Hardball: How Politics is Played… – Review/analysis

A review and analysis of "Hardball: How Politics is Played Told By One Who Knows the Game" for the AP Government curriculum.

Hardball: How Politics is Played Told By One Who Knows the Game

By Chris Matthews

            Hardball isn’t much of a retelling of stories, rather a guide to the aspiring politician, or as the author refers to it, a “bible”, poking at the science of the modern-day political system in the United States. The book is broken down into four sections, each categorizing a key factor in politics. The first four chapters deal with alliances and relationships, the necessity for any politician to become a politician. In the first chapter, Matthews discusses Lyndon B. Johnson’s technique of persuasion through bonding, otherwise known as retail politics, in which he built a personal relationship with Senator Russell, an important figure within the Senate. Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt utilized the television and radio, but Johnson made a personal connection with the people in power. The second chapter discusses FDR’s strategy. Roosevelt was eager for a third term as his second came to an end. Joseph P. Kennedy, ambassador to Great Britain, was against it, as well as many other ideas Roosevelt had in mind. Roosevelt was an advocate of bringing the United States into World War II, Kennedy was not. However, rather than going against Kennedy and trying to convince the public of his plans, he sought to convince Kennedy. This essentially is the idea that if it’s possible for FDR to turn someone who’s completely against his propositions around and fight for him rather than against him, then the public would therefore be convinced as well, and he did.

Starting at the fifth chapter, Matthews begins to elaborate on enemies in the politics. The author discusses how to use a political enemy as a crutch, rather than a hindrance. Political opponents will tend to slander each other’s name. While this doesn’t increase that candidate’s favor, it worsens the other candidate’s. However, Matthews puts it into the perspective of political gain. His take on political rivalry is not to retaliate with equal measures, but instead build off of it. The idea of always going further than your opponent, and to criticize all attacks, otherwise you become what your enemy claims you to be; or at least in the public eye. Throughout the later chapters of the book, Matthews discusses how agreement for appeasement will make an objective seem plausible, as it did with Reagan’s proposed weapon and military aid, as well as the importance of keeping political influence and reputation at its peak, even if it means avoiding press conferences or setting low goals that will show superiority and accomplishment. Because in the eyes of the public, the voters, if a political candidate proves what he claims, confidence and faith in that politician will come with it.

Chris Matthews utilizes reference within political history as his method of example. Rather than basing his claims on general probability of the common politician, he goes through historical points detail by detail in order to show how exactly that political tactic had been applied, and how it proved successful. Although it may seem rather obvious that strategies such as building connections with people in high places and connecting with the common working class are going to help lead a successful campaign, what makes Matthews’ ideas convincing is how each can be drawn to numerous historical points. This concept is what makes this book worth reading and interesting. Any politician, regardless of what party or network they’re from, can babble on in a book about their opinions on why universal healthcare or increased gun control is a must, but it doesn’t hold any water unless it can be applied to what’s already been proven; similar to the scientific method, data (otherwise historical applications) must be collected before a theory (the ideal campaign) can be considered plausible. Another strength of the book has to be its lack of censorship. Rather than keeping to what an honest, or idealistic, campaign is, Matthews discusses the grittiness of politics with the concept of always keeping a high reputation, even if it means leaving the not-so-reputable details out. And the book isn’t an entire documentation on politics in history, so it isn’t incredibly long. One thing that detracts from the book is its constant repeat of reference. Matthews will typically mention the same politicians in order to get his point across. Politicians such as Ronald Reagan and O’Neill seem overused as examples within the book. Regardless, the strengths of this book outweigh any possible flaws, which make it a worthwhile read.

Hardball’s bias is rather minimal. The author, Chris Matthews, is a Democrat supportive of certain Republican ideas, yet the book refrains from getting favorable towards either party. However, it does seem to sway towards a liberal side, praising mainly left-wing politicians. It isn’t enough to consider it a liberal-sided book, but it does show in certain moments, such as his criticism of George Bush’s attempt to refrain from placing new taxes. Overall, the book is enjoyable and quirky whether or not the reader agrees with the author.

            Hardball: How Politics is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game is a great book for the casual reader who has a fair level of interest in politics. What makes this book entertaining is it avoids being a political bias of what is wrong or right with our current situation and instead focuses on what makes the ideal campaign. But you don’t have to be a political buff to find the book interesting. It entwines history as a connection between the political strategies and their past applications. It cuts out the opinionated reasoning that typically stems from bias. Obviously, Hardball isn’t meant for everyone. The concepts and reading can be difficult to comprehend for anyone not immersed in literature and politics, however, for the average student, much of the history explained in the book is passed over through school curriculum, so it will teach you some interesting happenings in history.

It may not be a satirical piece, but it isn’t boring either. Plain and simple, it isn’t the casual reader’s digest. And it isn’t going to throw you into some immersive world of dragons and folklore. But it will teach you about a commonly unexplored realm for the youth: politics. Unless you happen to like watching CNN, reading the newspaper, or are brought up in a family based on politics, you probably won’t have much background knowledge or even concern for politics as a child. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good starting place. You won’t have to know what happened in some political affair during some election in order to follow along with the book. It’s fairly basic. It’s essentially a book that expands upon the behind-the-scenes of politics, and how and why politics do what they do. But as said, it’s not a book that a teenager should be forced to read for a literature class. Hardball’s a book you choose to read because you have an interest in political science.

By combining political science with a historical outlook, Hardball is a great book to connect with AP Government and Politics. It doesn’t take much to get a good amount of information out of this book.

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