Guest: Bob Shrum, Evan Thomas
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In the midst of the country’s political conflict, Ted Kennedy gets a tough medical report.
Let’s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Tonight was going to be a time to talk only about presidential politics and today’s two primaries, and We’ll get to the Kentucky and Oregon primaries later in the broadcast. But the news that came across around 1:00 o’clock this afternoon dominates our coverage this evening, that Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Expressions of both sympathy and hope poured in from across Washington and the country.
Barack Obama spoke with NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell earlier this afternoon.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The one thing I know about Ted Kennedy, though, he’s a fighter. He’s been fighting over 40 years in the Senate on behalf of people in need. He’s going to fight hard to battle this illness. And our job is to support him, support Vicki and the family, and to make sure that he knows where we’re there for him and we love him and that our thoughts and prayers are with him.
MATTHEWS: We love him. Joining us now, Bob Shrum, who has been an adviser to Ted Kennedy all these years, “Newsweek’s” Evan Thomas, who’s written a biography about Robert Kennedy, and MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle, who’s a close friend of the Kennedys, especially Teddy.
Let’s go right now to Shrummy. I was just with you this weekend. You have been one of the great collaborators with Senator Kennedy in politics. Tell me what we don’t know about Ted Kennedy. Let’s not do the obvious here. Tell me about the Teddy you know.
BOB SHRUM, FORMER KENNEDY ADVISER: The Teddy I know is someone who,
while he’s out there fighting and winning more battles than probably any
senator in modern history—and he’s one of the great senators of all time
is a joyous person, a person who even in adversity, as I found out during the 1980 campaign, can find something to smile about. He sustained us in that effort.
I mean, this afternoon, he’s in his hospital room. His family is all there. He’s anxious to leave at some point. And they’re telling stories and telling jokes. I mean...
SHRUM: ... this a person who—you know, he just—it’s an Iris quality, Chris. I think you understand it. But he’s got it to a supreme degree.
MATTHEWS: You know, Evan Thomas, you wrote about Bob Kennedy, and it seems to me that there’s always going a be a connection between those two brothers especially. Bob Kennedy, we have the anniversary of his assassination coming up next month, the 40th anniversary, of course, and his beloved younger brother, who seemed like he was totally connected to Bob Kennedy.
EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, Teddy gave Bobby’s famous eulogy that made everybody, including me, cry, about the sense of both bravery of the Kennedys and duty. I mean, the thing that strikes me about Teddy Kennedy’s taking his hits over the years for being a playboy is the sense of duty. I mean, you know, four decades is a long time to be serving your country, and that’s what he’s done.
MATTHEWS: What do you think motivates him all these years not to be the—the bon vivant, just enjoy life? He’s got a lot of money and prestige and he’s got a great family. Why does he work so hard as a liberal champion? Why does he commit himself 60 hours a week to this cause?
THOMAS: You know, I think a lot of this is because of the father. Joe Kennedy’s also taken lot of heat over the years for being a bit of a playboy, but he instilled that sense of duty in his sons and his family, and he wasn’t kidding. The message obviously got through, and there’s a certain faith that the Kennedys keep with public service. And it transcends all the tragedies and foibles and dramas that we delight in. The sense of duty just transcends it all.
MATTHEWS: Mike Barnicle, you’ve spent some time with him.
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, Chris, when you were talking to Bob Shrum about the Teddy Kennedy that he knows—we all know the scars. We all know, you know, everything that’s in the headlines. We all know that we live in an age where hate can bubble to the surface in the Internet.
But when you were speaking to Bob about the Teddy Kennedy we don’t know, the Teddy Kennedy that we don’t read about or see about, my mind flashed back to a particularly—particularly horrible time in my life, in August of 1998. It was a terrible time. And one evening at our home, at our family home on Cape Cod, not that far from where the Kennedys live, there was a knock on the screen door. It was about 11:30 at night. And Teddy Kennedy was there at the door, and wordlessly, he gave me a pair of rosary beads and told me to hang in there, that everything passes, that the darkest of nights—that there’s a dawn to every dark night.
And the kind of guy that we don’t know is the kind of guy who has such
enormous compassion, and not just in my case, not just me personally, but
the kind of person who reaches out to people far less fortunate than he is
sick people, people in Massachusetts. There’s such a familiarity to Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. People feel they have such access to this man. And that’s the Ted Kennedy that very few people read about or see about.
MATTHEWS: You know, Bob, I was thinking about, you know, what Hillary Clinton’s going to do next if doesn’t work out for her in this campaign. And who knows what the next couple weeks hold. But Ted Kennedy lost a race for president, as you pointed out, back in ‘80, 28 years ago. And you and I were involved in that on different sides. And his decision seems like it was existential—I’m going to be one of the greatest senators in history.
SHRUM: I’m not sure that emerged immediately because before that, he’d already passed, for example, airline and trucking deregulation, as you know, because that happened during the Carter administration. But he is a natural legislator. He’s probably one of the—he probably is the greatest senator of the last 50 years and one of the five or six greatest senators in the history of the republic.
