Guests: Eugene Robinson, Willie Brown, Howard Fineman, Ted Sorensen, Nancy Reagan, Roger
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in New York.
Ted Kennedy was the last hoorah, the big baritone out there demanding justice for the left out people, the African-Americans, the native Americans, the old person, the immigrant family that wanted to be American, the sick scared person waiting in the ER for hours with something really wrong.
Why would a good-looking rich guy spend his life worrying about the people left out? Was it tribal memory of his own people left out, sent away, told to go back where they came from. Was it those old Boston signs that said “Irish need not apply?”
What was it made health care such a crusade for him? Who do you know who has a broken back who spends his time thinking about other people‘s troubles? Was it because his older brother was secretly sick most of his life? Bobby liked to say that if a mosquito ever bit Jack, it was the mosquito that would die. Was it his sister Rosemary who never got the right care?
This much we know for sure, he had two brothers shot and thought gun control made a certain sense. He saw violence in Northern Ireland and wanted peace for the people where his family came from. And he saw a war coming in Iraq and voted against it and said it was the best vote of his career.
And yes, he was human, so human. In the poet‘s words, he was the “Emperor of Ice Cream,” the man filled with life when everyone else was grieving and lost, called a roar or a big cigar, the muscular one. Now, too many funerals, too many brothers lost, he was the man filled with life, sometimes too much of it, the one we crowded to, lean against, needed.
Edward M. Kennedy, Ted, Teddy. His people fought the nickname; “Call him Edward,” they protested. But those who cared for him, the tens of millions loved what his nieces and nephews called him, Teddy. The “Emperor of Ice Cream,” the big guy filled with life at too many funerals. And now there is his.
We‘re joined now by Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman, who‘s an MSNBC political analyst and the former Mayor—former Mayor of San Francisco, the great Willie Brown.
Mr. Brown, Mr. Mayor we haven‘t had you on yet tonight. You worked with Ted Kennedy so many years with so many causes together.
WILLIE BROWN, (D) FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Yes, quite a few, as a matter of fact. I met Ted in the early ‘60s. I was actually standing next to him when that report came in from Los Angeles that his brother Bobby had been shot. I was standing there with him and I‘ve stood with him year in and year out. There was no greater senator in the history of this country, in my opinion.
MATTHEWS: Howard Fineman, in your thoughts is that too high an encomium—I think not—but what do you think?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: No, I don‘t think it is too high. I think Ted Kennedy stood for the proposition that government can help the common good and the common man and woman. He was to the manor born but yet he understood that government‘s role in America at times was to pitch in and help the least of these.
And I think in that sense it was partly his faith, his Irish background, his Catholic faith. He was a—he was from that part of Catholic teaching that talks about using the common good to help all. And that‘s what he did and that‘s what he stood for and that‘s what he should be remembered for.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Mayor, I remember being at church one time with Senator Kennedy just as a regular church-goer in a Catholic Church in Washington and you forget sometimes who you are dealing with. When Itzhak Rabin has just been assassinated and we were both commenting about the fact that the priest never mentioned the fact, he seemed to have not known what had just happened that afternoon.
It‘s amazing—you‘ve walked with history, you‘ve rubbed shoulders with guys like Ted Kennedy. Tonight‘s a day of history.
BROWN: Well, it‘s incredible, frankly, that Ted Kennedy would have been in the senate for more than four decades and he never, ever sought the leadership position in that House. He made it clear from the time that he gave that great speech in New York involving Mr. Carter that he was going to be an incredible servant in the U.S. Senate and he achieved that goal.
Today health care would not be in trouble if Ted Kennedy was the architect. There would not be five bills. There would be somebody and Ted Kennedy, somebody on the Republican side who understood how to follow quality leadership and Mr. Obama, the President of these United States would be better off.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Mayor, let me ask you about an historic question regarding the African-American community. It‘s so large in our country, it‘s hard to just call it a community it‘s so big and diverse of course as you know.
It seems to me that you and I grew up and you most clearly having grown up in the south and coming to San Francisco for your career and law and then in politics. That Ted Kennedy was a brother of two brothers, Bob and Jack Kennedy who shared with Martin Luther King, that—well the honor of being treated as heroes to so many black families.
BROWN: Yes, absolutely. And it was frankly because this was a privileged person, a person born in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a person from a family with great opportunities, and great resources. Yet none of us ever looked at him that way.
As he walked through the fields with us in Mississippi helping to produce the voter registration numbers that ultimately became the foundation for the Democratic Party. It was Ted Kennedy. The way in which he walked with Caesar Chavez, it was Ted Kennedy.
I maintain that the assassination of the President Kennedy, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, imposed upon this extraordinary human being the opportunity and the responsibility to make good on the promise from those two brothers and believe me, his years in the senate shows that he did. And every African-American in the country knows that as well as every Latino.
MATTHEWS: You know, Howard, earlier this morning, in less than 4:00 or 5:00 this morning when we got the word, you and I where talking with other people. I think you were there, when I remembered, they came back to me with our friend, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the former senator said about Ted Kennedy.
When somebody in his party was criticizing him and said if you‘re going through what he‘d going through in life, you‘d be drooling on the floor. 41 years avoiding the assassin‘s bullets, 41 years of being aware that his brothers were shot down in public life, fighting for the cause, in fact fighting for the country in the case of both of his—all of his brothers, in fact. They were all doing their public duty as they saw it.
What do you think about that? It‘s something that the right wing, even in their villainy of the guy never really picked up on. Here‘s a guy that faced the possibility that he‘d be like his brothers and end up that way all those years.
FINEMAN: Well, he faced the possibility of more violence in his family, of his own safety. He faced the consequences of his own mistakes, his own deep and tragic mistakes. And he was human, almost in the extreme.
I mean, of all the people I‘ve ever covered in politics, I—if you can quantify humanness, there was nobody more fully exuberantly but also tragically human than Ted Kennedy.
And the people who opposed him who tried to make him into a cartoon character I don‘t think ever fully succeeded. Because people could see on television, they could see through his actions, they could see the real person that was Ted Kennedy.
And one of the things that makes the Kennedy family so riveting in our hearts and minds is the fact that they were a family. And their family story is so intertwined with our story as a country, that you can‘t separate the two.
And so we vicariously lived the issues of the day and our fears and our hopes through that family. And Teddy understood that and embraced it.
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to the Mayor. Mayor Brown, you mentioned that Ted would have known how to handle the health care issue while he was sick for so many months now he couldn‘t lead the fight. What needs to be done? I don‘t want to get into weeds here on the issue. But what broad strokes need to be taken here to get this done?
BROWN: I think first and foremost, President Obama must announce that the health care bill will be called Ted Kennedy‘s Bill. I think instantly members in both Houses will have a different attitude.
I think he needs to also go back and see exactly what Ted Kennedy was saying before he became ill last May and use those words, use those ideas as his method by which to say, “This is what we ought to do.” And I think if he does that, he‘d have a good shot using the death of Senator Kennedy as the vehicle to produce health care reform in America.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe, Mr. Mayor, that the country has the mood right now, given the economic challenges facing us, the loss of equity people feel, the loss of property value, the loss of income, the loss in the prospects for their children doing as well as they‘ve done in life. Do you think given all those pressures they‘re willing to be big about health care?
BROWN: Well, I think they are willing to accept the idea, as Ted Kennedy would have so enunciated. You must spike the cost of health care for all Americans, particularly those who are currently paying the price.
Ted Kennedy would have said five, six, seven years from now, you‘ll be paying double what you‘re paying if you leave the system intact as it is today. He would not have gone to the issue of how do you cover people not covered until he had developed a relationship with those of us who are currently picking up the tab. I think that‘s what Mr. Obama has to do and he has to do it in memory of Ted Kennedy.
MATTHEWS: Is there anyone in the Senate right now—and Howard I know that‘s a tough call—who might be willing to spend the next 10 or 20 years learning how to be Ted Kennedy. To be a leader in the Senate, not a hot shot for the evening news or the cable networks but somebody who knows how to become a great legislator and can unite and lead?
Who could do this? Anybody? Give me a couple of names.
FINEMAN: That is a great question. And I wish I had a ready answer for you. It‘s interesting that one of the people who might have stepped most clearly and closely and comfortably into that role was somebody that Barack Obama picked to be his running mate...
FINEMAN: Joe Biden. And Joe Biden is well liked in the senate, could cross the aisle.
