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Swaziland RPCV Chris Matthews interviews Nepal RPCV Lawrence Leamer about his book about the Kennedys
Swaziland RPCV Chris Matthews interviews Nepal RPCV Lawrence Leamer about his book about the Kennedys
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Laurence Leamer has written three books on the Kennedy family. His latest is called “Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty.”
I talked with Leamer and I asked him what‘s behind the enduring mystique of the Kennedy family.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Kennedy family. First of all, the word Camelot is in fact a post-Dallas term. No one ever called the new frontier Camelot when Kennedy was there. Who first started it? It was Jackie in her interview with Ted White for “LIFE” magazine that created the whole notion of Camelot. Do you think it was just a myth?
LAURENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR, “SONS OF CAMELOT”: Well, White didn‘t know what to do that weekend, because he thought it was over the top. But here was the president‘s widow the weekend after. And he went with it and it created an enormous impact in “LIFE” magazine.
Yes, but I think, finally, after all these years, we‘ve come to terms with the Kennedys, the good and the bad. Listen, who did President Bush invite first to the White House but Ted Kennedy? Who did George Bush Sr. give his third annual award for distinguished service? To Ted Kennedy. And who did President Bush rename the Justice Department? The Robert F.
Kennedy Justice Department. So it‘s really not a partisan issue.
We know that these are patriots who care for their country.
MATTHEWS: In fact, Ronald Reagan, to name another Republican, he gave the Freedom Medal to Robert Kennedy soon after he came in. And Jimmy Carter had been holding that up.
But I guess question is, what role do they play? Are they out of power or in power? Would you say the Kennedys are still influential with regard to national policy?
LEAMER: Well, certainly Senator Kennedy is. His son Patrick, who is in Congress, is not, is a kind of weak shadow of his father.
But it‘s not just politics. It is that no family has made more contributions to—philanthropic contributions. If you go through the list, all the Shrivers.
LEAMER: Joe Kennedy‘s Citizens Energy. Bobby Kennedy was an environmental leader. There‘s no wealthy family in America in which so many people have made such contributions.
MATTHEWS: But what about the bad year they had last year? Mark Shriver, who is my congressional district in Maryland, he lost. Kathleen Kennedy Townshend, a very nice lady, she lost for governor. She should have won that race.
Max Kennedy was going to run for the 8th up in Massachusetts, Tip‘s old seat and Joe‘s old seat. He pulled out of the race very early on, after a weak showing. He‘s not a very good public speaker. Patrick may run for the Senate. I‘m not sure it‘s a smart move, because it is a tougher going statewide with two C.D.s rather than one. Do you really think that the Kennedys are showing any political might except for Ted?
LEAMER: Oh, no.
And if I were a young politician, I would want to take on a Kennedy and defeat a Kennedy. Governor Erlich became one of the most prominent governors in America because of that. Van Hollen defeated Mark the same way. So, no, no, they don‘t.
And the next generation of Kennedys, when and if they run for office, it will be on their own merits, not on their name.
MATTHEWS: Earlier this week, Ted Kennedy went on television at the Brookings Institution. He was taped saying that Iraq has become Bush‘s war, very strong war talk there, political war talk between two parties. Do you think he is too far in the partisan direction, the leftward direction to help John Kerry win the middle?
LEAMER: But he‘s the point man. He‘s out there. That‘s what the road is he is going to take. He‘s going to do often what the vice presidential candidate does. And that is what he is going to do all through this election.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense—do you have any knowledge that he‘s willing to play that role right through November?
LEAMER: It‘s clear that‘s what he‘s doing this election. He thinks it is crucial for the future of this country to get President Bush out of there.
Those are his politics. At his age, with all of his prestige, all of his power, all of his energy, he‘s going to attempt to do that and do everything he can.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Ted Kennedy and his new sort of gung-ho-ness, if you will. Is that because of his marriage to his new wife? It just seems like the whole thing, the whole guy is rejuvenated at the age of 60-something. There‘s something going on here. It‘s almost chemical.
LEAMER: Well, no, he has his peace. He finally, for first time, has a happy marriage and a happy home life.
But it is politics with this man. He‘s a great politician. He cares about these issues. He worked with President Bush on the education bill. And when President Bush didn‘t come through with the funding, he was on radio and television criticizing him. He cares about the issues.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—we‘re going to come back and talk at length, but why don‘t you tease us a little bit. How happy is Ted Kennedy that the biggest hero in the family right now is a Republican Austrian immigrant named Arnold Schwarzenegger, his cousin-in-law?
LEAMER: He is perfectly delighted with it.