But if you think about the sweep of what he’s touched, from voting rights to sanctions on South Africa, to the minimum wage, to the Americans With Disabilities Act, to all of the investment in education and manpower development—I mean, there’s hardly anybody in his country whose life hasn’t been touched by his work. And I think when people examine this, you know, 40, 50, 60 years from now, they’re going to say he’s had more impact on the country than most presidents ever had.
But I’ll tell you one thing. He believes and I believe he’s going to go back to the floor of the United States Senate.
MATTHEWS: Well, Evan, it was pretty stark to get that medical prognosis from the hospital today, obviously cleared by the Kennedy family, that he is, in fact, suffering from a malignant brain tumor. And according to Bob Bazell here at NBC News, our medical correspondent, that’s not good news.
THOMAS: Well, you know, we seem to live with these Kennedy family tragedies. They’re in our—they’re part of our lives now—their lives, their deaths, their joys, their triumphs, their failures. And in a way, it’s not shocking. I mean, I sort of always expected to hear one day, you know, that something terrible has happened to a Kennedy.
You know, like everybody else, I fully expect that he’s not—that he’s got some fight left in him. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him. I bet you he is, as Bob Shrum says, going to be back on the Senate floor. But this is part of this long continuum that the American people—I can’t think of another family where we’ve participated so much in every aspect of their lives. They’ve really become sort of the American family.
MATTHEWS: Well, they don’t seem to have a middle, do they, Mike? They seem to have great tragedy, great excitement, great fun, pleasure, the whole routine. There doesn’t seem to be a boring point in the Kennedy story.
BARNICLE: No, there hasn’t been. There hasn’t been. As Evan buoyant just pointed out, I mean, the litany of triumphs and tragedies of this family—we have shared in all of them from 1956 on, from the run for the vice presidential nomination for Jack Kennedy in Chicago to today. I mean, we have shared in all of them. They’ve been very public.
And Ted Kennedy himself—there’s an element to Ted Kennedy among a lot of people, I would think, that—especially in his home state of Massachusetts, where the shock comes not from the fact that he’s been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Those things happen. We all know that. The shock comes from the fact that so many people are so used to having him in their presence that the idea of him not being there is somewhat shocking.
MATTHEWS: I agree. You know that poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” guys? It really reminds me of him, the guy at the funeral that is the source of life, the life force in the room, you know, the being that represents life.
Here’s Senator Clinton. Of course, he did not endorse her. He endorsed Barack Obama. But here’s his colleague, Senator Clinton, talking about the news of Kennedy’s diagnosis today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There’s never been anybody like him in the Senate. He is probably the most effective single senator that our country has ever seen. And just as he has fought year after year to try to make the changes that will benefit our nation and the world, I know that he’s going to fight with all of his might, supported by his wonderful, wife, Vicki, and his entire family, against this latest challenge. And we wish him great success in this battle, as in every other battle that he has won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And across the aisle, here’s John McCain speaking about Ted Kennedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Kennedy has a
malignant brain tumor. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to his
family and to him. We hope and pray that they will be able to treat it and
that he will experience a full recovery. I have said on numerous
occasions, I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate and
thank you very much. And I have held that view because he remains the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results, and he is not reluctant to share the credit. And he—when it fails, he’s willing to take the blame. That’s why he’s one of the most effective members of the Senate, and we’ll miss him for that and many other reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Evan Thomas, you’re an historian, and back in the early ‘50s, Senator Kennedy, the first Senator Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, was asked to assemble the list of the five greatest U.S. senators of all time, which are—the portraits now hang in the Senate reception room, right off the Senate chambers. He couldn’t look forward, he could only look backward when he selected Calhoun and Clay and Webster and Taft and Lafollette (ph). Do you think Ted Kennedy might have bumped himself into that picture, if he’d been able to look forward?
THOMAS: Yes. I mean, who’da thunk it? I mean, this guy who got kicked out of Harvard for cheating and was considered to be sort of the boy of the family. They had to sort of propel him into the Senate. And yet he turns out to be a true Senate giant. I think he does belong up there.
And he’s a cautionary tale for today because, although he’s partisan -
he’s definitely a Democrat—he gets things done, as Senator McCain pointed out. He does—he’s willing to reach across the aisle. He looks for results. How that quality has been lost in the partisanship of the last decade or so, that, more than anything else, would be a terrible loss if he can’t come back.
MATTHEWS: Bob, what’s it like to be Ted Kennedy? You’ve walked around with him, been with him. What’s it like to know that maybe 40, 50 percent of the country see you as the villain, the enemy, because you’re the liberal? What’s it like to be Ted Kennedy, day in and day out, getting on airplanes, knowing you’re surrounded by Republicans that just don’t like you?
SHRUM: Well, most of the time, when you’re with him, people walk up who like him and tell him they like him and tell him they like what he’s doing.
SHRUM: But the key—the key to him in a lot of ways, I think, is he has a sense of self-respect and that he’s comfortable with himself. I mean, he once had this line, We have to take issues seriously but never take ourselves too seriously. I mean, you remember in the ‘70s, he used to tell this joke, he would say—and it was his joke—he would say, I don’t mind not being president of the United States, I just mind that somebody else is. I mean, he was kidding himself.