My concern as I watch it as a citizen and not just a journalist, Chris, is that the senate used to be the place where bipartisanship was not only possible but favored. It was the way you did things. It‘s the way you wanted to do things. It was for the good of the country to come together in the end after a tough debate and make a deal.
I don‘t see that ethic alive in the senate anymore. And Ted Kennedy was—the very embodiment of it. Right off the top of my head I don‘t see any one person who can step into that role. I just don‘t.
MATTHEWS: Mayor Brown, your thoughts on that? Because you were the top legislator...
MATTHEWS: ...in California for all those years.
I worked with liberals for so many years. Obviously, Tip O‘Neill all of these years but also Frank Moss of Utah and Ed Muskie and I was totally devoted to someone like Phil Hart of Michigan. We‘ve had great senators over the years in both parties.
BROWN: There was a young man appointed to the senate from the State of Colorado last January. His name was Michael Bennett. I believe that Michael Bennett would have become at Ted Kennedy knees—the next Ted Kennedy if he chooses to stay in the U.S. Senate.
I think he has the qualities, the potential and I think maybe—he may be the guy you got to look at, Howard.
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s one hell of an endorsement, I‘ve got to say.
MATTHEWS: It sure is. Well, I worked with his father, Doug Bennett on the Budget committee under Muskie, he grew up with the right lineage but I never heard anybody be this pronouncement...
FINEMAN: But you know what‘s interesting about the fact that the Mayor mentioned that is that Senator Bennett is only recently in politics. I mean, he comes out of school, you know, being a school superintendent.
He comes out—from outside the system into the system at a mature age.
I think that‘s an interesting comment in itself on public attitudes towards elected officials. I think we need people who can try to restore a sense of faith and the idea of politics and the idea of government. That‘s what Barack Obama was selling in addition to himself when he got elected with a pretty strong vote last year. And that‘s what we need to recapture in the country on the right and on the left.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ve got some great guests coming up tonight, Mayor Brown thank you, Willie Brown of San Francisco. Thank you for joining us. As always thank you Howard Fineman and as always.
FINEMAN: It‘s a pleasure.
Coming up, Ted Kennedy‘s towering legacy, we‘ve got a great guest an historic guest; Ted Sorensen and the former‘s special counsel for President Kennedy. He‘s going to join us right at this desk.
And later, former First Lady Nancy Reagan is going to be calling in to talk about her friend Ted Kennedy. Nancy Reagan coming later in this edition of HARDBALL.
We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: For me, this is a season of hope; new hope for a justice and fair prosperity for the many and not just for the few. New hope and this is the cause of my life; new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American -- north, south, east, west, young old will have decent quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares has been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We are joined now by a gentleman and I‘m so glad to have on even in these grim circumstances, Ted Sorensen, Theodore Sorensen, the great counsel, special counsel to President John F. Kennedy.
Ted, thank you so much. And I want you to tell us one story, I will not interrupt you.
In 1962, the President of the United States John F. Kennedy, your boss, asked you to help his brother become a better candidate for the United States Senate in Massachusetts.
His name was Ted Kennedy. What was it like?
TED SORENSEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT KENNEDY: I first have to set the context because Ted Kennedy, the President‘s brother wanted to be the next U.S. Senator, but he was opposed by the Speaker of the House, John McCormick‘s favorite nephew, Eddie McCormick.
And the President has already been accused of nepotism for making his brother Bob Attorney General. And he certainly didn‘t want to endanger his relations with the Speaker of the House at that difficult time so he announced that no one from the White House or the administration was to go off and intervene in Massachusetts politics.
I can tell you here off the record because the Grid Iron Club as you know is sacred. But JFK in an off the record speech to the grid iron club made a play on words about the fact that he was not sending combat troops to Vietnam. He was sending only instructors and advisers. And he paid no attention to the debate between the Hawks and the Doves over Vietnam in which the Hawks accused the Doves of saying they would rather be red than dead.
So JFK said to the Grid Iron Club, I have announced that we‘re not sending any officials from the White House or the administration into the Massachusetts senate race. Then he said of course we might send a few instructors and advisers.
MATTHEWS: And you were one of them?
SORENSEN: And he then said “All I‘ll say is—I won‘t say how effective it‘ll be, but I‘ll just tell you, I‘d rather be Ted than Ed.” He then asked Bobby and his attorney general brother and me to very quietly privately go up to the Cape on the day before, maybe even the morning of the first big debate between Ted and Ed.
