|January 22-23, 2011
Announcer: This is THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
E pluribus unum. Can a State of the Union be a game changer? Can a president, this president, give a call to duty so compelling it crosses the aisles? Having taken a beating in November, corrected course in December, spoken for the country in Tucson, can he take the next step and move us together?
Tiger mom. That new book about the tough love of a mother who raises kick-butt daughters. It's got people talking. What do we think, we parents? Is the success of our kids so important we're willing to shoot them out of cannons?
And finally, tiger moms of presidents. Why do so many of our presidents, from FDR to Nixon to George W. to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama come from the toughest of moms? Is there a future in cracking the whip?
Hi, I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to the show.
With us today, The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman, the BBC's Katty Kay, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker and NBC's Norah O'Donnell.
First up, the president enters his third year on a high with poll numbers that reflect approval of the compromises he forged with Republicans in December and his speech in Tucson. So with all of Washington gathered before him Tuesday night at the State of the Union, how can the president, like JFK, get this country moving again? Howard Fineman?
Mr. HOWARD FINEMAN (Senior Political Editor, The Huffington Post): Well, Chris, the White House aides I talked to say that kind of the scaffolding of the speech is going to be a generational call to the future in the manner of John F. Kennedy's call for a new frontier half a century ago. The president's going to say we need investments in education, in infrastructure, in research and defense, in research to take on the new global challenger, the Chinese.
Mr. FINEMAN: And that--how we do that and cut the budget and save money and cut down our debt at the same time, how we do those two things simultaneously..
Mr. FINEMAN: ...are the great challenge. And to make it soaring, to do all that and to soar the way Kennedy did a half century ago will be his challenge on Tuesday.
MATTHEWS: That's a lot of cargo for one speech. Katty, Howard and I remember this here in this country, in the late '50s, were all--we were all scared to death by that--putting that satellite up. When that Sputnik went up, the Soviets, we were supposed to be first. Walt Disney, Werner von Braun, they all told us we'd be first. We weren't. So all of a sudden lots of money going into education and sciences and engineering and it worked. Is America ready to do that again?
Ms. KATTY KAY (BBC Washington Correspondent): Well, certainly when you talk to business leaders. They are looking for more than one State of the Union speech. They want real leadership from the president, and what they do want is investment in exactly those kinds of things. They say America has the leadership at the moment in areas like health care innovation, for example, but that it is ours to lose, and that they--and that this is an urgent problem. The Chinese, for example, they are giving students who go and study science and engineering incentives to do so, financial incentives to do so.
Ms. KAY: Rather than studying history of arts. That's the kind of thing that they would like, and they say it has to come from the president. They want actual concrete policies, and they say if you can do this, you can get more growth, you can get more exports, you can get more employment.
Ms. KAY: And the deficit problem then becomes less of an issue.
MATTHEWS: Here's the acid test. How do you get people to invest in higher education? Middle-level education? Money, money, money. That's all the Republicans are going to hear. `You Democrats are talking teachers' unions again. You want to spend all our money.'
Ms. CYNTHIA TUCKER (Columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution): Back in the 1950s and '60s, Americans still believed that education was a great egalitarian force for good, teachers were very well-respected in their communities. Now we see a very different attitude.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. And government, too.
Ms. NORAH O'DONNELL (Chief Washington Correspondent, MSNBC): Mm-hmm.
Ms. TUCKER: Public employees are under the gun. The teachers' unions are blamed for a lot of things, whether they are at fault or not. And it's very difficult to get people on board.
Ms. TUCKER: Another difference is that we have not defined the problem very well. While the president and many business leaders understand that we need more investment in education, many average Americans are still blaming immigrants for a lot of our problems.
Ms. TUCKER: So the president has to help us understand what the problem is before we can get to what the solution should be.
MATTHEWS: Norah, that gets to the question of, the Republicans have lined up Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, right, to come out and respond to the president like they do in the State of the Union. So they've already sort of targeted their response. It'll be budget cutting.
Ms. O'DONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MATTHEWS: He's the chairman of the Budget Committee. How does the president sell all this?
Ms. O'DONNELL: Well, this scaffolding that Howard talked about that this whole speech is going to be built around is not only the economy and jobs and how to make more--America more competitive again for the future--that's a key word, competitiveness--but it's also going to be to paint the president of the United States as a fiscal conservative. And so not only in the short term creating jobs...
MATTHEWS: How do you do both?
Ms. O'DONNELL: ...becoming more competitive, but then talking about reducing the deficit, overhauling the tax code. I mean, this is a giant speech for this president in many ways, this State of the Union. He's got to use sort of the good will from his speech in Arizona...
