Matthews Defends 'Thrill Going Up My Leg,' Insists He's Fair

Appearing on the Monday, July 21, Tonight Show, MSNBC host Chris Matthews defended his declaration from last February that a Barack Obama speech caused him to feel a "thrill going up my leg," and suggested he really is not biased in the presidential race as he contended that "I’m a freaking American" and "who I’m rooting for" is "us." Referring to Obama having "seen on both sides of that San Andreas Fault of race in this country," Matthews effused that Obama was "inspiring." Matthews: "I was inspired by it, and I said so at the time, and I took some heat for it, but I’d rather be honest and say what I feel ...You know, I mean, I'm a freaking American. I do have a reaction to things, and I do react emotionally to my country. I care about this country. I want to look out for it. It's my job. I'm not just some umpire. You know, I take a side: Us. That's who I'm rooting for." Video of Matthews' "thrill" comment from February 12 can be found here.

But after seeming to claim that he was not cheering for either candidate, as he discussed the expected closeness of the election, Matthews focused on his fear that many 70- and 80-year-olds will be "suspicious of change," which sounds like a reference to Obama, as he advised the elderly to "think like your kids for once." Matthews: "I hope one thing. When people go to vote, they look at the guy's background, they look at the age of the two candidates, they look at their abilities and really open up their hearts and say what's really good for my kids, who don't have any color awareness. Kids don't think about that, race. Think like your kids for once. Think the way they think. It would be great if the older people in the country, the 70-year-olds, the 80-year-olds who are suspicious of change, to say, ‘You know, why don't I think the way my kids are thinking and think about the future?’ Whatever they decide, just open up your heart to this prospect of something different. That's what I hope we do." (Transcript follows)

While discussing the running mate possibilities for both candidates, after saying he thought Obama wants to choose Delaware Senator Joe Biden, and that John McCain wants to pick moderate, pro-choice Tom Ridge, the MSNBC host relayed that "I'd love to see these guys pick the guy who they really want to be their partner," but that the "experts" might advise them to do otherwise, and that, in the case of Ridge, "that might cause some trouble with the right to lifers." Matthews: "I think they have guys they really respect and want. Then they got to go back to their experts who say, ‘You got to be careful here. You know, Biden, you know, blah, blah, blah, you got to be careful.’ How about, Ridge is pro-choice. That might cause some trouble with the right to lifers. I think, I'd love to see these guys pick the guy who they really want to be their partner, and we'll see."

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Monday, July 21, Tonight Show on NBC:

JAY LENO: I was watching you one day, and this, sort of, seems to goes against, sort of, the news men credo. You mentioned that you were, you were moved by Obama's speech. What was the actual phrase you used? You said it sent a thrill up, you said it sent a thrill up my leg or something like that. Do you remember what you said exactly?

CHRIS MATTHEWS: You know, some journalists only report what a guy says and what they hear and what they see. I report all senses. You know, I report all reactions. And I have to tell you, I know this is an old school, but I was there watching one of Barack's speeches on TV, sitting there on the network news table, and I actually had, there's something he said about black and white in America, or something that I’d never heard before. I'm not saying he’d be the next best President. I'm saying the things he says about this country, coming from the backgrounds he comes from, with a black father and a white mother, he has seen this country from two different directions like so few of us have seen on both sides of that San Andreas fault of race in this country. To have seen it both and to have felt it both in your family, and to be raised by white grand parents and the way he grew up with a black father, an Indonesian stepfather, he's seen us as the world sees us. I just think it's inspiring, and I admit it, okay? You can call it what you want. I was inspired by it, and I said so at the time, and I took some heat for it, but I’d rather be honest and say what I feel than sit there like some kind of statue and say, "Oh, that was noteworthy." You know, I mean, I'm a freaking American. I do have a reaction to things, and I do react emotionally to my country. I care about this country. I want to look out for it. It's my job. I'm not just some umpire. You know, I take a side: Us. That's who I'm rooting for. And I just think, you know, I-

...

MATTHEWS: This is going to be a nail biter election night. I hope one thing. When people go to vote, they look at the guy's background, they look at the age of the two candidates, they look at their abilities and really open up their hearts and say what's really good for my kids, who don't have any color awareness. Kids don't think about that, race. Think like your kids for once. Think the way they think. It would be great if the older people in the country, the 70-year-olds, the 80- year-olds who are suspicious of change, to say, "You know, why don't I think the way my kids are thinking and think about the future?" Whatever they decide, just open up your heart to this prospect of something different. That's what I hope we do.

LENO: Yeah, yeah, Well, actually, if they're 80, their kids are about 55. So I think you want to go to-

MATTHEWS: No, you know what's going on in the election? Okay, you're so smart. And it's easy being a critic, damn it.

LENO: "It's easy to be critic! Damn it, Leno, screw you!"

MATTHEWS: Here's what I know, and I will now be a newsman, I'll be a completely objective person. Completely objective. We know right now that people under 50 are probably going to vote, as a group, for Barack Obama. We know that people over 50, as a group, are probably going to vote for John McCain. We know there's going to be not just an ethnic or racial divide. And I don't like that phrase "racial," we're all the same race, but, and you know there's a generational divide. So, to a large extent, you can predict the results of this election by how -- where's that break point going to be? Is it going to be 45? Is it going to be 55? If Barack wins everybody under 55, he probably wins, but it's just about an ear, so you can go talk to your grandparents, talk to your grandkids if you're a grandparent, and everybody watch that. Just check it out. It's not so much about gender or ethnicity. It's really about age. And the country really has changed dramatically since the '60s. Kids go to school with black teachers. They never come home and tell their parents, "Hey, my teacher's black." They don't think it's important to notice, and you don't know until PTA night. That is completely different than it was when we grew up, you and I. My kids have dated with other kids from other races, and they don't even mention it until the kid walks in the house and go, "Oh." Because the kid never goes, "Oh." It's just a different country. We have evolved, as a country. And a lot of people find that scary. And a lot of people find it wonderful.

LENO: How important is the vice presidential candidate? For example, let's say McCain chose a woman. Would that throw a whole new dynamic into this?

MATTHEWS: Yeah, I think so, because everybody knows McCain, at his age, will probably serve four years. And I'm not knocking him, but he could serve out four. So he's really pointing-

LENO: Let’s hope.

MATTHEWS: - to the future.

[PAUSES AND LAUGHS]

MATTHEWS: He's really pointing to the future. He's really pointing to the future. He's saying it's me and this next guy. [PAUSES AND LAUGHS] This is an entertainment show, isn't it?

LENO: Can you predict, can you predict running mates?

MATTHEWS: Okay, yeah, I can predict. Can I be right?

LENO: Who do you predict?

MATTHEWS: Yeah, I think, in their heart, in their heart, and Chuck Todd I work with, he's our political director. I learn so much from this guy. I think that Barack really wants to pick Joe Biden. A regular guy, grew up in Scranton. A guy with a lot of foreign policy experience, head of the Foreign Relations Committee. ... I think that the other guy, John McCain, wants to pick Tom Ridge from Pennsylvania. I think they have guys they really respect and want. Then they got to go back to their experts who say, "You got to be careful here. You know, Biden, you know, blah, blah, blah, you got to be careful." How about, Ridge is pro choice. That might cause some trouble with the right to lifers. I think, I'd love to see these guys pick the guy who they really want to be their partner, and we'll see. I think it's going to be an amazing close election. I do predict this, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, election night.