SEATTLE -- I'm not always in lockstep with MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews' on-air commentaries, but I do think he's that rare pundit-journalist with so much experience behind the political scene in Washington, D.C., that you can't ignore what he has to say.
Matthews witnessed the democratic machine function time and again throughout a decades-long career that included stints as a Capitol Hill aide, presidential speechwriter and chief of staff to the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
On Tuesday, he spoke at a Town Hall Seattle event to promote his new book, "Tip and the Gipper." I was struck by Matthews' assessment of how the two-party political system used to be. Yes, there was a time when elected officials set aside their differences long enough to craft bipartisan budgets. None of this government shutdown stuff.
His basic argument is he wants our politicians to work together again. And I'm definitely on board with that view, whether we're talking about Congress or Washington state's legislature. We can agree to disagree on a few issues -- and still get the job done.
Though he was brought on to help O'Neill fight President Ronald Reagan's small-government agenda, Matthews admits he admired Reagan's unique ability to project his power to Congress.
"Reagan really respected Congress, and he spent a lot of time with them," he said. "We've lost the ability to listen to each other and to keep the channels of communication open."
(If you weren't at the Tuesday talk, watch his "Charlie Rose" interview in a video at Hulu.com.)
During the town hall talk, Matthews recalled how Reagan and O'Neill regularly "would go in the back and shout at each other," but they never lost respect for their elected positions. Together, the political rivals managed to forge alliances to protect Social Security and a handful of other signature issues throughout the 1980s.