Chris Matthews on Disappointment with Obama, Super Committee's Crying 'Uncle'

Monday, November 21, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Chris Matthews, anchor of MSNBC's "Hardball" and NBC's "The Chris Matthews Show," and author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, talks about the Kennedy legacy, and today's political news—from the death of the Super Committee to the 2012 GOP race.

Nothing to root for

Chris Matthews isn't trying to hide his disappointment with Barack Obama—he's trumpeting it.

"There's nothing to root for," Matthews lamented on MSNBC over the weekend. He compared Obama's presidency to that of John F. Kennedy's, which saw the creation of the NASA's moon program and the Peace Corps; there are no such presidential initiatives to be proud of today, Matthews implied. "What are we trying to do in this administration?" Matthews asked. "Why does he want a second term?"

It's a thread that Matthews picked up today on the Brian Lehrer Show.

Everything I said was, I think, irrefutable...He promised to be a transformative president; in that case, you have to tell us what you're going to transform.

What Obama should have learned from Kennedy

Kennedy famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." Chris Matthews would like to hear the current president say something similar today; by his account, Obama has not stressed participatory politics since inauguration day.

Politics is not giving people things and expecting gratitude; it's letting them give you something, letting them invest in you. It's sharing. When Kennedy was president, every male, every female felt they were part of something, part of something that was American and patriotic and big and adventurous. They were all given a role.

Matthews feels as though we haven't been told where we're going and what we need to do—what each of us needs to contribute—in order to get there. In the past we had "war efforts" where people were charged with responsibilities that were as simple as buying war bonds; "Real participation is what leads to investment and what leads to patriotic spirit," Matthews said. Where's the modern equivalent?

Most disappointing for Matthews is that it's a mantle Obama said he would claim. He said he would be a transformative president, that he would strive to be among greats like Kennedy. Matthews notes that Obama surrounded himself with Kennedy people, Kennedy family, and had all these "evocations of Kennedy" in his speeches and events.

The chief reason why he should imitate Kennedy is that he promised he would, to do those grand inclusive things that really drive a country.

'No one faces defeat by being too extreme'

 The debt super committee's all-but-certain imminent failure underscores the political strife that many voters hoped would end with Obama's election. Matthews pointed out that both sides are so bound by hardcore constituency concerns that to give up anything in the name of a deal would be seen as suicide by bases that are increasingly extreme and unwilling to give ground.

The dangerous thing in American politics is this model we have now where no one can be defeated by a moderate...No one faces defeat by being too extreme. You can always win by going to the right if you're a conservative or left if you're a liberal. That model is very unstable.

Which is why, Matthews thinks, any compromise would almost have to happen away from the public eye and in secret. If compromise is seen as weak, compromise where no one can see.

It almost has to be done with invisible hands because no one wants to say they initiated it, and that's our problem.


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Comments [70]

David from NYC

When will Chris stop hawking his book? To be honest I am sick and tired of hearing about Jack Kennedy. He was a young president who was assasinated 2.5 years into his presidency. It was Johnson who followed through with the Civil Rights movement - much like Obama has done for the LGBT community. Plus, President Obama has taken the war on terror by the horns. Chris Matthews - get in a time machine and come back to the present. Jack Kennedy wasn't all that.

Feb. 07 2012 01:05 PM

America made the same mistake electing a president that Michael Jackson did selecting a doctor

Dec. 07 2011 10:44 AM

Obama was not vetted by the dems or the liberal media and our country and its citizens have paid a very high price for it. Obama is anything but a Kennedy. When a country and its citizens are so dumbed down that they vote for a man to lead the free world that has never had a job in the sense of the word, has been a community organizer which the country now has found out is a community agitator. Voted present in the senate most of the time. Got into the senate by getting rid of his opposition in a questionable way. Yes, our country was warned. There were people sounding the alarm saying you do not know who you are voting for. This man is a socialist and was mentored by Ayers and under the teaching of the radical Jereimiah Wright. As Jeremiah Wright said not God Bless America God D### America. This is the first president in history that did not give a thanksgiving prayer. I have no sorrow for all of you that voted this imposter into office you deserve exactly what you got I just hope you are not stupid enough to vote for him again.

Nov. 26 2011 05:56 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

IF average wages had kept pace with the growth in our economy since Kennedy was in office, the average income today would now be at about $118K/yr. Instead, the politicians have rewarded the donor class and the income goes largely to the upper tier.

We either find a way to raise middle class incomes or prepare for blood in the streets. It's about disposable income and how do we get more of that into workers pockets. Attacking unions (public or otherwise) and letting so many low-paid illegal immigrants into the country is not the way to go.

I made the same comment to Mr. Matthews on his own blog but he chooses to ignore the dramatic shift in incomes that drives most of the current trouble.

Working backwards, the buying power of today's $51,000 household income took only $2,200 in 1961.

Nov. 23 2011 11:12 PM
Brad Simpson

Obama and Kennedy shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence. Kennedy was a leader and a uniter and Obama is anything but a leader and remains a divider.

Nov. 22 2011 12:24 PM
Tim from Berkeley, California

I'm feeling a little after listening to this podcast ... UGH. Sometimes the mob doesn't know how overwhelmingly they can affect everyone else - there are so many of them they are blind to the fact that they represent *an* opinion, not *the* opinion. In this case, baby-boom nostalgia moaners.

It's not 1965 any more, Mr Matthews.

And the country's not wealthy, not happy.

And the opposition party is no longer sane - it's acting like a wounded animal: very dangerous.

Oh, and the president is no longer white.

Wake up. These are *brittle*, *brittle* times, and you do nothing but help the party you oppose by dwelling on noble heroes of the past. Instead, look at how squeezed we are now, at how intransigent the parties in Washington are. No one from either side is going to warm those on the other, no one. There's not much the President can do, as the terms of the problems are so severe, yet so simple.

And if the Left wants to take pride in electing a black man to the White House, then at least keep in mind that every politician's every move is predicated on getting into office again; make one mistake -- ie by celebrating after the inauguration too long, and the wrong people will feel their face is being rubbed in the spectacle of black exuberance in the Presidency.

Leave all that to the 2nd black president. For now, these are times that true leaders *must* tiptoe around everyone, as the two sides work out their tug of war. Obama's style is lost on you, I'm afraid. And don't blame the problems of the Democrats all on Obama. The Democrats need to command a tone that echoes, at least, at first, the haughty blowhardiness of the Republicans - and they've never been able to do that - no in the last 75 years any way. That's the Democrats' lack of character, not Obama's. And though I hope he is willing to rally them to be more outspoken in ways they've always eschewed, he always runs the risk of being labelled uppity. And not making to the next term. At least not alive.

Chris, grow up. The country is passing you by.

Nov. 21 2011 08:15 PM
Joe Br from BK

I voted for Obama, but I almost feel like he may as well be in the last year of his second term. And in a way I feel like his job is done. He did a great thing by breaking down the race wall and in a way creating a new reality for our country - very powerful stuff psychologically - and he transitioned us out of the Bush Dark Age despite having been handed a crap stick rather than a baton.

However, events are taking place so quickly that I don't think we have time for a lame duck president.

Obama's been great in many ways and dismal in others. If he quits, wins or loses, I'll still have the same respect for him. But to me it would be best if we accelerate the political process toward solving real problems by shifting the political paradigm with a third party.

Nov. 21 2011 07:01 PM
Joe B from Brooklyn

I voted for Obama, but I almost feel like he may as well be in the last year of his second term. And in a way I feel like his job is done. He did a great thing by breaking down the race wall and in a way creating a new reality for our country - very powerful stuff psychologically - and he transitioned us out of the Bush Dark Age despite having been handed a crap stick rather than a baton.

However, events are taking place so quickly that I don't think we have time for a lame duck president.

Obama's been great in many ways and dismal in others. If he quits, wins or loses, I'll still have the same respect for him. But to me it would be best if we accelerate the political process toward solving real problems by shifting the political paradigm with a third party.

Nov. 21 2011 06:57 PM
Joe B from Brooklyn

whatffsdfd sdfgsdf eg sd

Nov. 21 2011 06:56 PM
Natalie from Brooklyn

I would like to have heard Chris Matthews talk about what Kennedy's response might have been to OWS (silence like Obama?) and to Obama's military moves in the China Seas and to Mid-East wars. Also, did he discuss Bobby Kennedy's influence in his "Elusive" book?.

Nov. 21 2011 01:13 PM
Laura from UWS

I can't wait for the all-important segment which complements Chris Matthews's comparison of JFK and Obama in which we get to compare Chris Matthews with Edward R. Morrow. I'm so disappointed in Chris Matthews.

Nov. 21 2011 10:45 AM

... another Korporate Media® clown.


Nov. 21 2011 10:41 AM

I should actually correct my statement below and say "Right" not Conservatives. I actually consider myself a fiscal Conservative, just don't agree with the "No taxes ever no matter what" group and the consequence of that: no funding for legitimate functions of government.

Nov. 21 2011 10:40 AM
alive in NJ

Hagiography or biography? Although Chris does not seem to know the difference, we can make our own determination! Oh, to have lived when GODS ROAMED THE EARTH AND GIANTS WALKED THE LAND! Really, Chris!

Nov. 21 2011 10:37 AM
Chris from NYC & NJ

It's disappointing to hear Matthews be as ridiculously "evenhanded" when discussing the deficit committee as practically all the other reporters & commentators. He says the Republicans are stuck worrying about their no taxes ideology (something like that) while the Democrats are stuck worrying about their constituency. Isn't worrying about your constituency appropriate? In fact, a majority of citizens, Democrat or otherwise, want to see higher taxes at least on the wealthy but the Republicans stubbornly resist this way of improving the bottom line.

Nov. 21 2011 10:37 AM
Alfred from New Rochelle, NY

I don't believe Kennedy had people who looked to make him fail at every turn like Obama does. If Chris would open his eyes, he will also see that we are in a very different time. What did the republican leader say his primary goal is--make Obama fail. People need to stop making comparison from 40 plus years ago when politicians genuinely worked for the good of the country, these people today are all about winning and power.

Nov. 21 2011 10:37 AM

Good point Geo.

Reagan's tax rate on Capital Gains would make him a liberal with todays Conservatives.

Nov. 21 2011 10:35 AM
Geo from Astoria

the lefts 'obsession' with JFK is nothing compared to the rights obsession with Reagan.

Nov. 21 2011 10:33 AM

bring OWS and bring them into the WH?

Nov. 21 2011 10:31 AM
zeggae from NJ

im on Chris gone yet?..holla at me if he has split.

Nov. 21 2011 10:31 AM

Is Chris wearing a toupee in his WNYC photo, or is his haircut that bad?

Nov. 21 2011 10:29 AM
Robert from NYC

He should do the gossip columns if there are still such things. Hey Brian, you haven't said much have you!

Nov. 21 2011 10:29 AM
James Kaboui

Ugh. Just tuning out now. Back with you in a bit, Brian.

Nov. 21 2011 10:28 AM
Robert from NYC

Good that he's on the phone, he spits and slobbers when he speaks.

Nov. 21 2011 10:27 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

I love Matthew's telling of the Bay of Pigs. He just left out Gen Vandergrift, Commandant of the Corps, laughing his ass off at the op plan. He went so far as to overlay a map of Cuba with a map of Tarawa, and noted how the 2nd Marine Division suffered 3,100 casualties in only three days. This undisputed expert on amphibious warfare knew that Bay of Pigs was a loser from the outset. How could Pres Kennedy not have known that.

This Matthews character is a hack, nothing more. Honestly, liberal or conservative, who cares what this blowhard thinks?

Nov. 21 2011 10:27 AM

Sequestration is the best thing ever. It will force cuts across the board which everyone seems to agree we need. And then it will result in taxes returning, (not being raised - returning), to where they were pre-Bush.

May as well get rid of everyone in Congress since they're all worthless.

Nov. 21 2011 10:27 AM
CL from NY

Sorry for the typo-- "elusive." Must have been thinking of the "illusion" of journalism or scholarship that this guy epitomizes.

Note to CS: rapid-fire talking does not constitute keen thinking.

Nov. 21 2011 10:25 AM
Anna from Brooklyn

Obama is his own President, and we shouldn't put expectations that he should be JFK Part Two as Matthews is. Obama is fighting a tone deaf and stubborn Congress, and has striven to being many political, and social changes that champion good for all people.

Matthews was one of the WORST people on the left who perpetuate the image of the Impossible Messiah of Obama and worse, his views on race are MESSED UP. He constant speaks of Blacks as deserving of constant pity and as statistical blocks. As a black woman I can't stand this guy.

WIth Matthews, you'd think it was Obama's job to come to each of our homes, wake us up in the morning, get us dressed, feed us, and other Messianic duties. Mr. Matthews, you obviously have a book to sell - you are not a journalist, you are stuck in your own ego, and are the Left wing's Rush Limbaugh and that is no compliment.

I agree with an earlier poster's comment that Obama's place in history is still being written, and Matthews is a working wizard for ratings. DO us a favor and cut this segment short!

Nov. 21 2011 10:25 AM
Jean Michel from Westchester

Shouldn't much of the blame be placed on the in fighting and blocking of policies and law by the republicans who seem to have a vendetta against Obama. A president only has so much power to make decisions if he's fought at every effort to help the American people in the way that he sees fit. Give us a democratic majority to go with his next term and I'll show you the America he promised us.

Nov. 21 2011 10:25 AM
Ron Mwangaguhunga from Williamburg

also -- could Chris Matthews talk about how he believes Don King swung Ohio in favor of Bush in 2004 by talking to black churches?

Nov. 21 2011 10:23 AM
Cammie NBC from NBC NBC

Everyone should watch NBC!!!!

Don't forget to watch NBC's Meet the Press & DEFINITELY Hardball

Watch it!!!! Right NOW!

(is this public radio or a promo for nbc universal)

Nov. 21 2011 10:23 AM

super commitee is foolish...they can't cut anything from future congress...Ron Paul will cut a trillion year about that

Nov. 21 2011 10:22 AM
BK from Hoboken

So Obama promised and got passed some seriously major legiation regarding health care. This helps tens of millions of Americans. I can look at JFK more dispassionately than many given my age at 36. JFK ultimately is idolized more because of his unfortunate death and background in a famous family. Looked at objectively, Obama can stand shoulder to shoulder with Kennedy.
Brian just nailed it- many boomers let their adolescent experiences cloud their memories.

By the way- does Matthews let his guests speak on his show or go on forever like this?

Nov. 21 2011 10:21 AM
Andy from New Jersey

When FDR was asked to implement the policies he campaigned on, he replied "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." We, the supporters have to still be politically involved in order to support Obama in the policies that we want him to enact. Doing that in out political system, where K Street is run by lobbyists and special interest groups is the hard part. Please respond.

Nov. 21 2011 10:20 AM
Robert from NYC

Of the good reviews that I read of this thing they were all of good friends and colleagues of his.

Nov. 21 2011 10:20 AM
Ron Mwangaguhunga from Williamburg

on a lighter note, could you get chris to tell that great story about the black mamba snake that chased his car when he was in Mozambique in the Peace Corps? #harrowingstory

Nov. 21 2011 10:20 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

Talk about a man crush...I find it initially curious, then boring.

Nov. 21 2011 10:20 AM
Hugh Scully from Hawthorne, NY

The whole idea that we need a president to inspire us is really over cooked. It's romantic and lovely, but it's not true.

Nov. 21 2011 10:20 AM

Not that Obama is great or inspiring on the Space Program, but he did try and raise their budget. The Republican controlled Congress cut it back.

