updated 6/11/2004 12:12:25 PM ET 2004-06-11T16:12:25

Guest: Ken Duberstein, Robert Evans

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR:  It is 9 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States.  Good evening, I‘m Lester Holt.  We‘re coming to you live from Washington, D.C.

You‘re looking at the U.S. Capitol.  In the foreground, just a small part of the line that is now probably reaching into the thousands of people who will make their way into the Capitol rotunda between now and Friday morning to say their personal farewell and to pay their respects to Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States.

Let‘s go along Constitution Avenue, where the president came to the capital today in that caisson.  Natalie Allen is among the crowd—

Natalie. 

NATALIE ALLEN, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, Lester, thank you. 

It was an amazing time to stand here amongst the throngs of people that were wanting to say their final farewell to Ronald Reagan today. 

One moment really stood out for me, and it wasn‘t anything that took place with the riderless horse or the horses that were carrying the wagon with the hearse, it was a moment in the car out on the street with Nancy Reagan came into view through a car window.  Many people saw her looking out at the crowd and started to wave and she just kind of lifted her hand and did this to the crowd, barely waving but looking out and many people commented how very sad she looked, how struck with grief Nancy Reagan looked today, what a long day she is having on her return to Washington. 

You know, I also talked with a lot of children out here today, and they were in awe over many of the things that they saw, the riderless horse, the F-15‘s flying over, but one thing stood out in my mind that a little boy said, a fifth grader, and he had learned about Ronald Reagan in school but when it was all over, he said the one thing that he‘ll never forget is that Ronald Reagan is gone, that president that he studied is gone from us. 

Back to you. 

HOLT:  Natalie, thank you very much.  Again, the live picture of the mall now.  And you can see near the bottom of the screen people who are lined up there. 

I want to bring in another person who is a big part of the Reagan administration, started with him in 1981, chief of staff, Ken Duberstein. 

Ken, welcome.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Pleasure to be with you on this sad day.

HOLT:  How are you getting through?

DUBERSTEIN:  It‘s tough. 

HOLT:  Pretty emotional day.

DUBERSTEIN:  Well, you know, I was with him in 1981 on the west front of the Capitol when he was sworn in.  In 1985, when he was inaugurated for the second time inside that rotunda. 

He loved parades and going up Pennsylvania—I mean, Constitution Avenue tonight without a horse drawn caisson, and even the horse that was feisty.  He loved a feisty stead, and I remember those brown boots that were turned backwards this time. 

And then to see him in the casket coming up those steps of the west wing with Nancy waiting there, and then finally to walk past the casket in the rotunda, just overwhelming. 

HOLT:  Let‘s talk about that for a moment.  As the casket comes to the top of the steps, Mrs. Reagan kind of taps—taps it, and I saw a look on her face different than what we‘ve seen in other places this week, almost a sense of pride that I saw on her face. 

DUBERSTEIN:  And I saw it and I said, what she was thinking was “I love you, Ronnie.”  That was Ronnie.  You know, and the Capitol and lying in state in the rotunda, the place where he loved coming, because he won so much on Capitol Hill. 

HOLT:  Well you know, I was talking to some members of Congress.  He was certainly a man who would use the weight of the office to get what he wanted, legislatively. 

DUBERSTEIN:  Well, he would say the—not the weight of the office, the weight of office, but getting the American people on his side.

And what he always said was, “I‘m not the best lobbyist.  I‘m the second best lobbyist.  It‘s the person back home who votes.  And I‘m going to motivate them.” 

But he loved the give and take of the Hill. 

There were nights he would call me at 10 p.m. and say, “Did you hear what they just said to me on the House floor or said about me?”  And here he was upstairs in the residence watching C-Span.  And watching the proceedings.  “I‘m going to call them and straighten them out.”

I said, “No, Mr. President, don‘t do that.”

HOLT:  He took it personally? 

DUBERSTEIN:  Sometimes.  He said, “No, he‘s got the facts wrong. 

Either I‘m going to call him or you get him straightened out in the morning.”

And I would say, “I‘ll straighten him out in the morning, Mr.

President.”

But the enormity of the rotunda and with that casket lying there and the history of America, I know I just had to reach out and say, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

HOLT:  And a fitting tribute to your friend, President Ronald Reagan.  Ken Duberstein, thanks very much.  You‘ve been a big help.  It‘s been a pleasure to talk to you this week.  I know it‘s a difficult time for you. 

DUBERSTEIN:  Thanks so much, Lester. 