MATTHEWS: Right. OK.
Ms. O'DONNELL: ...his bump in the polls and then unite people around a common cause, which means making America great, making America better.
MATTHEWS: How do you sell that?
Ms. KAY: (Unintelligible)
Ms. TUCKER: (Unintelligible)
MATTHEWS: OK. You're selling a double feature to me.
Mr. FINEMAN: If he doesn't make a double feature a single unified theme, then he will have failed. And what he's got to say, bluntly, is some people are going to have to sacrifice in order that this next generation can have his Sputnik moment. And to oversimplify, but only slightly...
Mr. FINEMAN: ...better off--that is, well-to-do older people, senior citizens, are going to have to pay more and get less from government so that this younger generation can meet the challenges of the future. He's got to say that. Which means he's got to mention Social Security--after all, it's part of his own budget commission.
MATTHEWS: Howard, put that against the filter of what we all know about politics.
Mr. FINEMAN: Correct.
Ms. TUCKER: Correct.
Mr. FINEMAN: Right.
MATTHEWS: It's the older person with more time on their hands who votes relentlessly...
Mr. FINEMAN: That's true.
MATTHEWS: ...who votes their interests, their pocketbook interests, their retirement interests. Will they give way?
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, he's got to speak to them. I think that's a very good point, Chris. And while Republicans are one part of his audience, they're going to be sitting there skeptically saying, `How much you cutting, how much you cutting?' He's also got to talk to seniors, the better off people, people who have done well in the last 15, 20 years, and say, `Look, if you want your children and grandchildren to be as optimistic about the future as you were when you were a kid and to have the opportunities in terms of education and the American life that you had, then we've all got to pull together.'
Ms. KAY: It's one thing to say it in a speech and to outline it in a speech.
Mr. FINEMAN: OK.
Ms. KAY: When it actually comes to cutting health care for seniors or cutting Social Security spending for seniors...
Ms. KAY: ...both parties run from that as if, you know, this is a fire.
Mr. FINEMAN: But he's got to say it.
Ms. TUCKER: Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: All right, the newspaperwoman here. How do you write this headline, New York Times, or Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it says, `President calls for more spending on education, investments, R&D and budget tightening'? How's he do--how do you write that headline? It's too much.
Ms. TUCKER: Well, actually, this hearkens back to something that Bill Clinton said as president. It's not necessarily about how big government is, but how effective government is.
Ms. TUCKER: An activist government that's more efficient.
Ms. O'DONNELL: Right.
Ms. TUCKER: Obama has already started talking about that. He's put this piece in The Wall Street Journal...
MATTHEWS: Who's going to believe him?
Ms. TUCKER: ...talking about cutting back on regulations.
MATTHEWS: Who's going to believe that, though?
Ms. TUCKER: Well, you know what, he needs this big...
Ms. TUCKER: He needs his business allies.
Ms. KAY: And the interesting thing is, his business allies...
Ms. TUCKER: His business--if...
MATTHEWS: Business allies.
Ms. KAY: Right.
Ms. TUCKER: If they want this done, then they're going to have to get behind it and Republicans are--vote generally with them.
Ms. KAY: And they're--and they're pointing to examples, Semantec. The alliance between the government...
Ms. KAY: ...and the industry on semiconductors.
Mr. FINEMAN: Yeah.
Ms. KAY: They will say it has worked when you have a partnership and it's about effective government.
MATTHEWS: I think GE and Jeff Immelt and all that's going to be part of this.
Mr. FINEMAN: You're right.
MATTHEWS: They're bringing him in.
Ms. KAY: Correct.
Mr. FINEMAN: You're right, Chris. He's got a lot of credibility to establish on this after the first couple of years. A lot of independent voters are very skeptical about his ability to control spending.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let's bottom line this. We put it to The Matthews Meter, 12 of our regulars, including Katty, Norah and Howard. Will Republicans get further this year by compromising with President Obama or opposing him? Well, 10 say compromising, two say opposing him. Howard, Norah and Katty, all are with the 10 that say compromise. But, Norah, here's the question. Intransigence, opposition to the president worked. It got them control of the House. They won the last elections. Why would they switch now and support him if they want the White House back?
Ms. O'DONNELL: Because the poll numbers now show that the Republicans' honeymoon is already over.
Ms. KAY: They own the problem now.
Ms. KAY: I mean, to some extent, it's as simple as that. They are part of government. If the government is totally ineffective, they will get blamed in part for that ineffectiveness.
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, they have a condo in--they have a condo in the problem. They don't own it.
