Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, June 24, 2017

Chris Matthews discusses President Kennedy at AU

Chris Matthews discusses President Kennedy at AU
Chris Matthews spoke in the School of International Service atrium on Feb. 15 about his new JFK biography, “Elusive Hero.”

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews painted a portrait for AU students of the man he calls his hero: President John F. Kennedy.

“I like heroes that don’t kill people,” Matthews said in a Feb. 15 speech at the School of International Service.

Matthews, the host of the MSNBC talk show “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” spoke about his new book “Elusive Hero,” a biography of Kennedy.

“I like heroes that save people,” he said, adding that he believes Kennedy was that kind of hero.

Kennedy was the type of man who believed the insolvable was solvable, from rescuing his crew during an attack on his Navy unit in World War II to leading the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union into the Cold War’s first peace treaty, Matthews said.

“I want to talk about what a war hero looks like,” he said before describing Kennedy’s battle feats.

Young Kennedy swam four hours to shore while pulling a 42-year old injured man along with him, after a Japanese destroyer cut his boat in half in 1943.

“I keep thinking when I hear that story: It’s like “The Godfather” when Michael lights the cigarette in front of the hospital and he looks at his hand and realizes it’s not shaking, and he realizes he’s the Don,” Matthews said. “Kennedy was like that.”

Matthews reminded students how the early 1960s were filled with fear of a Third World War. He recalled hiding under his desk as a student, not knowing whether the alarm was a fire drill or warning of a nuclear attack. But Kennedy saved the nation, he said.

Kennedy said all man’s problems are manmade and solvable. Matthews credits him for bringing reassurance to Americans.

“You don’t hear politicians talk like that anymore,” he said. “The sense of possibility that if you do your job and lead properly and look for opportunities for success, not just blame-gaming, then you can actually get something done.”

Matthews predicts the government will still be divided after the next election and President Barack Obama will most likely win the presidential election, he said.

A politician’s objective should be serving the United States, not playing games or trying to unseat the president, he said.

“I don’t like how the first thing [U.S. Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] says when a new president comes in is, ‘my number one goal is to get rid of this guy,’” Matthews said. “It should never be your number one goal. Your number one goal should be the republic.”

Matthews said there are a few Democrats and Republicans in the government today who, like Kennedy, gained respect through their service to society for their heroism in war, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for their actions in Vietnam.

“I think we’d probably lose something if we don’t have leaders that had that war experience,” Matthews said.

Matthews recalled the 1963 commencement speech Kennedy gave at AU, titled “A Strategy for Peace,” which led to the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

The Treaty, which led to an agreement beneficial to the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union, was a stunning example of what international policy has the potential to do, Matthews said.

“I’d be very proud to go to the school where that occurred,” he said, recommending that every student read Kennedy’s speech.

After recalling some of the highlights of Kennedy’s biography, he urged students to buy his book and stayed after the event to sign every copy.

“If you don’t buy it, you’re crazy, and I won’t like you,” Matthews said.

nglass@theeagleonline.com