And Bobby and I sat in the family dining room at the table with Teddy. And I used the same system that I had used for briefing the President the morning before a press conference or for that matter or the morning before his first debate with Nixon which is to read a list of questions including the most difficult ones I could imagine, just to make sure that he had all the facts he needed to handle the question and that he was comfortable with that question. And try to help him fill in information where he was not.
Bobby joined in to some extent and would satisfy himself whether his brother Ted was ready for that. That night—I think it was in a high school auditorium if I remember it correctly in mid state. That debate took place and the toughest moment came and not when any of the questions that I had prepared were asked by the moderators.
The toughest moment came when Eddie McCormick turned and said almost sneeringly, “If your last name was Moore, Edward Moore Kennedy, if your last name was Moore instead of Kennedy, you wouldn‘t have a chance.”
That‘s one we hadn‘t thought about. And at first, Teddy looked a little flustered. But he relaxed; he came back with a very statesman-like answer about how proud he was of his name and his brother. We relaxed and he did ok and he won.
SORENSEN: Interestingly enough, if you‘ve got another minute, interesting enough a year plus later, Teddy was scheduled to appear on “Meet the Press” the HARDBALL of its day.
SORENSEN: ...and on national television. And it was a Sunday a week after the Cuban missile crisis ended. The president knew that the rest of the world would consider anything said by the president‘s brother on television as being the position of the president and the inside story about the Cuban missile crisis. So he sent me up—actually, it was the actual weekend the crisis ended to brief Teddy about the Cuban missile crisis. And I enjoyed that responsibility as well.
All these years have gone by. And he doesn‘t need any briefings from me, you, or other experts. He has a superb team of his own and he has proven in those 46 or 47 years to be a superb United States Senator.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference if you had to describe their personalities among the three Kennedys -- Bobby, Jack Kennedy who you work for and Ted?
SORENSEN: Bobby was more passionate and emotional. Jack was more intellectual and perhaps more eloquent, I say immodestly. And Ted was more at home in the United States Senate. His two older brothers were impatient with the deliberate—as they call it—pace of the senate where so little gets done and procedure is so important.
Ted was willing to work with that. He was also willing with his genial personality and fabulous smile to reach across the aisle and work with the Republicans who were willing to join him and co-sponsor legislation for causes in which they both believed.
And it was quite a conservative Republican who once told me when Ted Kennedy gets up on the senate floor to speak, we all pay attention.
SORENSEN: Because we know he‘s done his homework. We know he has not only a terrific staff, but a terrific mind and what he has to say on an issue is going to be worth hearing.
MATTHEWS: Its great having you on, Ted Sorensen, you‘re one of my heroes. Ted Sorensen, counsel of the president, the greatest speech writer in history.
We‘re going to have much more on the life of Senator Ted Kennedy.
And in a moment we‘re going to talk to former First Lady Nancy Reagan. She‘s going to call in from California. What a great honor that‘s going to be.
Plus a special preview of our documentary tonight which will go on for an hour tonight starting at 9:00 eastern, we‘re very proud of it here at MSNBC. “The Kennedy Brothers;” we‘ve worked on it for months and it just happens to be ready just at this sad time for premiering tonight at 9:00 --
9:00 Eastern tonight, “THE KENNEDY BROTHERS” for an hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: We are the party. We are the party of the new freedom, the new deals and the new frontier. We have always been the party of hope. So this year, let us offer new hope; new hope to an America uncertain about the present. But unsurpassed in its potential for the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: And some day, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith. May it be said of our party in 1980 that we found our faith again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. Tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, it‘s the premier of our documentary “THE KENNEDY BROTHERS;” An unprecedented look at the lives and impact of Teddy Kennedy, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and also Joseph Kennedy Jr., all four Kennedy brothers and their amazing saga.
Here now is a look at Ted Kennedy‘s speech at the 1980 Democratic convention in New York.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: At the convention, Ted gave more of an acceptance speech than what it was supposed to be, an endorsement of Carter.
KENNEDY: For me a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.
ROBERT SHRUM, TED KENNEDY ADVISOR: They got to see the Ted Kennedy they should have gotten to see earlier in that campaign.
