The party was for the 10th anniversary of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” but the guest of honor himself turned it into a celebration of the First Amendment over the administration’s attempts to “silence” him.

Hailing the Founding Fathers for having constitutionally ensured free speech, Matthews then noted its continuing relevance.

“The difference between the Clinton administration and this current one is that I could pound Bill Clinton every show, all the time, and nobody from the White House would call me or my producers to complain or try to get me fired or get me to shut up,” Matthews said. “This administration does call.”

Evoking the conviction earlier this year of former vice presidential aide Scooter Libby for lying about his role in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame — which critics said was a case of the Bush administration trying to silence her husband Joe Wilson for publicly questioning the administration’s veracity on pre-war intelligence  — Matthews said he was “glad that they were caught in their criminality.”

V.P. Dick Cheney, Matthews suggested, has been the least interested among Bush officials to respect the First Amendment, nor has he been particularly saavy in foreign affairs.

“If Cheney had been president during the Cuban missile crisis,” Matthews said, ” we’d all be under the parking lot now.”

Predictions: Among the “Hardball” fest’s many A-listers (Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, John Kerry, Sally Quinn and Patrick Kennedy, to drop the names of a few) was former RFK press secretary and Democratic living-legend Frank Mankiewicz. Asked who will win the White House next year, Mankiewicz told W&W, “I think it’s a foregone conclusion — Hillary.” And her VP? “Interesting question. She won’t offer it to Obama and he wouldn’t accept if she did. I think it will be Jim Webb.”
Webb — a decorated Marine, a former Republic with Pentagon experience and now a charismatic Dem senator from Virginia — would certainly make for an intriguing ticket.
Asked the same question, a reluctant Ted Kennedy said, “The candidate who inspires the most.”
Political humorist Mark Russell: “Fred Thompson, if he can get his campaign moving. It needs something. Jumper cables come to mind.”
William Triplett