HOLT:  We want to go—we look at the crowd that continues to line longer and longer now, stretching to the U.S. Capitol as people gather here to pay their respects. 

Chris, let‘s go back to you. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Thank you, Lester.  Let‘s go right now to the top man at NBC, the anchor of the “NIGHTLY NEWS” and, of course, the managing editor of that as well, Tom Brokaw. 

You‘ve been covering politics at the presidential level for more than a third of a century now.  Where do you put Reagan?

TOM BROKAW, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Oh, I put Reagan as one of the two—I guess of all the presidents that I‘ve covered, he is certainly in the very top tier of the man who made a difference, connected with the country. 

I didn‘t cover John Kennedy, but I was a young reporter in the Midwest and he electrified the country in his own way.  And I think of those two men probably had the greatest impact on the country and certainly on a new generation of young people getting involved in the public arena of any one that I had seen. 

They had a distinctive style about them.  They had a very strong team around them, and they had this extraordinary ability to communicate directly to the American people. 

They came from such different places, not just different parties.  But one was an aristocratic prince of a great, wealthy family.  The other one grew up a hard scrabble, up from nowhere kind of dream in the Midwest, Ronald Reagan.  And one went west and one stayed in the east.

And yet my guess is they would have enjoyed each other‘s company.  These were two Irish Americans who loved the game of politics, loved telling a good story.  And I wouldn‘t be surprised that if they had been able to get together that they would have had a lot to say to each other. 

I saw Bill Clinton last fall, and he peppered me with questions about Ronald Reagan because he knew that I‘d covered him.  He said, “I wish I could have spent more time with him.” 

I think all politicians, whatever their beliefs, had such a high regard for his natural personality as a public figure. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—go ahead. 

BROKAW:  The one—kind of the one line that sums up Ronald Reagan for me in so many ways and it comes, and people will find this curious, comes from Dean Martin of all people. 

In 1966, when Ronald Reagan was running against Pat Brown, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were important fundraisers for the Democratic Party.  They were really important to the party. 

And four years later they switched to Ronald Reagan and that was a big deal in California politics that they could raise so much money and deny the Democrats access to that—to those funds. 

And a reporter ran up to Dean Martin and said, “Why are you supporting Ronald Reagan?”

And he looked at him and he said, “Because he‘s a hell of a guy.” 

And I thought that kind of got to the essence of why so many people liked Ronald Reagan.  He was a hell of a guy for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, certainly two of most the telegenic in this—in the broadest sense.  They loved the medium.  They were popular people in their time.

Both were sons of alcoholics.  One, you could argue, maybe saw things in an ideological way that was too neat and the other one saw things about himself that were too neat. 

Do you think that played a role if their development as political figures, that tough upbringing, where you have a father who‘s got a big problem?

BROKAW:  Well, I‘m not equipped to make that kind of a judgment, Chris.  I do think that it—that experience had different effects on their lives. 

I‘ve always believed that there was this inner Ronald Reagan that not even his closest aides could get through to, and that probably grew out of his experience when he was a child and had that drunken father who was abusive, as well.  He just didn‘t let people in. 

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, let every everyone in, so I think they had different reactions to that.

What they both had was this exceptional excitement about the public limelight, and the tools to capitalize on that, to become larger than life when they stepped onto the political stage and to electrify a crowd wherever they were and to read a crowd so well.

Ronald Reagan could read a crowd better than almost anyone I saw until I saw Bill Clinton come along, and go anywhere, walk into a room.  You could see his nerve endings being exposed, excited by it.  And I think the same thing happened with Ronald Reagan.

They were much different, obviously, once they stepped off the stage.  Ronald Reagan was an old-fashioned man who came out of the ‘30s and the 1940s, and he was managed very carefully by his handlers in Hollywood, the way he dressed and the way he comported himself.  I think it was a natural instinct based on his upbringing.

And Bill Clinton had a whole different attitude about life.  He was much more of the Elvis generation, obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  And one was a man of very strict principle, in terms of political philosophy, foreign policy, fiscal policy, et cetera, and the other was a man of tremendous flexibility.  And yet they both did pretty well.

BROKAW:  They did, but you have to remember that Ronald Reagan was also—even though he was widely seen by his opponents as an ideologue—we‘ve been talking about this all day long—in California and in—when he had the job as president of the United States, he could be flexible and pragmatic to get things done.  Get a half a loaf now, get the rest of it next year.

He did that on tax policy.  He did that—when he took on—when he met Gorbachev for the first time, Gorbachev said “I thought he was an old dinosaur.  He thought I was a hardline Bolshevik.” 