SHRUM: And the thing that makes him so effective in the Senate is that he’s the conscience (ph) of aggressive politics, but to him, it’s never personal. It’s always political. So we’re sitting one day in his office in 1981. He walks in and says, What’s this meeting about? And someone says, It’s whether you’re gong to vote for the Reagan tax cut. He said, Well, why don’t you have the meeting, and I’m voting against it, even if I’m the only vote.
But he was Ronald Reagan’s friend, too. And many years later, when Reagan received the Congressional Gold Medal, Nancy Reagan at the dinner the night before wanted Ted Kennedy to speak. It’s a specialness that we’re losing in American politics that we really need.
MATTHEWS: Mike Barnicle, why’d he endorse Barack?
BARNICLE: I think he endorsed Barack for a number of reasons. I think because he had had a series of, you know, phone conversations with former president Bill Clinton that didn’t hit Teddy’s hot button about the conduct of the campaign, about the injection of race into the campaign. I think Caroline Kennedy had a huge influence on him.
And I think also that in Barack Obama, he saw someone who represented a future for this country, a political future for this country that he could more adhere to. Nothing against Senator Hillary Clinton, really, personally, but he felt that Barack Obama’s politics were more about what’s going to happen in the next four or eight years, rather than the rearview mirror of the past Clinton administration.
BARNICLE: I think he just liked the tone, the sound, the feel of it, and he liked the fact that Barack Obama could appeal to so many groups, the way his brother, Robert Kennedy, did. Evan was Robert Kennedy’s biographer -- that Robert Kennedy could in a way that Hillary Clinton could not do.
MATTHEWS: Well, I like the fact that people like Greg Craig and Ted Sorensen agreed with him on that point. That was an interesting get-together mentally and politically, that the top old Kennedy guys agreed with Ted Kennedy about Barack.
More with our guests after this break. We’re going to have much more about Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis today. He has brain cancer. Serious business.
And later on in the show, we’re going to turn our attention, quickly, of course, to this Kentucky and Oregon primary. We got a doubleheader in politics tonight. It could be a split. Who knows? Who knows what Hillary Clinton is up to, to put it bluntly? What is the next step for her? We know Barack Obama looks like he’s winning. He thinks he’s winning. What’s Hillary Clinton think she’s doing? That’s the great question that all of us are trying to figure out. This has become a very mental (ph) question in this country. It’s not about counting numbers, it’s about trying to figure out Senator Clinton.
You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We’re continuing to talk about the sad news today that Senator Ted Kennedy has been diagnosed this afternoon with a malignant brain tumor, brain cancer. And late today, the Associated Press released these new photos of the Kennedy family up at Massachusetts General Hospital—it’s called Mass General up there—after they got the news of his diagnosis. You see all the kids there, Kara, Ted and Patrick. There’s his wife, Vicki, wonderful person there. He’s obviously sitting with his family and just absorbing the tough news he’s gotten, that he’s going to face some tough chemotherapy, maybe some radiation therapy, serious business for the Kennedy family. There’s Ted Kennedy, his son, who lost a leg to cancer, up there on the right, and his stepson, Curran (ph).
We’re joined right now by MSNBC analyst Mike Barnicle, a friend of the Kennedy family, former Kennedy adviser, in fact, long-time still Kennedy adviser, Bob Shrum, and “Newsweek’s” Evan Thomas.
I want to put this question before you about Kennedy and the—well, let’s take a look at this because we got a hearing here. We got something to show you which is so ironic. Here’s Ted Kennedy holding a hearing on cancer earlier this month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Today, cancer is still the second highest cause of death in America. Clearly, we need a new way forward in battling this frightening disease. We must build on what the nation has already accomplished and launch a new war on cancer for the 21st century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Shrummy, why is Ted Kennedy so focused all his career on health?
SHRUM: I think because, number one, he thinks health care ought to be a fundamental right for everybody in this country. And I suspect he was the first person to put in exactly those terms. And secondly, he really believes in the potential of medical science and bioscience to create breakthroughs for people. I think it’s part of the fabric of his whole commitment, which is, Can we use the power of government—and I know some conservatives don’t like this, but some of them actually enlist in the efforts he makes. Can we use the power of government to make life better for people?
He was there at the beginning of the war on cancer 30 years ago. And there are thousands, tens of thousands of people alive in this country today because of the investments that have been made in medical research that he fostered.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you completely. I know a lot of that federal funding at the NIH, et cetera.
Let’s take a look at Barack Obama speaking this afternoon about Ted Kennedy. He had—apparently, he spent some time with him over the weekend. And he recounts that to us now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He sounded great. I mean, he sounded like the Ted Kennedy we all know and love. In fact, he was joking about how, you know, I had been dragging him out on the campaign trail, and the old lion needed to catch his breath a little bit.
And he was funny and he was laughing. And I didn’t get any sense that his capacities had been diminished. And, so, obviously, we’re all distressed now, in terms of what has happened, the diagnosis. But I do know that he’s going to fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Forty-six years in the U.S. Senate, Evan Thomas. You’re an historian—all those times, all those years trying to get health care for the country, not succeeding yet. That is really a Sisyphean effort, isn’t it?
EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: It sure is.
I don’t know when the day will come. I’m not sure Senator Kennedy will live to see it.
