MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on JFK, HBO’s Game Change and the GOP race


“It was brutal and so funny. Then I watched that movie and he’s watching MSNBC tear into him and root for Obama and I think he must think he’s been turned on. I think he’s still ticked at us all.

“I could write him a note but I don’t think he’d read it. It’s just the way politics is. He lost the media. He lost us all.”

Asked about Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Palin Matthews replies, “I thought it was a faithful portrait. I’ve gotten to trust Steve Schmidt (the man who suggested Palin as a vice presidential pick).

“You find yourself in a situation and then you have to defend the situation completely. Here he is defending the decision to pick her and also have to win the campaign, make her useful to win the campaign and also just keep her on board.”

Moore nailed the character, he feels. “The windshield wiper wave and the tremendous force on stage. I think 90% of Palin is stage ability. The way she commands a stage is fabulous,” McCain says.

“You can’t do that sitting in a little broadcast booth in Wasilla. Her career has not been helped by that tremendous familiarity with her on Fox. The magic is lost if all she is ever doing is sitting in that booth.”

Despite the seemingly endless political gaffes made by the current GOP presidential field, Matthews believes that everything is still in play.

“My view of politics is honed down to this. It’s binary; it’s one or zero. It’s also baseball,” he says.

“The voter is a baseball manager who watches the field. If the thinks the pitcher on the mound has still got it, if he’s getting them out, then he’ll keep him in. If he doesn’t think he has control of the game he walks out, puts his right hand out and takes the ball from the guy.

“That’s the process. If you understand that you understand politics. It’s, ‘How’s he doing out there?’ Obama has to get control of this game by late summer.”

That’s why the Republicans, with all their primary season ups and downs, have a 50/50 chance of winning in November, Matthews says. In the end it will all come down to Obama’s performance on the economy.

Meanwhile, the enduring Irish fascination with JFK must be shared by African Americans when it comes to Obama, he agrees.

“I recall how proud we all were of Kennedy, and I can only imagine how proud black people are of

Obama. To know your kid growing up, when they take them down to Independence Hall and they show them those old guys, kids have a totally different view of that now,” says Matthews.

“Before it was just the same white guy from 1776 to 2008. Now the boss is black. It’s just different. It’s got to have an impact on kids with ambition. It’s a totally different world.”

The lesson that Kennedy left us with is the importance of public service. Running for office should still be an aspiration for the brightest and best among us.

“I think we had a hero for a president. The courage he had in war when he dived into the water with gasoline burning all around him, saving the life of Paddy McMahon, is the same guy that got us through the Cuban missile crisis.”

Kennedy was willing to learn the business of politics. If young people today are not encouraged to do likewise we will have a real problem -- we will have the dregs running the country, Matthews concludes.

“We have to encourage young people like Bill Clinton and Jack Kennedy to be ambitious in politics. The sadness of this campaign season is the weakness of the Republican field,” Matthews feels.

“This group of replacements we’re looking at. They’re not leaders of today. They’re just used-to-be’s. People have seen how dangerous and unrewarding politics can be today. It’s narrowed it down to people with money, or extremists. We have a deficiency of ambition. We have too few Bill Clintons.”

Matthews is remarkable among commentators in the sense that he can dispassionately evaluate the candidate he’s looking at, a vanishing skill on the nightly news.

“I get along with Rick Santorum and I like him when I see him even though the things he says areoutrageous,” he says.

“I get along with Newt Gingrich because we both have a background in the House of

Representatives. And Romney is a man of business.”
Matthews suddenly laughs uproariously at the image that has come into his head.

“He reminds me of one of those guys in A Christmas Carol.  The way that Romney presents himself is so 1950s. I do notice they seem to be a different vintage. They just come from a different direction to most of us now.”

In his own way Matthews has remained as elusive as his famous subject. Predicting his outlook or his private opinions is an impossible task.

It’s the key to his success as a commentator, and it’s what makes his study of Kennedy such a compelling read.