MATTHEWS: By convention‘s end with the balloons falling and the Democrats vetting President Carter, Kennedy speechwriter Bob Shrum quietly counselled Ted to be a good soldier and a team player.
SHRUM: I looked at him and I said are you going to raise his hand aren‘t you? And he said yes. And he went up and I went out into the audience and it never happened.
And some people in the crowd still shouting we want Ted, we want Ted.
This is slightly awkward.
And finally I guess at the very end there was some sort of you know, brief hand touch but it was on full view of the nation, this absolute physical contempt for the senator toward the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a documentary “THE KENNEDY BROTHERS” premiers tonight at 9:00 Eastern right here on MSNBC.
Up next, former First Lady Nancy Reagan is going to join us with her thoughts on Ted Kennedy.
We‘re going to have much more in the life of Ted Kennedy when we come back here on HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: His extraordinary life on this Earth has come to an end. The extraordinary good that he did lives on. For his family, he was a guardian. For American, he was the defender of a dream.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
T. KENNEDY: My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. To be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, who saw suffering and tried to heal it, who saw war and tried to stop it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was of course Ted Kennedy‘s famous eulogy of his brother Robert back in 1968. President Obama will deliver the eulogy this Saturday at Senator Kennedy‘s funeral. We‘re back now and we‘re joined right now by a real treat, former First Lady Nancy Reagan is with us by phone from California. Mrs. Reagan, thank you so much for taking the time to call us tonight.
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY (on phone): You‘re welcome.
MATTHEWS: Tell us about your thoughts, Nancy, about Ted Kennedy.
REAGAN: Oh, well, I think it came as a surprise to a lot of people that we were as close to Ted as we were, are, were, because we were obviously of different parties, but we were close. And it didn‘t make any difference to Ronnie or to Ted that one was a Republican and one was a Democrat. And of course, there should be more of that today. But we were, we were close friends. And of course, I became close to Ted because of the stem cell.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me great presidents like your husband seem to pay tribute often times to other great presidents of the other party. So many times I‘ve heard, and you, of course, have known this. President Reagan spoke very fondly of his memory of Franklin Roosevelt. And of course, the Kennedys, your husband paid tribute to Robert Kennedy after taking office, delivering to him, giving to him an award that the Carter administration had held up.
REAGAN: I know.
MATTHEWS: Have you noticed that the mountain peaks seem to notice each other?
REAGAN: I hadn‘t thought of it like that, but yes, you‘re right. I don‘t know why that award wasn‘t given to Bobby, but it wasn‘t, so Ronnie gave it to Ethel.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you something about Ted all those years. You know, you were—well, you were around all the Kennedys, they all came on so fast. Jack Kennedy came out of nowhere in the late ‘50s, was elected and then was gone in so few years. And then same with Bobby, what do you think was different among all the brothers? Did you sort of notice the difference among these guys?
REAGAN: The difference between them?
MATTHEWS: Among them, yes.
REAGAN: No, I didn‘t know the others that well, really. So no, I didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about stem cell and how it worked. What kind of an effort did you think Ted Kennedy made on behalf of really getting federal money for stem cell research, on issues like—well, diseases like Alzheimer‘s?
REAGAN: Well, just getting the stem cell bill passed was a great effort. And I drove everybody crazy because I kept calling. I‘m sure the poor men, when they were told that I was on the phone again and they would say oh, lord, she‘s there again. She‘ll never give up and of course, I didn‘t and neither did Ted.
MATTHEWS: A lot of Republicans seem to have opposed you on that.
REAGAN: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: And you stood out there on your own. There are other people who backed you. Arlen Specter when he was a Republican was on your side and you had people like Orrin Hatch on your side, too.
REAGAN: Yes, that‘s right. That‘s right. But you know, it all worked out. And Ted and I worked well together. And it just worked out.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we‘re going to get anywhere in our lifetimes, this dealing with diseases where stem cell can play a part?
REAGAN: Oh, yes, I do. Yes I do. First of all, you have to be optimistic, right?
REAGAN: You have to look on the bright side. No, I do think so.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Ronald Reagan, the end of the Cold War, Jack Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis. Does it seem like presidencies are defined after all the years that the years that these men serve by maybe one moment, by one great achievement?