You know, I want to go back to Senator Obama for just one second. In some ways, he’s the fruition of something that the Kennedys, including Ted Kennedy, started. I’m thinking of 1963. Bobby Kennedy says to Jack Kennedy—Wallace is standing in the schoolhouse door in Alabama—we need a federal civil rights law. Get rid of Jim Crow. Get rid of discrimination. Let’s do it.
President Kennedy goes on TV that night, gives a famous speech that became the 1964 Civil Rights Act, gave away the South from the Democrats, the solid South that has been once the Democratic Party’s own, gave it away to the Republicans.
But that single act of courage of political courage that all those Kennedy brothers participated in, and, Teddy, of course, has continued to participate in, in his backing for civil rights all these years, that may, to me, be their biggest legacy.
MATTHEWS: And it was done on the spot, wasn’t it, with the bombings going on down there in Alabama and the decision to write that speech?
MATTHEWS: It came late in the afternoon. I have seen the kinescopes of the old tapes of the decision.
THOMAS: Boy, talk about seizing the moment.
Jack Kennedy had not even finished writing the speech when he went on national television to say that—I think the phrase was, it’s as old as the Scriptures and as great as the Constitution, something like that.
MATTHEWS: Right. I remember that. That was...
THOMAS: We have got to have equality. And that was an unbelievable, seminal moment in American politics. And Teddy has kept that faith all those years.
MATTHEWS: Mike Barnicle, Ted Kennedy, again, I have got to ask you about the guy. He’s sort of the foster father to all the Kennedy kids, including his own, his natural kids.
MIKE BARNICLE, NBC ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: He’s the burden—he’s the shoulders on which they lay all their burdens. If there is a family problem, he deals with it. If it’s a social or a marital problem, he deals with it. If there’s—if somebody does something wrong, he deals with that.
Who’s going to replace him in that role? Is there anybody? He’s going to have to stay there, isn’t he?
BARNICLE: No, no, there’s no one who can replace him in that role.
But back to what you were talking to Bob Shrum about, and what Evan alluded to in the clip that you showed, Chris, we all know that we live in an age of telephone tough guys on these radio talk shows. You can call up. You can mischaracterize anyone you want. You can label them. The labels sometimes live forever. He’s a liberal. Teddy Kennedy is a liberal. He’s a fat liberal, all the things that they say about him on the Internet and on talk radio.
But that clip, is it liberal to want everyone to have the same cancer treatments that is afforded Senator Kennedy? Is it liberal to make sure that every young man and woman serving in Iraq has an up-armored Humvee or the proper equipment?
Does a young man, Brian Hart, who lives in Bedford, Massachusetts, a rock-ribbed Republican originally from Texas, lost his son, John Hart, in Iraq in October of 2003, turned around at John Hart, his son’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, on a cold November day, and there, over his shoulder, saw a man he had never met before, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, who, from that moment on, after talking to the father, took it upon himself as a United States senator to champion the cause of getting better equipment for our soldiers in Iraq?
That’s not liberal. That’s Ted Kennedy.
MATTHEWS: Well, that is a well-stated assessment. However, if we are ever going to get health care, I think we all agree it’s going to have to be a compromise involving something like the Mitt Romney plan, something like Schwarzenegger’s plan. It can’t just be a Ted Kennedy-style plan, or we have seen how easily that divides the country.
SHRUM: Well, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Bob, go ahead. Your view.
SHRUM: Chris, he sort of knew that. And in the ‘90s, after the failure of the Clinton health care plan, he went to work with Orrin Hatch and passed health care for children.
SHRUM: He went to work with Nancy Kassebaum and passed a portability of health insurance, so that, if you change jobs, you can take your health insurance with you.
He wants to get the whole job done. But, in the meantime, brick by brick by brick, he wants to see if we can get closer to it.
MATTHEWS: Well, this certainly—this tragic news of his diagnosis -
his prognosis is unclear, but the diagnosis of brain cancer, of a malignant brain tumor that he suffers from, is going a bring a lot of attention to the fact that everybody’s vulnerable, even those with privilege and history on their side.
So, I think this may be—may be a little bit of a catalyst to get something done along the lines he worked on all those years.
Mike Barnicle, sir, well said.
Bob Shrum, as always, Evan Thomas, thank you for joining us.
When we return, we’re going to have plenty to talk about, tonight’s primaries in Kentucky and Oregon. Is this the night Barack Obama wins the majority of elected delegates? And, if so, what, then, becomes Hillary Clinton’s rationale for continuing the fight? We will see that all tonight, as we—as Keith Olbermann and I cover these results throughout the evening.
You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: When we return, what to watch for in tonight’s Kentucky and Oregon primaries. This is the night that Barack Obama expects to wind up with a majority of elected delegates. Will that lead—lead to a flood of superdelegate votes?
Our coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. tonight, with Keith Olbermann joining me for results and analysis on MSNBC, as we give you live coverage throughout the evening.
You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I’m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Big losses on Wall Street today—the Dow’s biggest sell-off in more than a month, falling about 200 points. The S&P 500 shed 13, and the Nasdaq was off about 23, the sell-off partly due to a new high for oil. Crude jumped to almost $130 a barrel. The price spike was caused by supply concerns and predictions from analysts and investors like Boone Pickens, who told CNBC oil could reach $150 a barrel this year.