But persuaded by George Shultz and Nancy Reagan, the United States had to move toward hastening the fall of communism, and you couldn‘t do it just with confrontation.

The president made a very subtle shift, and a very effective shift, in his approach, and I do believe that he should get a lot of credit for speeding the fall of Communism. 

It was a decaying system, no question about that.  But it might have been able to hang on a little while longer if Ronald Reagan hadn‘t kind of had that iron fist and a velvet glove. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I worked for all those years for Tip O‘Neill, Tom, and he had an attitude which I‘d say was seriously an attitude towards Reagan.

And he had a sense that he was a man of luck, of good fortune.  Good looks, great Midwestern voice, good health for most of his life. 

And others would argue, like I would argue, that he was a man of tremendous zeal, that he had been divorced by a woman and embarrassed by that.  He did lose his movie career.  He did eventually lose his TV career.  And yet, he was a man who fought against those changes and accepted change and found new careers that were better. 

Where do you stand, luck or zeal?

BROKAW:  Yes and he didn‘t go on talk shows and talk about his abusive and drunken father and do this kind of self-analysis that goes on now.  He didn‘t go whining and complaining about how he‘d not been treated well in the postwar years in Hollywood. 

And I just talked briefly about how his relationship with the press.  It was well known when he got to be in Washington with Sam Donaldson and the others yelling questions at him and him cocking his head or holding his ear or slipping around.

And people would get furious, because they thought the press was letting him off too easily.

Well, the press covered Ronald Reagan up close and very tough, but he knew how to let the press criticism just run off his back like water off a duck‘s back.

I remember doing an interview with him in California.  He was two years into his first term.  A lot of things were going on, not all of which he had promised.

With my colleague Bob Abernathy, we really prepared for a full week.  It was like taking a deposition.  We had all the rebuttals to whatever he was going to say.  We had the follow-up questions.

We sat him down for a half-hour on a television half-hour program that we did in those days, that everyone had to kind of come through.

And at the end of the first 10 minutes of it or so—it was a real give and take—I was mentally exhausted.  And I looked up thinking, “My God, I think we‘ve finally got him.” 

And he was examining the shine on his shoe during the commercial break.  He was completely nonplussed by it.  Didn‘t have any effect on him whatsoever.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know that time that Sam Donaldson, Ronald Reagan was having a birthday party before the cameras.  It was at the end of an afternoon press conference.  And he was very grandly slicing the cake and giving out slices to reporters, Tom.  And Sam got one of the first slices and he said, “Mr. President,” in that Sam fashion, “you don‘t think you can buy us with a piece of cake, do you?”

And Reagan paused like Jack Benny and said, “Oh, Sam, you‘ve been bought for a lot less than that.”

He wouldn‘t have done that to you, Tom.

Let me ask you the bottom-line question.  My hunch is that Reagan looks bigger now than he did when he left office.  What‘s yours?

BROKAW:  I think so.  And I think in part because of what‘s happened to the nature of American politics.  You heard Allen Simpson and Bob Dole talking about that tonight and how coverage, it is too mean spirited and so polarized now, and polarizing.  And the country longs to be brought together.

And Ronald Reagan did that, and he believed in that city shining on a hill, as he put it so often.  And he invited everyone to join him in that quest for constantly reaching the city shining on a hill.

And I think that people now long for his authenticity, for his optimism, and for his very, very funny quips that he would make from time to time and kind of defuse whatever tensions there were in the room.

So I do think that he‘s larger now, and this country‘s political landscape, as you know, has been changed by him.  Just as we had a whole generation of Kennedy Democrats and Kennedy liberals, people who were called to public service by his famous speeches and by the symbol of what he was, we now have a whole new generation of conservatives in this country, young people who felt called to the public arena by what Ronald Reagan stood for.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Tom Brokaw. 

BROKAW:  OK, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, do you agree with that?  That‘s quite an assessment by Tom...

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Tom...

MATTHEWS:  ...that this man has grown in his majesty, his influence in this country since he left office in ‘89. 

BUCHANAN:  No question, the wall came down in 1989.  It looked like a success and people are contrasting him, frankly, with the men and the events that have come since.

And they look back and say those were some great years for America and here was a man who represented it, the man of the decade. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re watching now America pay tribute to Ronald Reagan.  These people don‘t have special privileges.  They‘re going to be here all night without access.

I hope there‘s some Johnny on the spots there for people to take a break.  They‘re going to be there all night.

