Every Sunday morning, we have a family ritual. Eight to nine in the morning, it’s “Meet the Press”, 9-9:30, it’s the Chris Matthews Show. And while the TV is blaring and we OD on politics, we walk on the treadmill or step on the elliptical, do abdominals and pushups, do Yoga and lift weights—in short, we indulge our political and fitness addictions simultaneously, and feel self-righteous and quite superior to the flabby unwashed masses.
I love to watch Chris at his best: Benignly opinionated, urging his guests to express their opinion on a political subject before pronouncing the Matthews “truth” (“Tell me something I don’t know… here is what I think”), full of lively energy; the man is manifestly enjoying exposing hypocrisy, mendacity, stupidity, and other ills of our political leading lights.
So guess how surprised I was when I found out that Chris Matthews makes stupid mistakes, like any one of us. As I sorted through today’s mail, my eyes fell on the cover of the latest issue of Diabetes Forecast. There he is on the cover, smiling his heart-melting Irish smile, over the title, “Chris Matthews: the Hardball host goes head-to-head with type 2.” I guess for the readership of this magazine, there is only one sort of “type 2″— diabetes. Chris was interviewed by Dan Gilgoff, the politics editor of Beliefnet.com and author of The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War. (I can’t resist a digression here. Dan, don’t fret, Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are losing the cultural war!).
The interview was an eye-opener for me. I have to admit, I used to attribute much of the American people’s lack of sophistication in health matters to poor education. No more; here is a highly educated individual, possessing an uncanny capacity to ferret out ignorance, stupidity, and dishonesty, who betrays an incredible degree of ignorance when it comes to his own health.
Here are some excerpts from the interview, along with some gratuitous comments.
Q. You knew for years that you had diabetes but did very little about it.
A. …I had malaria after coming back from a trip to South Africa in 2001, but what I kept [hearing about] from my doctor was my high blood sugar levels. And I said, “What does that have to do with anything?”
Comment: Chris, with your sharp ear to nuance and encrypted messages—what did you think your doctor was trying to tell you? And you, doctor, were you too pressed for time to press your point home? By the way, going to South Africa without taking the Malaria pills? Did you think you were beyond the reach of lowly creatures such as mosquitoes?
Q. But you more or less ignored your diabetes until even more recently, right?
A. …I also wasn’t doing any kind of dieting. I was aware of a general need to skip some things. The toughest habit is going to an airport in the morning when you haven’t had breakfast and seeing the pastries there. Hunger is the best chef—you see a couple pastries and have that and a cup of coffee for breakfast. There was a time when I’d have a hamburger and French fries for lunch with a beer or white wine, and I’d have cheesecake for dessert. It was pretty outrageous.
Comment: I agree. Many a time did I find myself struggling to walk past the Peet’s and Starbuck’s Coffee stands at the SF airport, without succumbing to the temptation of the pastries. But where was your doctor? How come you weren’t warned about pastries, hamburgers, French fries, beer, or white wine for lunch? This is inexcusable.
Q. Did you consider reforming your diet after learning about your high blood sugar levels?
A. …I didn’t say, “Wait a minute, this is something I can reasonably deal with.” I didn’t understand the importance of it or the doability of it—that I could solve this problem, that it would be over, and I would be just like everybody else…
Comment: That he didn’t understand the importance of it is in part his doctor’s fault, and in part Matthews’ own dismissive attitude when confronted with inconvenient facts.
Q. You stayed in the hospital a few days. How scary was it?
A. When you have three doses of morphine and it still hurts, you begin to worry.
Comment: And I am sure you went back to your TV show, blasting any and all comers for their lack of clear solutions to our healthcare problem. Chris, it is people like you who are part of the problem.
Q. You’ve certainly lost a good bit of weight in the past year.
A. On my scale at home, I’ve gone from around 235 to about 205, and I think I can lose some more if I do a little more exercise. I really haven’t done any exercise to lose all this weight, just changing what I eat.
Comment: Chris, I watch you every Sunday on TV. You need to lose a minimum of 20 more lbs. You may rid yourself of the daily insulin injections, and as a bonus, you’ll wow the beautiful female political commentators on your show if you lost 40 lbs, and exercised!
Q. Why your aversion to exercise?
A. Don’t have any time. When am I going to do it?
Comment: What a lame excuse. There are people who run multi-billion dollar enterprises who find time to exercise. You make time, Chris. Get up one hour before you normally do, and just do it. It is going to grow on you, it will energize you to go after the bad guys, and you’ll feel sick on days that you skip—I guarantee it.
Q. As a public figure, do you feel obligated to send a message about diabetes?
A. What people ought to be told about diabetes is that if they have it in the family or sense that they’re on the road to it, they should go to their doctor and ask him what he thinks and actually listen to the doctor like they would use [their] financial advisor.
Maybe it’s an Irish thing—we like to think we can talk our way out of things or that we can avoid them. But I’ve come to respect doctors a whole lot through this whole thing because they know what they’re talking about and they’re telling you to do something for your own good.
Comment: You are right, Chris; people ought to listen, even more than to their financial advisor. It is a matter of their health and life—pretty existential stuff.
But you are wrong about it being an “Irish thing”. I have had Russian patients come in with a list of medications and treatments they had decided they needed, and all attempts at telling them otherwise were a waste of time. My own father would go to the doctor only to tear up the prescriptions he was given and treat himself with his grandmother’s nostrums. And my Rabbi told me that when your Celtic forefathers had no idea that the emerald island even existed, the Jews of Ireland already suffered from diabetes. And why did they have diabetes? Because they didn’t listen to their (Jewish) doctors.
See you next Sunday on TV.