Stocks also hurt by signs of inflation. Wholesale prices last month, excluding volatile food and energy, rose almost twice as fast as analysts predicted.
And the Senate Banking Committee approved a plan to help up to half-a-million homeowners avoid foreclosure. It now goes to the full Senate.
That’s it from CNBC, America’s business channel—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Senator Clinton’s run a wonderful campaign. And she is an extraordinary public servant. She and I agree on 90 percent of the issues that this country faces.
And the one thing we definitely agree is on that, no matter what else happens, come November, the name George W. Bush won’t be on the ballot.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This is like marathon dancing.
Welcome back to HARDBALL, just about 90 minutes to go now until the polls close in Kentucky, and a few hours until voting ends in Oregon, which has been going on for many days now.
Are Democrats close to a finish in this fight?
Chuck Todd is NBC News political director, and “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is MSNBC—an MSNBC analyst.
Thank you, gentlemen, for—both for joining us.
I want to start with Chuck with this question.
What’s the significance of tonight, in Oregon and in Kentucky? What will happen to the Barack Obama campaign that hasn’t happened until now?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What the Obama campaign is going to talk about is that they will have received a majority of the delegates you can earn in primaries and caucuses, period.
If they just get 15 delegates out of Kentucky—and my estimate has them probably getting 17 or 18 -- they will get to 1,627, when you throw in these new Edwards delegates that they got, with the Edwards’ endorsement, 10 of them so far of the 18.
He will get to 1,627, which will be the exact halfway mark. He will probably get 1,628, 1,629, much higher after Oregon finally reports in. So, there is—he will have a majority of the pledged delegates and then, asterisk, not counting Florida and Michigan. And I almost feel like we need a lawyer...
MATTHEWS: So, yes, but, by the rules, he has won a majority of the delegates.
TODD: Of the pledged delegates.
MATTHEWS: Elected delegates.
TODD: And they believe—and they have said this to me time and time again—they believe, for many superdelegates, that’s enough for them to say, hey...
TODD: And, so, we will see. Will they get the flood of superdelegates tomorrow, who say, you know what, when you have clinched the majority—and, by the way, there’s another caveat. If he wins just 50 delegates tonight in the two states—I got him winning 48, But maybe he can get 50 -- then you could throw in Florida and Michigan, and he will be able to say, I have got the majority.
There, he gets to this high point that we have been talking about for months now, Howard, along with Chuck. How does the Democratic Party, called the Democratic Party, deny the nomination to someone who has won the majority of elected delegates, especially when the person in this case is an African-American, the first one ever to be nominated by a major political party? How can they say, oh, yeah, he got the elected delegates, but we have got some other thinking going on here; we’re going to give it to somebody else?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that’s
exactly what the Obama strategists, starting with David Axelrod and Tom
Daschle and others, are saying, that there’s never really been a situation
there is not that much reference—that many reference points in history—but there hasn’t been a situation where the candidate who won a majority of the elected delegates has been denied the nomination.
That’s why they were going to go gung-ho at one point, and pound the table, and declare victory with a capital V. tonight, based on the math that Chuck Todd was laying out. They’re only going to restrain themselves to some extent tonight, not because of arithmetic, but because of emotions, because they’re having a very delegate dance going on with Hillary Clinton and her camp.
They don’t want to seem arrogant. They don’t want to previous. But, yes, based on the math, there’s never been a situation where a candidate like this has been denied. And nobody expects that to be the case now. They’re actually, I think, talking behind the scenes on how to work out that Florida and Michigan thing, which we can get to later, I suppose.
MATTHEWS: Well, here’s the delegate count. Senator Obama leads by 158 elected delegates. He leads by 24 superdelegates. NBC News has added 10 of Edwards’ pledged delegates, as Chuck said, to Obama’s total, based on published reports and discussions with some of the delegates themselves. And he leads now by 132 delegates overall.
You know, here’s the question. What do the Clintons think they’re doing here? Do they believe that Barack Obama has no chance to win in November; therefore, it explains their behavior to date, Chuck?
TODD: No. I think this is about legacy, two people’s legacy. One is Hillary Clinton’s legacy. She is now establishing herself as the woman that speaks for average working-class Americans, and that she has redefined her image a way that they would have killed for a year ago.
If they could have been this candidate now, where she is this fighter for the—the working-class, this blue-collar—you know, some want to describe her the Norma Rae of normal politics. If she could have been that person from the get-go, we might not be talking about—we might not be worrying about these late primaries. She might have already been the nominee.
MATTHEWS: Well, why didn’t she do it?
TODD: I don’t think they ever thought they could become this person.
TODD: The irony is—well, she seemed like the candidate of elites. She seemed to be the candidate of the establishment. And it was very tough. She just had a hard time finding her voice.
So, I think it’s about establishing herself and—and almost making it so that she stays this person. And then there’s Bill Clinton’s legacy. And I think that that’s going to be driving what—her motivation is, what does she want? The question everybody—that hangs over this—her head right now, what does she want? Why does she stay in?
My theory is that he’s going to push to make sure that she wants a place on this ticket, she wants to be a part of this campaign, not stand on the sidelines.
MATTHEWS: You believe she wants to be on the ticket?
TODD: I think that Bill Clinton is going to be wanting her to make sure she has every card—that she has every card available to her to play.