This is going to be the greatest tribute to Ronald Reagan: the endurance of these people tonight and through the night into the early morning.  Lucky for them, it will be a cooler morning than it‘s been today. 

We‘ll be right back with our MSNBC coverage of this grave and great day. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLT:  Welcome back.  It‘s a live picture inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, and members of the public now are beginning to file in.  They have lined along the Washington Mall here for the chance to bid farewell personally to President Reagan.  And that line will continue until 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning. 

And later Friday morning the national funeral service for President Reagan.  Earlier this evening, of course, was the state funeral. 

Joined right now at our vantage point on Capitol Hill across from the Capitol with Deborah Norville, host of “NORVILLE TONIGHT.”

Deborah, welcome.

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST, “DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT”:  Thanks, Lester.

HOLT:  Your connection with the Reagan family, as a story so many have, is a letter, because we know that he was a prolific letter writer. 

NORVILLE:  He was a tremendous letter writer, and you know, I covered him like everybody else.

But when my first child was born in 1991, I got a letter that said, “Dear Carl Nicholai (ph), your birth is cause for great celebration.” 

And it went on and was a lovely full-page letter, basically telling my son that great things that were expected of him and great love had created him.  It was a beautiful letter. 

HOLT:  I hope you still have that letter. 

NORVILLE:  Honey, it is framed and on the wall at home. 

My next connection with the Reagans really began after Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan went public with his Alzheimer‘s.  And I‘ve been involved with Alzheimer‘s as a charity because I have it in my family.

And I reached out to Mrs. Reagan to see if she would participate in a fundraising event called the Rita Hayworth Gala, started by Rita Hayworth‘s daughter, Princess Yasmine Aga Khan. 

And she agreed, and it was one of the first times that she had gone out publicly, left her husband, which was a huge step for her to take, and contributed to an event that raised an awful lot of money for Alzheimer‘s research, something that she has continued to do with her book, the love letters book. 

HOLT:  Would you expect her still to continue to be active?

NORVILLE:  I would.  And you know, it‘s interesting, I‘ve watched the funeral services with some friends of the late president and the first ladies and most of them believe that she is going to be to incredibly energized from this.  That yes, she‘ll take the period of mourning that one would expect someone who‘s gone through this 10-year ordeal of caring for a patient with Alzheimer‘s, but that she‘s really energized.

And it‘s a real conundrum for George W. Bush.  How will he say no to Nancy Reagan?  Not an easy thing to do. 

And so some of the Republican wags in there were speculating that the president would find a way to accommodate the first lady‘s wishes with respect to this without backing down on the very important position that he‘s stated with respect to right to life and embryos. 

HOLT:  Take me inside the Capitol, because you were in a room with about 100 other folks off of the rotunda during the state funeral. 

NORVILLE:  It was like an old home week for many of the people who were in there.  There was Secretary of State George Shultz, there was former Secretary Alexander Haig, there was Frank Fahrenkopf, who was the head of the Republican Party during six of the eight Reagan years.  The list goes on.  Prime minister Brian Mulroney, who was such a close confidante. 

HOLT:  A lot of these folks hadn‘t seen each other for a long time. 

NORVILLE:  Many of them commented on that.  They said, you know, “This is really great.  I haven‘t seen this guy since 1989.”   Or “I haven‘t seen this guy since 1991.”

And so there was a lot of back slapping and trading old stories.  And everyone, it seemed, had a favorite Ronald Reagan memory, one that almost always ended with a chuckle and a twinkle in the eye of President Reagan. 

HOLT:  And what were some of the thoughts and comments about what we saw here today?  There were—I noted at one point it‘s like one moment is more stirring than the other.  What stood out?

NORVILLE:  I have to say as the eulogies were being read, I was closely watching some of Reagan‘s former cabinet members and there were three who, and I don‘t want to embarrass them by saying their names, but three who were more than once caught, you know, dabbing their eyes.

And I think particularly the vice-president‘s remarks were very well received, because it spoke to Ronald Reagan, the man. 

As he said, no one remembers when he was in his mother‘s arms.  Those people have all gone on.

HOLT:  Very touching.

NORVILLE:  But went on and talked about the great things he‘d accomplished that his parents might have hoped for but didn‘t really dream would happen. 

HOLT:  And then I don‘t know how much you were able to see of the procession down Constitution Avenue. But we talked earlier about spontaneous applause, especially when Nancy Reagan walks out of the limousine.  And the crowd just applauded and you hear “I love you, Nancy” from the crowd.

