Last Monday evening October 20th, Chris Matthews hosted the second in a series of shows titled Hardball: Battle for the White House, Live from Harvard, hosted by MSNBC and the Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), to a sold-out crowd. The weekly program allows students from the Harvard community to ask questions of a Democratic presidential candidate in a live, one-hour television program and allows the candidate to unabashedly promote their agenda while dodging Matthew’s rapid, spit-fire questions.
The buzz of excitement and anticipation was palpable as the packed house awaited this week’s guest – Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. A graduate of Yale University, Kerry entered the Navy following graduation and earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam. Kerry was first elected to the Senate in 1984, and is now serving his fourth consecutive term.
After mistakenly introducing Kerry as senator “John Kennedy,” Matthews quickly dove into a discussion of President Bush’s policy in Iraq. Kerry, a war hero but also a proud Massachusetts liberal, immediately proclaimed that Bush had not honored his promise to the American people in that he did not exhaust all alternatives prior to engaging in war. Suggesting that Mr. Bush’s perspective might be quite different if he was forced his own children to war, Kerry insisted that, “We should never go to war because we want to. We should go to war because we have to.”
Kerry also suggested that Bush has failed to put a policy in place during the reconstruction of Iraq “that maximizes our ability to be successful and protect the American people.” When asked what he would do differently, Kerry said that he would approach the United Nations with a greater degree of humility than our current president and with the goal of building a stronger coalition of support which “would allow America to share the risk, maximize our leverage, and minimize the sense of American occupation in Iraq.” When Matthews turned to the audience and asked how many people felt the president was wrong to go to war with Iraq, the predominantly liberal crowd responded to Matthews question with overwhelming applause. Kerry smiled and told the crowd, “You represent every race, every color, every religion and every ethnicity – and you are General Ashcroft’s worst nightmare.”
Not surprisingly, Kerry took full advantage of the opportunity to establish a combative position with regard to President Bush and to drop his well-rehearsed sound-bites into the discussion. In a statement meant to assess Bush’s general performance as President, Kerry commented, “The presidency is not the place for on-the-job training.” Reportedly having been eyeing the presidency since as early as 1984, Kerry seemed to imply that this time he meant business and stated, “I am a fighter and I am going to go right after this President and tell him I know something about aircraft carriers for real.”
In response to a question by David Gergen (KSG professor and a former advisor to President Clinton) to provide the audience with a window into his soul, Kerry described himself as a public servant who, having been introduced by his parents to public life at a very young age, is hugely loyal to his country and fiercely committed to leaving this world better than he found it. When asked how he – as a Massachusetts liberal – could expect to win the Midwestern vote for president, Kerry responded perhaps naively that as a former prosecutor, a hunter, and someone who voted for welfare reform, he feels confident that his platform of delivering truth and common sense will be very attractive to Midwestern voters.
In response to Matthews’ challenge to list all of the members of the G8, Kerry side-stepped the test and invited anyone in the audience who might have a question to go to www.johnkerry.com and send him a personal email, causing some in the audience to wonder if this was Hardball or Dodgeball. In response to a question about his favorite movie – Animal House – and favorite philosopher – Yogi Berra- Kerry took full advantage of the opportunity to reveal his lighter side.
HBS student Omar Abou-Sayed (OH) was in attendance and came away with a more favorable impression of Kerry than he had anticipated. “I was really impressed by Kerry. I had heard that he had the Al Gore syndrome – meaning he came off as stilted and stiff. I found him instead to be funny, relaxed and far less cagey than Edwards. All in all, I’d say Kerry did a lot to earn my support, though there are still seven more of these things coming!” said Abou-Sayed. Others in the audience expressed disappointment that Kerry seemed to be recycling his standard, highly practiced responses to what may be the start of another failed bid for the White House.
If you would like to take a swing at asking the tough questions to Matthew’s next guests – Reverend Al Sharpton (tonight – October 27), Representative Dick Gephardt (November 3), and U.S. Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun (November 17) – be sure to plan a trip across the bridge to KSG around 7 PM each Monday night to play Hardball.
Editor’s Note: Those students interested in attending can enter the ticket lottery located on the IOP/KSG website
//www.iop.harvard.edu/lottery.php. In addition, the Harbus is actively seeking students who are interested in covering this year’s political campaign – from both the left, the right, and in-between. If you are interested in covering politics for the Harbus, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.