Chris Matthews, popular host of MSNBC’s ‘Hardball,’ was in town last week – plugging ‘Elusive Hero,’ his new book on President John F. Kennedy. During a public question-and-answer session following an appearance at the Enoch Pratt Free Library downtown, the tough-talking Matthews struck me as a bit conflicted.
While he asserted that morality “belongs in public life,” Matthews added bombastically that “we don’t want sharia of the Christian sort.”
“It’s always going to be a tricky question to what extent we bring our values to political life,” he said, dismissing recent cultural skirmishes as little more than candidates seeking advantages with their core constituencies.
“If you said to everyone in America (that) you can’t eat meat on Friday, that would be absurd,” said Matthews, whose aunt is a Catholic religious sister. “If you take religious precepts and apply them to the law, I think you’re missing the point. But, do we have communitarian values and love? Do we take those values with us? Of course we do.”
Matthews pointed out that the Civil Rights movement would not have happened without people of faith bringing their values to the public square. In the same breath, however – and without any sense of irony – Matthews said he’d oppose those who would seek an end to legalized abortion.
“In all fairness,” he insisted, “if someone said abortion was illegal, punishable by criminal sanctions, well, liberals like me would get involved in changing it because we have values too.”
In addressing the legacy of President Kennedy, the former longtime aid to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill praised the late president’s strong leadership during the Cuban missile crisis and his heroism during the Second World War.
Kennedy was effective, Matthews said, because he built alliances and was a natural leader who inspired people to follow him.
That’s not the case with President Barack Obama, Matthews said.
“Obama doesn’t have great organizational skills,” he asserted. “He goes home at night with Michelle. He doesn’t build relationships with people. He’s a solo act. Solo acts are very dangerous because that means you have no one backing you up.”
Matthews, who famously said during the 2008 presidential race that he had a “thrill” go up his leg while listening to an Obama speech, held out hope that Obama can become a great leader.