will be strategy.' This strikes me as saying success is finite.
Chris Matthews: No no. Because there's a lot of good stories in it. To get ahead in life, people are good listeners, they're optimistic people, they're very good at asking for help because they don't try to do it alone. And everytime the ask for help, they get more people invested in them.
Jon Stewart: On the campaign trail, that makes common sense. Listening to people, caring about people. But in this book, there's stuff about "Attack Someone Where You Know Noone's Going To Attack Them."
Chris Matthews: I didn't say that.
Jon Stewart: You tell the story about the guy in the campaign who attacked the other guy in the campaign on health care. And they asked him why he did that, and he said 'cuz nobody else is attacking him on health care.'
Chris Matthews: No. He said he supported national health care because he knew his opponent wouldn't do it because it looked like socialized medicine. He did what he thought was right. But that's where he decided to strike, because he knew his opponent wouldn't go with him.
Jon Stewart: That's what I'm saying. Sometimes when you read the book, it seems like you're saying 'Do what you think will win," not "Do what you think is right."
Chris Matthews: Well, it's both.
Jon Stewart: Well, this seems to emphasize the former.
Chris Matthews: It does! Can you come on 'Hardball?' We can play this both ways.
Jon Stewart: I don't troll.
Chris Matthews: You are unbelievable. This is the book interview from hell. This is the worst interview I've ever had in my life. This is the worst. You are the worst. I thought you were so big, you weren't afraid of me.
Jon Stewart: I'm not.
Chris Matthews: This book scares you. There's something in this book you fear.
Jon Stewart: There is something in that book I fear. Like fascism. All I'm saying is this: I love what you do.
Chris Matthews: Can I tell a story?
Jon Stewart: You can. It'll be edited out.
Chris Matthews: Okay. This is a book about good values, it's a – it's hopeless with you! You're Zell Miller!
Jon Stewart: No. No duels for me. I appreciate it that you tried to …. I'll come on your show and you can yell at me.