|The Chris Matthews Show
October 29-30, 2011
Announcer: This is THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
Facing Mount Rushmore. He promised us change, said he'd be transformative, the kind of president who turned history. Has the time come for Barack Obama to learn from a leader who did? The most inspiring Democrat of our time? Does Jack Kennedy have stuff to teach Barack Obama?
Band of brothers and sisters. Kennedy had the Irish mafia. Obama's tried to do it alone. Has he got time to build a team, political confederates who'll go out there and fight for him? Can he pull the solo act and start to lead?
And finally, bad news bears. Where did they find this crew? Perry's falling, Bachmann's falling, something's raising Cain, but nobody knows what. With time flying, the vast American middle is fleeing. With their chances good, why are the Republicans so bad?
Hi. I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to the show.
Interview: Washington Post's Bob Woodward, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, BBC's Katty Kay and New York Magazine's John Heilemann speak about Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, and GOP presidential hopefuls CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
With us today, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, the BBC's Katty Kay, and The New York Magazine's John Heilemann.
First up, since the 1957 shock of Sputnik, there've been few times as unsettling as today. Can we shake off this sense of decline in the country? Where's the leadership that will say yes, America's still the hope of the world?
Comparisons are made to the early '60s now, that time 50 years ago when Jack Kennedy connected with the country's yearning for a mission and a leader to lead us. I'm proud to say I've written a new book just out that brings back that heroic time we all want back.
We had a flashback three years ago.
Ms. CAROLINE KENNEDY SCHLOSSBERG: (January 28, 2008) Over the years, I've been deeply moved by the people who've told me that they wish they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way they did when my father was president. And I am proud to endorse Senator Barack Obama for president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Well, Caroline and Ted Kennedy were seeing in this young leader a connection to their father and brother that many voters saw.
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: (January 20, 1961) And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
President BARACK OBAMA: (February 10, 2007) The time is now to shake off our slumber and slough off our fears and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations. Together we can finish the work that needs to be done and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth. Thank you very much, everybody. Let's get to work.
MATTHEWS: Bob Woodward, he was certainly the man the country needed back in the early '60s. The country had felt it was loosing its step in the cold war and he gave it a sense of mission.
Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Associate Editor, The Washington Post): Yeah. I read your book this week on a plane and it's a real treat. And what comes through and it pulses in the book is it's almost a personal quest for you, who was this Jack Kennedy?
Mr. WOODWARD: Why did it work? What was his spirit? You go into the mother, father, brother, psychological, personal, the political. And you're looking for that special magic, X factor, whatever you want to call it, and you define it in the book. And right now it's pretty obvious with President Obama, there's not that emotional connection that enough people have with him and what he's trying to do in the presidency. I found it a really interesting contrast. And you know, would—how would Jack Kennedy have done in the Internet age, we'll never know.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Sure.
Mr. WOODWARD: It certainly was a different time, but I, you know, it—the book is more than a treat. Congratulations.
MATTHEWS: You know, Andrea—thank you so much, Bob Woodward. And you know more about best sellers. Andrea, it seems to me that one thing he did, I went back and checked where it came from, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," it actually came from something his headmaster used to say in school. And it— Obama's never asked us to join. No Peace Corps, no special force units, no get out there and do the war effort together. It's all been watch me, I'm smart.
ANDREA MITCHELL reporting:
I mean, you, in your book—and congratulations to you on this achievement...
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
MITCHELL: ...you went back and found the roots of those calls and of the political appeal. And what you grasp is that with Jack Kennedy, politics was poetry. And with President Obama, it seems to be prose. He doesn't have that connection. There is no call. I trace it back, not just—it's generational, perhaps, because it's not just Barack Obama, no call to service. We didn't
have that call to service from George W. Bush after 9/11. You are a product of those who went into the Peace Corps.
MITCHELL: Fifty years ago was the birth of the Peace Corps.
MATTHEWS: It's hard to believe.
MITCHELL: It's hard to believe it's been half a century, but I'm also of that generation. My family was Peace Corps—were Peace Corps volunteers and it just seems like no one is asking us to make sacrifice, we're asking the people who were least able to make sacrifice and that is what we're seeing with Occupy Wall Street.
MATTHEWS: My question about this president and how he stacks up in terms of leadership is I don't know what he'd do if he didn't have an opposition out there. It's one thing to make fun of Cantor and the tea party. Supposed he had no—do you know what Obama stands for, where he would take us? I don't know.
Ms. KATTY KAY (BBC Anchor, "BBC World News America"): No. I mean, it's been one of the questions about this presidency, what's the narrative of this presidency, what's the kind of aim of this president. And in some respects, you know, to give the White House a break, this is incredibly hard. I'm not sure in this time that we are shifting from a manufacturing economy to an economy based on brains and technology, which by definition has fewer workers associated with it, that's a challenge for any leader.