REAGAN: How is that, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t the achievements, the individual achievements that really define these presidencies? I mean, you know, you were there to the very end at ending the Cold War with President Reagan.
MATTHEWS: And Jack Kennedy, Ted Kennedy‘s brother was remembered for the Cuban missile crisis.
MATTHEWS: Doesn‘t it seem these are the ones that matter? These issues, the big ones are the ones that count, the home runs?
REAGAN: Well, I guess so, yes.
MATTHEWS: OK, I‘m leading the witness here. Do you have any final thoughts on Ted Kennedy tonight on this night of history?
REAGAN: I‘ll miss him very much and I‘m sure we‘ll all miss him. We would have gotten farther in the whole health issue if Ted had been in there, fighting.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Are you hopeful we get a health bill?
REAGAN: I hope so. I hope so. I don‘t know enough about the bill discuss it, but I hope we get something, yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you very much. Nancy Reagan, the former first lady taking the time tonight to give her thoughts and feelings about the loss of Senator Ted Kennedy. We‘re going to have much more on the life and death of Senator Kennedy as we go on tonight and continue our edition tonight, our second edition here at 7:00. His absence is going to be felt so much in the United States Senate over, as Nancy Reagan just mentioned, over this health care bill. His leadership was essential and has been missing. We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
T. KENNEDY: As long as I have a voice in the United States Senate, it‘s going to be for the Democratic platform plank that provides decent quality health care, north and south, east and west for all Americans as a matter of right and not a privilege.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
T. KENNEDY: Join in this historic journey to have the courage to choose change. It‘s time again for a new generation of leadership. It is time now for Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re joined by “The Washington Post‘s” Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson, he‘s an MSNBC political analysts. And also tonight, “Politico‘s” Roger Simon.
Gentlemen, we watched over our lives the passing of the torch from Joseph Kennedy Jr. was killed in World War II. He was supposed to be the candidate for president in that family to John F. Kennedy. The bookish member of that family turned out to be quite a politician. He was president of course. And then when he was lost, Robert Kennedy and when he was lost, Ted Kennedy took over for some 40 years now. The torch has been passed now to a member, not of the family, but of the belief system, you might say of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama. I want you to go first, Gene. How well will he be able to handle, Barack Obama, this enormous responsibility of being the new brother?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that‘s quite a responsibility to be the keeper of the torch of Camelot, I guess you would call it. It‘s a fascinating thing that such a torch exists, that there is this legacy that we all sense being passed down from holder to holder.
Clearly Obama now is the repository of the hopes and dreams of the people—of the acolytes of Camelot, of the people who believe in that vision of America. But he‘s not of the family. There‘s not the sense of Noblesse oblige that there was with the Kennedys. None of them had to do this. There was a—there was a sense that these were people of great privilege who were giving something to the country, their time, their effort. Barack Obama is a different person. His story is certainly no less inspiring and he is no less compelling as a personality, but it‘s a different set of circumstances. I don‘t know if we can see the torch in exactly the same way.
MATTHEWS: You know Roger, the people around the Kennedys, people like Greg Craig and Ted Sorensen and of course Caroline Kennedy herself, in many ways to me, the most inspiring people to me, just as public servants over the years, especially Ted and Greg Craig and people like that. They‘re the ones that gave me a sense there was something there with Barack Obama that was politically and nationally special. What did you think about the fact that those people backing him so early in this race for president last year?
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: Well, I certainly think that both figures, both Senator Kennedy and President Obama engender intense loyalty from the people who work for them. You never got the sense that Barack Obama‘s top people, like Ted Kennedy‘s top people were hired guns. There are a lot of hired guns out there and they go from candidate to candidate. And they don‘t really care about the people so much. They have certain core issues, but they work for whoever pays them. But Barack Obama has people who are really loyal to him, are loyal to him. And loyal to what he wants to accomplish. And that will help him a lot.
It says something good about them. It also says something good about him. You know, a lot of powerful people, you won‘t believe this, Chris, are difficult to work for. And it‘s a good sign when a powerful person like Barack Obama, powerful person like Ted Kennedy, has loyal people who work for them for a long time.