Ms. KAY: They have a condo in the building.
Mr. FINEMAN: The president still owns it, yes.
MATTHEWS: I think they're going to blame him. I'm with you, Howard, it's still the P's problem.
Ms. KAY: Yes.
MATTHEWS: All right, roaming around the room quickly. Is the Cong--is the mood in Washington for compromise?
Mr. FINEMAN: Yes. I think so. Except for the tea party hard core.
MATTHEWS: They're not in Washington, not all.
Mr. FINEMAN: Oh, in--well, yeah, except for the tea party people, yeah.
MATTHEWS: Bachmann, yeah, some of them are.
Ms. KAY: It's much more for compromise than one might've thought on the night of the midterms.
Ms. TUCKER: I think there are absolutely two Republican Parties. There's the John Boehner part. He wants to be responsible and compromise. But the tea party elements are loud and active and they don't want compromise.
MATTHEWS: Are they going to make him cry?
Ms. TUCKER: Make Boehner cry? Anything makes Boehner cry.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Norah, is it compromise? You covered the Hill and everybody else around here.
Ms. O'DONNELL: The president will use the State of the Union to find issues and rally--get people to rally around issues where there can be compromise made.
Ms. O'DONNELL: Like on the tax code, like on fiscal restraint...
Ms. O'DONNELL: ...and the budget deficit.
MATTHEWS: I think we're all going to be looking at the faces of the members on election--on Tuesday night to see who's scowling and who's got an open face and who's, you know, grungy up there.
Well, before we break, a change of subjects. Here it is. There's a huge book out right now about tiger moms. The book says if Americans want to stay ahead globally, like we've talking about, you've got to radically change the way we raise our kids. Parents must be relentless. They must demand excellence and keep those kids away from distractions. You know, like having friends. Well, no surprise, this turns off a lot of Americans, but it struck us that many Americans who grew up to be president have had tiger moms themselves. One of the most notorious presidential tiger moms was Sarah Roosevelt--there she is--who sheltered and schooled her only child, FDR, who never played with other kids--there he is, the only one. And the Bush mothers have been famously demanding. George H.W. Bush described his mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, as a drill sergeant. And Barbara Bush, of course, mother of George Bush 43, is one tough cookie.
(Beginning of clip from video, September 7, 1999)
Unidentified Reporter: Do you ask your dad for advice?
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Sure. I do.
Reporter: How about your mom?
Pres. BUSH: Oh, you don't need to ask her. She'll just tell.
Ms. BARBARA BUSH: I do give advice. It's no good, but I give it. And he...
President GEORGE H.W. BUSH: To all of us.
Ms. BUSH: And he--well, some of us take it better than others.
(End of clip)
MATTHEWS: Well, and then there's Bill Clinton and Virginia Kelly. His biography of Clinton, the great author David Maraniss, described that mom this way. "The psychological center of her life seemed to be her son Billy. She made it clear that she expected him to achieve."
Well, accepting his presidential nomination, Bill Clinton acknowledged that his mother was no petunia.
President BILL CLINTON: (From July 16, 1992) Where I get my fighting spirit, it all started with my mother.
MATTHEWS: A sentiment echoed by his mother. Here she was with Katie Couric on "Today" that same week.
(Beginning of clip from "Today," July 15, 1992)
KATIE COURIC reporting:
It's been written to understand Bill, you must start with Virginia. How does he take after you?
Ms. VIRGINIA KELLY: Well, I have a lot of drive, too.
COURIC: And you don't give up easily, do you?
Ms. KELLY: No. Never.
COURIC: Because you...
(End of clip)
MATTHEWS: Wow. And finally, Barack Obama and his mom. This is how he told it in a campaign ad.
President BARACK OBAMA: (From campaign ad, October 29, 2008) She was working full time, so she'd wake me up at 4:30 in the morning. We'd sit there and go through my lessons, and I used to complain and grumble. You can imagine an eight-year-old kid having to wake up at 4:30 and, you know, if I grumbled, she'd say, `Well, this is no picnic for me, either, Buster.'
MATTHEWS: "Buster." There's a start. Norah, any thoughts on presidential moms?
Ms. O'DONNELL: They are clearly at the center of what has driven many of these men, I think, to become president. But I also think their fathers, if you look at the history of some of these men who've become president and their relationship with their father is also part of this whole psychological...
Ms. O'DONNELL: ...mix that leads someone to have the guts, the courage and determination to run for president and to win.