Nov. 21 2011 10:19 AM
sp from nyc

Anyone who believed Obama was a progressive was delusional. These were his positions BEFORE the 2008 election:
1. pro-death penalty
2. voted for FISA and against citizens right to privacy
3. reneged on removing troops from Iraq and plans to send more to Afghanistan (and possibly invade Pakistan)
4. wants to increase Bush’s faith-based initiatives
5. against gay marriage
6. approved Supreme Court decision favoring more handguns in D.C.
Hard to be disappointed if you were never enchanted. The American electorate needs to look at positions rather than personalities.

Nov. 21 2011 10:19 AM
CL from NY

What a blabbermouth and idolator. Kennedy is certainly "ellusive" to Mathews. He is an uncritical hack, a talking head masquerading as a serious biographer.

Someone should tell Mathews that a modicum of civility is de rigueur in an interview. His logorrhea is beyond annoying.

Who really cares what Chris Mathews thinks about anything????

Nov. 21 2011 10:19 AM
Karen from NYC

re: disappointment in Obama.
What about that Nobel Prize? What were they thinking?

Nov. 21 2011 10:19 AM
David from Queens

Matthews thinks he's the greatest thinker since, well, himself. He should have his own statue errected on his lawn, he could then broadcast his show live from his unveiling...

Nov. 21 2011 10:18 AM
RJ from prospect hts.

A major difference is that Kennedy was coming out of growing and healthy economy, not a Depression-like crash. The problem with Obama is that he was not brave when dealing with the banks--I don't think those are comparable.

The highlights that Mr. Matthews is making cost money that has only been available to the wars in this time--Kennedy had some even with Vietnam available because of the health of the economy (including rates of taxes on the wealthy). Obama did not commit the war money and, though I have sympathies with how difficult it has been to get out of the current wars.

Nov. 21 2011 10:18 AM
Fishmael from NYC

It's tragic that an entire generation of young people galvanized by Obama's defeat of Bush must now accept the bitter reality of "no change". I hope that their urge to justice and progress survives and doesn't descend into cynicism, which will hand victory to the ultra-conservatives and oligarchical machine.
But I have hope that they will take away the lesson that they've got to build the new world themselves.

Nov. 21 2011 10:18 AM
James Kaboui

This is a terrible segment, Brian. Of absolutely no value so far.

Nov. 21 2011 10:17 AM
Ron Mwangaguhunga from Williamburg

Chris Matthews, idealizing Churchill, JFK, FDR

Nov. 21 2011 10:17 AM
M from Brooklyn

Chris Matthews needs Pres Obama to "issue orders"? He needs to be inspired by the President's call to duty? Isn't Matthews a member of the generation that demanded an end to Selective Service?

Forget political commentary, Matthews should be doing stand-up comedy.

Nov. 21 2011 10:16 AM
Andre from Brooklyn

Ugh, what is this? I listen to WNYC so I don't have to put up with blowhards like Matthews

Nov. 21 2011 10:16 AM
Ron Mwangaguhunga from Williamburg

Chris Matthews is always IDEALIZING. Ultimately, Obama is just a man, limited, with an incredible opposition -- moreso after the midterm elections -- and should be seen as also limited aside from that, but by the state of the American economy he inherited. Can you imagine Obama trying to get a new federal program like the Moon and Peace Corps through this Congress? And does Matthews even take into account how the first year of his Presidency was wrestling to get Health Care passed?

Nov. 21 2011 10:16 AM
john from office

Last time I check, Kennedy was killed before he finished anything. He will be forevr young and pristine. Sorry, he was not perfect, remember Vietnam.

Nov. 21 2011 10:16 AM
James Kaboui

So, this is really just a book tour. Got it.

Nov. 21 2011 10:15 AM
east villiage from NYC

What does CM mean by Obama does not care for their (congressional members)company? He does not like them, he does not trust them...what exactly?

Nov. 21 2011 10:15 AM

It's hard to compare JFK and Obama on tax rates, it's not exactly apples to apples. The top tax rate when JFK came to office was a whopping 91%.

