Politics, Television
May 21, 2008
MIKE BARNICLE ON HARDBALL: Reaction to Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis


HARDBALL with Chris Matthews

Mike Barnicle, Bertha Coombs, Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman20 May 2008

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In the midst of the country`s political conflict, Ted Kennedy gets a tough medical report.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Tonight was going to be a time to talk only about presidential politics and today`s two primaries, and We`ll get to the Kentucky and Oregon primaries later in the broadcast. But the news that came across around 1:00 o`clock this afternoon dominates our coverage this evening, that Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Expressions of both sympathy and hope poured in from across Washington and the country.

Barack Obama spoke with NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell earlier this afternoon.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The one thing I know about Ted Kennedy, though, he`s a fighter. He`s been fighting over 40 years in the Senate on behalf of people in need. He`s going to fight hard to battle this illness. And our job is to support him, support Vicki and the family, and to make sure that he knows where we`re there for him and we love him and that our thoughts and prayers are with him.

MATTHEWS: We love him. Joining us now, Bob Shrum, who has been an adviser to Ted Kennedy all these years, “Newsweek`s” Evan Thomas, who`s written a biography about Robert Kennedy, and MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle, who`s a close friend of the Kennedys, especially Teddy.

Let`s go right now to Shrummy. I was just with you this weekend. You have been one of the great collaborators with Senator Kennedy in politics. Tell me what we don`t know about Ted Kennedy. Let`s not do the obvious here. Tell me about the Teddy you know.

BOB SHRUM, FORMER KENNEDY ADVISER: The Teddy I know is someone who, while he`s out there fighting and winning more battles than probably any senator in modern history — and he`s one of the great senators of all time — is a joyous person, a person who even in adversity, as I found out during the 1980 campaign, can find something to smile about. He sustained us in that effort.

I mean, this afternoon, he`s in his hospital room. His family is all there. He`s anxious to leave at some point. And they`re telling stories and telling jokes. I mean…


SHRUM: … this a person who — you know, he just — it`s an Iris quality, Chris. I think you understand it. But he`s got it to a supreme degree.

MATTHEWS: You know, Evan Thomas, you wrote about Bob Kennedy, and it seems to me that there`s always going a be a connection between those two brothers especially. Bob Kennedy, we have the anniversary of his assassination coming up next month, the 40th anniversary, of course, and his beloved younger brother, who seemed like he was totally connected to Bob Kennedy.

EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, Teddy gave Bobby`s famous eulogy that made everybody, including me, cry, about the sense of both bravery of the Kennedys and duty. I mean, the thing that strikes me about Teddy Kennedy`s taking his hits over the years for being a playboy is the sense of duty. I mean, you know, four decades is a long time to be serving your country, and that`s what he`s done.

MATTHEWS: What do you think motivates him all these years not to be the — the bon vivant, just enjoy life? He`s got a lot of money and prestige and he`s got a great family. Why does he work so hard as a liberal champion? Why does he commit himself 60 hours a week to this cause?

THOMAS: You know, I think a lot of this is because of the father. Joe Kennedy`s also taken lot of heat over the years for being a bit of a playboy, but he instilled that sense of duty in his sons and his family, and he wasn`t kidding. The message obviously got through, and there`s a certain faith that the Kennedys keep with public service. And it transcends all the tragedies and foibles and dramas that we delight in. The sense of duty just transcends it all.

MATTHEWS: Mike Barnicle, you`ve spent some time with him.

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, Chris, when you were talking to Bob Shrum about the Teddy Kennedy that he knows — we all know the scars. We all know, you know, everything that`s in the headlines. We all know that we live in an age where hate can bubble to the surface in the Internet.

But when you were speaking to Bob about the Teddy Kennedy we don`t know, the Teddy Kennedy that we don`t read about or see about, my mind flashed back to a particularly — particularly horrible time in my life, in August of 1998. It was a terrible time. And one evening at our home, at our family home on Cape Cod, not that far from where the Kennedys live, there was a knock on the screen door. It was about 11:30 at night. And Teddy Kennedy was there at the door, and wordlessly, he gave me a pair of rosary beads and told me to hang in there, that everything passes, that the darkest of nights — that there`s a dawn to every dark night.

