has never seen a political convention he didn't like. (Even though there hasn't been a surprise presidential candidate since 1952, when the Democrats picked Adlai Stevenson
.) The motormouthed host of MSNBC's Hardball
, who's anchoring the channel's coverage of the Democrats' gathering in Boston, recently told us why the floor fights and roll calls still matter.
TV Guide Online: What are the chances of any real drama when the Democrats meet to nominate Sen. John Kerry?
Chris Matthews: I would like to think the Democrats will debate the Iraq war and take a position that is stark. Somebody is going to raise their hand and say, "Let's debate this. We want an antiwar plank." That could be hot.
TVGO: Any tips for Kerry's acceptance speech?
Matthews: He has to make people feel good about voting for him. Nobody has a personal feel for the guy yet. He's got to tell a couple of jokes. He has to break the ice. Because people do want to vote for an alternative. He has to say, "I'm your man. I can lead you."
TVGO: You're a historian of American politics. Which convention was your favorite on TV?
Matthews: I like the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. I was in grad school in North Carolina. We called out for Arby's roast-beef sandwiches and red wine and Coke. We wouldn't leave the place for a week.
TVGO: But didn't the chaos at the podium and riots on the streets outside make you worry that the country was coming apart?
Matthews: To the credit of the Democrats that year, they were debating what should have been debated — the Vietnam War. The convention should decide on issues and do it out loud. There should be platform fights.
TVGO: Are there major differences between the two party conventions?
Matthews: The Democratic party is diversity times 10. It is manifest diversity. The Republican party, less so. The comfort level among the delegates at the Democratic convention is not quite anything goes, but close to it. Fun is in the air. "Please clear the aisles" actually means something at the Republican convention. They actually do clear the aisles. At the Democratic convention, it means you have two more hours to table-hop. The downside is the Democrats have a problem when it gets down to the time to get to the polls and knowing how to use voting machines.
TVGO: Where do you go for political talk on TV?
Matthews: My hero is Jon Stewart. If I could ever get his audience... My natural audience is the red-faced Irish and Italian guys in their late fifties. People will say to me, "My dad just died. He watched you every night." Basic cable — we're the best retirement deal in the world.