November 22, 2013
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Hello. I`m Chris Matthews.
Welcome to our special evening marking the 50th anniversary of the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy. November 22nd, 1963 forever
changed us. And while we remember tonight what Jack Kennedy achieved in
his too brief lifetime, we mark too the role of his brothers Robert and
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The Kennedy brothers. They stirred the
country`s blood and maddened their rivals.
Bill Safire, Richard Nixon`s speechwriter, put it this way, "When you
beat a Kennedy, you beat the best. The trouble was, nobody did."
Here is the HARDBALL political story of how these extraordinary
brothers sought the American presidency.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT: Let the word go forth from this
ROBERT F. KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We have the capacity to make
this the best generation.
TEDDY KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Let us offer new hope.
MATTHEWS (on camera): In the 1950s, politics meant men in gray
flannel suits, guys like Dwight Eisenhower, Robert Taft, Adlai Stevenson,
and Richard Nixon. They were dull, stodgy and sexless.
(voice-over): Then in 1956, someone new appeared on the political
radar. At the Democratic Convention in Chicago that summer, a young
politician battled the old guard for the vice presidential nomination and
in the process catapulted himself on to the national stage. His name was
JOHN F. KENNEDY: I want to take this opportunity first to express my
MATTHEWS: He was young, alive, great looking. And while he lost the
nomination, he wowed the country.
TED SORENSEN, JFK AIDE: He tried to get it. He came very, very
close. As it turned out, he did not get it, but he did become, overnight,
a national figure.
MATTHEWS: And then there was this stunningly beautiful wife. For us,
1956 was Jacqueline Kennedy`s debut.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But tell me, were you able to adjust to this?
JACQUELINE KENNEDY, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, yes, because I`ve never
known anything else since I`ve been married.
MATTHEWS: No one could ever be counted a loser with her at his side.
We also met his family. Boy, did he have lots of brothers and
sisters, and his fabulously wealthy father.
Joseph Kennedy Sr. was our ambassador to Great Britain in the late
1930s. But by 1940, his political career was over. He had nailed himself
as a defeatist, or worse, when he predicted that war with Nazi Germany
would end democracy in Britain and possibly in the U.S.
So his dreams of the White House were now for his sons.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once his own political future was undone, he
could pour all his life energy into those boys.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He wanted them to go
places that he, himself, could not have gone.
MATTHEWS: First up was the handsome hard-charging oldest brother, Joe
Jr. He took his first political steps in 1940 as a delegate for the
Democratic presidential convention. He was on his way. But then the war
came, a war that claimed his life when his B-24 bomber exploded in mid-air
during a secret mission to bomb German missile sites.
KEARNS GOODWIN: There is no question that Joe Jr. was meant to be
head of the family. And had he lived, he was the one that Joe Sr. thought
would have been the man to go into politics and carry that Kennedy legacy
into the future.
When Joe Jr. died, then that burden of carrying the family legacy fell
MATTHEWS: In 1946, 29-year-old Jack ran for Congress for
Massachusetts` 11th district, cutting in front of local politicians waiting
patiently for the seat to open. The year before he died, while beginning
to dictate his memoirs, Jack confessed to having been something of a
JOHN F. KENNEDY: I was an outsider, really. I`d never lived very
much in the district. My family roots were there, but I`d lived in New
York ten years. On top of that, I had gone to Harvard, not a particularly
popular institution at that time in the 11th congressional district.
MATTHEWS: The Kennedy tactics in 1946 would be used in succeeding
campaigns. One was an astute use of public relations, image building. Joe
Sr. had been a Hollywood mogul and knew how to promote.
RICHARD REEVES, JFK BIOGRAPHER: He basically was the one who took
Hollywood publicity techniques and applied them to politics.
MATTHEWS: Fortunately, Joe Sr. also had a good product to sell.
Lieutenant Kennedy had rescued his crew when his PT boat was rammed by a
Japanese destroyer, a story Joe Sr. got reprinted in "Reader`s Digest" and
then handed out 100,000 free copies to local voters.
To win, there was a willingness by both father and son to do whatever
was necessary. Though raised a young aristocrat, Jack found himself
trudging up countless triple-decker walk-ups to meet working-class voters.
