This is a true story that happened in about 1980/81. It was early in my career. Really early. I worked as a lobbyist back then. What I really was, though, was a flunky. Mostly my job involved going to government buildings and Xeroxing. Yes, being a lobbyist can be exciting.
But one day when an important vote was coming up that impacted my firm’s clients, I was asked to make some phone calls to find out what was going to happen.
I didn’t know the issue. I didn’t know “the players” – the Congressmen and women who were involved in the issue. I didn’t know their staffs. I didn’t know shit.
So naturally, in trying to find out the information I needed, I started at the top.
I called the office of the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neil. And somehow I got through to Tip’s Chief of Staff, Chris Matthews.
Now, normally, flunkies like me don’t get to speak with high level staff unless they know the guy. I didn’t know Chris, and he didn’t know me.
I started the conversation the way I always did with my sure-fire trick to get help. You see, not only was I very young, well, I sounded even younger. I sounded about 12, according to friends. So, well, I took advantage of it …
“This is probably a stupid question,” I began (as I often did).
“There are no stupid questions. Ask me anything you want, and I’ll do my best to help you,” said Chris Mathews, Chief of Staff to one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. To me!
Chris not only answered my question, but he explained how things happened, how they were likely to play out on this issue, what other issues might be helpful for me to look into. He told me what was happening on the issue in the Senate. He spent about 30 minutes helping a young, inexperienced person he didn’t really need to help. He was terrific, and I’ve never forgotten him or his voice.
When I went back to my bosses to tell them the news, well, to be honest, I wasn’t really sure who Chris Matthews was. But when they asked for the source of my information, well, they were impressed. Because I had gotten to talk with Chris and they had been unable to get through to him.
I did less Xeroxing after that day. A lot less. And I’ve used the information and the knowledge that Chris helped me get ever since.
So this morning when I learned that as an MSNBC “Talking Head,” Chris Matthews called out the head of the GOP because they continually play the race card, and divide America. Today, I am proud of being able to say that Chris Matthews was one of my teachers. Way to go, Chris. Way to go.
And thanks, Chris. For everything.