All Chris Matthews, All the Time….(or why I watch C-Span)

I’ll admit to being a political junkie, but I am tired of arguing politics.  I am also old enough to remember when national conventions were not just infomercials for the party faithful, but dramas in their own right.  They were fun to watch, but the average citizen was marginalized, and the political power brokers were working feverishly just below the surface, deciding the fate of our presidential candidates.  That led to Chicago in 1968, and perhaps the most infamous convention experience of my lifetime, what with Dan Rather getting punched in the stomach by a cop, and Walter Cronkite, normally unflappable under any circumstances, calling the Chicago Police “thugs”.  Good times, indeed.

Than brings me to this year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, again, a slickly packaged and harmless spectacle that has one goal, and that is to make Hillary Clinton’s supporters happy to back Obama.  However, even the networks now understand that the conventions are mostly entertainment, and are devoting only an hour a night of prime time coverage on NBC, CBS, and ABC.  I usually watch NBC, so I was glad to hear that they were also providing “gavel to gavel” coverage on their full time news network, cable’s MSNBC.  I tuned in early the other night to try and catch Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama, and discovered that MSNBC is indeed providing non-stop coverage, but mostly the same stuff that appears on MBC, with analysis and commentary by Chris Matthews et al.  It went on forever, and yet there was still stuff going on at the convention.  It’s reprehensible to say your providing complete coverage if all it comes down to is more screen time for the news folks.   This is giving talking heads a bad name.

Last night, it occurred to me that C-SPAN might just have coverage as well, so I flipped over to channel 24, and listened to a bunch of governors of various states in the lead up to Hillary Clinton.  Montana’s governor, a self proclaimed rancher and farmer who had never run for political office before, gave a hugely energetic speech about, well, renewable energy.  As he spoke about wind power, geothermal power, biofuels, coal gassification, and other alternative energies, and the jobs they would create, I kept thinking “If we could only harness this guy, our energy crisis would be over”.  It was much more entertaining and informative, and I found that I got by just fine without Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, or David Gregory.

C-Span has certainly much of the time lived down to its reputation of being boring, especially when covering the sessions of congress.  However, the concept of getting unfiltered civics drama without all the explanation and window dressing sometimes leads to great things.  I remember well catching some public hearings following the disputed 2000 election that were being held in Broward County, Florida.  People were lined up, telling their stories of how they were denied their rights to vote, sometimes inadvertently, and sometimes almost certainly with malice aforethought.  I remember in particular the older German immigrant who had gotten his citizenship early in 2000 just so he could vote in the general election, only to be told he wasn’t on the list, even though he had his voter registration card, and was not allowed to vote.  Chris Matthews could have probably told us something about provisional ballots, confusion at the polls, and the process of challenging voter registration lists, but no one could top the drama of this earnest new American, outraged at the violation of the rights he had worked for over a decade.

Sometimes, it’s okay to try and help us understand, but sometimes it’s better to just sit back and listen.  RIght now, I just want to listen.   More C-Span tonight from Denver, and more next week from Minneapolis-St Paul.

C-Span