MATTHEWS: Howard, do you buy this, that she wants to be on a winning ticket or a losing ticket? That’s what I can’t figure out. Does she want the ticket to win or to lose? That’s the hard question, if you’re a Barack person. Are you confident that she wants to win or have a better shot at next time?
FINEMAN: You’re asking me?
MATTHEWS: Yes, I’m asking the toughest question of the night, yes, right to start the evening off.
MATTHEWS: What is the motivating force of the Clintons in seeking the nomination for vice president, if that’s what they’re doing?
FINEMAN: Oh, I think she would love to be asked. And I think if she were asked, which I don’t think she will be, but if she were asked, I think she would take it in a minute.
MATTHEWS: With what motive?
FINEMAN: The motive to serve, the motive to be in the action, the motive to make history, the motive to be more than an asterisk in a history-making campaign that we have just gone through.
I think this is somebody who wants to be in the action, who wants to be accepted on her own right. Would it be bittersweet? Yes. But I think she would take it in a second. I don’t think it’s going to be offered to her, but I think she would take it.
MATTHEWS: Would she throw herself body and soul into this fight to try to carry Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan for Barack Obama?
FINEMAN: Well, Chris—Chris...
MATTHEWS: I’m just asking an existential question.
FINEMAN: No. No. The answer is, there would be a reluctance in her heart, but I don’t think you could detect it.
TODD: Oh, no. I...
FINEMAN: I don’t think you could detect it on the campaign trail. I think if she were offered it, I think that she would go pedal to the metal and so would Bill Clinton.
By the way, I think this more about convention time, the first day or two of the convention for Bill and Hillary Clinton. It’s more about, as Chuck said, her role as a leader of women. It’s about her role in the Senate. But hey, if she can get the offer, she would love it and I think she would take it.
MATTHEWS: So she would offer a reasonable facsimile of passion to win, is what Howard is saying.
FINEMAN: Well, a lot of politics is reasonable facsimile.
TODD: Look, no, no, no. I think—no. I think that they—because I think they know that if Obama loses, they have to share the blame. And they really share the blame if he loses if she’s not on the ticket. And they would share either way, so this idea that somehow she would be, oh, one eye on 2012 -- you know, I think if her eye was on 2012, she would have gotten out three weeks ago and been more magnanimous so that she could stand on the sidelines.
This is about either her getting on the ticket or 2016 if anything. I think this idea that somehow she would almost, you know, root for him not to win or not be that excited about it, I think that’s almost.
MATTHEWS: So you don’t think it’s.
TODD: We’re putting them too much on the couch.
MATTHEWS: You don’t think it’s a reasonable question, what I’m asking? I mean, be blunt with me, am I wrong to ask the question?
TODD: I think it’s a—I think.
MATTHEWS: Would Barack Obama be asking?
MATTHEWS: Would David Axelrod be asking that question? Would Jim Johnson, the people around, would they be asking? And Tom Daschle, are they asking the question?
TODD: I think all politicians are self-centered and paranoid to a certain extent. So you always worry about those things just a little bit. But I think at the end of the day, it’s self-destruction.
MATTHEWS: It’s not paranoid if they are coming after you, by the way.
TODD: If they are coming after you. It is self.
MATTHEWS: You are so careful.
MATTHEWS: You don’t think it’s a reasonable question to ask if you’re an Obama person, whether Hillary wants you to be president or not?
TODD: Chris, I just think it’s politically self-destructive. And the Clintons know that. It would be self-destructive of them if they somehow wanted...
MATTHEWS: That doesn’t mean people don’t do things that are self-destructive. Let’s take a look here at what President Clinton said to Ron Allen today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE) we’re comfortable. They saw her more. And I think when all of these—when she has the two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorse her and 35 retired generals and admirals, at least it was hard to say that people who have given their life to our country and made a judgment about it, felt comfortable in what (INAUDIBLE). I think that helped her.
But I think—and I just think her campaigning and the scores, the debates, and, you know, people have to get used to a lot of things like candidates mixing it up, and all of that. There are a lot of things have to get used to in this election. I think that they sort of just got used to it as it went along, the whole deal.
And I think the same thing happened to Senator Obama. I think this—we watched it unfold. And I think it has been very good for (INAUDIBLE), very, very good for both of them and for our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you ready for it to be over?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, guys.
B. CLINTON: . because there’s three more left.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Howard, that was a piece of work there. I love watching Bill in action. He is just a piece of work. There he is saying it’s—you’ve got to get used to the idea of a woman commander-in-chief, and then she surrounded herself with these very impressive guys with stars on their shoulders.
And, then, of course, we got to get used to the fact that there is roughhousing going on in this campaign, and they’re smashing the hell out of each other, got to get used to that. And, of course, it has been good for both of them, good for Barack Obama. He got everything in this composite argument, didn’t he? I mean, it was a really nice portrait by Bill, I thought. It was very smart. You know, he made it look like it was all good.
FINEMAN: He did. And I firmly believe that at least the first night of the convention in Denver is going to be Bill Clinton revival meeting night. And it’s going a be about accepting Bill Clinton back into the fold. He strayed during the primaries people will say, he got down in the trenches maybe a little too much.