And the kind of guy that we don`t know is the kind of guy who has such enormous compassion, and not just in my case, not just me personally, but the kind of person who reaches out to people far less fortunate than he is — sick people, people in Massachusetts. There`s such a familiarity to Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. People feel they have such access to this man. And that`s the Ted Kennedy that very few people read about or see about.

MATTHEWS: You know, Bob, I was thinking about, you know, what Hillary Clinton`s going to do next if doesn`t work out for her in this campaign. And who knows what the next couple weeks hold. But Ted Kennedy lost a race for president, as you pointed out, back in `80, 28 years ago. And you and I were involved in that on different sides. And his decision seems like it was existential — I`m going to be one of the greatest senators in history.

SHRUM: I`m not sure that emerged immediately because before that, he`d already passed, for example, airline and trucking deregulation, as you know, because that happened during the Carter administration. But he is a natural legislator. He`s probably one of the — he probably is the greatest senator of the last 50 years and one of the five or six greatest senators in the history of the republic.

But if you think about the sweep of what he`s touched, from voting rights to sanctions on South Africa, to the minimum wage, to the Americans With Disabilities Act, to all of the investment in education and manpower development — I mean, there`s hardly anybody in his country whose life hasn`t been touched by his work. And I think when people examine this, you know, 40, 50, 60 years from now, they`re going to say he`s had more impact on the country than most presidents ever had.

But I`ll tell you one thing. He believes and I believe he`s going to go back to the floor of the United States Senate.

MATTHEWS: Well, Evan, it was pretty stark to get that medical prognosis from the hospital today, obviously cleared by the Kennedy family, that he is, in fact, suffering from a malignant brain tumor. And according to Bob Bazell here at NBC News, our medical correspondent, that`s not good news.

THOMAS: Well, you know, we seem to live with these Kennedy family tragedies. They`re in our — they`re part of our lives now — their lives, their deaths, their joys, their triumphs, their failures. And in a way, it`s not shocking. I mean, I sort of always expected to hear one day, you know, that something terrible has happened to a Kennedy.

You know, like everybody else, I fully expect that he`s not — that he`s got some fight left in him. I don`t think we`ve seen the last of him. I bet you he is, as Bob Shrum says, going to be back on the Senate floor. But this is part of this long continuum that the American people — I can`t think of another family where we`ve participated so much in every aspect of their lives. They`ve really become sort of the American family.

MATTHEWS: Well, they don`t seem to have a middle, do they, Mike? They seem to have great tragedy, great excitement, great fun, pleasure, the whole routine. There doesn`t seem to be a boring point in the Kennedy story.

BARNICLE: No, there hasn`t been. There hasn`t been. As Evan buoyant just pointed out, I mean, the litany of triumphs and tragedies of this family — we have shared in all of them from 1956 on, from the run for the vice presidential nomination for Jack Kennedy in Chicago to today. I mean, we have shared in all of them. They`ve been very public.

And Ted Kennedy himself — there`s an element to Ted Kennedy among a lot of people, I would think, that — especially in his home state of Massachusetts, where the shock comes not from the fact that he`s been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Those things happen. We all know that. The shock comes from the fact that so many people are so used to having him in their presence that the idea of him not being there is somewhat shocking.

MATTHEWS: I agree. You know that poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” guys? It really reminds me of him, the guy at the funeral that is the source of life, the life force in the room, you know, the being that represents life.

Here`s Senator Clinton. Of course, he did not endorse her. He endorsed Barack Obama. But here`s his colleague, Senator Clinton, talking about the news of Kennedy`s diagnosis today.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s never been anybody like him in the Senate. He is probably the most effective single senator that our country has ever seen. And just as he has fought year after year to try to make the changes that will benefit our nation and the world, I know that he`s going to fight with all of his might, supported by his wonderful, wife, Vicki, and his entire family, against this latest challenge. And we wish him great success in this battle, as in every other battle that he has won.