Nov. 21 2011 10:14 AM

Chris is a great ENTERTAINER--and a money-maker! He is also caught in a time warp. His longing for JFK and Tip O'Neil, the golden age of the Irish American, is tedious. Further, he has not recovered from his overly ardent support for Bill and Hilary. His political commentary is, in a work, entertaining, but hardly credible!

Nov. 21 2011 10:14 AM

Brian do you think you can get a word in on your own show

Nov. 21 2011 10:13 AM
Ron Mwangaguhunga from Williamburg

Chris does not take into account the amount of resistance, ab initio, that Obama faced (Bohner and McConnell have been masterful in herding cats, keeping the GOP in line as the party of "No").

Nov. 21 2011 10:13 AM

Chris Matthews clearly adores the sound of his own voice too much to let anyone else talk.

Nov. 21 2011 10:12 AM
Robert from NYC

Can we cut this segment short? He loves hearing himself talk most of us don't.

Nov. 21 2011 10:11 AM
Cori from NJ

A couple of worthwhile reviews on Chris Matthews' latest appearances re his book and the JFK assassination:

Nov. 21 2011 10:11 AM
Antonio from tony from bayside

Chris Matthews is like a walking political dictionary...I love how the folks that go on his show always know their limits...

Question? Why hasn't Chris gotten into some kind of political campaign? AM I crazy this guy is not someone's chief of staff?

Maybe he should run!

Nov. 21 2011 10:11 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

I'm no fan of Pres Obama, but the fact is is that he's the president: he's doing the job, day-in and day-out. Chris Matthews braying on that he needs inspiration sounds like these campus idiots stinking up Zuccotti Park. Here's another one who needs a lesson in adulthood.

Nov. 21 2011 10:11 AM
zeggae from NJ

I once saw on Matthews say on his show that we went into Iraq for altruistic reasons. I said to myself this man is in la la land. I couldn't listen to anything he said after. Zero credibility to me

Nov. 21 2011 10:11 AM
Steve from Manhattan

From a man who felt "a tingle down my leg," I would not put much credence into his opinions on Obama. He's clearly controlled by his emotions.

Nov. 21 2011 10:10 AM

His place in history is still being written

Nov. 21 2011 10:10 AM
EF Slattery from New York, NY

Classic book-promotion technique by Matthews--although throwing the President under the bus to do it is really beyond the pale.

Nov. 21 2011 10:10 AM
Ron Mwangaguhunga from Williamsburg

One of the great weaknesses of Chris Matthews -- and I am a fan -- is that he compared all politicians to FDR and JFK. Maybe Obama's "preview of coming attractions" will come once the campaign starts in earnest?

Nov. 21 2011 10:09 AM
Robert from NYC

Wait til someone throws it in the garbage then take it home if you REALLY want to read it. Pure garbage.

Nov. 21 2011 10:08 AM

ask him about Ron Paul Brian

Nov. 21 2011 10:04 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Since JFK's belief that lower taxes are good for the economy...and our an inconvenient truth for Mathews (and what the new "journalism" has become), he devotes exactly one page to Kennedy's tax cuts.
Given how far the Democrat party has lurched to the left, Kennedy couldn't possibly have gotten the nomination of that party today. Comparing him to Obama, as Axelrod has tried, confounds logic.
He was everything that the aloof empty suit currently in the White House is not....
…strong on national defense and favored a muscular foreign policy
…a believer in the greatness of our “Great Experiment” as something special in the world
…an ardent believer in the space program (which BHO has quietly dismantled)
…cognizant of whom our friends were …who our enemies were…and treated them accordingly
LOL….think of his most famous quote and how perversely the Democrats of today have flipped it into “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you.” Or as the resentful Michelle Obama might ask….what your country has done TO YOU.
What chutzpah gasbag Mathews has to pose as any resemblance of “Jack’s” intellectual or political heir.

Nov. 21 2011 07:56 AM

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