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Chris Matthews on John F. Kennedy

Chris Matthews host of "Hardball" speaks during a MSNBC panel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Image of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero
Author: Chris Matthews
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 496 pages

Jeremy Hobson: Well from a popular vote to a very popular President, who was in office 50 years ago. I'm talking about John F. Kennedy -- a liberal icon -- whose economics were anything but liberal.

Here to talk about that with us is Chris Matthews from MSNBC's Hardball. His new book, "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero" is out today. Chris Matthews, good morning.

Chris Matthews: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: Well, we know about Kennedy as a visionary; a foreign policy president. What was his economic legacy?

Matthews: It was surprising because this is one area where Republicans of the supply-side school have championed his legacy. He really did subscribe to Keynesian beliefs that the government needed to stimulate the economy.

And of course he believed in the space program for all kinds of reasons -- that being one of them; he believed in a big defense build-up for that reason, too. He thought they'd all help produce jobs.

And he did, in 1963, come out for a tax cut. Now, the irony of that time was that business opposed it. They were very much fiscalists in those days, and they wanted to get the budget deficit down -- even though it even though it was rather modest by today's terms. So ironically, he was at the time perceived to be a liberal with policies today which are perceived to be conservative.

Hobson: Yeah, he was critical, you write, of the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt's economics, saying "they put emphasis on rights rather than responsibilities."

Matthews: That is so Jack Kennedy. And I think it's hard to put an ideological tag on that kind of thinking, but he really believed in individual responsibility.

In fact, the "ask not" exhortation in the inaugural was about individual people doing something, not asking for relief or welfare or some kind of pork barrel. It was about doing something for yourself and for your country, and I think that was really him. And I don't know what kind of a tag you could put on that.

Hobson: Do you think that he understood the troubles that ordinary Americans went through -- this guy was a war hero, a Harvard graduate, born into a very powerful family?

Matthews: I think he understood the irony of life's unfairness. I think he certainly knew he was born to privilege. In fact, remember that great line in his first race for Congress when all the other fellas had not fought in the war and he had -- and that was of course his great strength in that campaign, it was a "khaki election" as they said back in the Boer War days. I mean, he was running as a returned serviceman. He said, "I guess I'm the only one here that didn't come up the hard way."

Hobson: What do you think today's politicians on both sides can learn from Jack Kennedy?

Matthews: Wow! Guts. Be a war hero. Be something of an intellectual, a reader of history; have the perspective of your times, but also what came before. I think being honest with the people and about your own mistakes. Jack Kennedy was essentially a patriot, and that's why I think most Republicans look back at him not just as their favorite Democrat, probably their favorite American president.

Hobson: Chris Matthews, author of "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero." Thanks so much for talking with us.

Matthews: Jeremy, thank you so much.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.
Image of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero
Author: Chris Matthews
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 496 pages
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He shameless promotes his book on his own program; asking you to go out and buy it.

Reference to JFK’s “Ask not . . .” line in his inaugural speech is one of the most overused and misinterpreted lines of the Twentieth Century. It’s a great way for irresponsible governments and anti-government neo-cons to show arrogance and honorable indifference, and not what JFK intended. Chris Mathews’ use of it here as means of promoting the same sort of individual responsibility rhetoric that by contrast shuns the notion of social responsibility is contemptible. I often watch Chris Mathews’ Hardball, but don’t always agree with his perspective, and this is one of those times. When JFK made this speech, he wasn’t intent on creating a subordinate class of underlings rendered powerless in the service of a rentier regime, as he himself made clear in a news conference, later in ‘62. To quote: “. . . the American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans.” But that’s where we’ve come, when it comes to securitized lending and a more regressive tax base. Until we admit it, reverse it, and come to value the ethic of social responsibility, there can be no real recovery. I don’t ask what my country can do for me, I ask what it is doing TO me, in partnership with Wall Street, and at market rates of interest.

Jack Kennedy and Chris Matthews
what a combo ??
Two of my most favorite guys !!

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