In August, Maria and Senator Kennedy got together in Hyannis Port. And, privately, Senator Kerry was for Arnold‘s election. He offered him Bob Shrum. That would have been a disaster for Arnold. And Governor Schwarzenegger was smart enough to say no.
MATTHEWS: Why? Because Shrummy is too liberal.
LEAMER: He is too liberal, definitely.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to come right back and talk more with Laurence Leamer about the inside skinny on the Kennedy family and its political power yet today.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Laurence, you‘re a great author, a great read. To me, it‘s candy reading at the beach reading about the Kennedys. And I was reading a chapter about John up at Brown. Even a kid going to a college is interesting in your hands, your writing ability.
What is the appeal? What is—you know there‘s an appeal. You‘ve written a number of books on this topic, three of them.
MATTHEWS: What is about people, when they go to the bookstore and they see that book of yours, they want to at least open it up and look at the pictures, at least?
LEAMER: Because the drama is such over—overwhelming.
I mean, this book, which goes from ‘63 to 2004, imagine, there are 19 people in this book, Senator Robert Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and 17 grandsons, Out of that, you have four violent deaths. You have five people who died having the misfortune of being around them. You have a couple of them accused of statutory rape. You have half of them with problems with drug or alcoholism. And yet you have all these accomplishments and all these contributions they‘ve made to American society, unlike any other family.
MATTHEWS: Well, couldn‘t you say that every family, yours, too, mine, has all kinds of people in it that...
LEAMER: I don‘t know about yours, but mine doesn‘t have that much.
MATTHEWS: Well, there is a great divergence. But there‘s also the probably you might say the fate of a family that took a lot of chances. It seems that‘s one thing that Kennedys do. They play hard. They ski hard. Every sport they get into seems to be an ultimate endurance question. They don‘t just go out and swim in a swimming pool. It has got to be in the ocean. They have got to go out and they have got to go out and sail in the ocean. They have got to ski 100 miles an hour. They‘ve got to climb mountains.
They don‘t do the normal pastimes, like going to a baseball game.
LEAMER: No. And, Chris, that‘s why I could spend 15 years writing about them, because I felt alive writing about them. That‘s the essence of them. Every moment is lived. And that‘s what one takes away from them.
Plus, one takes away that one has to give back. That‘s what Joseph P.
Kennedy Sr. taught his sons and grandsons. And they‘ve picked up that.
And I think most of them try to do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the thing that kids of famous people deal with all the time. And I‘ve been around a lot of them, or some of them.
They have to—they keep wondering, when‘s the spark that made their parents exciting and big time, or their brother or sister big time, going to hit them? And a regular person in a family like, it must drive them crazy. For example, Ted Kennedy, with all his hard work and ability, probably must have wondered, what is about it Jack that made him so incredibly charming to the country? What made him so charismatic? My brother Bob was almost a saint in so many ways in his drive for moral perfection or leadership.
And you don‘t feel you have it yourself. I think Ted must have confronted this so many times. And all the kids, all the grandkids say, wait a minute, I don‘t feel special. Doesn‘t this drive them to a level of complete frustration in life?
LEAMER: Look, no, I think, with Ted Kennedy, that insecurity that he still feels, that he‘s lesser than his brothers, that he can‘t equal them, that these bad things have happened to him, pushes him forward. I think that‘s a great energy.
Even, at his age, he‘s going to be the greatest legislator of the 20th century. And yet he‘s so insecure about himself.
MATTHEWS: That‘s funny, because his brother had a hand in picking the great senators of all time. And he would be in the running, wouldn‘t he?
LEAMER: No question about it. I mean, he‘s there.
MATTHEWS: Is he content to be a great senator and not a president or former president?
LEAMER: Oh, yes.
I mean, listen, if he had run for president, he probably would have lost. His impact may be seen of history. Maybe you‘ve seen that he has had more impact on America than any of his brothers. That‘s certainly—the legislative mark that he has on so many things, and not just on liberal things, that health insurance is portable, revising the federal legal code. I flew from California last week. I got a cheap ticket because of deregulation, and things like that.
MATTHEWS: He did airline deregulation.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, are there any young Kennedys on the horizon that might win major office? Do you see anything fluttering out there?
LEAMER: The good thing is that Joe Kennedy has two sons, Matt and Joe. When Joe went to Berkeley, everybody sat around and sucked up to him because he was a Kennedy. That didn‘t happen with Joe‘s sons. And they‘re interested in politics. And if they get there, they‘ll get there on their own, not because of their name and not because people are sucking up to them.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Laurence Leamer.
Be sure to tune into HARDBALL next week. Monday, we have got a special Memorial Day show lined up. Thomas Friedman will be here later in the week. And one week from tonight, MSNBC begins its special coverage of the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.
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