On Presidents' Day, Hardball host Chris Matthews will look at the 10 years that have passed since William Jefferson Clinton left the White House. Matthews' documentary, President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon (Monday at 10/9c on MSNBC) explores the former commander-in-chief's many recent roles, including humanitarian, political spouse and diplomat who helped in the release of two journalist imprisoned by North Korea. The Biz recently chatted with Matthews about why we seem to love Bubba more than ever.
TV Guide Magazine: Post-presidencies are not reported on very much even though they are pretty interesting. What made you decide to a documentary on this one?
Matthews: I think it's an untold story because you figure everyone is all Clinton-ed out. We've written so much about him. The biographies are all really good. They sort of stopped the story as if it was over. I've spent some time with him and what I saw looking at the tapes wherever he went he was actually treated as someone bigger than a world leader. He's treated as someone who is in office somewhere but without portfolio.
TV Guide Magazine: What did you learn from the time you spent with him?
Matthews: He's a constant reader. He has this old satchel that he carries books in. He showed me all these books he's reading and what he's keeping up with. All the intellectual enterprise and all the extra I.Q. and juice that went into the presidency is now sitting there and he's just exploiting it. He spends an hour a day studying economics so when he goes around he doesn't give old fart dinner speeches. He speaks about what's going on in the economy right now...He must have a memory track of 100,000 people he knows. I think in history there is no one who knows so many people. He knows everybody's name.
TV Guide Magazine: Most presidents, especially the ones who serve two terms, can't wait until it's over. But your program points out how Clinton could not get enough of being president.
Matthews: He said, 'Nobody had a better time.' Nobody likes it more. He liked the joy of the job.
TV Guide Magazine: But the presidency is often a joyless job. What made him different that way?
Matthews: He's lucky. He makes his breaks. When he came in — the last quarter of the Bush Sr. administration — the economy turned around. He was serendipity walking. He also cut the deal with Newt Gingrich. The smart move for any Democrat is to let the Republicans cut the budget and go along with it. Get them to do what they want to do.
TV Guide Magazine: This president was so polarizing, yet now, as you pointed out, there are nostalgic feelings for him. Could you have imagined that when you were covering him during the 1990s.
Matthews: We always see what we had and what we don't have. Clinton was red hot. Obama is cool. Clinton was happy. Obama is cool. Clinton was a relationship guy. Obama is a transactions guy. Clinton was a feeler. Regular people liked him and thought he was one of them even though he had all these degrees. It was also a happier time. Ninety percent of it is the economy.