Ms. KAY: These challenges that are facing us economically today, here and in Europe and around the world, are extraordinarily complicated for any president to take on.
MATTHEWS: But all the harder for the people.
Ms. KAY: All the hard—and you know, OK...
MATTHEWS: That—doesn't the president have to give them a picture of where we're going?
Ms. KAY: So that was—the one thing that we do know that President Obama came into office wanting to do, which was health care reform, is probably the thing that distracted the White House from tackling jobs and the economy in the way that they should have done in their first year.
Ms. KAY: That's, you know, that's a criticism they'll have to answer.
MATTHEWS: Let me—you're the expert on Barack Obama. I've written about Kennedy here and I've tried to find the ways of the inspiration that seemed to move the country. Let's get this country moving again.
Mr. JOHN HEILEMANN (National Affairs Editor, New York Magazine): Right.
MATTHEWS: You know, Obama could say that tomorrow morning and it would be—it would engage people.
Mr. HEILEMANN: Yeah. You know, first of all, congratulations on the book. And that—there's—the striking thing at the very beginning, you quote Kennedy saying that the reason that people read biography is to figure out what is this guy like.
MATTHEWS: What is he like.
Mr. HEILEMANN: Your book—your book does an incredible job of showing what Jack Kennedy is like. And—but on the question about Obama, he remains like the subtitle of your book, he remains an elusive hero, or an elusive villain, if you don't like him, but elusive. There is also this effort on the other side, which Kennedy did not have to deal with, with people constantly trying to define you.
Mr. HEILEMANN: And vilify you.
Mr. HEILEMANN: And make people—so he has—because he's not projected a sense of himself that people can attach themselves to, it has allowed his enemies to define him in a way that's been crippling, I think, over these first two and a half to almost three years now.
MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm. One of the things people—one of the things people liked about the Kennedy brothers, both Jack and Bobby, is they were tough. They were romantic figures, but they were tough. As I wrote in my new book, quote, "Jack Kennedy would be the one making other politicians do his bidding. This would mean wooing some, or playing hardball with the ones he couldn't woo." And, Bob, it seems to me that if you look at how Kennedy dealt with Ross Barnett down in Mississippi, George Wallace down in Alabama, he kicked their butts. He brought in the federal troops, he taught them a lesson, he integrated those schools. Big steel, he went after them with the FBI.
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, certainly. But one of the difference, very big difference is Jack Kennedy never was a law professor and Barack Obama has been a law professor and it shows. He is a professional deliberator and he knows how to—on this side and on that side—and he chooses and lives in the center lane.
MITCHELL: Jack Kennedy had been to war, PT 109. Could that be one defining experience?
MATTHEWS: You were in the Navy.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. Well, yes, but I mean, Kennedy's experience in your book shows vividly, and this is something he shares with Obama, Obama doesn't like war and Kennedy didn't like war. And much of their time governing was making sure that we either get out of wars or avoid...
Mr. WOODWARD: ...the catastrophic war. And so that's something that's shared. And I think—oh, when I talked to Obama, I found that he, you know, look, I mean, he just came out and sat right there and he said, `You know, war and for the commander in chief is managing chaos.'
MATTHEWS: I want to talk about the tough guy.
MATTHEWS: Because just this week Speaker Boehner, who nobody dislikes, he's not a bad guy, but he just said the president's laughable in what he's trying to do through executive orders. Shouldn't there be a little fear of the president?
MITCHELL: Well, they have not projected the fear factor, which is surprising because they were tough initially and you would think with Rahm Emanuel as their first chief of staff...
MITCHELL: ...that they would be very tough.
MATTHEWS: There's a stick.
MITCHELL: But they basically ceded the writing of health care to Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi and the House Caucus. There's a sense that they can be rolled. Eric Cantor's standing up to the president of the United States. Bebe Netanyahu being rude to him in the Oval Office.
MATTHEWS: We were talking about that. Bob and I in the cloak room there before. Let me ask you about something Kennedy did that was so effective. After the Bay of Pigs was a disaster in 1961 and it was his fault, he didn't ask the right questions, should Obama, to prove he's learned on the job, admit that he made some mistakes early on with the stimulus packages, its composition, the promises he made about it, so that people can say he's learned, he'll be a better second termer?
Mr. HEILEMANN: I think that it would not be an unwise thing to do. And I think there's a, you know, one of the things that people look for in the presidents is strength. Another is a capacity to grow in the office. And I think one of the things that Obama has lacked, we just talked about the ways in which he's leading to lack to project—lacked projecting strength, but there's also the sense that he's been kind of static through these three years. And I think that part—that there is an element where if he acknowledged that the scale of the problem was bigger than he understood...