To the amazement of many old hands the thin, young upstart won. He
was part of a new generation of veterans taking power all over the country
that year. It was clear that Congressman Kennedy was a young man in a
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Kennedy, how do you feel about your
race for the Senate up here?
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Well, I think it`s going very well. And, of course
MATTHEWS: In 1952, only 35 years old, Jack ran for the Senate against
Henry Cabot Lodge, the popular incumbent and old-line Boston Brahmin.
Kennedy`s campaign manager was fellow Irish Catholic Larry O`Brien.
LARRY O`BRIEN, FORMER JFK`S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: My father was one
generation removed from very bitter experiences. This presented an
opportunity for the Irish Catholic community in Massachusetts to step up to
the next plateau.
MATTHEWS: The Kennedy campaign exploited the Catholic voters` grudge
against patrician Yankees like Lodge. As they had in `46, the family
mobilized. His sisters hosted teas, a chance for aspiring Irish and
Italian ladies to share the allure of the celebrated Kennedys.
Kennedy ended up defeating Lodge. He was now a U.S. senator. But it
was clear that Jack had a bigger prize in mind.
BEN BRADLEE: I don`t think he had any natural interest in the Senate.
I think he felt that if this was the game he wanted to be captain.
MATTHEWS: Kennedy now had his eye on the White House. He recruited
the best and the brightest, speechwriter Ted Sorenson, pollster Lou Harris,
advance man Kenny O`Donnell, and campaign managers Larry O`Brien and
younger brother Bobby.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY: I believe that there is a real trend on now for
Senator Kennedy and the Democratic Party, we are extremely encouraged.
MATTHEWS: To make sure his brother`s presidential campaign succeeded,
Bobby ran interference, toughness was in the Kennedy`s DNA, an immigrants`
toughness, and Bobby was the least assimilated of them all.
EVAN THOMAS, RFK BIOGRAPHER: The role he found was the guy to do all
the dirty deeds, all the hard stuff, telling people to go away, saying no.
That allowed Jack to float above the fray.
MATTHEWS: With his impressive campaign team in place, Jack was now
ready for the toughest test yet, 1960.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Join us to register this week to vote, to stand for
progress, to move, to move, to go forward, until the United States achieves
that great goal of practicing what it preaches.
MATTHEWS: For 1960, Jack`s campaign team developed a new playbook,
one that has become familiar in every presidential campaign since.
Use the power of television, and most importantly, take the
candidate`s case directly to primary voters, unheard of at the time, and
use their toughness, political savvy and money to win it all. It was a
campaign like no other.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Well, I hope we`re going to do well. I guess we`ll
know better by the time the votes are counted.
O`BRIEN: They actually made a targeted list based on cold-blooded
kind of cogent analysis of what states might be important and what states
he could win in, so he traveled around the country to those states for
almost a year. He very rarely, if ever, ran into anybody from any of the
MATTHEWS: Most other top Democratic candidates, including Senate
Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, didn`t campaign in the primaries. They
would stubbornly do it the old-fashioned way, working the smoke-filled
rooms of the convention hall itself.
LYNDON JOHNSON, THEN-SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The question is, would I
accept a second spot on the Kennedy ticket? I think the question could
have better been put if Kennedy would accept a second spot on the Johnson
SORENSEN: Johnson didn`t think Kennedy had any serious chance of
being nominated for president because he was a young upstart, was not part
of the inner circle or club in the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Kennedy and a popular liberal from Minnesota, Senator
Hubert Humphrey, were left alone to contest the early primaries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, from the great
city of Charleston, West Virginia.
MATTHEWS: In 1960, the key battleground was West Virginia, a heavily
Protestant state where Kennedy`s religion would be put to the test.
Compared to the cool Jack, Humphrey looked and sounded like a typical
FORMER SEN. HUBERT HUMPHREY (D), MINNESOTA: This is my wife, Mrs.
Johnson, Mrs. Humphrey. How do you do? Mrs. Halston (ph), glad to see
MATTHEWS: As planned, Kennedy`s team played up their man`s youth and
war records, contrasting Lieutenant Kennedy`s hero status with Humphrey`s
failure to serve in World War II, a fact that still amuses Kennedy friend
Ben Bradlee who served on a destroyer in the Pacific.