MATTHEWS: So when we come back, why has the tiger mom's book stuck such a nerve in this country? Is the author right, that Americans are going to be global losers if we don't get tough with our kids? Plus scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of these top reporters. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. This week we had the visit of the Chinese president, of course, but the bigger splash may have come from this new book that seems to argue--there it is--that we're going to lose this economic war with China because we coddle our kids here at home. Well, here's the author, Amy Chua, reading from her book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother."
Ms. AMY CHUA: (From Monday, reading) Here are some things my daughters Sophia and Louisa were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, or not play the piano or violin.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Here's what she says it's all about.
Ms. CHUA: (From Monday) I'm the tiger mother. What the Chinese parent is saying to their child is, `I believe in you so much that I know you can be excellent, and I'm going to be in the trenches with you for however long it takes.'
MATTHEWS: Well, Katty Kay, mother of four, she seems to be saying don't coddle your kids, arm them against great economic strife out there.
Ms. KAY: It's a very different example--argument from the argument that goes, `I believe in your so much for who you are as you are that I'm not going to try to change you and I'm going to mollycoddle you because I think you're wonderful as you are.' You know, I look at--it's very hard to raise children...
MATTHEWS: On a scale of one--Chinese being 10, a slacker back here being a zero, where are you?
Ms. KAY: I think I'm probably--I fear I'm a slacker. I mean, I look at my kids and they look like, you know, I can't even get them smart and organized in the morning is tough. But I think, you know, what she has done with her children is a full-and-a-half-time job. It takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to do the kinds of things she has done on piano and on education. And as she does have two girls, and I wonder if that's a bit of a difference, too, that I look at my 17-year-old boy and, frankly, it's anathema for a 17-year-old boy to be studying at all.
Ms. KAY: I mean, they should be out there using that testosterone and...
MATTHEWS: Well, how's his violin lesson going?
Ms. KAY: How's--of course.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Norah. You've got three little angels at home there. I've met them. And I have to ask you about this question. They're so young. Have you made a decision on this? Are you going be Chinese and like Ms. Chua, Amy Chua, are you going to be more like "Ozzie & Harriet," or whatever?
Ms. O'DONNELL: Look, I'm fascinated by the debate that this book has sparked, in part because I think that every mother wants to be a good mother, and I think every mother is also struggling, whether they're raising spoiled kids or whether they're raising determined kids. And I think that's at the crux of a lot of people--mothers' guilt and their determination. And so I have friends who have multiple advanced degrees who, they're sending around e-mails critiquing this book. I'm amazed at how much self-reflection this has...
MATTHEWS: OK. Get personal. Are you worried that you're not measuring up to this Chinese model of zeal in motherhood?
Ms. O'DONNELL: Yes. I do think that we need to encourage our kids to work harder on a lot of different things.
Ms. O'DONNELL: So yes. And then the second thing, though, is I do worry that we praise kids for accomplishment rather than hard work. And if you talk to the best psychologists...
Ms. O'DONNELL: ...that's the Chinese do well.
MATTHEWS: Cynthia, Carly.
Ms. O'DONNELL: You praise for hard work, not just give a trophy just for participating in a soccer game.
MATTHEWS: Your little one, you're just starting this process here.
Ms. TUCKER: I'm just starting off, but I have to tell you, Chris, I have already caved in to her in ways that I did not think I would. I'm already, you know--I used to think, oh, she will not watch any TV before she's six years old.
Ms. TUCKER: Well, of course she watches television...
Ms. TUCKER: ...because I'm stressed out and I need to have a little peace.
Ms. O'DONNELL: Yeah.
MATTHEWS: Howard, you have proven yourself as a parent, I would say, knowing you well, and I think you've got kids that have already progressed through that--this level of Suzuki-type training that finds everything is just hard work and relentless repetition. How have you done?
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, I'll tell you what I haven't done well enough, which is to listen. And that requires time. What the tiger mother story is really all about is parents taking the time. You've got to listen, that's they key. And the other thing is, it's about character. And it's about knowing right from wrong and it's about having that internal compass that you need. The rest of it in this society, if you work hard, will take care of itself. But listening, as a parent, is the number one thing, and I haven't...
Ms. O'DONNELL: But the issue in this book...
Mr. FINEMAN: You can ask my kid--you can ask my kids. You can ask my kids, that's the thing I haven't done well enough.
MATTHEWS: Wow, that's so profound.
Ms. KAY: But I think that's what this book is saying is that actually it's not about listening.
Ms. TUCKER: Yeah.
Ms. KAY: It's all about, whatever their character is, drilling them to success.
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, I...
Ms. KAY: I have some...
MATTHEWS: Last word, Cynthia.
