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Chris Matthews of TV's 'Hardball' talks about Kennedy biography at USM

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Chris Matthews, the longtime host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” talked about new books, old jobs and today’s bitter partisan divide during an hour-long conversation arranged by USM’s Muskie School of Public Policy.

In a relaxed, easy-going manner, the 72-year-old TV host talked informally on the stage of Hannaford Hall on the Portland Campus.
The Muskie School’s namesake — the late Maine governor, U.S. senator and U.S. Secretary of State — once served as a role model for Matthews, who worked as a staffer on the Senate’s Budget Committee while Muskie was its chair.

“He was completely honest and completely humble about his work,” said Matthews, who was overwhelmed by the Rumford, Maine native’s work ethic. “Every one of us who worked for him looked up to him.”

Matthews was interviewed by Tony Payne, a member of USM’s Board of Visitors and MEMIC’s senior vice president of external affairs.
Together, Matthews and Payne discussed the late Robert Kennedy, who was the subject of Matthews' recent book, “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.” He had previously written about the rivalry between presidents John Kennedy and Richard Nixon as well as a JFK biography.

Matthews said Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 while he pursued the Democratic nomination for president, was less charismatic than his elder brother, but he had extraordinary strength of his own.

He tried out a description of the brothers with Ethel Kennedy, Robert’s widow.

“Jack was charm. Bobby was soul,” Matthews said. “She loved it.”

Matthews’ book ends with Robert Kennedy’s death and burial beside his brother at Arlington National Cemetery. But the story is ultimately optimistic, looking at Robert Kennedy’s courage and growth.

“Bobby was a guy in progress,” Matthews said. “Like a lot of us in life, no matter how old you are, he was figuring things out. He wasn’t simply left or simply right. He didn’t like big government. He didn’t like the Great Society stuff. He cared about people. He cared for the down and out.”

More of that caring and growth is needed today, Matthews said.

Members of the media could do a better job of explaining the news and relying on fact, he said.

“Somebody said 'It doesn’t matter what you wear on radio or what you say on television,'” he said. “We try to get it right.

Matthews also implored college students to push aside apathy and make their own oportunities.

"Nobody’s coming door to door and handing out jobs," he said. "Nobody is coming and saying, ‘I heard you had a dream the other night and wanted to be somebody.' You gotta hustle. You gotta knock on doors.”