But come back, Bill, come up on the stage, all is forgiven. And if—listen, if Barack Obama is arguing that diplomacy is key to the future and that he’s a good diplomat, his first challenge is not Ahmadinejad, it’s the Clintons.
MATTHEWS: Wow, that sounds like the Dick Morris theory of the Saturday night Bill and the Sunday morning Bill. So the whole week in action. But the first two days of course will be presenting to us the Sunday morning Bill, revival at hand.
FINEMAN: The Sunday morning Bill, exactly, exactly.
MATTHEWS: It’s great, it’s theater...
MATTHEWS: . getting any deeper with this.
TODD: Paint a quick picture, Bill Clinton today was campaigning with his wife. He.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That’s new.
TODD: . did a media avail with her press corps. She rarely does these. Everything that.
MATTHEWS: So he has big-footed—he big-footed Howard Wolfson today.
TODD: He does the media avail today and did it in such a way with this warm and also talking—he didn’t quite talk in the past tense. He didn’t use the language of past tense. But you got the feeling all of the reporters there were stunned because they never get this access to her on rope lines like this. And yet, here he was one day doing it. And he’s already doing rope lines.
MATTHEWS: When he’s selling, he has got that hand out there moving.
That secondary characteristic, it’s always great to watch.
TODD: He oddly stepped on her today on the trail.
MATTHEWS: Why? What did he do? How did he hurt her?
TODD: No, he didn’t hurt her at all, it’s just a reminder that this is as much about his legacy as it is her legacy.
MATTHEWS: OK. I thought the fact, Howard, that he tucked in that nice reference to her rival, Barack Obama, said he is looking at a transition at some point in this campaign.
FINEMAN: Yes, it had a brief tone of elegy about it, which is probably the right note to strike at this point.
MATTHEWS: You are such a wordsman.
MATTHEWS: A brief note of elegy. Thank you very much. You don’t get that from some TV guy, you’ve got to go to a print guy for that kind of lingo. Thank you, I’m serious, as always.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman. Up next, our “Politics Fix” panel on Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis today, and the primaries tonight in Kentucky and Oregon. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and the “Politics Fix.” The roundtable tonight, MSNBC political analyst, Patrick J. Buchanan, Eugene Robinson to my right, and Michelle Bernard.
Well, it’s great to be with pals tonight. This is one of those strange moments where you take a departure from the arena to life outside the arena, Ted Kennedy, Pat.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, look, it’s like we’re covering a great World Series or something like that, and all of a sudden you hear Ted Williams or something like that has got brain cancer, and it puts a pall over the evening because everybody knows him as a good guy, and he is a tremendous legislator, and he has part of the furniture of our political minds.
See, in my political lifetime, I was writing editorials in St. Louis in ‘62 (INAUDIBLE), writing editorials denouncing this young Kennedy trying to get a Senate seat.
MATTHEWS: You were backing him against George Lodge.
BUCHANAN: No, I was—it was even—I was even supporting McCormick (ph) from St. Louis.
MATTHEWS: Yes, for the primary. That’s it. You were rooting in the Democratic primary to stop Teddy. Tell him about that story you were just telling me.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The first political story I ever got on the front page of The Washington Post was about Ted Kennedy. It was 1980. I was the rookie reporter, had been junior member of the team covering the convention, and you remember at the end, when he so artfully danced away from Jimmy Carter.
ROBINSON: In ‘80, right. And so.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I was a Carter speech writer. I watched that dance...
MATTHEWS: Here we go. Here we go loop to loop here.
ROBINSON: So a couple of weeks later I get assigned to do a story, what’s Teddy up to? I said, well, how do you do that? I’m 26 years old, I just got to town. They said, call him up. I called him up, I always suspected that David Broder had put in a good word for me. But in any event, he invited me over, invited out to the house, gave me great quotes, told me everything he was doing, got a story on the front page and a pat on the back from Ben Bradlee, good story on Teddy, kid.
MATTHEWS: That kid knows how to make the front page.
BUCHANAN: Let me tell you the story, Chris, I know a kid who works for Bush, and he has got to go up and tell the guys on the Hill who they’re nominating for various positions, and they’re of course nominating these right-wing folks, so he gets up, and Senator Kennedy, we’re going to tell you we’re going to nominate so and so, and Teddy ain’t going to vote for him.
He says, hi, kid, come here, let me show you this. He has got pictures of him and Jack Kennedy. And he walks him right through his office. And this kid is, of course, gaga on this. And the kid told me he went to some other famous senators who just blasted him and threw him out of the office.
BUCHANAN: Yes, but, Kennedy, you know, was showing him, you want to see President Kennedy? Of course, this kid wasn’t born when President Kennedy was in office. And so it’s a tremendous thing.
MATTHEWS: Can I tell a side story? I’m sorry, Michelle, you first.
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was someone who was not born when President Kennedy was in office either. I think we’re going to—one of the things I was going to say is one of the things we’re going to talk a lot tonight, probably is legacy, legacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton, what is also the Kennedy legacy.
And I keep thinking about the pictures earlier this year of Senator Kennedy sort of passing the mantle over to Barack Obama. And we heard somebody earlier tonight talk about the fact that as senators, I think someone said we all know that we’re family. We’re all part of a family. So it will be interesting to see how much we see the Democratic Party uniting tonight, later on in the week, and as Senator Kennedy goes through this illness.