Mr. HEILEMANN: ...he could do that in a way that didn't sound as though he was saying, well, I screwed everything up.
MATTHEWS: Katty, you agree with it?
Ms. KAY: Yeah. Yeah. I think it carries risks in this environment.
Mr. HEILEMANN: It does. It does. Of course it does.
Ms. KAY: Because, I mean, as you pointed out, you know, this is a very different environment...
Mr. HEILEMANN: Yes.
Ms. KAY: ...from the '60s, it gets replayed countless times on YouTube. And you can see it being picked up by Republicans as President Obama saying, I screwed up, effectively.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, he has to say it carefully, but how do you say he's learned?
Ms. KAY: And he has to stay incredibly...
MATTHEWS: How does he say I've learned?
Ms. KAY: You know, I think—I mean, I think one thing he could do is have his—have his—have more of his people out there defending him.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
Ms. KAY: And one...
MATTHEWS: For the millionth time, say that, yeah.
Ms. KAY: ...big—the one big Obama supporter who'd been there in 2008 who's now having kind of wobbles about him who I spoke to recently said, you know, he had—he didn't come in like Clinton did with a whole back bench of people who were going to ramrod through his agenda.
Mr. WOODWARD: But he can't come out and say, I, you know, I—it's hard. And gee, I screwed up.
Ms. KAY: Yeah.
Mr. WOODWARD: That's not much of a message. What he's got to do is look—and this is the thing I think people—and it's in your Kennedy book—people really like, even if they somewhat disagree, a president acting and using presidential power to fix problems.
Ms. KAY: Yeah.
Mr. WOODWARD: You need to get somebody going in there, slamming the fist down and say, let's every day work on using this power to fix problems.
MATTHEWS: I think he's starting to do that with his executive orders.
Before we break, I'm a guy, of course, who loves movies, like most of us here. There's some movies about Jack Kennedy that captured his magic, but many haven't been anywhere as good as simply watching those black and white newsreels. One of the elusive qualities of Jack Kennedy that I wrote about in my book was the contradiction of his very being, his desperate physical health and his courage. Look at him there. He had the last rites given to him twice as a result of his Addison's disease and the Army and the Navy both rejected him because of his bad back. He finally got in the Navy in 1941. When the PT boat he skippered was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, he rescued 10 of his crewmen. Hollywood had Cliff Robertson playing him in the movie "PT-109," which came out in June of 1963. Here's Robertson as JFK reuniting with his crew.
(Clip from Warner Bros. Pictures' "PT-109")
MATTHEWS: Did you catch that "Gilligan's Island" soundtrack there? Anyway, a more intimate take on JFK, of course is "The Kennedys," which re-airs this week on the Reelz Channel. I like this portrayal of Jack and Jackie. As I write in my book, she was different than the usual girls he went out with and he liked that.
(Clip from Reelz Channel's "The Kennedys")
MATTHEWS: Cast in bronze? That's suggestive. Anyway, another favorite is the—and a great movie, "Thirteen Days" by Armyan Bernstein, about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It reminds us that Jack Kennedy's confidence and his hatred of war combined to find a peaceful end to the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite pressure from the Pentagon. Here was General Curtis LeMay dressing down the commander in chief.
(Clip from New Line Cinema's "Thirteen Days")
MATTHEWS: And afterwards, those generals talked against him. You didn't see that in the movie, either.
When we come back, the conservative leaders who hope and pray that Barack Obama's a one-term president cannot believe what the Republican candidates are saying these days.
Plus, scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of these top reporters. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Unbelievably, Texas Governor Rick Perry reached into the old tea party bag of tricks this week and tried to use the discredited birther issue to rescue his campaign. Conservative leaders are worried about what Perry and Herman Cain might do to their chances of beating Barack Obama.
Mr. KARL ROVE: (Fox News Channel, Monday) If you associate yourself with a nutty view like that and you damage yourself.
Mr. PAT ROBERTSON (Christian Broadcasting Network, Monday) Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They're forcing their leaders, the front-runners into positions that will mean they lose the general election. Well, if they want to lose, this is the game for losers.
MATTHEWS: Wow. John, when you get to the right of Pat Robertson and you get that squirrelly, what's going on here?
Mr. HEILEMANN: Yes. When Pat Robertson is the definition of the sensible center, we are now living in Bizarro World, right? Look, you know, the—there's a—there's a—the serious point is that all of these candidates who are trying to be the not-Romney, they are trying to appeal to a part of the party that is Htrae.
Mr. HEILEMANN: They're like a little bit—and they're doing what they have to do to try to consolidate that demand.
MATTHEWS: Do they have to go this far?
MITCHELL: No. And he, you know, he doubled down on it and he's lost the endorsement of a major New Hampshire Republican leader who switched to Romney as a result of this birther deal.
