Review

Life’s A Campaign
What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success
by Chris Matthews (Swaziland 1968–70)
Random House
September 2007
196 pages
$24.95

Reviewed by Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67)

    CHRIS MATTHEWS ENJOYS an advantage over most of his peers; he was a practitioner before he was a pundit. When he returned from Peace Corps service, Matthews worked on Capital Hill for several years and actually ran for Congress on a unique platform — no contributions please . . . idealism didn’t carry the day.
         His experience is apparent as he weaves his tales and makes the points in his new book, Life’s A Campaign. Matthew’s sense of humor, insights and experience in the political arena serve him well as a pundit. They inform and enrich this book as well as his television programs “Hardball” and “The Chris Matthews Show.”
         His fans will find Life’s A Campaign a fun read. Political junkies, especially “inside the beltway” types, are likely to keep it on their shelves. (In the spirit of disclosure, I am a fan.) This book is pure Chris Matthews — gobs of anecdotes, tons of personal memories (including Peace Corps), homilies aplenty (“Lie with dogs and you’ll pick up fleas”), and ample generalizations (“The folks who win elections are big listeners.”) * Oh, really?!
         Matthews delves into the “how to” realm of much of his life, career and mentors, using anecdotes grouped around themes to draw life lessons. Sometimes they’re spot on, sometimes quite a stretch. The twenty-five of them constitute Matthews’ vision of politics as life. It may seem he’s feeling his age a bit (still young by my standards).
         Page by page, Matthews makes assertions and draws conclusions, often quoting his mentors and heroes. His frequent and almost reverential referrals are to Tip O’Neill, such as “Loyalty is everything in this business — whatever the business.” One might well question the assertion; loyalty can hardly be revered as a singular virtue, witness its disastrous impact via the current Administration.
         Nothing if not courageous, Matthews relates a story about Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Senate to make a point about “listening.” In it, he mentions the Senator, Evita and Machiavelli together in sequential paragraphs, then groups them again on the next page. (He’ll be lucky if she doesn’t read it.)
         Matthews asserts “The biographies of leaders who lack a ‘rite of passage,’ whose public lives begin and end in politics, lack punch. There’s a career there, but no story. When the heroic arc you see in the saga of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, is absent, you get only the flat line of ambition.” ** One of Matthew’s rites of passage is clearly his Peace Corps experience referring to it frequently. It’s clear this experience had a profound effect on him, shaping his values and his vision for life.
         Life’s A Campaign is written like Matthews speaks; bits of bravado, clever mischief and much fun. At various junctures it transcends, becoming more serious. But, taking this too far would detract from the fun and, I think, miss the real value of the book. I recommend it as a good read, with some interesting observations about life.
         I plan to buy some copies and send them to my “political” friends, especially in Utah, my home state. They shouldn’t miss Life’s A Campaign!

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    * page 45
    ** page 145

    After his Peace Corps service Ken Hill was a staff member who left the Peace Corps in 1975 to pursue personal business interests. In the mid-90s he and his wife Winnie (Nepal 1966-68) returned to Peace Corps where Ken was Country Director first for the Russian Far East, then Bulgaria and Macedonia. In 1999 he became Chief of Operations for Peace Corps programs in Europe and Asia and was appointed Chief of Staff of Peace Corps during 2001. Ken is now retired and engaged in numerous volunteer and political activities. He is active in Virginia politics, on the Board of the Bulgarian-American Society as well as the Friends of Turkey and chairs a Sister Cities Committee between Alexandria, Virginia and Gyumri, Armenia. He is a former Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association.