BRADLEE: Humphrey wasn`t in World War II. He wasn`t, you know --
what was he, a hospital maid or something like that?
MATTHEWS (on camera): You guys are unbelievable.
BRADLEE: No, but I mean --
MATTHEWS: This is what I`m talking about. You guys kept score on who
was in the front.
BRADLEE: We knew people`s war records. We sure did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember, Senator John F. Kennedy can be our next
MATTHEWS (voice-over): With four weeks left, Kennedy trailed Humphrey
by 20 percent. So, his campaign turned up the heat, buying TV time, to
address head on what his pollsters saw as growing concerns about Kennedy`s
JOHN F. KENNEDY: I don`t happen to believe that one of those serious
issues is where I go to church on Sundays.
MATTHEWS: The strategy worked. Senator Kennedy crushed Humphrey with
60 percent of the vote. But more went into this victory than an appeal to
patriotism and fair play. It was common knowledge in West Virginia that
county politicians could be swayed by cash. The Kennedys had it, lots of
it, and used it.
HUMPHREY: I offer my congratulations to my friend and Senate
colleague, Jack Kennedy.
MATTHEWS: Humphrey dropped out, the newest victim of the Kennedy
At the Democratic convention in July, Jack Kennedy, a few votes shy of
the nomination, fought off a growing challenge from Lyndon Johnson.
Johnson`s people revealed that Kennedy suffered from Addison`s
disease, which, if the Kennedy people had not succeed in denying it, would
have killed Jack`s chances.
Bobby Kennedy couldn`t contain his anger.
JEFF SHESOL, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: There were a number of instances
over the course of the 1960 convention where he approached the Johnson
people, waved his finger in someone`s face and said, you Johnson people are
going to get yours.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: I come to you today full of admiration for Senator
MATTHEWS: But the "yours" Johnson`s people ended up getting was to be
Jack`s pick for vice president.
Kennedy had done his political calculus. He needed the Texas
electoral votes, and he needed the local man on the ticket to get them.
With the hard-fought nomination in hand, the Kennedy campaign fixed
its sights on beating Richard Nixon, contrasting Jack`s vitality and
promise to get the country moving again to the candidate tied to the status
quo of the 1950s.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: The Republican nominee, of course, is a young man,
but his approach is as old as McKinley.
MATTHEWS: Nixon was thrown at first by the coldness and efficiency of
the Kennedys` frontal assault. He`d known and liked Jack since they came
to the House together in 1947.
Jack`s father had donated money to Nixon`s Senate campaign. Jack
hand-delivered the check to Nixon`s office and even told newspaper
columnist Charles Bartlett, a close friend, that he would vote for Nixon
for president if he, Jack, didn`t get the nomination.
But Jack Kennedy was not one to let political fellowship affect his
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. The television --
MATTHEWS: Kennedy`s team knew that the new medium of television was
the way to persuade voters. His suntanned radiant image was worth a
thousand words and hundreds of thousands of votes. To exploit his edge on
the tube, they brought in Bill Wilson, a seasoned TV producer.
In the first presidential debate, Wilson made sure viewers w lots of
shots of the ashen-faced Nixon, who had famously refused to wear make-up.
BILL WILSON, TV PRODUCER: I wanted more reaction shots. I said,
you`ve got Kennedy seven times, you need six more on Nixon.
And it was like night and day between before the debate and after the
debate. The crowd was enormous. It was loud. It was noisy.
FRANK SINATRA`S SONG: Everyone is voting for Jack because he`s got
what all the rest lack --
MATTHEWS: With a theme song by Frank Sinatra, the Kennedy campaign
was far more glamorous than Nixon`s. It also put Lou Harris` scientific
polls to work in a way that had never done before. Team Kennedy focused
like a laser on winning big states and their electoral votes, while Nixon
campaigned in all 50 states.
LOU HARRIS, POLLSTER: We surveyed 38 states for Kennedy and wrote off
about half the states. He had the guts to write off whole states. Just
MATTHEWS: In the end, just 100,000 votes separated Kennedy and Nixon,
out of some 70 million cast, 0.1 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 7:19 a.m. Eastern Time, candidate Kennedy was
elected president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: But true to their big-stage strategy, Kennedy had an
overwhelming majority in the Electoral College.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kennedy has won 296. That alone is enough.
