A Little Hardball With Chris Matthews About John Kennedy

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I just interviewed MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews about his new book, “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.”

You know things didn’t go well when, a few minutes after the interview concludes, Matthews’ booker emails my producer:

“I wish you would’ve let me know that Larry was planning on attacking Chris. Chris is always up for a good, healthy debate, but that was really not professional or cool.”

To which my talented, hardworking producer, Jason Rose, responded:

“Larry addressed historical accounts directly related to the subject matter of Mr. Matthews’ book. Larry doesn’t agree with the one-sidedness of the book’s portrayal of JFK.

“Mr. Matthews refused to address Larry’s issue with the book. He refused to debate. Larry made no personal attacks on Mr. Matthews, but tried to address the book’s shortcomings. Given Mr. Matthew’s typical on-air demeanor and style, Larry felt that a spirited debate would be more than manageable by Mr. Matthews.”

Matthews’ book ends in 1989 — as the Berlin Wall came crashing down:

“The Iron Curtain was being ripped aside. Communism was in its death throes. The Cold War was ending without the nuclear war we so feared. We had gotten through it alive, those of us who once hid under those little desks of ours.

“Thanks to him, I’d say. He’d come a long way from the kid who caused trouble at boarding school, from being Joe Kennedy’s son. In the time of our greatest peril, at the moment of ultimate judgment, an American president kept us from the brink, saved us really, kept the smile from being stricken from the planet.

“He did that. He, Jack Kennedy.”

My goodness.

Matthews seems to think that Kennedy “kept us from the brink” two times: first, by Kennedy’s valor in rescuing his crew from the PT 109 he skippered; and second, when he stood down Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and pushed the world back from thermonuclear war.

As to PT 109, Kennedy unquestionably acted heroically after a Japanese destroyer rammed his boat, splitting it in two and knocking most of the crew into the waters now filled with boat fuel. Matthews goes into great detail about what Kennedy did, how far he swam, how he tugged one crewman by a strap Kennedy pulled with his mouth as he swam — all powerful stuff, well told.

But Matthews says nothing about how and why Kennedy’s boat got into trouble in the first place. The History News Network notes:

“In the general election, Kennedy ran as a war hero. This was ironic. Though he deserved praise for his courage in the aftermath of the attack on PT 109, it had apparently sunk because he had been inattentive as a commander, as (Pulitzer-Prize winning author and historian) Garry Wills long ago pointed out. JFK himself worried that the events could justify either a medal or a court martial. In the end, he got the medal — after his father used his influence.”

Many have written about the less-than-movie-mythical opening scene to the PT 109 saga. But not Matthews, not even to dismiss the claims as untrue or as partisan hit pieces.

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  • Maxie

    Matthews is an irrelevant Democrat Party hack who worships at the altar of FDR as do so many lefties of a certain age. I'd guess Matthews saw Kennedy as a latter-day FDR and all the better to worship in fact than in legend. Yawn.

  • BLJ

    Chris Matthews an author? That is a good one. This guy is a joke. I wonder if his leg is still tingling when he thinks about Comrade O?

    Another book about JFK huh? How many does this make? Too many. If JFK was around today Matthews would be slamming the guy. Matthews is a clueless buffoon.

    • Reason_For_Life

      Maybe Matthews got Ted Sorenson to ghost write his book. That's how Kennedy wrote "Profiles in Courage".

      Since Sorenson died a year ago he can't be asked about it.

  • kateyleigh

    Kennedy was alone responsible for bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1989…and he'd been dead 26 years. Chris has a serious problem with these tingles…maybe they're really electrical short circuits in his synaptic nerve endings.
    Typical far left Liberal, it's OK for him to snark and be nasty, but not OK for him to be engaged and confronted.

    • ebonystone

      Matthews is mixed up; Kennedy was responsible for letting the Berlin Wall be built, not for it being torn down. And for leaving Castro in charge in Cuba.

      • kateyleigh

        That was nice. I was going for hardening of the arteries and completely delusional.

  • ebonystone

    I'm no fan of Kennedy, but I believe his assassination was one of the worst things that ever happened to America. Not because he was worth anything as President; indeed he'd proven pretty much a bust, and would likely have been defeated in 1964 if he had lived.
    But his assassination allowed Johnson and the Democrats to create a fictitious "Kennedy legacy" and win a landslide majority to carry it out. The result was the "Great Society" and the Vietnam war which together have wreaked havoc on the country ever since. Just think of the U.S. if a Republican (it wouldn't have been Goldwater) had defeated JFK in 1964: no massive and financially ruinous expansion of welfare handouts and no equally ruinous expansion of the bureaucracy to administer the handouts; no tens of thousands of casualties from a poorly-conducted war and no financial burden from that war and no discredited military; no privileged minorities; and no multi-decade Senate career for Teddy and the evil legislation he sponsored.

    • Daniel Fagan

      I agree, the reason JFK was in Dallas was a desperate campaign for reelection begun earlier than any incumbent had ever launched before, His poll numbers were bad in the West and South and he knew it. Nixon lost in 60, with the help of some proven voter fraud via Nazi Joe in a squeaker. It is not unreasonable to believe that he would have been trounced by the GOP in 64.

  • FriendofGaryCooper

    Are you saying that Johnson's victory in the 1964 election was largely because of JFK's untimely death? If so, I strongly disagree. LBJ's victory was largely due to how he carpet-bombed Goldwater with baloney attack ads.("He gives Gold to the rich and water to the poor," etc.) and successfully portrayed Goldwater as being against civil rights. But even though JFK made a few very serious mistakes; including the Bay of Pigs disaster,
    he partially made up for them. For example, JFK was influenced by Winston Churchill, on military strategy and foreign policy;thus his naval blockade of Cuba was very effective.
    On balance, JFK was actually a pretty good President.

    • ebonystone

      As I pointed out in my comment, if Kennedy had lived, it's very unlikely that Goldwater would have been the Republican candidate. The Republicans knew that Johnson — running on the "we owe it to the memory of Jack" platform — was nearly unbeatable, and nominated a weak candidate. But if Kennedy had lived and run for re-election, he was beatable — he'd won in 1960 only through the theft of votes in Illinois and Texas.
      As far as being a "pretty good President", well …. He was better than Johnson, Carter, Clinton, or Obama; and not as good as Truman, Eisenhower, or Reagan.