NORVILLE:  And everyone in there was just commenting about the strength of this woman and yet how sad and how alone and how difficult, particularly there at the arrival here at the Capitol, when Mrs. Reagan and her escort were standing at the top of the ramp.  And they were bringing the casket up before they came into the rotunda. 

And just how incredibly by herself she seemed, which is not the way in Washington one remembers ever seeing Nancy Reagan. 

HOLT:  That‘s a great way to put it, because she was standing there with Major General Jackman as her escort, but you‘re right, there was that moment. 

Deborah Norville, thanks for stopping by.  We appreciate it, and we will see you soon.

NORVILLE:  See you on TV.

HOLT:  Back at MSNBC. 

I want to show you another amazing moment of the day.  It occurred as the caisson reached Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue.

On cue, on time, 21 F-15e jets flown out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base formed a 21-ship formation.  And they came in waves of four, led by a single ship.

And then as you‘ll see in a moment the final formation of four.  It‘s a maneuver, it‘s common to the Air Force, and it symbolize a great thing (ph), it symbolizes a missing man. 

It‘s called the missing man formation, and one of the jets pulls up into a high G climb out, leaving that empty space.  And it symbolizes the empty space that a lot of Americans feel this week with the passing of President Ronald Reagan.  And there it is, you see the missing man formation.

We will take a break.  We‘ll continue our coverage of the farewell to

Ronald Wilson Reagan on MSNBC in just a moment

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back here in the Teamsters Building, which has this amazing prospect on the U.S. Capitol.  We‘ve been here all day.  And we‘re joined by a fresh face.  Fresh troops have arrived: Keith Olbermann of “COUNTDOWN”—Keith.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, “COUNTDOWN”:  Chris, the procession today, obviously, will take a place in history.  Ronald Reagan took a place in history, and our farewell to him today did so, too. 

From Taft Park, right by the Capitol, the procession and the state funeral presented themselves in essence as the traditional juxtaposition of great sound and utter silence. 

The solemn music of the military bands then quiet, interrupted by the clatter of boots and hoof steps; the deafening roar of those F-15 overhead, followed by the almost instantaneous silence of the citizens as the caisson drew slowly past.  The quiet orders of the honor guard echoing through the stilled rotunda. 

Great sound and utter silence and a tradition forged in farewells that no man living can remember. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  The tradition of the riderless horse.  Today Sergeant York, a standard breed retired from the racetracks of New Jersey. 

It is too overwhelmed with probable with the sentimental, to apply the human to the animal, to suggest that Sergeant York was less aware of his tasks than was his most famous predecessor in solemnity, but these events are days for sentimentality.

And, in 1963, the onlookers had no doubt about the riderless horse in President Kennedy‘s state funeral procession.  He was Blackjack.  And as he trailed Kennedy‘s caisson, he was never out of the control of his handler, but we wanted to believe that his rearing and spiritedness was an acknowledgement of the lost president.  He, said his handler of Blackjack, was proud.  The riderless horse is not just a tradition, it is an ancient ritual predating the nation itself by perhaps a millennium. 

Genghis Khan was said to have been buried this way, with the horse provided to bear the great warrior or great leader on the road to another world.

Plus, the rituals that formally bore Ronald Wilson Reagan through the capital today are an utter mix, some derivations of ancient Roman burials, some of the 10th Century, some of the Civil War, and some of 1973.  Mr.  Reagan based his ceremony in large part on that which had been enacted for Lyndon Johnson 31 years ago, the last formal state funeral in this country, a fact which, whenever it is mentioned, invokes the question, what about Richard Nixon?

And in that answer is contained the most curious fact about today‘s Washington farewell.  The official state funeral here is anything but official.  Nixon did not have one.  Watergate was a factor, but ultimately the decision was his and his family‘s.  But nor was Franklin Roosevelt honored in the way Mr. Reagan was today, nor Harry Truman, memorialized at his presidential library in Independence, Missouri, not in this city of which his wife once famously said, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. 

In Texas, the Truman ceremony still wounds many.  Lyndon Johnson traveled there in the frigid days after Christmas 1972.  And 28 days later, Johnson too was dead. 

Ultimately, all of what we saw today traces most directly back to the frozen moments of the funeral possessions for John F. Kennedy and for Abraham Lincoln.  The ritualized expression of a nation‘s sadness is directed to the memory of Ronald Reagan, but, in a broader sense, it remembers all of our presidents.