MATTHEWS: In those big states, many of the voters were Catholic.
Kennedy had turned an historic negative into an electoral positive.
PETER FLANIGAN, NIXON CAMPAIGN: Kennedy played the Catholic issue
extremely well, making sure that he got all the Catholic votes and had a
minimum reverse effect among non-Catholic voters.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: So, now, my wife and I prepare for a new
administration and for a new baby. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: The Kennedys had played politics perfectly, and their tough
tactics continued as Jack picks his cabinet, listening to his father`s
advice that he needed to keep Bobby close at hand.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY: I am pleased to accept the position of the
attorney generalship of the United States.
MATTHEWS: With Jack now in the White House and brother Bobby at
justice, the stage was set for the era of Kennedys.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Just as Jack had been a different type of
politician, the Kennedy White House was unlike anything Americans had ever
seen. Suddenly, we had a first family that was beautiful, stylish, with
just the right touch of aristocracy.
THOMAS: He took the best qualities of the rich, old wasp, old guard
and infused it with the kind of energy and vitality of rising immigrants.
MATTHEWS: Just like Jack`s hero James Bond, we never saw JFK sweat.
A political 007, President Kennedy was smooth, sophisticated, savoring the
(on camera): What was Kennedy like?
KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND, RFK`S DAUGHTER: I think he was cool.
ROBERT KENNEDY, JR., RFK`S SON: My Uncle Jack was dispassionate,
BRADLEE: He was cool.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): What the country learned only later was how
well this suave exterior hid his secret life, the risky affairs, that if
revealed, could have ruined everything. His Addison`s disease which had
almost killed him in 1947 and again during a 1954 back operation that
required him to take steroids and the reliance on energy-boosting
amphetamines, drugs which may have compromised his judgment.
RICHARD REEVES, JFK BIOGRAPHER: He`s a Shakespearean character.
Everything about his health was a lie. He looked like a god, but as Bobby
would say, if a mosquito bites my brother, the mosquito dies.
MATTHEWS: But America, knowing none of this, had bigger worries, as
the country faced numerous challenges. From the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin
wall. The toughest test came in October 1962, when U.S. spy planes
photographed Soviet nuclear missile bases in Cuba, just 90 miles away.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the
cause of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be
ashes in our mouth.
MATTHEWS: Jack`s key advisor during the 13 days of the Cuban crisis
was his old campaign manager. Together, the Kennedy brothers came up with
a creative solution. The U.S. put a naval quarantine in place while
secretly agreeing to pull obsolete U.S. missiles out of Turkey.
In exchange, the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba. The crisis
was averted. It was the Kennedys` finest hour.
(on camera): What did your dad say about it afterwards?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: Well, what he said was we avoided a nuclear
holocaust, the end of the world.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Back home, another issue was reaching the
boiling point -- civil rights. Kennedy knew that every step he took could
hurt him in the upcoming 1964 election.
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA), CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: He didn`t want to move
too fast. He didn`t want to antagonize Southern white Democratic voters,
so we had to stay with him. We had to continue to encourage him. He
wanted to be able to say to Southern Democrats that these people are
pushing me, they are putting pressure on me.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: I think if the president
would sign an executive order declaring segregation unconstitutional on the
basis of the 14th Amendment, this would do a great deal to lead us out of
this dark night of violence and prejudice which we still face in so many
MATTHEWS: In the spring of `63 in Alabama, fire hoses and police dogs
were used to brutally disperse nonviolent protesters.
SORENSEN: Kennedy realized that it was becoming a moral issue and as
president of the United States he had to respond.
MATTHEWS: Spurred to action and pushed by Bobby, Kennedy delivered
one of his most powerful addresses.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It
is as old as the Scriptures, and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal
rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow
Americans as we want to be treated.
MATTHEWS: By the fall of 1963, Kennedy had introduced a strong civil
rights bill to Congress. His first thousand days had seen many successes -
- the Peace Corps, the moon program, negotiating a nuclear test ban treaty,
and a growing economy.
Among the failures: the increasingly troubled American commitment in
In late November, President Kennedy and Jackie flew to Texas to do
some political damage control for his approaching re-election campaign.
On the 22nd, they landed in Dallas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. The essential facts are these.
President Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, Texas. He was shot by a sniper
hiding in a building near his parade route.
MATTHEWS: A wave of sadness and horror swept the nation while the
Kennedy family struggled to comprehend their loss.
Even in her grief, the president`s widow began to romanticize Jack`s
legacy. She coined the term "Camelot" to describe the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jacqueline Kennedy was one of the great PR women
of all time and she really knew how to play not just the press but how to
play the myth.
GOODWIN: Once Jackie labeled Camelot, what it did was remind later
generations of the fact there was a moment when there was this young
president. There was a moment when people believed that they could change
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Our problems are man made, therefore, they can be
solved by man.
MATTHEWS: The celebration of Jack`s legacy elevated and enshrined the
Kennedy brothers. It would become the foundation for not one but two
Now was the next brother`s turn to carry the Kennedy torch, Bobby.
The tough, behind-the-scenes enforcer had to step forward to the spotlight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: I just have an eerie feeling in their
knowledge as you see the effects of one president being moved out and the
effects of the new president, President Johnson, coming in.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST OF "HARDBALL" (voice-over): Those who knew
Bobby say that after his brother`s death he seemed in a trance, yet even if
he brooded, he began to actively position himself as Jack`s rightful heir.
In 1964, after Lyndon Johnson denied him the chance to be his vice
president, Bobby resigned as attorney general and ran for the senate from
New York. He had not lived in the state since he was a boy, but the
Kennedys were never ones to play by the rule book or wait their turn.
ROBERT KENNEDY, JOHN F. KENNEDY`S BROTHER: No one committed to
participating in public life can sit on the sidelines with so much at
MATTHEWS: Yet, facing taunts that he was a carpetbagger and haunted
by the suspicion that the cheers were not for him but for his lost brother,
Bobby had trouble finding his political footing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: What was the largest minority of hecklers
you have ever had?
ROBERT KENNEDY: Well, I do not know. I do not know. I have no --
PETER EDELMAN, RFK AIDE: He did not want to trade on his brother`s
name. On the other hand, he did not quite know what to say on behalf of
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Kennedy ended up defeating the popular
incumbent Senator Ken Keating by riding on Lyndon Johnson`s long
presidential coattails. But even as the new senator joined his younger
brother Ted on the hill, he was poised for higher office, and everyone knew
ROGER MUDD, JOURNALIST: The feeling of most of those who watched him
was that his presidential years were almost inevitable. There was always
that feeling among the press and among his colleagues that one day they
were going to have to deal with him on quite a different level.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Robert Kennedy was not a cool politician like
his older brother Jack. He was emotional, intense, full of passion.
ROBERT KENNEDY: The inadequacy of human compassion, the defectiveness
of our sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellow, they mark the limit
of our ability to use knowledge for the well-being of our fellow human
beings throughout the world.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): And as the Vietnam War`s death toll rose and
protesters took to the streets, Bobby found his voice.
ROBERT KENNEDY: You do lose nothing by sitting down with the North
Vietnamese and seeing if we can resolve this conflict, and I am capable of
MATTHEWS (voice-over): But, even though he wanted to reclaim the
White House, Bobby was not ready to take on the president who was expanding
the war, a war his brother had backed.
FRANK MANKIEWICZ, RFK PRESS SECRETARY: He was quite resolute that he
was not going to run. But it became quite clear we could not really go
through another four years of the Johnson presidency.
EDELMAN: Part of him said you do not undertake something unless you
think you can win. Part of him said you have to do what is right.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): While Bobby anguished, another anti-war
candidate stepped up, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. In March 1968,
McCarthy, a virtual unknown, proved Johnson`s clear vulnerability, losing
the New Hampshire primary to the president by a handful of votes. A few
days later, Bobby was in, announcing in the same senate chamber his brother
ROBERT KENNEDY: I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any
man but to propose new policies.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Many people saw Bobby`s announcement as naked
MUDD: The opportunist. You know, you waited until you saw that
Lyndon was really vulnerable. You let McCarthy pave the way and followed
in his wake, even if it was ill-timed, an inopportune time to do it, but he
did it. So, he was off and running.