MATTHEWS: And across the aisle, here`s John McCain speaking about Ted Kennedy.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to him. We hope and pray that they will be able to treat it and that he will experience a full recovery. I have said on numerous occasions, I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate and — thank you very much. And I have held that view because he remains the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results, and he is not reluctant to share the credit. And he — when it fails, he`s willing to take the blame. That`s why he`s one of the most effective members of the Senate, and we`ll miss him for that and many other reasons.


MATTHEWS: Evan Thomas, you`re an historian, and back in the early `50s, Senator Kennedy, the first Senator Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, was asked to assemble the list of the five greatest U.S. senators of all time, which are — the portraits now hang in the Senate reception room, right off the Senate chambers. He couldn`t look forward, he could only look backward when he selected Calhoun and Clay and Webster and Taft and Lafollette (ph). Do you think Ted Kennedy might have bumped himself into that picture, if he`d been able to look forward?

THOMAS: Yes. I mean, who`da thunk it? I mean, this guy who got kicked out of Harvard for cheating and was considered to be sort of the boy of the family. They had to sort of propel him into the Senate. And yet he turns out to be a true Senate giant. I think he does belong up there.

And he`s a cautionary tale for today because, although he`s partisan – – he`s definitely a Democrat — he gets things done, as Senator McCain pointed out. He does — he`s willing to reach across the aisle. He looks for results. How that quality has been lost in the partisanship of the last decade or so, that, more than anything else, would be a terrible loss if he can`t come back.

MATTHEWS: Bob, what`s it like to be Ted Kennedy? You`ve walked around with him, been with him. What`s it like to know that maybe 40, 50 percent of the country see you as the villain, the enemy, because you`re the liberal? What`s it like to be Ted Kennedy, day in and day out, getting on airplanes, knowing you`re surrounded by Republicans that just don`t like you?

SHRUM: Well, most of the time, when you`re with him, people walk up who like him and tell him they like him and tell him they like what he`s doing.


SHRUM: But the key — the key to him in a lot of ways, I think, is he has a sense of self-respect and that he`s comfortable with himself. I mean, he once had this line, We have to take issues seriously but never take ourselves too seriously. I mean, you remember in the `70s, he used to tell this joke, he would say — and it was his joke — he would say, I don`t mind not being president of the United States, I just mind that somebody else is. I mean, he was kidding himself.


SHRUM: And the thing that makes him so effective in the Senate is that he`s the conscience (ph) of aggressive politics, but to him, it`s never personal. It`s always political. So we`re sitting one day in his office in 1981. He walks in and says, What`s this meeting about? And someone says, It`s whether you`re gong to vote for the Reagan tax cut. He said, Well, why don`t you have the meeting, and I`m voting against it, even if I`m the only vote.

But he was Ronald Reagan`s friend, too. And many years later, when Reagan received the Congressional Gold Medal, Nancy Reagan at the dinner the night before wanted Ted Kennedy to speak. It`s a specialness that we`re losing in American politics that we really need.

MATTHEWS: Mike Barnicle, why`d he endorse Barack?

BARNICLE: I think he endorsed Barack for a number of reasons. I think because he had had a series of, you know, phone conversations with former president Bill Clinton that didn`t hit Teddy`s hot button about the conduct of the campaign, about the injection of race into the campaign. I think Caroline Kennedy had a huge influence on him.

And I think also that in Barack Obama, he saw someone who represented a future for this country, a political future for this country that he could more adhere to. Nothing against Senator Hillary Clinton, really, personally, but he felt that Barack Obama`s politics were more about what`s going to happen in the next four or eight years, rather than the rearview mirror of the past Clinton administration.


BARNICLE: I think he just liked the tone, the sound, the feel of it, and he liked the fact that Barack Obama could appeal to so many groups, the way his brother, Robert Kennedy, did. Evan was Robert Kennedy`s biographer — that Robert Kennedy could in a way that Hillary Clinton could not do.

