Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC/CNBC’s “Hardball,” departed from his show’s normal hard-hitting political banter to offer his admiration for Winston Churchill at a packed Media and Public Affairs auditorium Thursday night.
Matthews, a trustee of The Churchill Center which sponsored the speech, detailed Churchill’s accomplishments, saying if he could have anyone on his show, it would be the journalist and former British prime minister. While Churchill made mistakes, Matthews said, he was “right about the big things,” including the threat to communism the Nazis posed.
“What (Churchill) did was save the honor of a century,” Matthews said. “He told the world the truth when they didn’t want to hear it . he knew why he was there.”
Matthews defined a good leader by his sense of purpose, spontaneity and passion, all of which he said Churchill had.
“He stands to be a great example of what a free man can be,” Matthews said.
Matthews compared the threat of communism in Churchill’s time to current tensions in U.S. relations with China. Churchill knew it was not an ideological fight, Matthews said. He knew to fight the current threat and hit it hard. Some type of containment is appropriate in dealing with China now, but the U.S. must be careful, Matthews said.
“Freedom is contagious and so is nationalism,” he said.
He said the flaw in some people’s strategy dealing with China is that they forget the long history between the Unites States and Asia by focusing on the most recent events. A person can’t go to China and pretend history began this week, he said, stressing China’s earlier refusal to release a U.S. spy plane and its crew should not be enough to spark a war.
“Nobody goes to war over this incident,” Matthews said. “Nobody.”
Responding to junior Justin Petrone’s question about young people’s lack of interest in politics, Matthews said there are fewer issues to get excited about in politics today. The size of President George W. Bush’s tax cut does not engage young people as much as the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War did in the 1960s, he said.
“You want to get the attention of students in this country – bring back the draft,” he said. “People from my generation care,” Matthews said, asking why politicians from his generation should get out of the way when there is no one to replace them.
“Our standards have changed, greatness has eluded us,” Matthews said.
Matthews encouraged politicians to do something different because there are “a lot of stiffs on Capitol Hill.” Matthews said too many politicians worry about saying the right thing without believing the sound bytes they deliver. He used Al and Tipper Gore’s infamous kiss at the Democratic Convention as an example of “fake spontaneity,” but he said it was close enough the real thing that he did not mind.
Gore had no spontaneity, Matthews said. Former President Bill Clinton had it, along with political brains and charm, but lacked greatness, he said. President Bush remains an open book, he said.
Matthews concluded the speech by answering a question about the supposed liberal bias of the media. ABC, NBC and CBS networks’ base in New York holds an inherent liberal bias by its location in a northeastern city, he said.
“Fox comes from Australia, I think,” Matthews said jokingly, referring to a network he said is slanted to the right of the political spectrum.
Matthews agreed that the media have a liberal bias, saying news corporations tend to be tolerant as a community. Almost 95 percent of newspapers and news shows are pro-gay rights and pro-choice, which is not representative of the American public, he said.
“I try to go after everybody to balance it on my show,” Matthews said. While not everyone may agree on the issues, he stressed the importance of everyone being able to get along.
“We need to try to find a common ground where a free society can live together,” Matthews said.