MATTHEWS: Robert Kennedy`s passionate 1968 campaign had little in
common with the well-oiled Kennedy campaign machine that made Jack
president eight years earlier. The Bobby Kennedy campaign, what was
different about that from what you remember and knew about the Jack Kennedy
KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND, ROBERT KENNEDY DAUGHTER: Well, it was a
lot less organized. As you know, my father was very ambivalent as to
whether to run. It was put together more in a haphazard way. It was his
spirit that got the through, rather than the organization.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Are you going to vote for this man who
sings like this. Yes!
MUDD: There was this enormous, enormous surge everywhere he went of
youthful enthusiasm. It was extraordinary, you know? Grabbing him,
mauling him and snatching hiscuff links and kids on tricycles and bikes
pumping along the motorcade.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): On March 31st, the Kennedy campaign had the
floor fall out from under it.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, 36TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall not
seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party another term as
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Bobby had been running against Lyndon Johnson
and his war policies. And now, for a brief time, he was at sea. That
changed on April 4th.
ROBERT KENNEDY: I have some very sad news for all of you. Martin
Luther King was shot and was killed tonight.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): From that night in Indianapolis, his campaign
had a new direction.
ROBERT KENNEDY: What we need in the United States is not violence and
lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a
feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): He was not just running against a president or
a war but trying to heal a country`s racial and economic wounds, as well.
Bobby went on to win in Indiana and then in Nebraska.
CROWD: We want bobby! We want Bobby!
MATTHEWS (voice-over): But he lost the Oregon primary to McCarthy, a
first for a Kennedy in presidential politics. To have any chance, Bobby
needed to best McCarthy in California. On June 4, 1968, he did just that
and won in South Dakota, too.
CROWD: We want bobby! We want Bobby!
MATTHEWS (voice-over): For a brief moment, Bobby was atop a wave of
excitement that might, just might, have secured him the nomination.
ROBERT KENNEDY: My thanks to all of you, and now it is on to Chicago
and let`s win there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER (1): Is there a doctor?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER (2): Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at
1:44 A.M. today, June 6, 1968. He was 42 years old.
EDELMAN: I believe that Robert Kennedy would have won. And, I think
he could have defeated Richard Nixon. And, just think about it, no Nixon?
War ends? No Watergate? What would this country have been like over the
ensuing 40 years?
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Present at the hospital, and youngest Kennedy
MANKIEWICZ: I saw him briefly. His face just contorted with grief.
I have never seen a man so torn as he was that night, for all kinds of
EDWARD MOORE "TED" KENNEDY, KENNEDY YOUNGEST BROTHER: 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, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
PETER CANELLOS, TED KENNEDY BIOGRAPHER: It was that eulogy that
turned Bobby Kennedy into the saintly liberal figure we associate with
Bobby Kennedy. So, all along it was Ted who was investing the Kennedy name
with sort of concrete values. You know, civil rights, anti-war, health
care, education. And, that is a key to their endurance, that people
consider the Kennedys to be a fixed brand name.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Now, there was only one brother left.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Of the four Kennedy brothers, Ted, the
youngest, was the most connected to the others. In 1946, the family
gathered in Hyannis Port to celebrate Jack`s 29th birthday. When Teddy
rose to speak, the 14-year-old raised his glass and said, "I would like to
drink a toast to the brother who is not here." He stunned the room into
ROBERT SHRUM, TED KENNEDY ADVISER: I think the three of them were not
only a kind of band of brothers all their own in mythology but in reality.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): In 1960, Ted was given a key role in Jack`s
campaign, overseeing the western states.
TED KENNEDY: In the state of Oregon, do give jack an enthusiastic and
MATTHEWS (voice-over): When Jack`s senate seat came open in 1962, his
father Joe made the call, declaring that Ted, all of 30 years old, would be
CANELLOS: Jack and Bobby did not want Ted to run for the senate.
They felt he was too young.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Joe said, no, it is his
turn now. He has helped you. Now, you help him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: There are hot times brewing on the
Massachusetts political scene. At the state democratic convention, Edward
J. McCormick, 38-year-old nephew of House Speaker McCormick, seeks the
party nomination for senator in a contest with Edward Ted Kennedy.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The Kennedy operation swung into action, again
even dusting off Jack`s slogan from 1952. He can do more for
Massachusetts. Ted won, but the joy of Ted Kennedy`s triumph was sadly
muted. Prior to his triumph, Joe Senior suffered a debilitating stroke.