And each element today ultimately contained only the meaning we have assigned it.  Consider the procession of dignitaries, one of the searing images of the Kennedy funeral, the leaders of the world marching into Arlington Cemetery, 19 kings, presidents and princes.  And the order in which they marched, the intertwining and interweaving of the traditions and vanities of 20 nations, the protocol of grief was not found in no diplomat‘s handbook nor a remembrance of Genghis Khan.

The State Department simply asked them all to walk in alphabetical order by the name of their country, a solution both egalitarian and commonsensical, which would have appealed to today‘s honoree. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  There was an innovation today, one that might have been thought disrespectful at any of the earlier processions and funerals. 

After the bands and the caisson had passed a given point along the route, there was thunderous applause again and again for Nancy Reagan and her family, another juxtaposition of great sound and utter silence and perhaps, Chris, a new component to the ever-evolving tradition. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s great.  I have nothing to add.  Thanks, Keith. 

Our coverage of the state funeral of Ronald Reagan continues in a moment.

We‘ll be joined by Robert Evans, former head of Paramount Studios. 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to our live coverage. 

Look at this.  This is from earlier today, obviously.  That‘s “Ruffles and Flourishes.”  “Hail to the Chief” coming up.  The arrival of the president‘s body in town here.  It‘s now beginning, as the former first lady looks on.  The cortege begins to move.

Now they are at the Capitol Building.  What a movement.  What a day. 

Anyway, joining us right now from the West Coast is Robert Evans.  He‘s former head of Paramount movie studios.  And he‘s had experience with Ronald Reagan in so much of our recent American history. 

Bob Evans, thanks for joining us. 

ROBERT EVANS, FORMER HEAD OF PARAMOUNT STUDIOS:  Chris, thanks for having me. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this Hollywood guy who becomes the president of the United States?  He‘s now, for whatever reason, achieved, it looks like, one of the highest levels in presidential history from the treatment he‘s getting from his country right now.

EVANS:  Well, I think Hollywood had a lot to do with it. 

He often said that what he learned in Hollywood was so important to him on his climb up the political ladder, one of which was he learned that, forget the critics, please the public.  He did that as an actor.  He did it as a governor, and he did it as a president.  He told Ed Meese many a time, if I didn‘t have the experience of being an actor, I could never handle the job.

And what‘s wrong with an actor being the president of the United States, the greatest president I think we‘ve had this century?  Do you realize that, for 10 years, eight of the 10 years, the entire world was controlled by two actors?  One was Pope John Paul, who was a Polish actor in Poland before he became the pope, and Ronald Reagan, our president. 

They‘re two actors.  They‘re the two most important men in the world.  What does it say about Hollywood?  A lot.  Do you know, when Star Wars came in and Ronnie scared the living daylights, and I‘m using good language now, for the Russians, he used in his oratory, films that were made in Hollywood that the Russians knew nothing about, and it scared them so much that they acquiesced?

Imagine, after 30 years of a Cold War, Ronnie Reagan settles it in four years with not one soldier even being hurt. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it a bluff?  Was that a bluff, Robert, do you think? 

Do you think we could have built Star Wars in the near future? 

EVANS:  No.  No, I do not.  I think it was a bluff that only an actor could have pulled off.  What‘s wrong with being an actor?  All politicians are actors.

You know what Ronnie said to me?  MATTHEWS:  What?

EVANS:  I asked him, how does it feel being a governor?  He was governor at the time.  He says, it‘s the same.  He says, politics is like second-rate show business.  And since the advent of television, it is a second-rate show business.  Between makeup and P.R. and everything else, you‘re actors.  If you don‘t look good on the screen, you don‘t get nominated. 

MATTHEWS:  Somebody once said that politics is show business for ugly people.  I‘m not sure what that means, but it sounds tough enough and that‘s why I like it. 

Let me ask you about your community out there.  Why has the Hollywood community, after all these years, not recognized in some way or another, through a life achievement award, a special Oscar, in some way, why did they not, in the lifetime of Ronald Reagan, say, good work, Ronnie? 

EVANS:  Good question, Chris.  They should have, No. 1. 

We live here in a very liberal—and a phony liberal community, may I say, where the multimillionaires and billionaires now are suddenly all Democrats.  They‘re Democrats for a good reason.  They don‘t pay taxes.  I‘m a working man.  I paid taxes all my life.  I‘ve had a Social Security card since I was 12 years old. 

And, as a working man, I took home more money every week during every Republican administration than I did through any Democratic administration.  And the very wealthy suddenly are becoming Democrats for a very good reason.  It is set up through foundations that they can put their money in foundations and they never have to touch their taxes. 

