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updated 8/31/2009 11:07:07 AM ET 2009-08-31T15:07:07

Guests: Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Jonathan Alter, Eugene Robinson, Willie Brown, Alan Simpson, Martin Nolan, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Irish wake. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in New York. 

It‘s not just a man who passed away this week, but an era that‘s now passed.  It‘s not the new frontier figures like JFK, Jackie, Pierre Salinger, the Irish mafia, Kenny O‘Donnell, and Larry O‘Brien, and Dave Powers, and, of course, Lyndon Johnson, and Lady Bird.

It‘s the generation of Massachusetts politicians who s came later, Tip O‘Neill, and Sil Conte, and Gerry Studds, and top insiders like Kirk O‘Donnell and Leo Diehl.  They‘re all gone, and now Eunice and Teddy, the obituary page, the Irish sports page. 

This year, the traffic has been brisk, and not just in the political world.  So, what we‘re seeing right now is a victory, not of violence or disease, but of time and change.  That‘s what we‘re watching this weekend, the end of an era. 

The question is, what is coming in to replace it?  That‘s the big one. 

All day today and late into last night, tens of thousands paid their respects to Senator Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.  And, tonight, in a memorial service at the JFK Library, the senator‘s life will be celebrated by speakers, including John McCain, Chris Dodd, Orrin Hatch, John Kerry, Vice President Biden, also Caroline Kennedy. 

Tomorrow, a funeral mass will be held at Boston‘s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, a church where the senator prayed during his daughter Kara‘s battle with cancer.  President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy. 

Following the funeral, Kennedy‘s body will be flown to Washington and will be buried near his brothers John and Robert at Arlington Cemetery. 

My colleagues Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow will be joining me later in the broadcast.  Then, at 6:00 Eastern time, please join us for live coverage of the Kennedy memorial service tonight.

And, tomorrow, we will be back with live coverage of the funeral mass and the burial itself at Arlington beginning at 10:00 in the morning. 

With me now is “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson—he‘s also an MSNBC political analyst—and the former Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown. 

Gentlemen, I can‘t think of two greater guys to have on to start our coverage tonight. 

And I want Gene to start, and then Mayor Brown to pick up on this. 

The importance of this passing, I think it‘s an era.  I think something really big is happening.  It‘s not disease or violence that won this week.  It‘s time. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it is...

MATTHEWS:  Gene first. 

ROBINSON:  It is time, time that won, and time will always win. 

Eras do begin and end.  It‘s—it‘s—it‘s—it‘s a very special thing that‘s ending that—right now, though, the—the Kennedy—not the Kennedy mystique, but the Kennedy substance, what the Kennedys meant to the nation and especially to the Democratic Party. 

It, of course, started with—with Jack, but—but, then, when Bobby came along, the Kennedy name really came to represent a—a—a kind of liberalism that—a kind of concern for those in our society who are—who are neediest, who have least.

And Ted Kennedy then carried that on for decades, and he was always

there.  And—and since he was always there, that element, that—that

concept, that—that concern for the poor was—was—was a central part

of what the Democratic Party stood for.  And it had—it had a figure of -

of such substance and vigor to represent that—that view.

And—and now I think we‘re going to feel his absence in just many, many ways. 

MATTHEWS:  Mayor—Mayor Brown, it seems to me that the Kennedys were among perhaps a subset of the Irish, the Irish Americans, who remembered what it was like when the Irish were a minority, back when they were the downtrodden. 

And, unlike some of the other Irish, who became middle class and upper middle class and became conservative Republicans, for whatever reason, the Kennedys, under a more conservative Jack, and ending up with a more liberal Teddy, said, no, we‘re going to stake our claim with the minorities. 

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO:  And that is exactly what Ted Kennedy did.

But let me tell you, I don‘t think this is the end, frankly.  As I observed, there are Kennedys in Rhode Island.  There are Kennedys in Maryland.  There are Kennedys in Massachusetts.  There are even Kennedys, by one method or another, here in California, in the form of Maria Shriver. 

I suspect that we have not seen the end of what the Kennedys have meant to this country, nor will we for a very long time.  There are a whole lot of Kennedys. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at something.  I want to get into something a little grittier right now. 

Here is Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius talking about the health care bill.  And, of course, that‘s central to Ted Kennedy and his legacy.  Here she is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY:  I think naming is a decision that the United States Senate will make. 

I—I think passing it is—is the big first step.  And that‘s what Senator Kennedy would want. 

I hope, also, that, if people are truly interested in honoring his legacy—and there‘s a lot of conversation about that—the best possible legacy is to pass health reform this year, and have a bill that President Obama could sign.  And, hopefully, at every step along the way, they will ask themselves, “What would Teddy do?” and move it forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Gene, without getting too partisan, the—the grave-robbers are already out, the ghouls, if you will, are out there, already building the case that somehow the memorial tonight and tomorrow to Ted Kennedy and his belief in health care reform—health care for everyone is somehow an exploitation. 

ROBINSON:  Right, I have heard that.  We have seen the—seen the stories, the rumblings and the—and the nonsense, in my view, that‘s already been spewed on—on radio and elsewhere. 

This—health—health care was the cause of—of Ted Kennedy‘s life, as he himself described it.  We are in the middle of a—of a huge and consequential argument, hopefully, one that bears fruit, over health care.

And it—it—it would be absurd not to recognize that context.  And

and the idea that, to—to mention that, in fact, we are on the verge, perhaps, of—of—of reaching some of the health care reforms that he fought for, for, literally, decades, that—that somehow mentioning that is—is out of bounds, I think, is—is ridiculous, and—and to—they haven‘t even had the memorial service yet. 

I think it‘s—it‘s ghoulish, inappropriate, and—and—and, frankly, just in awful taste. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it seems odd, Mayor Brown, that the—the people on the far right, the—sort of the screeching right, the intemperate right, are already attacking what they think is a coming win one for the Gipper mood, when, in fact, win one for the Gipper was pretty effective as a Republican battle cry for all those years. 

BROWN:  There‘s no question about it.

And they are, frankly, ruining any possibility that their criticism could ever be viewed as legitimate.  When the secretary said what she said, she didn‘t say, there is a bill.  There are—there—she didn‘t say, these items of health reform.  She simply said, in a most civil and direct way, this man lived his life in pursuit of health care for all.

In view of the fact that we are where we are now and we are near the finish line, it would be highly appropriate, when we reach those confrontations and can‘t figure out where to go, take a look and see what Teddy would have done. 

That might be instructive.  She didn‘t say, that‘s the only way to solve it.  She simply said, that‘s one of the ways to solve it.  And she didn‘t say, it should be out of sympathy.  She said, clearly, it should be out of honor and respect. 

I think that the right has gone too far in their criticism.  They should wait for the Wellstone-type speech before they come with the Wellstone answer. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Well—well said.

Mr.—Mr. Brown, Mr. Mayor, my friend, close friend of the Kennedys for generations, tonight is going to be so good.  I was just reading Chris Dodd‘s remarks.  I don‘t know if you gentlemen have seen it yet.  It‘s—it‘s unbelievably wonderful.

And Brian Stokes Mitchell is singing tonight. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have you guys all heard him sing?  He is the greatest singer today, a close friend of Teddy Kennedy‘s. 

I once heard him at one of Teddy‘s birthday parties.  He‘s going to sing “Impossible Dream” tonight and bring down the house. 

I just want to give you a chance, in a non-musical way right now, Mr.  Mayor, who I respect all these years, as an ally of the Kennedys and Tip O‘Neill, my old boss, I want you to take a moment and talk about Ted. 

BROWN:  Ted Kennedy was for me—he‘s of my generation. 

There‘s no greater pride I could have in any politician than one who‘s charming, who‘s clever, who listens, and who succeeds in putting together a program needed for people in the most unselfish way. 

That‘s who Ted Kennedy was, from Willie Brown‘s perspective.  And I hope someone says something like that about me when I pass on. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, 100 years from now, sir, perhaps. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Eugene Robinson.

I will now once again bestow on you the crown you have earned again, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson.

Sir, given your literary ability, a thought on Ted Kennedy. 

ROBINSON:  Well, I—I think Ted Kennedy just did something really remarkable. 

I think he—the youngest of this—of this—of nine children in this extraordinary family, he was never supposed to—to—to rise to the heights.  That was for—for Joe or for Jack or for Bobby. 

For a long time, I think the family didn‘t—didn‘t quite know how Teddy was going to—going to turn out.  He was the prince who would never be king.  Yet, he—he did this extraordinarily difficult thing to—to find—to define for himself such a—such a constructive role, such a meaningful role, to become a—a titan of the—of the Senate, to—to fight for causes in which he—he believed so passionately, and to—to get results. 

It is so appropriate that—that Brian Stokes Mitchell will be singing “The Impossible Dream.”  I have heard him sing that in “Man of La Mancha,” and it—and—and there wasn‘t a dry eye in the—in the house.  And this was just at the—at the theater here in Washington. 

Tonight, it will surely be a—a highly emotional moment, one that‘s

that‘s entirely appropriate, because he believed in the impossible dream.  And he was—you know, and—and the emotion of that song and the

and the optimism of that song, I think, just is—is perfect for who Ted Kennedy was. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, gentlemen, one of the great opportunities I have right now is to let you guys talk on television, and I really appreciate you coming on tonight. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What an emotional night it‘s going to be, as we get further and further into this passing of time and perhaps of the torch to Barack Obama.  We will see. 

Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post,” Former mayor and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of California. 

Coming up, we‘re going to talk to one of Senator Kennedy‘s longtime Senate colleagues, former Senator Alan Simpson.  What a guy he is, a great friend of the senator‘s, and I think also of mine.  What a great guy, Alan Simpson, who knows what the old Senate was like, the grand Senate of friends across the aisle. 

The memorial service, by the way, is set to begin at 7:00 Eastern tonight up in Boston.  There you see Ted Kennedy under the flag there.  There‘s Vicki Kennedy, his wife, and Joe Kennedy, his nephew.  And, well, we will be spotting those people all night tonight, as—as they pass before us. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re about to hear from someone you‘re only going to hear from right now in this whole period of days of mourning right now, former Republican Senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson. 

Senator Simpson, thank you for joining us from your wonderful romantic trip to Europe with Annie, your wife. 

What do you want to say about Ted Kennedy, your old pal? 

ALAN SIMPSON ®, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, Chris, it‘s nice for you to call, because Ann and I feel very sorrowful that we can‘t get back.  We‘re on a cruise.  This is our 55th wedding anniversary.  We planned it for about a year on the Danube, the Rhine.  I am right now between (INAUDIBLE) and Amsterdam.

Let me tell you, Ted Kennedy was a dear friend of mine.  You didn‘t have to agree with him, didn‘t have to judge him.  We had a lot of fun together, and we did a lot of work together, because he was a master legislator. 

He—he believed in the 80/20 rule.  If you can‘t get everything, get 80 percent.  Let the other 20 percent go over to the Hill and let them fight over that.  But we had some wonderful times.  And—and I grieve, I really do, because—and I think you know me well enough to know how much I cared about him. 

I kept sending him marvelous notes and messages filled with earthy commentary.  And he loved it. 

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  I know he did, because Vicki would write and say, he just threw his head back and laughed and (INAUDIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  But, anyway, I shall miss him. 

But, shoot, ask anything you wish.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, Wyoming, you were lucky—well, not lucky

I was lucky to be your guest out there a couple weeks ago, you and Pete, your brother, at the University of Wyoming.

And I know it‘s a conservative part of the country, maybe not Laramie, but the rest of the state.  What was it like to be a friend of Ted‘s and still get reelected as a conservative in—in Wyoming? 

SIMPSON:  Well, it was about like if—if I had walked down the street in Boston with Ted.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  And, often, we would—we would always get out there to the library.  He would have some function.  He—he and Vicki would invite Ann and I.  And people would look around and say, what‘s he doing here? 

That‘s the way it works.  And then if I dragged him to—only, I never could get him here.  But I met him first in Wyoming at Sweeler‘s (ph) Bar & Grill in 1960, when he was campaigning with his—for his brother. 

That‘s where I met Ted.  And he went on to ride a horse at Frontier Days.  He insisted he rode the whole eight seconds, but he didn‘t.  He only rode seven.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  He got tossed off. 

But, anyway, it started.  And then he was in the Congress and the Senate with my father.  He and my dad started together in ‘62.  And when I got elected in ‘78, the old man said, look, Al, get to know Kennedy.  You know, he didn‘t agree, but he caused his parents as much pain as you have caused your mother and I. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

Let me ask you about Mike Enzi.  When I was out there, I heard about your successor out there in the Senate.  He‘s playing quite a role, perhaps a bipartisan role—we will see down the road—in this health care discussion.  What do you think it‘s going to be? 

SIMPSON:  Let me tell you, if he‘s in the game, you want to—you want to be sure that it—it could work. 

But let me tell you, Ted Kennedy and Mike Enzi, when Mike succeeded me, I went to Ted and I said, Ted, get to know this guy.  Don‘t judge him.  He‘s another one of those Republicans from Wyoming.

And he and Ted Kennedy—go look it up—did 28 bills together on health care, quality of life, OSHA, and no one ever wrote about that.  They did 28 bills together that went in to pass into law.  And that‘s the way Ted worked. 

He—if he were—if he were around, this logjam would not be—would not be there.  He would go to Henry Waxman.  He would go to Pelosi.  He would go to McConnell.  He would say, look, forget all this stuff.  What the hell is going on?  Let‘s get it work—get it working. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Alan Simpson, it‘s great.  You and Annie have a good time out there on your 55th.  What an honor that is, just to be married to her.  That‘s bigger than being a senator, I think, for you. 

SIMPSON:  Well, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  She said it was like a religious experience, a living hell.

No, she didn‘t. 

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  She loves me. 

(CROSSTALK) 

SIMPSON:  But let me tell you, the greatest time I had with Ted, we did “Face-Off” on Mutual Radio for eight years.  Now, if you can‘t have a bond of affection whacking each other around five days a week for eight years, that‘s where it all started. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to thank you, former United States senator from Wyoming, former son—or son of a former senator, and more importantly, one of the leaders of the Kennedy library and the Kennedy Institute of Politics up at Harvard.  Anyway, thank you, Senator Simpson.  Have a nice trip over there.

SIMPSON:  Thank you, Chris.  Best to all.  Bye-bye.

MATTHEWS:  Marty Nolan‘s a long-time reporter from “The Boston Globe.” 

I am a huge fan of Marty Nolan‘s because I remember a lot of his columns.

Marty, you once said—and I want to get into tribal politics here.  Tell me the reason why the Kennedy Library we‘re having this lying in state tonight is not at Harvard?

MARTIN NOLAN, FORMER “BOSTON GLOBE” REPORTER:  Well, in 1963 in April, President Kennedy went to speak at the 100th birthday of Boston College.  And I was in the motorcade following him, like a lot of “Globe” guys, and the motorcade went over to Brighton and then to Cambridge, right near Harvard.  And Kennedy jumps out and he‘s looking at it and, Whoa, he‘s choosing a site for his presidential library.

Well, you know, presidential libraries go up quickly, but not in Boston, and particularly not in Cambridge.  All the Brattle Street crowd, the professors and all that, objected to having—oh, they didn‘t mind the library and the archives, but the museum would bring in all these schoolchildren, all these Americans, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

NOLAN:  It was rather like, you know, when Stanford rejected the Reagan library.  You know, these professors are too important.  They‘re more important than presidents.  Well, I don‘t think so.

But one of Ted Kennedy‘s earliest supporters, Robert C. Wood, whose name should be familiar to you as the author of “Suburbia,” who later was deputy secretary of HUD—he became president of U. Mass. out there in Dorchester, on the other end of the subway line from Harvard, the real working-class section of Boston, as you know, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

NOLAN:  ... right near Dorchester and South Boston.  And he took Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and looked at this beautiful site and said, Isn‘t this nice?  Wouldn‘t Jack like this?  And she bought it.  And of course, he didn‘t tell her that when Fred Allen, the great radio comedian, was a child, he played in what was known as the Mile Road Dump, and so did Speaker McCormack, and it had been literally a dump.

But Wood was so smart to say—to see the great possibility there. 

And now that‘s a thriving academic neighborhood, with U. Mass. and B.C.

High and the future Edward M. Kennedy Institute.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, Marty, you said the first time that what the real Cambridge intellectuals and WASP-y Brahmin-type professors didn‘t want to see was all those Catholic school buses...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... coming into Cambridge to look at the remnants of the Kennedy era.  I like that.

Tell me now about the Kennedys.  Why do you think, among the Irish in Boston, they stayed liberal?  In fact, got more liberal, as I‘m sure you know—Teddy being more liberal than Bobby, Bobby more liberal than Jack.  Why did they stay and think of themselves as a minority, a little person, rather than joining the upper middle class, like the other Irish did?

NOLAN:  Well, Teddy I think was one of the few politicians—and you and I know this—that he really enjoyed campaigning.  A lot of them do it as a painful duty, but Teddy really enjoyed it.  And the more—the older he got, Chris, I think, the more he resembled Tip O‘Neill, your pal and mine, who really loved campaigning and loved to talk to ordinary people.  And that was a great gift because it infused and animated his own legislation.  He combined the two.  He had the good—he had street smarts and he understood legislation.  It‘s a great combination.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about the differences among the three brothers. 

You covered them all.

NOLAN:  Oh, boy.  Bobby—Bobby—Bobby did not have much time for the Senate.  He was—“abrasive” is too easy a word.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

NOLAN:  Dirksen told me once that when Dirksen was approached by Bobby about some legislation, asked for Republican prospects, and Dirksen in his deep voice said, Well, Senator, I think it‘s going to be difficult to get votes, and then Bobby says, You‘ve hated all the Kennedys, don‘t you?

(LAUGHTER)

NOLAN:  And Dirksen said, No, I love Jack, I love Teddy.  So that was Bobby, different.  But I think Jack was more between the two extremes, I think—Teddy a real great street politician, Bobby not, and Jack somewhere in the middle.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Marty Nolan, we miss you at “The Globe.”  I‘ve been reading “The Globe” all summer.  I hope “The Globe” survives.

NOLAN:  Well, it‘s doing all right.  And listen, one thing—it‘s a grand Irish wake, and as you understand and appreciate, Ted Kennedy is his own advance man for this.

(LAUGHTER)

NOLAN:  He laid out the route.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I used to say about Tip O‘Neill, he was his own Thanksgiving Day parade float.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He got there before he (ph) did.

NOLAN:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Wait‘ll you see—wait‘ll you read or hear Chris Dodd tonight.  I‘ve read the speech.  Wait‘ll you hear Chris Dodd tonight.

NOLAN:  Oh, Chris—Chris was a great pal of Teddy‘s, as we all know.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Marty Nolan—“Mah-tin” Nolan...

NOLAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... from “Bah-ston,” now living in San Francisco.

NOLAN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, a preview of our documentary, “The Kennedy Brothers,” as we continue our coverage of this night of tribute to Ted Kennedy—Teddy.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight at 10:00 Eastern, we‘re going to show “The Kennedy Brothers,” or documentary again for those who missed it, also a great chance to catch up.  There‘s so much to that hour, the incredible saga of these three brothers, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and of course, Ted Kennedy, Edward Moore Kennedy.  We‘ve just lost him.  It‘s about their enormous influence on this country.

In this clip, Bobby Kennedy follows in the footsteps of brother John and announces that he‘s running for president.  This was in 1968.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ROBERT F. KENNEDY (D), NEW YORK:  I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Robert Kennedy‘s impassioned 1968 campaign had little in common with the well-oiled Kennedy campaign machine that made Jack president eight years earlier.

(on camera):  The Bobby Kennedy campaign—what was different about that from what you remember and knew about the Jack Kennedy campaign?

KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND, BOBBY KENNEDY DAUGHTER:  Well, it was a lot less organized.  As you know, my father was very ambivalent as to whether to run, and so it was put together more on a haphazard way.  It was his spirit that got you through, rather than the organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was this enormous, enormous surge everywhere he went of youthful enthusiasm.  It was extraordinary, the grabbing and mauling him and snatching his cufflinks and kids on tricycles and bikes pumping along the motorcade.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  “The Kennedy Brothers” airs tonight at 10:00 PM Eastern, as I said, after our live coverage of the memorial service for Senator Ted Kennedy this evening.

Up next: What does the death of Senator Kennedy mean for President Obama, the man to whom he did hand that torch last year?  Much more on this night of tribute to Senator Kennedy when we come back.

You‘re watching it—HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET WRAP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Over the past several years, I‘ve had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor and a friend, and even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joining me right now is Joan Walsh of Salon and “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, who‘s also an MSNBC political analyst.

Let‘s do a little political business.  The other day, Rush Limbaugh, in his inimitable fashion, said that I had done something he would have gotten in trouble for.  Please explain.  I need a biblical exegesis for this...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I said that last year, Ted Kennedy passed the torch of the

Kennedy brotherhood to Barack Obama, making him the next Kennedy.  And it

was so clear to everybody that‘s what was going on.  In fact, we put it in

the documentary.  He said if he had said something like that, he would have

been accused of making an ethnic slur because I used the word “brother,”

even though in terms of the brotherhood, I pointed out I‘m not using this -

I said it at the time—not in an ethnic sense, not in a racial sense, brother in the sense of sibling brother, actual brother.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And he jumped up and made himself into a victim again.  What is the matter with these people?  Can‘t they take a week off, Jonathan?  Just take a week off.  It‘s a funeral.  Take a week off from politics.

WALSH:  Really.

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, he‘s one of the—if Ted Kennedy is one of the great senators of our time, Rush Limbaugh takes the crown as the great blowhard of our time.  There‘s nobody who would have criticized Rush Limbaugh if he had talked about a brother because there‘s so many other things to criticize him for, other outrageous things that he says almost every day on the radio.  So he‘s just blowing smoke.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s an attempt at victimhood.

WALSH:  He loves the victimhood.  I don‘t understand it.  I mean, he‘s also got all that anxiety about having to “bend over” for Obama.  I always bring that up.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that‘s a cutie.

WALSH:  Yes, it‘s cute.  He shows his anxiety in every way.  And what you said was the highest praise for Obama.  There was nothing ethnic, nothing racial in it.  It was just what happened.

MATTHEWS:  It was my highest tribute, Rushbo!

WALSH:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me ask you, do you think he‘s rooting for Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick now?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Because having spent a good part of his broadcasting and sports career saying that McNabb doesn‘t have it, do you think he‘s going to be rooting for him to lose the starting line-up QB spot in Philly?

WALSH:  You take that.

ALTER:  Yes, he probably would go for the dog killer.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this attempt at footsteps here on the part of the right to interrupt this—I called them ghouls a few minutes ago...

WALSH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... grave robbers.  They‘re trying to get into this story by saying the Democrats are going to do a “Win one for the Gipper.”  Well, to me, if Audie Murphy served his country and fighting for us, we‘d say, Well, let‘s try to do something, as well.

WALSH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s try to be equally courageous.  If somebody dies in a battle, you say, Let‘s try to carry it on, carry the banner forward.  That seems to be very American.  They‘re turning that on the right as some kind of, Well, they better not try that.

ALTER:  We‘ve seen this before.  The year was 1964.  John F. Kennedy had been assassinated and Lyndon Johnson said, Let‘s pass the Civil Rights Act as a memorial to the slain president.

MATTHEWS:  Let us continue.

WALSH:  Right.

ALTER:  And the right wing at that time said that it was improper.  The bill was passed, and Ted Kennedy told me once that it was one of the top three accomplishments of the United States Senate in all the years that he was there, the Civil Rights Act of ‘64.

WALSH:  Of course it was.  And you know, passing a great health care reform bill would be another signature accomplishment.  And he deserves it.  And no one is dictating what should be in the bill, but to accuse—to say that that‘s playing politics is just ridiculous.  That is what the man stood for.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it funny that people have memories so slight, the ADD that overcomes them, not in a clinical or medical sense, but just in a political sense?  How many times in our lives in the last 20 or so years have you heard the phrase, “Win one for the Gipper”?

WALSH:  Right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hilarious.  It‘s a hoot.  Now they‘re saying, Don‘t do what we do.

ALTER:  I‘ll give you another example of that.  You hear a lot of the conservatives nowadays are saying, We got to stop this health care bill to protect seniors, right?  They‘re pandering—they‘re pandering on Medicare...

MATTHEWS:  Keep government out of medical...

ALTER:  These were the folks who did everything they could to stop Medicare, and as recently as last year, they were trashing Medicare.  And now they‘re arguing that, you know, this bill has to be defeated to defend Medicare.  It‘s insane.

MATTHEWS:  So they‘re acting like the people in those first lifeboats getting off the Titanic, beating off the other survivors so they don‘t crowd the boats, right?

WALSH:  Absolutely.  It is ghoulish.  It‘s truly ghoulish.  I hope—

I know it‘ll be a wonderful memorial.  I know it will.  Senator Kennedy deserves that.  I don‘t see anyone booing the Republicans.  I‘m not a booer.  I‘m a baseball fan.  I don‘t even boo the Dodgers.  I think that‘s wrong, but if they‘re going to make...

MATTHEWS:  You won‘t be too welcome in Philly!

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  I actually like the Phillies, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m talking about the fans...

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER:  ... great Norm Coleman victory.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to a couple speaking tonight—Caroline Kennedy, who is not a politician—that‘s established—Joe Biden, who is certainly, John Culver, former senator from Iowa, good friend of Teddy—I think roommates at Harvard—Tommy Menino, the great senator (SIC), “Mumbles” they call him, the mayor from up there.  Brian Stokes Mitchell will give the greatest political speech of the night, which will be “The Impossible Dream” speech when he sings that song.  That‘s going to be the inspiring moment tonight, Joan.

WALSH:  That‘s—that was my dad‘s favorite song, so it‘s very moving.

MATTHEWS:  And I‘ve heard him give that song.  John Kerry‘s going to -

and Orrin Hatch.  So among the Republicans tonight in this—apparently, this partisan festival, the voices you‘re going to hear are Orrin Hatch of Utah, John McCain of Arizona.  So I don‘t think they can really put this down as a Paul Wellstone funeral!

ALTER:  Hatch makes it really hard.  And Hatch and Kennedy had a really special relationship.  And Kennedy was there for Hatch.  He showed up in Utah at a funeral of somebody very close to Orrin Hatch.  And from that day on, the two really connected, and they worked together on a lot of legislation.  But even when they bitterly opposed each other on the substance, they were very close personally. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense that this death of Ted Kennedy will have any effect whatever on whether we get a deal on health care, a deal makes the liberals happy enough, the conservatives mollified enough that something can get through? 

WALSH:  Honestly, Jonathan and I may differ on this.  I don‘t think he‘s going to get Republican votes, even if he throws the public option overboard.  If they push for some kind co-op compromise, they will fight that.  They are fighting everything.

I do want to say, I appreciate and honor Senator Kennedy‘s friendship with Orrin Hatch, but there‘s been an element of trying to drag out Ted would have made this work.  You know, Hatch and McCain had the chance to vote for Ted Kennedy‘s bill in Ted Kennedy‘s committee. 

MATTHEWS:  McCain was on that health committee.  He could have voted for it. 

Let me ask you this.  I‘m still a believer that it‘s possible to get to 60 in the Senate and 218 in the House with smart legislation thinking here, maybe a one or two-step process, maybe not everything, a trigger of some kind, some kind of major historic commitment of health care for everybody, an enrollment of everyone, to start with, and all the reforms, maybe not everything, in the first graph.   

ALTER:  I think so too.  I agree with Joan that it‘s not going to be done with significant Republican support.  But they are going to need a couple.  They are going to need Olympia Snowe and maybe Susan Collins. 

MATTHEWS:  By definition, they  need at least one. 

ALTER:  And so—and they‘re going to need those moderate Democrats, some of whom are getting unenthusiastic, like Joe Lieberman.  So the idea that somehow this is going to be rammed through with everything that the Democrats is unrealistic and it‘s also un-Ted Kennedy.  He took what he could get.  He compromised.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the big—I‘ll give you my premise.  That‘s the way we do things on cable television.  I‘ll tell what you I think, and then say do you agree or not.  I think the keys are within the Democratic party.  They need to have a meeting of their caucus and write a bill.  If they can get 60, they are going to get somebody from Massachusetts appointed in the next couple weeks.  That‘s going to happen.  They aren‘t going to let that start.

They are going to get 60 Democratic senators.  The question is can they get those 60 Democratic votes.  That‘s the key to me.  I wonder if they can do that, they are going to have a bill.  It‘s as a simple as that;

60 Democrats will make this happen.  Will they get them? 

ALTER:  I think they will, but they are going to have to tell the liberals, particularly on the House side, that this idea of drawing a line in the sand, and saying, it‘s public option or bust, that they cannot vote for a bill that does not include a public option, is the opposite of the direction they need to go. 

I‘m strong in favor a public option.  They should push for it all the way.  But if they can‘t get it, if the system doesn‘t allow that, they have to do what FDR did, what LBJ did, and what Ted Kennedy did, over and over again, and that is not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we need to make our insurance companies public utilities, like Krauthammer said in his column today.  Then regulate them and keep their profits down.  That‘s another way to keep them competitive.  Treat them like oil or gas or electric companies. 

WALSH:  But there are not 60 votes for that either.  We really have to face it.  I‘m going to be the die-hard liberal here. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want a bill, that‘s fine. 

WALSH:  I want a bill. 

MATTHEWS:  There won‘t be a bill if you‘re playing it that way, though. 

WALSH:  I disagree with you.

MATTHEWS:  How are you going to get 60 votes? 

WALSH:  I don‘t know.  I‘m praying to Teddy. 

ALTER:  There‘s many, many other extremely important things—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are going to join me to preview tonight‘s memorial for Senator Ted Kennedy.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back and I‘m joined right now by my colleagues Keith Olbermann of “COUNTDOWN” and Rachel Maddow of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  The three of us will bring you live coverage of the memorial service tonight for Senator Ted Kennedy.  It‘s going to go on throughout the evening and I expect it‘s going to be a long evening. 

One thing before we get into this ceremony tonight is to remind ourselves what‘s at stake in American politics.  Let‘s start with the issue that really drove the Barack Obama campaign, drove the Democrats victory in 2006, the Iraq war.  Let‘s not forget Ted Kennedy voted against both Iraq wars.  He took a strong position.  I happen to support those positions.  I think it was wrong even to get in that part of the world and get involved as deeply as we did initially. 

It seems to me that was the key thing that defined the success of the Barack Obama campaign, going into the primaries, coming out of the primaries, the role that Ted Kennedy played.  They all agreed.  To me, that was the great coincidence, Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy thought U.S. policy in that part of the world was wrong. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  When Kennedy made that momentous decision in late January 2008 that he was going to endorse Obama over the express wishes of both Clintons that he stay out of it, if he felt like he couldn‘t endorse Hillary Clinton, that was reinforced that as the most important cleavage in the Democratic field.  Hillary Clinton had voted for the war in Iraq.  She‘d voted for the use of force authorization, even though she said she was disappointed with how it went on. 

MATTHEWS:  And her husband supported the first war. 

MADDOW:  Kennedy had been against both of them.  By siding with Obama, it sort of crystallized that as the issue that made a difference among the Democratic field. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And obviously it connected the two

men, as you point out.  If you‘re in a bunker with somebody—and the war

analysis is entirely inappropriate.  We‘re talking about people voting

against a war.  But essentially, politically, that‘s where anybody who was

if you cast your mind back to that time, anybody who stood up at that point in 2002, 2003 and said no, this is wrong; I don‘t care what you‘re doing in this country; I don‘t what we think is going to happen there; this is not the correct response—took a certain willingness to see the big picture.  And I think that‘s what connected Kennedy to Obama in the first place.  That‘s how you get through the front door with Ted Kennedy, I would imagine. 

MATTHEWS:  And tonight, as we look forward as well as backwards, the question is will the president we have now—and I have called him the next brother, kind of like the last brother—the next brother, he‘s taken the torch from the Kennedys.  And whatever he does with it we‘ll have to see.  He hasn‘t done it yet, that‘s what I would say.  He has yet to command the leadership of this country on policy as president.  What do you think? 

MADDOW:  One of the questions about Ted Kennedy‘s enforcement of Obama and the way that he identified him so strongly with that—I don‘t know if the answer is knowable to this, but it‘s certainly a question for me, is whether or not he got a commitment from Obama, in exchange for that endorsement, that Obama would champion universal health care.  Again, that was a split between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Would it cover everybody?  Would it truly be universal?  Would it be everybody in, nobody out? 

Was that part of the deal between them?  Will Obama, once this initial period of mourning is over, take up universal health care in an impassioned way, which he hasn‘t necessarily done yet, in the name of Ted Kennedy. 

OLBERMANN:  That quote that we attributed to the president as candidate, I promised Teddy, we don‘t know exactly what the promise was.  Was it a full bill?  Was it any bill?  And that‘s the ultimate issue.  And I wondered to what degree though that as much as that‘s an Obama/Kennedy promise, that it plays out against the backdrop of the senator‘s death—to what degree can even this president, no matter what his influence might be, influence that? 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re watching—as we talk here, we‘re watching the

Kennedy closest family arrive.  Caroline Kennedy is apparently going to get

there she is getting out of that car right there, the black car we‘re watching.  The camera hasn‘t quite caught up with her.  There she is there with Eddie Shlosberg (ph), her husband, walking into the Kennedy Library.

I guess there‘s a question there.  I‘m a real political student, as we all are.  And I‘m thinking exactly how it gets done.  To me, the how question is interesting.  The important question is will or will it not?  There‘s all kinds of smart legislating that could be done, trigger mechanisms.  There‘s ways to get where you have to get.  I have looked at the transition of these bills.  How did we get the civil rights?  ‘57, the first shot.  Eisenhower, a bill where the teeth was taken out of it because of the jury trial.  ‘64 it finally happened.

When is the critical point of no return, when you say, we‘re going to universal coverage, and how do you get on that course irrevocably.  I think that‘s what we‘re arguing about, not the date it happens, but when is the irrevocable decision made we‘re going to national health, and joining the other industrialized powers in doing so? 

MADDOW:  I was thinking about that today, and looking at lists of Kennedy‘s achievement, and the things that he really championed on the issue of health care.  He made a key decision that he really wanted to prioritize the health committee in the Senate over his—the equal opportunity he had on the Judiciary Committee.  He really decided to go with health. 

You look at the litany of things he accomplished, COBRA for people who lose their jobs, a way to hold on to their health insurance, S-CHIP, a way for kids to have health insurance, regardless of the situation of their parents, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ryan White Care Act funding.  The way that he expanded existing commitments that we had made on health care in ways that looked momentous at the time, and in perspective, looking back, you realize they‘re big incremental gains. 

MATTHEWS:  Ironically, it was Charles Krauthammer in his column today, a very conservative guy, who pointed out, this is the way they‘ll do it if they‘re smart.  Not that he advocates it.  He‘s more fearful of it, that he might do it this way.  We‘ll be right back with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, as we await the beginning of tonight‘s ceremony, the wake, if you will, in honor of Ted Kennedy.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, my colleagues here.  I don‘t know.  This is a bit sentimental for us, but perhaps not tonight.  I am confounded by the number of people who have offered personal testimony, not just about this man‘s legislative work, but personal—personal accounts of personal compassion.  Not theoretical, not Wilsonian, I love mankind but nobody individually, but real humanity. 

Here‘s a quote from tonight‘s religious service: “think where man‘s glory most begins and ends, and say, my glory was I had such friends.”  That‘s from Yates, of course.  An amazing number of—I‘m stunned by it.  It‘s almost like you hear how could Santa Claus go to so many houses at night? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  What was it that was attributed to him?  Somebody said why do you have such a passion for fighting poverty.  And he went, you‘ve never read the Bible?  It was the answer to him.  And he wasn‘t Bible thumping in that sense.  He did not wear it on his sleeve.  But he thought he was that was a perfect summary of where he stood; this is the way people are supposed to interact, period. 

MATTHEWS:  Quiet things—I know a little bit about him personally.  The quiet stuff—a lot of people go to church for show.  They hold the Bible in front of the church and all of that stuff.  He would come to this little quiet suburban Catholic church where I went in the afternoon wearing a leather jacket, all closed.  He liked to go to the banjo mass with the kids.  Nobody was around.  Nobody shook his hands.  Nobody noticed him. 

He was a church goer, not that you brag about that.  It‘s an individual decision.  But he didn‘t make it a political thing. 

MADDOW:  One of the things that have been paying attention to in the last week—I live in western Massachusetts.  And I‘ve been looking out at some of the local papers out in western Massachusetts, the “Berkshire Eagle” in Pittsfield, and “The Daily Hampshire Gazette” in North Hampton, those papers, and finding out what people are saying locally about him.  He is my senator.  He was my senator.  He‘s been a senator from Massachusetts for 47 years. 

Beyond the regular constituent services, which has I think bought him 47 years of loyalty from the people of Massachusetts, there are a lot of those personal individual connections. 

MATTHEWS:  We have heard a lot of them.  The memorial service for Senator Ted Kennedy begins in one hour.  And Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow will be with me throughout the evening.  We continue now with our special coverage. 

OLBERMANN:  For the third time, the nation mourns a Kennedy brother.  The first two, crystalline memories of our youths, vivid, horrid.  The third of our own day, wrapped in the curse and the blessing of inevitability, of a man, loan of the Kennedy men to grow old in the service of his nation, not reaching the presidency, nor cut down with it nearly in his grasp, but content, and every increasingly so, with a hand more of influence and shaping than of pomp and grandeur, near half a century in the Senate of this land. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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