OBAMA NEEDS A BUDDY: Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” last week fielded questions about his new book, “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,” in San Francisco from Phil Bronstein, editor at large with Hearst Newspapers. Matthews was asked whether a presidential friendship could exist today such as the one JFK had with Ben Bradlee, then Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief. “I wonder why Obama doesn’t do more of that,” Matthews replied before an audience at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, remarking how the President “doesn’t have confederates.”
“I don’t know how you make it in politics without confederates. You don’t have anybody looking out for you….Nobody takes a punch for him or gives a punch. It’s like he’s a loner out there….I’ve never seen a politician like that. It’s extraordinary,” Matthews said, citing JFK’s younger brother Bobby as part of his cadre that extended to acting as a buffer to their domineering father, Joe Sr., to limit his political meddling in finances. (Joe Sr.’s scrutiny even reached to quibbling about his son’s secretaries being overpaid.)
This story first appeared in the November 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Absent an inner circle, Matthews said, Obama could at least join forces before the next election with other middle-of-the-road Democrats, such as Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, to bolster chances of the party maintaining control of the White House and Senate, while improving the odds of regaining a majority in the House.
Otherwise, going it alone as President opens “yourself up to personal abuse by middleweights like [House Majority Leader Rep. Eric] Cantor,” said Matthews of the conservative Tea Party crusader. “It’s a bad situation for a President. You have to be tougher than that….A politician has to be feared at some point. At some point, there has to be a [political] price paid for humiliating the guy….He’s President of the United States.”
As for Kennedy, the author surmises he segmented his life in order to cope with poor health that left him bedridden when, starting as a child, he’d spend hours alone reading history books and contemplating world affairs. “He had all these compartments he lived in, and nobody was in more than one, except him, and he lived among them. He liked that way of almost living anonymously among all these relationships,” Matthews told the audience.
Bunny Mellon told Matthews that Jackie Kennedy understood JFK’s idiosyncrasies and married him “because he was different,” with full knowledge of his affairs. “She never griped about it. She said he could do what he wants,” Mellon said.
To the San Francisco book-signing audience, Matthews said of the Kennedy marriage: “It was complete. It wasn’t exclusive.”