MSNBC political pundit Chris Matthews turned to Harvard Republican Club President Mark A. Isaacson ’11 yesterday and asked him when he first “felt” Republican.
“When did you get that visceral sense, ‘Damn it, I’m right,’” a bombastic Matthews asked. “You know, starting to love Doug MacArthur and Chiang Kai-shek, Vietnam. When did your heroes begin to be Daddy Warbucks, Joe Kennedy?”
Isaacson had three seconds to respond before he was cut off. “It’s funny, I have trouble pinpointing...”
“No, no, are you going to answer the question or try something?” said Matthews, sensing equivocation. “When did you first feel Republican is the question, and I’d like an answer.”
The lauded and loathed host of “Hardball” brought his irreverent Socratic style to the Kirkland Junior Common Room yesterday afternoon. He grilled Isaacson and Harvard College Democrats President Jason Q. Berkenfeld ’11 on hot-button issues like President Barack Obama’s heritage, an undisciplined “loosey-goosey” Democratic party, and midterm election turnout.
For Matthews’ recent visit to Kirkland, the organizers of the series “Kirkland Conversations” decided to orchestrate a live rendition of “Hardball” with two of the most prominent undergraduate politicos on campus in the hot seat.
After Isaacson and Berkenfeld agreed to participate, the event organizers called them a few days before the event to make sure they knew what they were getting into.
“They called and asked, ‘Do you have any debate experience,’” Berkenfeld recalled. “‘Can you handle this?’”
Berkenfeld was well-aware of Matthews’ unconventional style, but was surprised to find Matthews more centrist than expected.
“Everyone expects him to be the liberal counterpoint to Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, but I don’t think he toes any party line,” Berkenfeld said after the debate.
Isaacson said that, as anticipated, Matthews was ruthless, but that he was “impressed” by his willingness to consider opinions that were not liberal.
“I expected it to be tough, and he was tough,” Isaacson said.
Matthews was not so easy on the audience, either.
During his opening remarks, Matthews uncrossed his arms and asked, “If you know who Margaret Thatcher is, raise your hand.” Unimpressed by the handful of raised arms, Matthews called on an audience member.
“You, in the red shirt, who is Margaret Thatcher?”
The student shrugged. Matthews pointed at someone else.
“The prime minister...”
“Okay, okay, that’s enough,” Matthews cut in. “You all know more than Sarah Palin.”
—Staff writer Laura G. Mirviss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.