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, I disagree.
Ms. TUCKER: I also think it is largely an upper-middle class debate because most parents, American parents...
MATTHEWS: If you want to stay upper-middle class.
Ms. TUCKER: ...don't--if--exactly.
Ms. O'DONNELL: Mm-hmm.
Ms. TUCKER: Exactly. Who want their children to stay upper-middle class, they are the ones who are in competition with these very accomplished Chinese kids. Most parents do not have the time or the resources to stand over their kids to make them play the piano three or four hours a day.
Ms. O'DONNELL: It's true.
Mr. FINEMAN: (Unintelligible) It's a function of time, Chris. We are a very busy society, too busy for our own good.
Ms. KAY: Mind you...
MATTHEWS: When we come back, scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of these top reporters, TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW. We'll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Howard, tell me something I don't know.
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, Chris, you need to look on the map of the 2012 Senate races because the Republicans have a very good shot at picking up the Senate. And here's a race you wouldn't think about, Hawaii, where Daniel Akaka has been a Democratic senator for eons, he's 86 years old.
Mr. FINEMAN: There was a popular Republican governor there. That's a long shot that the Republicans are carefully looking at right now.
Ms. KAY: More on senators. One indication of whether a senator might have presidential ambitions is that when they come to Washington, they keep a very low profile and just focus on their state. Who's doing exactly that? Marco Rubio. It is all about Florida for the next six months.
Ms. KAY: He's not going to do any interviews...
MATTHEWS: And they're meeting in Florida.
Ms. KAY: No interviews with any national press.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. I think he's on the ticket.
Ms. TUCKER: Chris, with Michael Steele out as chairman of the Republican National Committee, far-sighted Republicans are looking for ways to increase the visibility of black Republicans on the presidential campaign trail. So look for Republican bigwigs to talk up the candidacy of retired Atlanta businessman Herman Cain. He's black, he's very conservative, he's a radio talk show host, and he became a Republican darling in 1994 when he confronted Bill Clinton on national television.
MATTHEWS: What's he running for?
Ms. TUCKER: Over health care reform. Talking about a presidential bid.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK. We'll have to follow him. Norah?
Ms. O'DONNELL: I decided to go back and grade President Obama's last State of the Union and looked closely and, in fact, he did deliver when it came to a jobs bill, health care reform, the START treaty, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He promised 1.5 million jobs, we've had 1.1 million jobs. One area that he didn't deliver on, changing the tone in Washington. He promised in his State of the Union to hold monthly meetings with the Republican leadership, on that he did not deliver.
MATTHEWS: Wow. When we come back--he better do that--anyway, the BIG QUESTION of the week, if Republicans in Washington do compromise with the president this year, does it open up a Grand Canyon between those people up on Capitol Hill and those GOP candidates running for president out there? Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We've been talking about compromise in Washington between Republicans in Congress and the president. Well, our BIG QUESTION this week, does that compromise between the Republicans in the House and the president open up a Grand Canyon between them and those Republicans running out there for president? Howard?
Mr. FINEMAN: Yeah. I mean, the presidential candidates are appealing to the tea party of the tea party.
Mr. FINEMAN: There's now a tea party establishment in Washington. Most of those tea party members, by the way, are going to vote against the debt ceiling compromise, but the trick for the Republican leadership will beóget just enough Republicans...
Mr. FINEMAN: ...to vote for it to pass it.
MATTHEWS: OK. So there will be a divide.
Mr. FINEMAN: There will be.
Ms. KAY: I think there will be a divide. In the primary season you run right, and that's an interesting conundrum for Mitt Romney.
Ms. TUCKER: Absolutely. There will be a divide, and how will the eventual nominee then come back toward the center after he spent a lot of time bashing Washington in any compromise.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. What kind of a convention will that be?
Ms. O'DONNELL: There absolutely will be a divide, and that's probably a good thing for the 2012 presidential nominee. They don't want to be tied. American people don't like Republicans in Congress. They give them pretty poor ratings. The give the Democrats in Congress poor ratings as well.
MATTHEWS: It's going to be a hot week in Tampa, Florida. Anyway, thanks to a great roundtable: Howard Fineman, Katty Kay, Cynthia Tucker and Norah O'Donnell.
Before we go, a word about Sargent Shriver, my hero, who died this week. He began the Peace Corps, of course. And on behalf of 200,000 former Peace Corps volunteers who have come home far more enriched than they could've imagined. I want to pay tribute to this great man's leadership and vision, one great American, Sargent Shriver.
That's the show. Thanks for watching. See you back here next week.
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