June 19, 2008


There's an entertaining anecdote in one of the American political science books - I think it's John Kingdon's Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies in which a transportation researcher arrives at a conference on public transit by bus. All the other transportation experts gather around him and pepper him with questions about the bus. They are experts on buses who have no experience of buses.

It's the kind of thing that actually happens all the time - happened to me last weekend, at a party where I met an education researcher who wanted to ask me questions about teaching - but it reached perhaps its lowest state in the absurd situation of Chris Matthews claiming that Obama didn't understand diners. It's old news, over two months old, in fact, and too stupid to be worth resurrecting, except that goddammit it makes me mad.

The situation: Obama is at a diner in Indiana; he's offered coffee; he says he'll take orange juice. According to Chris Matthews, this is something that is not done in diners, and based on this fact alone I will guaran-goddamn-tee to you that I spend more time in diners than Chris Matthews does. Obama asked for orange juice for crying out loud, not pomegranate white tea or whiskey or something else you shouldn't expect a diner to have, and not for chicken-fried steak or something else you shouldn't substitute for , and he did not launch into a tirade about how coffee is bad for you. He asked for another drink which is usually available at diners, which is a completely normal response to being offered a cup of coffee.

Chris Matthews blathers about this violation of diner etiquette at length. He appoints himself as an expert on diners, and in doing so makes it blindingly obvious that he doesn't know what he's talking about. No experience whatsoever.

And then, icing on the cake, Matthews tells his correspondent, "You could do this. Shake hands at a diner. What a regular guy."

Recap: Chris Matthews - TV personality, estimated income over $5 million/year, married to an executive at J.W. Marriott, graduate work in economics - is telling us who counts as a regular guy.

Not him.

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