MATTHEWS: Gene, one thing the two men had in common, Barack Obama, and he certainly holds it in common with Ted Kennedy and his legacy was both men had the instinct, and I would say the value system to know that the Iraq war was not an American war in the sense of our values. It was an aggressive war. It‘s something we had never done before, that kind of war. Almost unique among the Democrats. They said no. Ted said it was the most important, the best vote of his entire career.
ROBINSON: That‘s true. And I think that‘s an important link between the two. I think that was very important to Senator Kennedy‘s developing sense that the heir to the legacy, that he then held, was, in fact, Barack Obama.
That he was the person to carry forward the vision, not just the vision of the Democratic Party, but the vision of the country, that we could represent with the short hand Camelot, that we could talk about the it in terms of the legacy of the other brothers who went before him, or we could just call it the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
But whatever we call it, I think the Iraq war and their shared opposition to the war was an important element in Kennedy‘s conviction that Obama was next in line.
MATTHEWS: I think with the key reason—go ahead, Roger, your thoughts.
SIMON: I think it was the key reason, Chris. When Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama and it was a huge endorsement in January of ‘08, the first thing that Kennedy mentioned was the Iraq war vote and as I wrote at the time, it was not just an endorsement, it was a rebuke. It was a rebuke to both Hillary and Bill Clinton.
The first thing that Senator Kennedy mentioned was that while some stood silent and some went along, Barack Obama opposed this war from the beginning and that was a direct rebuke of Hillary Clinton.
The second thing that he mentioned was while Barack Obama feels passionately about things, he doesn‘t demonize those he opposes and that was a rebuke of Bill Clinton by Ted Kennedy. It was a very strong moment.
It was just more than saying “I want Barack Obama to win.” It was Kennedy‘s way of saying “I not only want him to win, but he is a better person to hold this job.”
And the third thing Kennedy said was Barack Obama is ready from day one, which was Hillary Clinton‘s big selling point, to hold this office.
MATTHEWS: Well you know, that‘s the language of my heart you‘re speaking there. Thank you very much, Eugene Robinson, Roger Simon. Stay with us. We‘re going to have a couple more thoughts about the loss of Ted Kennedy today. And as we go to break, take a look at how the Boston Red Sox, the Sox, paid tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy tonight at Fenway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now ask you to join us in a moment of silence as we remember the life and legacy of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with so little time with Gene Robinson and Roger Simon. Gene, first, the speech on Saturday, the president of the United States will offer the eulogy at the Catholic mass for Senator Kennedy. Will that speech deal with the future or the past?
ROBINSON: I think that speech has to deal with his legacy, so it will deal mostly with the past I think. And by implication the future but I think it will talk about Senator Kennedy‘s enormous contribution over the years. I would be surprised if the president didn‘t mention issues such as health care because obviously that‘s a big part of it. But I think it will be a speech about the man, about his ideas, about his mission, about his vision of America and the implication will be to carry that forward.
MATTHEWS: Roger, will he torque it forward?
SIMON: I agree with Gene. It‘s about, I think, not only Senator Kennedy‘s actual legacy but the ability to leave a legacy. If you‘re a hyperpartisan and all you care about is the next election, you don‘t leave any legacy behind. All you did was get elected, you cast a bunch of votes against the other parties because that‘s all you cared about.
But Senator Kennedy left a legacy because he believed in bipartisanship, and I think President Obama is smart enough to understand that that‘s a powerful message to send at this time and that, you know, that kind of bipartisanship could lead to real improvement in the lives of Americans.
MATTHEWS: Gene, last thought?
ROBINSON: Last thought, it‘s a sad day but this is a life that we can really celebrate, a life lived in full. The story of Ted Kennedy‘s life is the story of America over the last half century and it‘s an incredible story when in so many ways we should be so proud of. So we should keep that in mind in our sadness at his passing.
MATTHEWS: Your wisdom warms me as always, Gene. You only get one life and he got a big one. Your thoughts, Roger?
SIMON: I think Senator Kennedy really lived up to his family‘s unofficial motto, to whom much is given, much is required. And this is a family that had wealth and power, but a lot of families have wealth and power. This was a family that used it and Ted Kennedy used it and he used it for other people.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so, well said, Roger Simon, Eugene Robinson, as always. In one hour, it‘s 9:00 Eastern, by the way, please watch the premiere of our documentary “The Kennedy Brothers” for one hour. It will really tell you the story of this incredible family of brothers. “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC 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 CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘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