MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on JFK, HBO’s Game Change and the GOP race
Hardball host on his recently published book on John F. Kennedy
But rich as he was, even as leader of the free world, Kennedy didn’t like to be alone.
“He would have Dave Powers (his special assistant) tuck him in at night, he wouldn’t even turn out the lights. He always had to have company,” Matthews relates.
With all his wealth and tremendous social confidence, why did Kennedy find it so hard to be alone, Matthews wondered?
“Most guys can be alone. Nixon was a loner. It surprised me how much he craved company.
Perhaps it was a hangover from the Victorian atmosphere childhood. Neither of his parents were what you’d call warm,” Matthews suggested.
“He must have told Jackie Kennedy all these stories about his mom because she had them ready to go a week after he was shot,” Matthews says.
“When she was still in shock from the shooting she told journalist Theodore H. White about his aloof mother and he covered for it. Jean Kennedy Smith disagrees with that story. She called me some time later and said her mother was busy with my sister Rosemary. She didn’t agree with Jackie’s story.
“But they did send him off to Choate, one of those cold, British inspired schools. It sounds like Churchill’s biography, the way he was treated.”
It was old Joe Kennedy’s influence. His boys were sent to Protestant schools and the girls went to Catholic schools. It was all part of a larger plan for Irish Catholics to assimilate into the ruling class.
Says Matthews, “Here’s how it worked: before World War II my mom would say the milk company would ask you to fill out an application as a working girl. If you wrote Catholic you didn’t get the job. But the war changed everything.
“All the Catholics and all the Irish fought in the war. They were heroes, they won so many medals.
That changes the perceptions. But I still remember in the 1950s marching up and down Bustleton Avenue in Philadelphia with American flags in our hands.
“What was all that about? It was an attempt to assimilate, to really become American without hyphenation. We were being taught to be Americans by our Depression era, pre-war relatives. They had seen the other side of it.”
When Senator Joe McCarthy came along in 1954 he was a hero to everybody, Matthews says, in a matter of fact way.
“I don’t care what everyone says now or for all this revisionism. The Irish were all for McCarthy,” Matthews maintains.
“He was anti-Communist, he had the black Irish look, he was rough and sweaty and – to put it lightly – somewhat irresponsible.
“But he was on our side against the Communists. He was against the establishment and the elites. He was classic Irish.”
Matthews remembers coming home from school and looking at his family’s first TV set in the 1950s. The Un-American Activities hearings were on all the time, he recalls.
“My mom was rooting for McCarthy against the Communists at Harvard and Brown. McCarthy was the source of tremendous pride. The Irish stuck with him, and if you read my book it was tough as hell for the Kennedys to handle,” he says.
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