Spouses and Friends Could Cure Congress, Says Chris Matthews

The "Hardball" host celebrates his new book.

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Chris Matthews arriving at the Time 100 Gala, in New York on May 5, 2009.
Television host Chris Matthews' new book "Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked" laments the lack of bipartisanship in present-day Washington.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews has been fortunate to have a lot to yap about lately, with his book "Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked," which came out the same day as the government shutdown began.

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But Matthews said to zip it with the conspiracy theories.

"I did not know Oct. 1, my pub date, would be the shutdown," he told those attending his book party Tuesday night, held at the private Sidecar bar of downtown D.C.'s P.J. Clarke's. "But I did know things in Washington were not the way they were when I came here in the '70s, they were not so well in the '80s, they were worse in the '90s and they are worse now."

This breakdown of relationships inspired Matthews to write his latest tome – his sixth – exploring the friendship between his former boss, Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill and Republican President Ronald Reagan. "The reason it worked is they were both in their 70s, for them it was the big act, as well as the final act," Matthews explained. "And they knew they could put it off in speeches and talk and positioning and crap, but they had to make it work."

Today, Matthews said, there aren't those kind of across-the-aisle friendships in Washington.

"I do think it has to do with the failure to establish some kind of personal relationship with people you work with, especially that you work against," the "Hardball" host said.

Another piece of the equation, Matthews explained, is that members keep their families at home and they shouldn't.

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"It keeps you balanced in more ways than one," Matthews said of having the wife or husband and kids in town. When O'Neill was speaker, he told congressional freshmen to bring their spouses to Washington as soon as they could afford to do so, Matthews recalled. "And Newt [Gingrich] came along, of course, telling everybody to keep their spouse at home, back in the district," Matthews said. "You can figure that one out," he said, cackling.

At the party, the best-selling author also shed some light on his writing process.

"My queen here refers to that practice as, 'you're in that chair again,'" Matthews said, motioning to his wife, Kathleen, and explaining how he wrote this book during mornings and nights, while he was doing a television show six days a week. "I was also very smart to keep a journal – nobody does that anymore because of subpoenas," Matthews cracked.

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