Thanks to the lightning-fast news cycle of the past week (aided by the frantic distraction efforts of the Bush administration), it’s taken awhile to go through the surprisingly large pile of entries in the Chris Matthews Analogy Contest. If you’ll cast your mind back to the pre-Alito, post-Miers days of late October, Matthews was killing time before the press conference on the Scooter Libby indictment by speculating as to whether Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald would prove to be an Alexander Scourby or a Don Knotts. As usual, the not-at-all-insane host of Hardball zeroed in on the question plaguing every American: Would the special prosecutor more closely resemble the mahogany-voiced actor best known for his audiocassette narration of the King James Bible or the bug-eyed comedian who so magnificently embodied Luther Heggs in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken?
I was amazed at how many readers had something to say about what struck me as a conundrum of Sphinx-like obscurity (though Ketz87 summarized the opinion of many respondents with a blanket refusal to wade into the dense thickets of Matthewsian metaphor: “I don’t understand what Chris Matthews is talking about, and frankly, I’d be frightened if I did.”)
Because of the paucity of Slate merchandise currently lying around the office, only one physical prize can be awarded, but reader Peffleym deserves an honorable mention for his or her thumbnail psychoanalysis of Chris Matthews:
The Scourby/Knotts analogy—like so many of Matthews’ rabid asides—is deeply revealing of his own tacit acknowledgement and acceptance of the fact that he was never able to dominate his frothing Philadelphia motor-mouth and tame his repressed Republican urges. He wishes he could deploy Scourby’s Old Testament tones of authority in his political commentary, but he realizes he is at best a Barney Fife on speed: scatter-brained, highly excitable, and easy prey for the unlikeliest of scams. He is jealous of Fitzgerald, his steadiness, his self-containment, and the fact that he is a “regular guy” (father a doorman, socks in the desk drawer) without ever once having to make public claim to such status. By limiting Fitzgerald’s range of possible public identities … he infuses his own blustering on-air persona with another blast of hot air.
I don’t know about the “repressed Republican urges”—though Matthews, an old-school Catholic Democrat and Jimmy Carter’s former speechwriter, did vote for Bush in 2000—but I respect Peffleym’s analytical rigor.
First prize of a woolly watch cap with the Slate logo goes to Jeff Petersonhousen for his elegantly worded description of the Scourby/Knotts continuum and Matthews’ place in it (an interpretation shared by many readers, but ne’er so well expressed.) To wit:
In Chris Matthews’ world, timbre is everything. You can’t bring the hardball unless you bring the voice of God, a la Alexander Scourby (literally) or one Chris Matthews (in his mind, literally), along for the ride. The thought of having to run repeated sound-bites of a sissy-voiced lawyercrat, with all the tone of a Don Knotts, Jack Lemmon or yellow-tailed warbler, was really keeping Matthews up at night.
Reader Jack Cerf agrees: “It’s a speculation about voice quality and presence. Alexander Scourby was the ‘Voice of God’ narrator of the Victory at Sea documentaries—deep, resonant, authoritative, and triumphal—and that was before his Voice-of-God gig reading the Bible. At the other end of the continuum lies Barney Fife; shrill, blustering and frightened.” But giving Don Knotts his due, Andrew Simpson quotes Barney Fife, Knotts’ pusillanimous Andy Griffith character, in an atypically Fitzgerald-esque moment of moral gravity, warning Gomer that “Things may look peaceful; but remember: ‘the weed of crime bears bitter fruit.’ ” And Murph Tinsley of West Virginia University points out the bizarre coincidence—or is it?—that both Scourby and Knotts are graduates of his alma mater.
The most creative response came from a reader identifying himself only as Budd, who sent his answer in the form of a limerick nearly as weird as the Matthews analogy itself:
I know not of Scourby or Don Knotts,
But Chris is a master of pot shots.
What if Miers had hooters
That were cuter than Scooter’s?
Think Chris could come up with some bons mots?
That’s an open question, but rest assured the Chris Matthews insanity watch will continue nightly at MSNBC. In the meantime, the winner should email me his home address so I can send out his prize. Thanks to everybody for playing!