In January, IWF hosted a luncheon for Chris Matthews at the National Press Club for a rousing discussion of his latest book, Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think (Free Press). The following is excerpted from his remarks:

It’s amazing to be here. I admire your audacity — audacity to be yourselves, to speak for yourselves, and to find a voice in a group that you are comfortable joining, instead of being herded into a larger group that you are not comfortable being in. These are very American values.

I will talk a little bit today about what I think is good about our country right now, because I think that we are in a period of rediscovery. You might call it the rediscovery of America.

Service is valued again and is winning out against celebrity. Authenticity is winning some rounds against glamour and charisma. Charisma is a joke now. Today, we like Rudy; we like Pataki. Bill Clinton, the prom king, is not missed.

Celebrity and charisma have taken a fall, and service and authenticity are on the rise. What we are looking for is the real thing. What we are looking for is somebody who works hard.

Executive jobs are beating out legislative jobs. It is much better in a crisis to be an executive. Being a legislator generally means complaining, offering a different set of priorities — stuff that involves no activity — whereas running the Defense Department and winning a war requires executive ability, talent, competence, and grownup maturity. And so people today are looking to executives like Rudy, Pataki, Rumsfeld — people who get the job done.

People also have much more admiration for nationalism today. Call it patriotism. That’s the nice way of putting it. It’s nationalism. Let’s not kid ourselves. And by the way, we want to kill bin Laden for revenge purposes. Let’s not gussy it up. Everybody says, “We want justice. I just want justice.” No. We want him dead. Let’s not complicate this thing. What I like about Bush is that he is incapable of complicating anything. He’s a basic guy, and this is a blue-collar war. Don’t overcomplicate it. This is a street-corner issue here. And that is why Bush is the perfect president. This doesn’t require the Brookings Institution to weigh in. We don’t need a new world order. We don’t need a sophisticated new architectural diplomacy. All we have to do is catch these bastards and kill them. That is the nature of this war, and that’s why it’s a very popular war. They did it to us. But as the President says, we are going to get them before they get us again.

My message is that times have changed for the better. There are a lot of things about American culture which are wonderful and haven’t changed. We love the reluctant warrior. We love Bogart in Casablanca — that guy who finally found something to fight for. We love the dark hero, like Shane. We love the outsider who takes on the system, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. There is a lot in our American myth that is so powerful. We don’t like government, and we don’t like overseas. But we do end up fighting when we have to, and we do rally around our government when it needs us.

We have a very strange culture in this country. We would rather have abortion than have a country that is so controlled by its government that it could stop it. We would let people have guns who shouldn’t, rather than have a government so powerful that it could outlaw guns. We always choose freedom. We always choose a “cowboy” attitude that the Europeans don’t quite get. We have capital punishment because we believe in good and evil. And every time that there is a bad guy in the world, whether it’s Milosevic, Stalin, Hitler, or bin Laden, we have to go get him because we are the “cowboys.”

We are also the Boy Scouts. We are mocked for it. We are “unsophisticated.” We are the crude Americans who think that everything is a simple question of right and wrong. But whenever there is a wrong in the world, we are called upon to deal with it. Always. Every time. We are the winners, and people are always jealous of the winners, so we have to live with it.

There is no doubt about why Casablanca is the greatest American movie. It is because in the end, Bogart didn’t want to fight, but he did. Because he had to — he had to fight for her. And in the end, we are Bogart. We have to fight for a good cause. And it usually is personal. We are the greatest warriors when we reluctantly enter. Before the stars and stripes, the flag was a snake coiled with the words: “Don’t tread on me.” It is still our flag, spiritually.

We don’t believe in the government. We don’t like Washington. We hate bureaucrats. Yet we rely on our government to lead us in fights. Our heroes come from our government: the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, the generals. That is our culture, too. So we are reluctant warriors in the world, but we are revolutionaries to the core.

Chris Matthews is a political journalist, former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and onetime top aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill. He is the best-selling author of Hardball and Kennedy & Nixon, and is the host of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews.