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

“infobox Book “
name Hardball: How Politics is Played
Told by One Who Knows the Game
image caption Free Press Edition
author Chris Matthews
country America
language English language
genre(s) Non-fiction
publisher Free Press
release date 1988
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 240
isbn 0684845598

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One: It’s Not Who You Know; It’s Who You Get to Know

Good politicians get to know a lot of politicians. Lyndon Johnson would take four showers a day and brush his teeth over and over again so he would be in the same room with a bunch of politicians and he could talk to them briefly and make good connections. Lyndon Johnson also hired a man who would later turn corrupt named “Bobby” Baker who answered phones for the White House cloak room (a cloak room is like the break room for politicians.) With Bobby Baker, Johnson was able to know the inner workings of politics.

Ronald Reagan also worked very hard to have good relationships in politics although he talked about Washington as if he’d never visited the place.

Lyndon Johnson used a specific method to get to know important people called retail politic. In retail politics, a politician wins over one person at a time by learning about them specifically. Unlike LBJ and Reagan, Jimmy Carter lacked the charsima to win over people. Then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill asked for seats to the inauguration ceremony, Carter offered him seats in the back of the hall; this incident hurt his support from the Speaker for many years.

The author ends this chapter by explaining that he himself got to his position by networking with many important people.

Chapter Two: “All Politics Is Local”

When a politician becomes too disconnected from his home base and gives the impression that he did more than make good in Washington DC he can lose his base. He should give people the sense that he never left town in the first place.

“If the politician is present in person he can discover disorders in the bud and prevent them from developing but if he is at a distance in some remote part, they come to him only by hearsay and thus, when they are got to a head, are commonly incurable” -Machiavelli

He should dress like the common person or else people will sense that he’s not a common person and reject him. Harris Wofford knew this when he made a commercial that was pro universal health care that said “if the criminal has a right to an attorney, the working family has a right to a doctor.” He gave a sense that he knew the people and that made them feel empowered. When Hilary Clinton tried to sell her health care plan she made people feel like the hard working would be paying for the poor and lazy and so people rejected it. Famed Communist catcher McCarthy is said to have used this tactic when working with reporters.

Chapter Three: It’s Better to Receive Than to Give

If you want to make a friend, let someone do you a favor. Ross Perot told the country he would run if regular people would buck the two-party establishment, cut through the red tape and get his name put on the ballot of all fifty states. It was a good plan because people felt energized and excited and wanted to change things and make Ross Perot president. By recruiting these people who otherwise may have not joined politics he created a massive political movement that rivaled the two major parties. Jimmy Carter hired people who worked on failed campaigns to work for him because he knew they were looking for work and would appreciate the invitation.

People don’t mind being used, and actually prefer it because they want to be involved, they just don’t like being taken for granted. Ed Kennedy would actually stat at supporters’ houses, the idea being “how can you vote against someone who slept on your couch?” It’s good to let people do you favors because it’s as if they’re betting on you. Once they start doing stuff for you it’s in their interest that you win otherwise all their favors went to waste. Also, it’s much more difficult to criticize someone whom you’re advising and helping because their mistakes are seen as partially your fault.

Chapter Four: “Dance with the One That Brung Ya”

Always be loyal. Nobody trusts a traitor and reputations are hard to build up again. Some argue that a good personality and the ability to communicate are all that matter. However John B Connally and John V Lindsay of New York had first rate minds and proven skills as media performers. However when both men tried switching parties they fell. The author suggests that in order to swtich parties, you must first quit the seat you are in because of your party to maintain integrity. Reagan was good at being loyal except for the Iranian arms affair. This scandal hurt bad because it was the one time he didn’t dance with the conservative partner that had “brung” him. He was caught dancing with the Ayatollah Khomeini.

There are two corollaries to this rule:

1) You hire your boss.
Be careful who you work for and who you are in association with.
2)What have you done for me lately?

You always need to keep yourself necessary. One reason congress doesn’t make a permanent minimum wage standard is because they like to proudly declare that they’re helping the economy every ten years when they up the minimum wage. There’s always a feeling of “what have you done for me lately?” Even if you do something really great for someone, they’ll soon forget. It’s better to give them little bits over long periods.

Chapter Five: Keep Your Enemies in Front of You

After the Battle of Saratoga, the two troops dined together, showing that it is “Better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in”. Good politicians shake hands and easily talk with their enemies. It is a sign of strength and many times they may have to work with each other later. Lincoln had an entire administration filled with people who were angry and all felt that they’d make a better president than Lincoln.

This is smart because once you have your enemies working with you they can’t bad mouth you and their interests collide with yours. FDR made his opponent Wendell Willkie an envoy to Britain. Reagan had someone on the other side of the spectrum on the ticket with him before he even won the nomination because it said he wanted to bring bipartisanship. Having your enemies work for you makes people trust you to be open minded.

Chapter Six: Don’t Get Mad; Don’t Get Even; Get Ahead

Always throw your golf clubs in the direction you’re going. It’s not worth getting mad, and getting even takes a lot of time and energy that could be better spent advancing. If you do get angry, put that anger and use it as fuel to get ahead. When Nelson Mandela was made prime minister of South America, he didn’t hold a grudge that he had been imprisoned but rather worked past it. Francis Sulliven is an example of someone who was stuck on one bad break for eight years and was determined in ruining his opponent’s career.

Chapter Seven: Leave No Shot Unanswered

When you ignore an insult, to the public that can be seen as an admission of guilt. Respond to attacks immediately and don’t let them get away with anything. Dukakis was accused of being a bleeding heart liberal and then went to an interview and said he wouldn’t push the death penalty on someone who raped and killed a girl.

Since he didn’t respond to the attack, and then made if worse he had to pay the price. At the 1950 Senate Democratic debate in Flordia a lot of dirty tricks were played. It was an infamous “Red Pepper” campaign in which the incumbent senator was painted as a dupe of Stalin and as an enemy of free enterprise. Absurd but sinister-sounding charges were pressed including “Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert!” “Pepper has a sister who was once a thespian!” “Pepper practiced celibacy before his marriage!”

That year 7 senators were defeated for reelection. Pepper failed to deflect the personal attack and lost because of it. There are a few methods to deflect attacks including: catch ’em in a lie so you ruin their credibility, ridicule them to make them seem silly, or use the force of the opponent’s own attack to bring him down.

There are three corallaries to this rule.
1) Catch ’em in a lie
Daniel Moynihan won an election by catching inconsistancies in his opponents’ stories.
2) Ridicule
When FDR was accused of sending a military destroyer to find his dog Fala, he gave his famous “Fala” speech that made his opponents look stupid
3) Jujitsu – “Force of the opponents own attack to brign him down.” When Texan Jack Brooks was accused of being a Communist, he said he’d shoot the next man who called him a Red.

Chapter Eight: “Only Talk When It Improves the Silence”

Silence is the ultimate weapon of power. You should always have your ears open and ask everyone around you to tell you everything. Tip O’Neill was a big fan of this rule. Newt Gingrich, his successor, failed to do this and allowed press in conferences, which led to his name being associated with bad news amongst the public. Lyndon Johnson said “I ain’t never learned nothing’ talkin.” Churchill became prime minister because he remained silent and forced the previous prime minister to speak freely about his wanting Churchill to advance. JFK’s silence helped him in the missile crisis.

Chapter Nine: Always Concede On Principle

Sometimes if you tell someone they’re right, you can get them to concede on the more important tangible issues. Reagan launched a campaign for an MX weapon that got rejected by congress. But, when he told congress he agreed that the weapon was bad and wanted to do the best he could and improve upon it they agreed and he got what he wanted. The principle is negligible next to your real objectives. Reagan repeated the trick when lobbying for military aid to the rebels fighting the communist government of Nicaragua. No one liked it, but when he admitted and agreed with them that the rebels they were helping were killing innocents he got them to support him and he got to help the rebels anyway.

“Yield to a man’s tastes, and he will yield to your interests.”-Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1835.

Chapter Ten: Hang A Lantern on Your Problem

When you put your problems right up on the table it is a sign of strength and it allows people to move past it much more easily. Also, if you appear weaker you can receive a David and Goliath type sympathy and people will root for you as the underdog. Carter used his lack of experience in Washington as an asset to make him more appealable to the average person. During his campaign, Reagan was attacked for his old age. He acknowledged this and twisted it to his advantage by making it look like his younger opponent lacked his experience.

When Tylenol had problems with their product they went out and told them that they agreed with the public and were outraged as well and would fix it. Tylenol’s stock didn’t go down. When Clinton made a fiteen minute speech at a DNC no one listened and the only applause he received was when he said “in conclusion.” However, when he went and joked about himself on Johnny Carson people were able to forgive him and he ended up president.When JFK took full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs Invasion, he was seen as a more credible president.

Chapter Eleven: Spin!

By acting like you’ve won something you haven’t you don’t lose any credibility. Or by setting very low standards for your campaign you can appear a victor.Clinton acted like a winner during his whole campaign and ended up winning. The definition of a Spin is to hang a lantern on your problem, then exploit it to your benefit.

Walter Mondale needed Georgia to win an election, so he made it seem like a big deal when he won and announced his victory at a staged ball to make it seem like a huge deal that he won. Likewise, when Nixon was accused of having an illegal trust, he gave his famous “Checkers” speech where he listed his personal worth, then he spun the charges against him by saying that all politicians should give the public a list of their assets.

Chapter Twelve: “The Press Is the Enemy”

Never get too friendly with the press. Don’t make racial slurs with them (as did Clonton’s rival Kerrey) don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the whole world to know, and especially don’t say something that could severely harm you. There’s no such thing as “off the record” if you say something huge. Even if later you say “but it was off the record!” it is like an admission of guilt and no one will feel sorry for you. Be very clear with any reporter you talk to what you want, but still realize that the rules only remain as long as it’s convenient to the reporter.

“on background” -a journalist cannot paste the source’s name
“on deep background”- a journalist cannot post a description of the source (ex: a White House advisor)
“off the record- cannot be printed at all.

Chapter Thirteen: The Reputation of Power

Use people’s good reputations against them. A nasty trick you can pull is to make your opponent’s reputation seem higher than it is so they are doomed for failure. This is called “sandbagging”.

Another tactic politicians use is “lowbagging” – set low expectations, then surpass them.

1) Create your own commandments – make your own rules to play by. For example, say that you will not attack someone within your party. This will make an attack towards you from someone in your party look bad.
2) Passing the buck -In this technique used by both Eisenhower and Reagan, one delegates the authority to do something so that he or she doesnt have to take the fall in case of failure.

Chapter Fourteen: Positioning

Find where people are thinking politically and go there. Reagan knew this very well and tried to act as spontaneous and unscripted as possible even though he was very scripted. He did this because he knew people wanted unscripted speeches. He never forgot that he himself was the product and not his issues. He made sure people knew that while he worked at Washington he wasn’t of Washington.