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Matthews plays ‘Hardball’ on Trump, Democrats, others

by Mar. 28, 2018, 11:06 AM

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (right) hosted MSNBC's Chris Matthews (center) and Vanderbilt Distinguished Visiting Professor Jon Meacham (left) for a Chancellor's Lecture Series discussion March 27. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (right) hosted MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (center) and Vanderbilt Distinguished Visiting Professor Jon Meacham (left) for a Chancellor’s Lecture Series discussion March 27. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

Chris Matthews didn’t disappoint “Hardball” fans in his Vanderbilt appearance – the straight-talking MSNBC host started by lauding the young leaders of Saturday’s nationwide marches for gun-law reform.

He went on to criticize Democrats for “talking down to people,” evangelicals for giving President Trump a pass on moral issues, and candidates from both major parties for focusing more on fundraising than people.

His visit was a collaboration between the Chancellor’s Lecture Series and the annual Impact Symposium – established expressly to increase the campus’s exposure to current issues by bringing intellectually challenging, and sometimes controversial, speakers to campus. Fifty years ago, the symposium hosted Sen. Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy in March 1968, attracting 16,000 people from across the United States.

Attendees on Tuesday received copies of Matthews’ new biography, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.

The veteran journalist, who was interviewed on stage by Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos and Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer and Visiting Distinguished Professor Jon Meacham, saved his warmest words for Kennedy. Matthews read from an unscripted speech Kennedy gave in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot: “We can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”

“Bobby was the anti-Trump,” Matthews said. “He was a uniter, not a divider. He was for poor people and minorities. He looked at waitresses and construction workers and cops as his people. He had this street cred where he could walk into a tough African American neighborhood after King had just been killed. The police refused to escort him into the neighborhood. He went with John Lewis.”

Zeppos pointed out Matthews’ earlier life as a top aide to Reagan-era Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, a Democrat. “You and the speaker worked across the aisle and managed to get enduring legislation,” Zeppos said. “Didn’t that create a certain stability to the law that you’re not going to see anymore?”

Matthews agreed and related a story about O’Neill visiting President Ronald Reagan in the hospital after the president was shot. O’Neill got on his knees next to the bed and prayed the 23rd Psalm.

“That America, where political sides could come from here and here and get together, that’s gone,” Matthews said. “Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, what do they do all day? They don’t make deals. The word ‘congress’ means come together.”

Earlier Tuesday, Matthews recorded a Zeppos Report podcast, which will be posted here.

The Impact Symposium continues Wednesday with Hasan Minhaj, correspondent for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.