But, his fourth son was now on his way. And, unlike his brothers, Ted
found a home in the senate.
GOODWIN: I think Teddy Kennedy was very happy being a senator. He
just seemed more comfortable there within two days than either of the
brothers may have felt being there for several years.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Then, on the night of July 18, 1969, with
Kennedy poised to perhaps challenge Nixon in 1972, he drove off a bridge on
an island near Martha`s Vineyard. The passenger with him, Robert Kennedy
staffer Mary Jo Kopechne was killed. Kennedy said he was driving her back
to catch a ferry to the vineyard when the accident occurred.
TED KENNEDY: There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely-
circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my
behavior and hers regarding that evening.
CANELLOS: There were many reasons to believe they were not heading to
the ferry. First of all, she, Mary Jo, left her purse and her keys -- her
motel key back at the cottage. They also did not head for the ferry. They
headed in a different direction over a dirt road heading out to the beach.
And, the ferry had stopped running more than a half hour before they left
MATTHEWS (voice-over): It seemed that Ted Kennedy`s political career
and any hope of the presidency was over. But in 1970, just 16 months
later, the people of Massachusetts overwhelmingly re-elected him to the
In a May 1971 poll, he led all democrats as a challenger to President
Nixon`s re-election. A Kennedy restoration still seemed possible. Nixon
was not anxious for a rematch, as becomes clear in the Watergate tapes.
RICHARD NIXON, 37TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Teddy! Who knows
about the Kennedy? Should not they --
JOHN D. EHRLICHMAN, NIXON AIDE: Tedd, uh, we are covering --
NIXON: Are you?
NIXON: Did he do anything?
EHRLICHMAN: No. No, he is very clean, very clean.
NIXON: He is being careful now?
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Nixon got a break. Ted did not run in 1972.
TED KENNEDY: The prime reason for not running is because of
responsibilities to my family.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): For Ted, being a Kennedy brother was a heavy
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE INTERVIEWER: Senator, there is obviously a great
price that one has to pay these days for political life. Is the price
worth the pain?
TED KENNEDY: Well, I suppose it is.
JAMES EARL "JIMMY" CARTER, 39TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I
Jimmy Carter, do solemnly swear --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: -- that I will faithfully --
MATTHEWS (voice-over): With Ted sitting out again in 1976, Jimmy
Carter and the democrats retook the White House, but Senator Kennedy had
little affection for Carter and vice versa.
MUDD: President Carter probably regarded Teddy Kennedy as this
constant, daily, hourly challenge, and for the Kennedys, I thought they
regarded Carter as sort of a bumpkin.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): In 1979, with Carter`s popularity at a record
low, Ted decided to revive the Kennedy party and do what his brother Bobby
did, run against a sitting democratic president.
TED KENNEDY: Today, I formally announce that I am a candidate for
president of the United States.
GOODWIN: They did seem to be this family legacy to be satisfied to be
the president. And more than that, he obviously knew from watching his
brothers that the presidency had a power, that no matter how big a senator
you could be, you could still do more for the things you cared about if you
CANELLOS: He did it in some degree of discomfort because he is taking
on a president of his own party. He also, I think, had personal
reservations about whether, you know, his personal skills fit well with the
MATTHEWS (voice-over): That became clear after Kennedy agreed to a
high-profile television interview with CBS` Roger Mudd, taped prior to
announcing his candidacy.
MUDD: Why do you want to be president?
TED KENNEDY: Well, I am -- were I to make the, the announcement to
run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Unfortunately, Ted`s campaign turned out much
like his interview -- ill prepared, unfocused, awkward, un-Kennedy. Of the
34 primaries, Carter won 24, Kennedy just 10.
MUDD: It was not a very well-run campaign and it never got traction.
I think the reason was that he probably never felt it in his, you know --
in his skin that this was his destiny.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): At the convention, Ted gave more of an
acceptance speech than what it was supposed to be, an endorsement of
TED KENNEDY: For me, a few hours ago this campaign came to an end.
For all those whose cares have been our concerned, the work goes on, the
cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.
