Political commentator Chris Matthews' new book about the value of political compromise came out just as the government was being shut down.
He insists the timing wasn't deliberate.
"I didn't time this for the government shutdown," he said with a laugh. "A reporter asked me recently about the book: 'Why now?' I told him I didn't just do this now! I started this book five or six years ago!"
Matthews' book is called "Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked," and it documents what Matthews describes as the testy but ultimately respectful relationship between former President Ronald Reagan and former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill. Matthews appeared Sunday at North Central College in Naperville to discuss and sign copies of the book.
Matthews was O'Neill's chief of staff in the 1980s, and he said he had long been fascinated by how two men with polar opposite political views could have such a fruitful working relationship.
O'Neill was a staunch liberal, and Reagan a staunch conservative. Despite that, and despite the fact that the two sniped at each other constantly in the press, they managed to reach important compromises on Social Security, taxes and other issues, Matthews said.
"I wanted to write about how the government worked, when it did work," he said. "This is a story about two guys who, after all the fighting, would try to communicate."
Matthews compared that to the situation now, when politicians' inability to reach compromise led to the shutting down of the government.
"This is the history we need now," he said. "Because the government is dangerously close to not working. I have never seen so much anger."
Matthews, known for his blunt conversational style on cable programs like "Hardball," kept the audience at North Central College's Pfeiffer Hall laughing and murmuring in agreement throughout his talk. When he opened the floor to questions, a woman asked him whether people should feel depressed after reading his book in light of the current political climate in Washington.
Matthews said no.
"It's all cyclical -- good government will come back," he said. "Zealotry burns out pretty quickly in politics."
He added later that by paying attention and exercising their collective right to vote, people can shape the culture in Washington.
"If you're unhappy, go out and demand that politicians stop making you frown," he said.
Mathews signed copies of "Tip and the Gipper" after his talk. Janice Carlyle of Naperville was one of those who got his autograph.
"I'm a fan of his," she said. "And this book sounds like a perfect read right now. It's fine that people have different opinions in government. But they have to learn to work together."