MATTHEWS: Well, I remember when the party wasn’t united. I remember that speech in 1980. And Teddy gives this great speech (INAUDIBLE) a few hours ago...
ROBINSON: The dream shall never die.
MATTHEWS: . his campaign came to an end. But for all of those whose cares are our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives. And I looked around the room of all, what I thought were Carter delegates or African-American people, especially, they’re all crying. And I said, Carter, you may have won the nomination, but they’re all rooting for Teddy. Their heart is with Teddy. And I knew there was a certain schism going on there.
ROBINSON: That was an electrical moment, though, wasn’t it? What a stem-winder that speech was.
BUCHANAN: He was so much better a candidate after—you know, mathematically he was out of it from that June—or whatever it was, then he relaxed and was his old self again. And, of course, he’s enormously—one of the best podium speakers with a great speech that we’ve had, clearly.
Much better, frankly, even—of course Jack Kennedy had Sorenson, who was on our show, I guess, this morning. But as a podium speaker for a rally speech, that thing—the stories he was talking about, Reagan and Governor Reagan says, was it 80 percent of all pollution is caused by plants and trees. You know, it was—I was in the hall. You’re laughing your head off. And I said, jeez, the Gipper is my guy.
MATTHEWS: I remember putting George McGovern’s name in nomination at 4:00 in the morning—it was actually 2:00 in the morning, after Mike Gravel had done one of his insanities and kept the thing going until 2:00 in the morning. I always thought he could have gotten a haircut though if he’s going to really endorse somebody.
MATTHEWS: Little things I looked at.
BUCHANAN: Chris, I was in the Nixon White House, I think we helped choreograph that timing for that speech of McGovern.
MATTHEWS: Thinking that was really successful.
BUCHANAN: Prime time in Guam.
MATTHEWS: And so did George McGovern. And so did George McGovern. It was a great endorsement but it was dawn practically when they got around. The Democrats weren’t that organized.
The situation, though, that you’ve got to look at here is that Ted Kennedy in this situation, which is so dicey for him now, is out there as the number one endorser, not John Edwards, the number one endorser of Barack Obama, he has passed the torch in his lifetime.
You want to start with this since you were (INAUDIBLE)?
MATTHEWS: I mean, he has passed the torch from the Kennedy family, not to another member of the Kennedy family, but for the first time in their history really, didn’t do this to Clinton. They have passed the Kennedy torch to Barack Obama.
ROBINSON: And so maybe that’s something we’ll talk about a lot tonight. What is that, what is the Kennedy torch? I mean, what does it mean, specifically? Does it mean something specific in terms of policy?
MATTHEWS: Well, I know one thing it means, blacks and whites in communion with each other instead of fighting with each other. I think that’s a big part of it.
ROBINSON: Well, I think there is something so aspirational to our higher.
ROBINSON: . about it.
BUCHANAN: But Teddy is not Jack. He is the liberal lion of the United States Senate, you know, and someone who is on the cutting edge of all the programs and the ideas and has the charisma and can stand up and orate. And certainly when you’re talking like Obama is, 75,000 people, that is something right in that tradition.
BERNARD: You know, as someone who is the standard bearer for so many different ways of looking at social justice in our country, I think the passing of the mantle from Teddy Kennedy to Barack Obama is very important, because it’s not just unifying blacks and whites, but he has also has been an advocate for women’s rights.
And when he, you know, first endorsed Barack Obama, there were a lot of claims by women’s groups that he was ...
MATTHEWS: Are you moving to the left?
BERNARD: That he was anti-women. Oh absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: . you’re right of center. I know you’re right of center.
We’ve had this conversation. You’re African-American.
BERNARD: I’m calling it like I see it.
MATTHEWS: Your parents are Jamaican. Did you grow up with this adoration of the Kennedys or not?
BERNARD: I did, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: And yet you’re right of center.
BERNARD: I am, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Explain that transition.
BERNARD: Because I don’t—because we, as Jamaicans, do not believe that government is the way to solve any of the ills that affect the African-American community or the nation at large. That’s why.
MATTHEWS: That’s powerful, Pat. She’s in with Pat.
BUCHANAN: Well, no, as for the Kennedys.
BERNARD: I wouldn’t go that far.
BUCHANAN: Look, I was for—there is no doubt about it, I was for Nixon and everything back there in the ‘60s, and I was writing critical editorials of Kennedy, which was—it was a much more gracious time.
And, of course, he is burned on the imagination of all of us after those four days in Dallas. He was the president of your youth, whether you are conservative or liberal. Because he was just—he’s in the pantheon now. And it’s.
MATTHEWS: So well said. So well said. Pat Buchanan, a man who may well end up in the pantheon. Eugene Robinson.
MATTHEWS: . and Michelle—I think that’s really large.
MATTHEWS: No, it will be—it’s gets really—that expansion team, I’ll take you out (ph). Michelle Bernard, thank you for giving us your life political history.
We will see you all in a moment when our live coverage of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries gets under way. Keith Olbermann will be joining me after a short break, for results and analysis tonight. This is MSNBC, the place for politics.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Content and programming copyright 2008 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.’s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.
Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET