NEW YORK. "Hardball" host Chris Matthews has studied the American presidency and spoken one-on-one with both presidents and presidential candidates. "I don't mean to toot my own horn," he says with a self-effacing manner that is refreshing in a national news personality, "but when I say something, I listen, because I'm usually right, and I can learn something."
Matthews: I think he likes me!
So Matthews, who during the presidential campaign last year said that a speech by Barack Obama created a "thrill" in his leg, says he's not going out on a limb in declaring Obama the greatest American president after only one week in office. "I've seen enough," Matthews says in a taped edition of the show that will air tonight. "A lot of people think Lincoln was the greatest, but the biggest challenge he faced was the Civil War. Obama had to deal with a two-daughter slumber party his first night in the White House."
Wilentz: "Is he the greatest? That's a tough question--NOT!"
Journalists write the first draft of history according to a saying attributed variously to Philip Graham, late publisher of The Washington Post, and Casey Stengel, the manager who led the New York Yankees to five consecutive World Series triumphs. So what do professional historians think of Obama after only three full days in office, a point at which John Kennedy had not yet moved Angie Dickinson out of the Lincoln bedroom?
Linda Thompson and Markie Post consider Lincoln's role in U.S. history by jumping on bed during Clinton years.
"I think Chris may be a little premature, and I don't want to rush to judgment," said Princeton University professor Sean Wilentz, who abandoned his stance of academic neutrality during the campaign. "But I have submitted a two-part article on the subject to Rolling Stone, and I should know by Monday whether they're going to run it in the print edition or just turn it into a t-shirt."
But Matthews stood his ground, saying that in light of what we know today, there is no way Obama can help but be the greatest president ever barring an alien attack on the White House as depicted in the Will Smith movie "Independence Day". "I don't think I'm jumping to conclusions," he said as he removed his clip microphone and walked off the set. "Anyway, it's Friday and I usually leave work a little early."