Me, I don‘t have that luxury.  I earn a salary.  You earn a salary, Chris.  We pay the $2, whatever the number is, but the very rich don‘t.  And that‘s why there‘s so many of the very rich becoming pseudo-Democratic. 

MATTHEWS:  Robert, if Ronald Reagan had stayed a liberal Democrat, a Roosevelt Democrat, would he have received the honors of the Hollywood community commensurate with the honors he‘s gotten from the country as a whole?

EVANS:  I would say absolutely he would. 

This is a very nutty—I would say it‘s a very politically-minded crowd.  And they‘re all phony liberals.  And I say phony liberals.  These people out here making a lot of money.  And the more money they make...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

EVANS:  And, by the way, the more liberal they are, the tougher it is to do business with.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t touch my beachfront.  Don‘t get in the way of my house.

EVANS:  Don‘t look at my Rolls-Royce, all right? 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  It‘s great having you, Robert. 

EVANS:  I don‘t have one.

MATTHEWS:  You are a real iconoclast.  You are an outspoken gentleman and a man of great—a great history and legacy yourself in this country through all the movies you‘ve made, especially great movies like “The Godfather.”

EVANS:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Robert Evans. 

Our coverage of the state funeral of Ronald Reagan continues in just a moment.  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, we have got to hear from Howard when anything big happens.  And something big happened today. 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by our favorite commentator on all things, especially big things like today, Howard, “Newsweek” magazine‘s Howard Fineman.

You know, it‘s wonderful to live in this country.  We‘re not typical of most countries and we don‘t do the usual thing.  We‘re not boring.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  No.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re always interesting.  And the interesting thing about today was the untrammeled, unquestioned goodwill of this country toward this president.

FINEMAN:  I think 9/11 has something to do with it.  I think ceremonies remind us of who we are as a people.  And I think there are good things about ourselves that we wanted to be reminded of.

And I think that just as Ronald Reagan in 1981 allowed us to think that leaders could lead again and people could be confident, he offered the optimism then.  He offers the continuity now.  His death and his long goodbye gives us a sense of continuity in history.  And I think people are taking comfort in that.  I think that‘s one big reason.

Another big reason is that Ronald Reagan represented a huge movement in this country, one that came to fruition in his presidency and that continues in a way in George Bush‘s presidency.  And for a lot of those people, a whole generation of those people, including baby boomers like us, this is the other side of the baby boom, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  This is not Woodstock and anti-war protests.  This is the kids who were in the Young Americans for Freedom and not in the SDS. 

They grew up with Ronald Reagan.  They idolized Ronald Reagan in a way that we on the outside don‘t really know. 

MATTHEWS:  I see that in the lines of people waiting here today. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, no question about it. 

MATTHEWS:  But also, could it be that World War II and the Cold War, both very much connected in people‘s hearts and histories, were clearly necessary and clearly victorious, two missing ingredients today in the so-called war on terrorism against Iraq, necessary and victorious? 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That‘s part of the post-9/11 psychology I‘m talking about. 

People are looking through history to see if we should be confident today about where we‘re headed.  They look to World War II.  They look to Ronald Reagan‘s staunch leadership against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.  He called the Soviet Union an evil empire.  George Bush has used the word evil today in regard to our enemies.  Does that mean there‘s a one-to-one relationship between the two?  Are we on the same path, in the same fight that we were in a generation ago and two generations ago? 

That‘s what they‘re thinking, I think, as they watch this long ceremony for Ronald Reagan.

MATTHEWS:  See, I think the difference might be—and I hope this doesn‘t sound too nasty or rough—but when Ronald Reagan said that the Soviet Union was an evil empire, he was talking to them.  He wanted them to hear it.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  When this president says we‘re fighting evil, he‘s trying to convince us that we need to go to war with somebody.  It‘s just—it‘s a different audience.  When he says evil, he‘s trying to say, they‘re evil, they‘re evil, they‘re evil.  You got it?  Whereas Reagan said, you‘re evil and we‘re going to beat you.  Tear down that wall. 

FINEMAN:  Well, the fact is, Chris, the Cold War lasted a long time. 

It began essentially toward the end of World War II and continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the old Soviet Union. 

MATTHEWS:  Forty-four years.

FINEMAN:  We‘re talking about 44 years. 

So the question people have in their minds is, are we headed into a similar biblical generation of warfare, not the old World War II, not a Cold War, but something that I call a condition?  It‘s not really a war.  It‘s kind of a condition that we‘re in, that we have to live with, that we have to understand.

And I think that‘s part of what‘s going on here.  People are looking for clarity and confidence.  They came to think that Ronald Reagan, whether you agreed with him or not, represented effectiveness.  He restored the idea of being able to lead this place.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  You know, we lived through the ‘70s.  You had Richard Nixon disgraced, Gerald Ford, who was a placeholder in a way.  Jimmy Carter had many good qualities.  You worked for him.  But instilling confidence in the idea of leadership I don‘t think was one of them.  Reagan had that.  Reagan had that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to my point, that you knew the war was necessary and you knew we won it.

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  During the ‘50s, when I was growing up, at our church, you would pray for the conversion of Russia. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You absolutely knew they were bad.  You knew they had to change.  You didn‘t have to convince yourself of it.

There was a moral certitude to that conflict.  I just don‘t think it‘s there right now.  Sure, we‘re mad at the people who blew up the World Trade Center, but they killed themselves.  We don‘t like Saddam Hussein, but are we sure that we had to go there and fight on his terrain?

FINEMAN:  No, we aren‘t.  We aren‘t.

MATTHEWS:  And I think those uncertainties are not partisan.  A lot of Republicans are worried that we made the big mistake.

FINEMAN:  I agree.

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  But nobody thought we were wrong in attacking Russia or dealing with Russia.  Nobody thought we were wrong to say, there‘s the enemy.

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think, if you look at the history, that‘s entirely true.

I think a lot of people said that coexistence was possible.

MATTHEWS:  OK, coexistence.

FINEMAN:  That mutual assured destruction was the only way we could live, that we had to live...

MATTHEWS:  As a necessity.

FINEMAN:  As a necessity with gigantic missiles pointed at each other.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And Ronald Reagan said, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And he took actions that people thought were over the edge, that were too confrontational, that were too simplistic. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Now, I‘m not here arguing for George W. Bush.  I‘m just saying, this is what‘s in people‘s mind.  And, by the way, that contrast or that comparison with—between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush could go two ways politically for George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  It could help him or it could diminish him, depending on

what happens over the next

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one thing I can predict, there will be a Republican Convention late this summer.  And there will be a movie that‘s shown at the convention.  And the movie will be titled “Ronald Reagan.”

FINEMAN:  Of course, yes.

MATTHEWS:  And, most probably, Nancy Reagan will be asked to come and host it.  And that will help the Republican Convention. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And, by the way, that kind of thing could not have been done had Ronald Reagan still been alive in his sad state in the midst of Alzheimer‘s in California. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  It would have seemed ghoulish.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We do it crude here.  And we are ghoulish.  And we are grave-robbers.  But the fact is true. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  The truth is that he is now in the political game again, not alive, but he will be used profitably to rebuild and to refurbish the Republican legacy of Ronald Reagan through his recent passing. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s what the convention is going to be about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think so.  I think it will be the Ronald Reagan.  Win one for the Gipper, you‘ll hear that this summer, late this summer. 

Thank you.  You only get one slot tonight, but, boy, you—as always, big thoughts, big events, properly covered by a great man, Howard Fineman. 

Our coverage of the state funeral of Ronald Reagan continues in a moment. 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Lester, it‘s great to have the day with you. 

And I have to tell you, my biggest surprise of the day is something I mentioned a moment ago with Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”  It‘s the absolute equanimity of the day, the comity, the harmony, if you will, of everyone here today, no arguments on the street corner about the Reagan legacy, no wisecracks on television, just an appreciation. 

HOLT:  Yes. 

And, Chris, the thought that keeps coming to my mind—and certainly nobody wished for this moment.  It‘s an awfully sad story and a sad end.  But, at the same time, I‘m wondering if there was some tonic out of this that the country needed politically right now, if only to quiet the rhetoric and the noise for a short time and to think about service to this country and the quest for greatness. 

So, again, it‘s one of those that perhaps history will judge beyond this moment, but it is a very special moment. 

Our coverage of the death and remembrance of former President Ronald Reagan continues next with Joe Scarborough. 

MATTHEWS:  And, on Friday, Lester and I will have live coverage of President Reagan‘s funeral at the National Cathedral. 

We‘re going to say goodbye in a very special way.  Ron Reagan is a dear friend of this program and of all of us on it and a member of the HARDBALL and MSNBC team.  We all send our deepest condolences to you, Ron, and to your family. 

(MUSIC)

END   

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