Chris Matthews Reacts to JFK Mistress: Kennedy a Hero Who 'Still Arouses the Country'

Following a revealing interview with former JFK mistress Mimi Alford on Wednesday's NBC Rock Center, left-wing MSNBC host Chris Matthews, along with liberal historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard Reeves, were invited on the broadcast to give a sycophantic defense of the womanizing president. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Touting his new book, "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero," Matthews proclaimed: "The greatest heroes are often the most flawed." The Hardball host went on to gush over how Kennedy "colorized American politics....made it a technicolor movie, he made it exciting." In his characteristic fashion, Matthews concluded: "And so with it all, the total picture still arouses the country."

Host Brian Williams introduced the fawning discussion of Kennedy's legacy:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy remains a mythic figure in American public life and in the memories of so many of us. Meredith [Vieira]'s interview here tonight has just added, in a way, another chapter to that. So, what do we make of all of this? How do we square it with JFK's vaunted role in our history and our society?

While the airing of the interview had only concluded minutes before, Goodwin immediately attempted to dismiss Alford's shocking account: "People have already factored in the idea that he had other women in his life. Somehow the American people seem to have absorbed these stories over time and it hasn't changed their fundamental liking for the memory of John Kennedy."

Alford revealed details of her affair with Kennedy that certainly went beyond a general discussion of his philandering, she described a scene in which the late president encouraged her to perform oral sex on White House advisor Dave Powers.

Goodwin remarked: "We expect our husbands, our friends to have certain kinds of fidelity toward us. We expect our leaders to give us good leadership and that's a different thing....You can feel a sense of disappointment but it doesn't mean that you're judging them completely differently as a result of finding out something like this."

Reeves announced: "John F. Kennedy, and his wife too, are cultural figures who will live far beyond their years. There was a universality about their virtues, their looks. They were beautiful and we like to see ourselves reflected in them and I just don't think that's going to change."


Here is a transcript of the February 8 exchange:

9:55PM ET

(...)

WILLIAMS: As we said at the beginning of our broadcast tonight, John Fitzgerald Kennedy remains a mythic figure in American public life and in the memories of so many of us. Meredith's interview here tonight has just added, in a way, another chapter to that. So, what do we make of all of this? How do we square it with JFK's vaunted role in our history and our society? We thought it was important to add something here and so we asked three authors to reflect on the Kennedy legacy with this in mind. Here now, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Chris Matthews and Richard Reeves, all three have researched and written books about John F. Kennedy and tonight all three weigh in on the President's legacy. Starting with Chris, whose most recent book about JFK is called "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero."

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I called him an elusive hero because that's what Jacqueline Kennedy, his widow, said many years later. She said, "That unforgettable elusive man." Even she couldn't quite figure out who he was.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

MATTHEWS: The greatest heroes are often the most flawed.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: People have already factored in the idea that he had other women in his life. Somehow the American people seem to have absorbed these stories over time and it hasn't changed their fundamental liking for the memory of John Kennedy.

RICHARD REEVES: John F. Kennedy, and his wife too, are cultural figures who will live far beyond their years. There was a universality about their virtues, their looks. They were beautiful and we like to see ourselves reflected in them and I just don't think that's going to change.

MATTHEWS: He broke his life up into separate pieces, separate compartments, and they were very sealed off, each from the other. He had a frightening strength of being able to read everyone else's emotions but not let them affect him. He did what he wanted to do, regardless of other people's feelings. And I think that made him strong, it also brought him into the area we're talking about here.

GOODWIN: We expect our husbands, our friends to have certain kinds of fidelity toward us. We expect our leaders to give us good leadership and that's a different thing.

KENNEDY: I believe we should go to the moon.

GOODWIN: You can feel a sense of disappointment but it doesn't mean that you're judging them completely differently as a result of finding out something like this.

RICHARD REEVES: I certainly never saw a single instance where his private life or his health affected national policy. And his health was a much more hidden secret than the womanizing was.

GOODWIN: There's the Cuban missile crisis, the decisiveness with which he dealt with that, there's the nuclear test ban treaty, there's the beginning move toward the desegregation law, there's the man on the moon, there's Peace Corps, there's the idealism of that period of time. And then you've got on top of that, a life cut short by the assassination, all of which allows to you imagine what might have been had he lived longer.

KENNEDY: The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

MATTHEWS: Jack Kennedy colorized American politics. He took it from black and white and made it a technicolor movie, he made it exciting. And from that moment on every guy that's come up through high school has said, "I want to be Jack Kennedy." And so with it all, the total picture still arouses the country. The whole picture.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Doris Kearns Goodwin, Richard Reeves and Chris Matthews. That is our broadcast for this week. For all the good people who worked hard to bring it to you, thank you for being with us.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC