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Jewish World Review Feb. 17, 2000 / 11 Adar I, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Citizen Springer -- THERE'S MORE to Jerry Springer than hits the tube. On daytime TV, he's the bemused ringmaster to mammoth women and lecherous men spitting fire at each other.

"It's a crazy show," he only partially confesses, talking about his weekday Big Top under which people are the circus animals. "It's the stupidest show on television. But it's fun. It's a great time."

It's worse, of course.

What "Jerry Springer" sells Monday through Friday is a particular form of pleasure, as sick as it is secret.

It's what Germans call "schadenfreude," joy through others' tragedy. It's the reason people used to watch Christians face the lions, why there was always a packed public square to watch the condemned approach the gallows.

"The Senate, that would be lovely," Springer replies when asked about the rumor last summer that he might run for that office from Ohio. "I would love that, but I don't think I would be taken seriously as long as I do this show."

Agreed. But what if he didn't? What if this '60s student activist, this fan of Robert Kennedy, graduate of Northwestern law school and former mayor of Cincinnati had followed a different path?

The reason I ask is that a half-hour political conversation with this outrageous TV tummeler suggests he may be one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. The show-biz zeal that's made him millions -- put him in 200 American cities and 50 countries overseas -- is matched by a world-class mind and a surprisingly keen citizenship.

Consider Springer's thoughts on the quartet now making the best run at the presidency.

John McCain: "Politics is a matter of moments, and this is McCain's moment. There's going to be a barrage of Bush ads and, all of a sudden, some of that luster will be off."

On George W. Bush: "I'd like to ask him the Roger Mudd question: Why do you want to be president? That's his problem right there. That's it! There is something -- and it's not even their fault -- about the Bushes that you don't sense is passion. You sense it's a career move."

On Democrat Bill Bradley: "He's so independent in his life, not just in his politics. Can he really get along with that Congress? It wasn't like he enjoyed working with them when he was in the Senate. "One of Jimmy Carter's problems was that he really thought he was smarter than everyone else in the room. How are you going to get the deals done?"

His favorite question for Al Gore, which would have to be asked with the help of truth serum, concerns the VP's state of mind in those infamous first nine months of 1998 when boss Bill was still keeping the covers on Monica.

"When did he know about Clinton? When did he really know, not when he was told but when he was sitting at home with his wife and they were talking about it? When did he really know, because that says something."

Jerry Springer. He's a lot sharper guy than "Jerry Springer."

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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