MATTHEWS: Perry did.
MITCHELL: Perry did, yeah.
MATTHEWS: Bob, what's going on?
Mr. WOODWARD: What's going on is Romney looks better and better and more rational and more reasonable and you know, some of this stuff, I mean, the marginal candidates, Rick Santorum, coming out against contraception? Wow. That loses...
MATTHEWS: That's going to cost him his...
MITCHELL: Well, I do think that Romney had a bad week in that he switched around on the Ohio ballot issue and he needs to show consistency and the problem for him is that that, unfortunately, fed into the idea that he isn't consistent.
Ms. KAY: Look, remember the polls that we talked about a couple of Sundays ago where actually that showed that the middle—that there is—the angry bit of America is not as big as we thought it might be.
Ms. KAY: That people do want compromise from their politicians.
MATTHEWS: There's a big middle.
Ms. KAY: And that they do want the middle. And I think, you know, pushing yourself this far to the right is not—is not going to win the medicine.
MATTHEWS: I think it's a mistake. When we come back, scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of these top reporters. Tell me something I don't know. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Bob, tell me something I don't know.
Mr. WOODWARD: That the White House has a secret plan to win the election and it's complex and it's secret, but it—look, Barack Obama wants to win so badly, as I understand it, everything in the White House is driven by the election and that level of commitment will take them to a point where he's going to show some leg in a way that people are going to say, wow, he really wants the job and this emotional connection could take place.
MATTHEWS: Wow. I do—I am impressed by that. Andrea:
Mr. MITCHELL: In 1961, Soviet and American tanks facing off in Berlin and the president, JFK, says to his General Lucius Clay, we've got to show them we've got nerve and General Clay says, `Mr. President, what we need to show is that the nerve is in Washington.'
Ms. KAY: Amongst Latinos, President Obama is fast becoming known as the deportation president.
Ms. KAY: Almost as many illegal immigrants have been deported in the last three years as were deported in the whole of President Bush's term. This can hurt him with Hispanic voters.
MATTHEWS: John Heilemann.
Mr. HEILEMANN: These guys are all so serious. So right now, there are between now and the end of January, there are 15 presidential debates that have been scheduled. Rick Perry this week said, you know, he's not really sure he's going to take part in them all. He's not alone. A lot—most of these guys don't want to be in all these debates. And I predict that not 15
will take place.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, when we come back, 50 years ago this weekend, the Soviets tested the most powerful H-bomb ever, 50-megaton. JFK had his single goal in the world stage, avoid the Cold War breaking into a shooting nuclear war. Our big question this week, what is Barack Obama's single goal on the world stage?
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Exactly 50 years ago, President Kennedy had to lead this country through a two-front face-off with the Soviets. Tanks confronted each other at the Berlin Wall and the Soviets surprised the world with a test of a 50-megaton bomb. Here was President Kennedy 50 years ago.
Pres. KENNEDY: (November 2, 1961) I do not have to dwell on the irresponsible nature of these Soviet actions. The Soviet Union has shown its complete disregard for the welfare of mankind.
MATTHEWS: Well, his single goal was to avoid the Cold War becoming a shooting war. But this week's big question, what is President Obama's biggest goal on the world stage? Bob Woodward:
Mr. WOODWARD: Win the election. Win—and I mean, that is the...
MATTHEWS: You got...
Mr. WOODWARD: ...driving force. And I think, you know, it's political, but I think it is becoming an internal commitment because like most presidents, they think that they're the person for the job.
MATTHEWS: The country needs them.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yeah.
MATTHEWS: As he sees it.
MITCHELL: And I was just pointing out, they've declassified all of those CIA documents from 50 years ago, but the driving thing now is avoid another recession.
Ms. KAY: I think it's to get America to act in the way we saw America acting with Libya, as part of a coalition of nations. To be anything, really, but President Bush on the world stage.
MATTHEWS: Do it—do it together with the world community.
Ms. KAY: Yeah.
Mr. HEILEMANN: Yeah. On the world stage, I think from the very beginning that the president had believed that when he came into office that the United States' reputation had been badly damaged by George W. Bush and I think his main foreign policy world stage goal has been to try to repair that image and its relationship with the rest of the world.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you all.
Thanks for a great, a great discussion of two presidents.
Mr. WOODWARD: Can I hold up your book because it would be shameless for you to do it.
MATTHEWS: Oh, there it is. When Bob Woodward does it, it's fine with me. And Andrea Mitchell as well.
Well, my goal was to bring Jack Kennedy back to life in this book. I think we really need his spirit now. And thanks to Andrea Mitchell, as well, thanks to Katty Kay and thank you to my friend, John Heilemann.
That's the show, thanks for watching. We're going to see you all back here next week.
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