SHRUM: They got to see the Ted Kennedy they should have gotten to see
earlier in the campaign.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): By convention`s end, with the balloons falling
and the democrats feting President Carter, Kennedy`s speechwriter Bob Shrum
quietly counseled Ted to be a good soldier and a team player.
SHRUM: I looked at him and I said you are going to raise his hand,
aren`t you? He said, "Yes," and he went up, and I went out to the audience
and it never happened. Then some of people in the crowd still shouting "We
want Ted. We want Ted." You know, it was slightly awkward.
MUDD: And, finally, I guess at the very end there was some sort of no
brief hand touch, but it was on full view of the nation. This was an
absolute physical contempt for the senator toward the president.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The Kennedy campaign machine, which for
decades had intimidated and destroyed political foes from lodge to
Humphrey, to Johnson, to Nixon, could now only wound. For those savoring a
Kennedy restoration, the dream had been again deferred.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): In the decades following his 1980 presidential
bid, Ted Kennedy finally let go of his dream of reclaiming the White House.
In the end, the youngest of the Kennedy brothers found that his true
calling was in the U.S. Senate, fighting for health care, especially.
TED KENNEDY: This administration missed the boat, so to speak in
understanding where we are going.
SHRUM: I think Senator Kennedy has a very, very deep feeling that he
is carrying on a legacy that really matters. He is gone beyond carrying it
on. He has expanded it and probably passed more significant legislation
than many presidents have.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): In 1957, Jack Kennedy was chosen to select the
greatest senators in history; of course he could only look backwards.
Looking forward, he could have included his youngest brother.
SEN. ORRIN GRANT HATCH, (R) UTAH SENATOR: He is willing to be
bipartisan. I think he goes down in history as one of the all-time great
liberal senators, democrat senators, no question about it.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): In January 2008, Ted Kennedy once more
responded to the siren call of the White House, not for himself, but to
support a presidential candidate who personified the Kennedy vision, that
legacy, that dream, that would never die.
TED KENNEDY: I know what America can achieve. I have seen it. I
have lived it, and with Barack Obama, we can do it again.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Despite being challenged by a serious illness,
Kennedy refused to quit, going to Denver to speak to the democratic
TED KENNEDY: And, this November, the torch will be passed again to a
new generation of Americans, so with Barack Obama and for you and for me,
our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The
hope rises again, and the dream lives on.
TOWNSEND: My father said, 40 years ago, there will be an African-
American president. And, I think there was a sense that what Barack Obama
was doing was continuing the sense of engagement, excitement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: In truth, the next generation of the
Kennedy is a guy named Obama.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we
can. Thank you. God bless you, and may god bless the United States of
MATTHEWS (voice-over): For 50 years now, the story of the Kennedy
brothers` dogged pursuit of the presidency has been without parallel. What
caught us up in Jack and roused us with Bobby and allured us with Ted was
deliverance from political mediocrity. They said we could do better. Most
of all, despite their human frailties, they called us to a higher and, yes,
JOHN F. KENNEDY, 35TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All free men,
wherever they may live, citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man,
I take pride in the words, "Ich bin ein Berliner."
ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Everyone here will ultimately be judged, will
ultimately judge himself on the efforts he has contributed to building a
new world society.
TED F. KENNEDY: It is the glory and the greatness of our traditions
to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): Three of the four Kennedy brothers died in the
service of our country -- Joe in World War II, Jack as president, and Bobby
fighting to end a war. We will remember them by how they made politics,
government, and our national life itself so much grander, so much more
exciting, more vital. Yes, they were tough, and yes, they made a
difference. And, the for the longest time, they took our breath away.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what
you can do for your country.
MATTHEWS: For MSNBC, I am Chris Matthews. Thanks for watching.
MATTHEWS: Hello. I am Chris Matthews. Welcome to our special
evening on MSNBC to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the
President John F. Kennedy. November 22, 1963, was undeniably a day that
changed America. But, when it comes to the issue of guns, did the killing
of a popular president lead to real change any more than so many other days
in which gun violence struck this country?
Up next on our all new documentary, "50 Years of Guns" Reverend Al
Sharpton reflects on that history and travels around the country talking to
gang members, second amendment advocates, and victims of mass shootings.
Reverend Sharpton finds a common loss in the suffering and a tighter grasp
on the anger surrounding the issue of guns in America.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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