Chris Matthews, a self-proclaimed liberal, said he was wrong in his prediction that coalition forces would have trouble taking over Baghdad. He also previewed the 2004 election and analyzed the Democratic candidates for president at the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting Tuesday morning.
Matthews, who offers daily in-depth political analysis as host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” and NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show,” mocked President George W. Bush ’68 and called on the Democratic Party to “get into this game” in order to pose a serious challenge to Bush in 2004.
“President Bush, I still don’t quite get it,” he said. “He is, let me put it this way, simple — I mean real simple. South of the Mason-Dixon line, Bush is king.”
Of the announced candidates for president in 2004, Matthews said he liked the prospects of Sen. John Kerry ’66 and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71, who he said was from “the land of Ben and Jerry’s.”
“Howard Dean is enjoying himself immensely as an anti-war candidate,” Matthews said. “If you want to know what Berkeley was like in 1964, go to Burlington. I love it up there.”
Matthews said the Rev. Al Sharpton would run into trouble trying to win the presidency.
“[Sharpton's] the sharpest knife in the drawer — he’s just got baggage,” he said.
Matthews also pointed to suspicious fund-raising tactics of Sen. John Edwards. He said a number of paralegals in Texas who earn $25,000 wrote checks for $2,000 — the maximum amount an individual can donate to a campaign — to Edwards’ campaign. Matthews said Edwards’ trial lawyer friends would “take care” of their paralegals and called the tactics “illegal.”
Edwards has reportedly raised over $7 million, more than any other declared candidate.
While Matthews said Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 “wonderfully handled” questions about his Jewish faith when he ran as former Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, he needs to “get tough” to survive next year’s Democratic primaries. Matthews said it would be “tricky” for Lieberman to win the nomination because he said the New Havener is to the far right of the Democratic Party’s liberal voting base.
“Joe really understands American political life –he gets it,” Matthews said. “In his presidential campaign, he’s on the right of the Democratic candidates because he’s a hawk.”
He said the eventual Democratic nominee must be willing to attack Bush on all issues, including foreign policy and national security.
“I think the changes in politics are going to be profound,” Matthews said. “It will be an amazingly tough election. If the Democratic Party wants to get into this game, they’ve got to talk about the same things Bush is talking about and if they want to make it complicated, that’s their mistake.”
Over 600 New Haven business people and elected officials attended the chamber’s annual meeting at the Omni Hotel. Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander introduced Matthews at the meeting and said New Haven has “come a long way” in recent years. He said he is pleased that the national economic recession has not dampered the city’s economic state.
Chamber President Anthony Rescigno said he is optimistic about the economic future of the New Haven region.
“The greater New Haven region bodes some of the highest offerings in the world — something you all should be proud of,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity to do great things as long as all factions of our community continue to work together.”
Matthews, who spoke last on the agenda, said he originally opposed the war in Iraq and that the administration should question when it is appropriate to go into Iraq when the United States is not personally involved.
“I was wrong about the war,” Matthews said. “I thought that in Iraq, the people of Iraq would fight for their country and they didn’t and I was surprised. I’m a liberal — I thought that there would be massive trouble. The ‘Happy Iraqi’ scenario came through.”
Matthews said Bush appeals to the average American, describing the “comfort” the American people feel with Bush.
“He’s in bed by 9:30 with Laura,” he said. “How’s that for a switch?”