The Gonz Show: Matt Taibbi
As New Hampshire kicks off primary season, the rising political scribe tells John Gonzalez which candidate to fear the most.
Did growing up here help develop your love of the absurdity in politics? Between the Kennedys, Dukakis, Kerry, and Romney, we have a ready supply of jokers. When I was a kid, my mother was very politically active. She volunteered for Dukakis.
Did she get you a tiny tank helmet to wear? Thankfully, her involvement predated the tank incident. I always loved the Duke, man. My favorite was when he gave his wife a waffle iron for Valentine’s Day. He’s a lover and a fighter.
Mitt Romney’s slick, but is it possible he could fool the entire country and become president? He doesn’t need to fool anyone. As ridiculous as Mitt Romney is—and anyone who wears magic underwear is ridiculous—look at who he’s running against. Mike Huckabee is one step above a Heaven’s Gate cult member. Rudy Giuliani is a megalomaniac—when he’s out on the stump, he looks like he’s about to leap into the crowd and choke the life out of somebody. If I’m a Republican, I would almost vote for Romney. He’s just your typical corrupt, immoral politician.
During the ’04 campaign, you tried to interview John Kerry while wearing a gorilla suit, which was an inspired bit of reporting. This time, you should don a dog costume and ask Romney where the bathroom is. Oh yeah, didn’t he keep his dog strapped to the car roof? These guys are all nuts.
You’ve covered both Russian and U.S. politics. Who’s scarier: Bush or Putin? Bush affects our everyday lives, but you never know when Putin might whip his shirt off for the cameras. Putin, for all his being dangerous and probably looking for a perpetual presidency, he’s a smart guy. Whereas Bush is a complete idiot who won the presidency by a ridiculous accident. The mafia, at least, is a meritocracy. Putin has that going for him. American politics is not at all a meritocracy.
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Any working titles for your next tome? It’s going to be hard to top your ’04 campaign book: Spanking the Donkey.
[Laughs] Yeah. That was a great title. I’m calling the new one The Great Derangement. It’s about how people have lost faith in politics on the left and right, and they’re fleeing toward paranoid political movements. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll be doing a campaign trail book. Obviously I’ll be covering the race for Rolling Stone, but I haven’t made the decision yet.
[sidebar]Did growing up in Westport help develop your love of the absurdity in politics? Between the Kennedys, Dukakis, Kerry, Romney — it seems like we have a ready supply of jokers here.
When I was a kid, my mother was very politically active. She volunteered for Dukakis.
Did she get you a tank helmet to wear?
[Laughs] No. Thankfully, her involvement predated the tank incident. I always loved the Duke, man. My favorite thing about him was when he gave his wife a waffle iron for Valentines Day or whatever that was. He’s a lover and a fighter.
Your dad is NBC reporter Mike Taibbi. He seems like a pretty straightforward guy. Has he held any interventions to get you off the drugs and into a traditional reporting gig?
No. My father, oddly enough, never encouraged me to go into TV. He’s not unhappy that I’m in journalism, but he never pushed me to do that. But I don’t think he’s not mortified by what I do.
You spent time in Russia and edited the eXile, a hilarious English-language paper. I’m curious, are you more afraid of Bush or Putin? Because Bush affects our everyday lives, but you never know when Putin might whip his shirt off for the cameras.
Or what about [Putin] kissing you if you’re a little boy? [Laughs.] But Putin, for all his pedophilia, and being totally dangerous and undemocratic and probably looking for a perpetual presidency, he’s a smart guy. He’s a self-made man. In order to rise to the top of the pyramid in Russia, you have to be somewhat in tune with your environment. You have to have brains. Whereas Bush is a complete idiot who won the presidency by a ridiculous accident. The mafia, at least, is a meritocracy. Putin has that going for him. American politics is not at all a meritocracy. Bush is much more dangerous.
Let’s talk about Mitt Romney. He’s slick, and he somehow managed to get Massachusetts to make him governor. Is it possible he could fool the entire country and become the next president?
He doesn’t need to fool anyone. As ridiculous as Mitt Romney is—and anyone who wears magic underwear is ridiculous—but look at who he’s running against. Mike Huckabee is one step above a Heavens Gate cult member. Rudy Guliani is a dangerous megalomaniac. When he’s out on the stump, he looks like he’s about to leap into the crowd and choke the life out of somebody. He scares people. Fred Thompson is already dead out there. And who’s left? McCain? McCain is 500 years old. So, if I’m a Republican, I would almost vote for Mitt Romney. For all his fuckedupedness, he’s young, he’s vigorous, he’s not completely nuts. He’s just your typical corrupt, immoral politician. Which is a step above the other guys.
During the ‘04 campaign, you interviewed John Kerry while wearing a gorilla suit, which was an inspired bit of reporting. Not sure if you have any similar plans this time around, but I think you should don a dog costume and ask Mitt Romney where the bathroom is.
[Laughs.] Oh yeah, didn’t he keep his dog strapped to the fucking roof? Those guys are all nuts.
To me, the Democrats feel like they’re trying to do just enough not to lose the presidency. At least with the front runners, they all sound like they’re playing it pretty safe. Is it possible they could blow this race?
Absolutely. The two easiest ways they could blow it would be by nominating Hilary or Obama. I’m not saying that because I have anything against those two candidates, though I’m really not a fan of Hilary at all. Hilary has so many negatives. If you go around the country and talk to people, any place that’s not a very, very blue state, Hilary makes people’s blood boil. And she’s a woman. The reality of the situation is, I don’t think people are ready to elect black person or a woman right now. It’s a taboo subject in the media. It hasn’t really talked about. But in Hilary’s case, it’s not just that she’s a woman, it’s that she has issues that make her unattractive to the base of her own party. She’s become part of the establishment. She’s a creature of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party that will cut into any kind of enthusiasm that you might get from the anti-war crowd or the Kucinich/Dean followers.
Of all the candidates in the either party, who’s the most loathsome pol running for president?
Rudy. The thing that makes Bush dangerous is that he has zealots around him, people who see themselves as revolutionaries. Rudy has a lot of qualities about him that are really dangerous when you’re talking about giving almost unlimited power to somebody. Alone among the candidates, he really believes in a very aggressive, interventionist, balls-out military approach to dealing with the rest of the world. The one thing that Bush did that was horrible and irrevocable was the
war in Iraq. Rudy was one guy saying he didn’t go far enough. He’s the guy who would bomb Iran, who would be likely to react badly to threatening situations in Pakistan. Rudy isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. And he’s inclined to surround himself with thugs. That’s how you get guys like Bernard Kerik. What other responsible politicians would give power to a fucking Nazi like Bernard Kerik?
I think I read somewhere that you were a professional hoops player. Where’d you play?
In Mongolia. The Mountain Eagles.
I hear they’re just like the Pistons.
Exactly. [Laughs.] Yeah, we were a juggernaut. No, but the Mongolians are really into basketball. They’re sort of like the Central Asian version of Indiana. They’re nuts about basketball there. I played for a season and then I got sick and had to come back to the U.S.
You’ve written a lot of sports, too. Pretty much everyone hates Bill Belichick for something. What are the odds someone wearing a ski mask knee-caps him in the parking lot?
I love him. It looks like a classic hubris case, but I don’t know, I’m digging the whole thing. The Pats have assumed this whole evil profile that suits them. They seem to love it. They’ll have their downfall when guys get old and they start losing, but, until then, good luck to everyone else. It’s like they’re pulsating this negative energy. [Laughs.] It’s awesome.