MATTHEWS: Well, I like the fact that people like Greg Craig and Ted Sorensen agreed with him on that point. That was an interesting get- together mentally and politically, that the top old Kennedy guys agreed with Ted Kennedy about Barack.

More with our guests after this break. We`re going to have much more about Ted Kennedy`s diagnosis today. He has brain cancer. Serious business.

And later on in the show, we`re going to turn our attention, quickly, of course, to this Kentucky and Oregon primary. We got a doubleheader in politics tonight. It could be a split. Who knows? Who knows what Hillary Clinton is up to, to put it bluntly? What is the next step for her? We know Barack Obama looks like he`s winning. He thinks he`s winning. What`s Hillary Clinton think she`s doing? That`s the great question that all of us are trying to figure out. This has become a very mental (ph) question in this country. It`s not about counting numbers, it`s about trying to figure out Senator Clinton.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We`re continuing to talk about the sad news today that Senator Ted Kennedy has been diagnosed this afternoon with a malignant brain tumor, brain cancer. And late today, the Associated Press released these new photos of the Kennedy family up at Massachusetts General Hospital — it`s called Mass General up there — after they got the news of his diagnosis. You see all the kids there, Kara, Ted and Patrick. There`s his wife, Vicki, wonderful person there. He`s obviously sitting with his family and just absorbing the tough news he`s gotten, that he`s going to face some tough chemotherapy, maybe some radiation therapy, serious business for the Kennedy family. There`s Ted Kennedy, his son, who lost a leg to cancer, up there on the right, and his stepson, Curran (ph).

We`re joined right now by MSNBC analyst Mike Barnicle, a friend of the Kennedy family, former Kennedy adviser, in fact, long-time still Kennedy adviser, Bob Shrum, and “Newsweek`s” Evan Thomas.

I want to put this question before you about Kennedy and the — well, let`s take a look at this because we got a hearing here. We got something to show you which is so ironic. Here`s Ted Kennedy holding a hearing on cancer earlier this month.


SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Today, cancer is still the second highest cause of death in America. Clearly, we need a new way forward in battling this frightening disease. We must build on what the nation has already accomplished and launch a new war on cancer for the 21st century.


MATTHEWS: Shrummy, why is Ted Kennedy so focused all his career on health?

SHRUM: I think because, number one, he thinks health care ought to be a fundamental right for everybody in this country. And I suspect he was the first person to put in exactly those terms. And secondly, he really believes in the potential of medical science and bioscience to create breakthroughs for people. I think it`s part of the fabric of his whole commitment, which is, Can we use the power of government — and I know some conservatives don`t like this, but some of them actually enlist in the efforts he makes. Can we use the power of government to make life better for people?

He was there at the beginning of the war on cancer 30 years ago. And there are thousands, tens of thousands of people alive in this country today because of the investments that have been made in medical research that he fostered.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you completely. I know a lot of that federal funding at the NIH, et cetera.

Let`s take a look at Barack Obama speaking this afternoon about Ted Kennedy. He had — apparently, he spent some time with him over the weekend. And he recounts that to us now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He sounded great. I mean, he sounded like the Ted Kennedy we all know and love. In fact, he was joking about how, you know, I had been dragging him out on the campaign trail, and the old lion needed to catch his breath a little bit.

And he was funny and he was laughing. And I didn`t get any sense that his capacities had been diminished. And, so, obviously, we`re all distressed now, in terms of what has happened, the diagnosis. But I do know that he`s going to fight.


MATTHEWS: Forty-six years in the U.S. Senate, Evan Thomas. You`re an historian — all those times, all those years trying to get health care for the country, not succeeding yet. That is really a Sisyphean effort, isn`t it?


I don`t know when the day will come. I`m not sure Senator Kennedy will live to see it.

You know, I want to go back to Senator Obama for just one second. In some ways, he`s the fruition of something that the Kennedys, including Ted Kennedy, started. I`m thinking of 1963. Bobby Kennedy says to Jack Kennedy — Wallace is standing in the schoolhouse door in Alabama — we need a federal civil rights law. Get rid of Jim Crow. Get rid of discrimination. Let`s do it.

President Kennedy goes on TV that night, gives a famous speech that became the 1964 Civil Rights Act, gave away the South from the Democrats, the solid South that has been once the Democratic Party`s own, gave it away to the Republicans. But that single act of courage of political courage that all those Kennedy brothers participated in, and, Teddy, of course, has continued to participate in, in his backing for civil rights all these years, that may, to me, be their biggest legacy.

MATTHEWS: And it was done on the spot, wasn`t it, with the bombings going on down there in Alabama and the decision to write that speech?


MATTHEWS: It came late in the afternoon. I have seen the kinescopes of the old tapes of the decision.

THOMAS: Boy, talk about seizing the moment.

Jack Kennedy had not even finished writing the speech when he went on national television to say that — I think the phrase was, it`s as old as the Scriptures and as great as the Constitution, something like that. MATTHEWS: Right. I remember that. That was…


THOMAS: We have got to have equality. And that was an unbelievable, seminal moment in American politics. And Teddy has kept that faith all those years.

MATTHEWS: Mike Barnicle, Ted Kennedy, again, I have got to ask you about the guy. He`s sort of the foster father to all the Kennedy kids, including his own, his natural kids.


MATTHEWS: He`s the burden — he`s the shoulders on which they lay all their burdens. If there is a family problem, he deals with it. If it`s a social or a marital problem, he deals with it. If there`s — if somebody does something wrong, he deals with that.

Who`s going to replace him in that role? Is there anybody? He`s going to have to stay there, isn`t he?


BARNICLE: No, no, there`s no one who can replace him in that role. But back to what you were talking to Bob Shrum about, and what Evan alluded to in the clip that you showed, Chris, we all know that we live in an age of telephone tough guys on these radio talk shows. You can call up. You can mischaracterize anyone you want. You can label them. The labels sometimes live forever. He`s a liberal. Teddy Kennedy is a liberal. He`s a fat liberal, all the things that they say about him on the Internet and on talk radio.

But that clip, is it liberal to want everyone to have the same cancer treatments that is afforded Senator Kennedy? Is it liberal to make sure that every young man and woman serving in Iraq has an up-armored Humvee or the proper equipment?

Does a young man, Brian Hart, who lives in Bedford, Massachusetts, a rock-ribbed Republican originally from Texas, lost his son, John Hart, in Iraq in October of 2003, turned around at John Hart, his son`s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, on a cold November day, and there, over his shoulder, saw a man he had never met before, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, who, from that moment on, after talking to the father, took it upon himself as a United States senator to champion the cause of getting better equipment for our soldiers in Iraq?

That`s not liberal. That`s Ted Kennedy.

MATTHEWS: Well, that is a well-stated assessment. However, if we are ever going to get health care, I think we all agree it`s going to have to be a compromise involving something like the Mitt Romney plan, something like Schwarzenegger`s plan. It can`t just be a Ted Kennedy-style plan, or we have seen how easily that divides the country.

SHRUM: Well, Chris?


MATTHEWS: Bob, go ahead. Your view.

SHRUM: Chris, he sort of knew that. And in the `90s, after the failure of the Clinton health care plan, he went to work with Orrin Hatch and passed health care for children.


SHRUM: He went to work with Nancy Kassebaum and passed a portability of health insurance, so that, if you change jobs, you can take your health insurance with you.

He wants to get the whole job done. But, in the meantime, brick by brick by brick, he wants to see if we can get closer to it.

MATTHEWS: Well, this certainly — this tragic news of his diagnosis – – his prognosis is unclear, but the diagnosis of brain cancer, of a malignant brain tumor that he suffers from, is going a bring a lot of attention to the fact that everybody`s vulnerable, even those with privilege and history on their side.

So, I think this may be — may be a little bit of a catalyst to get something done along the lines he worked on all those years.

Mike Barnicle, sir, well said.