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tv   Matthew Algeo All This Marvelous Potential  CSPAN  April 10, 2020 11:44am-12:21pm EDT

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astronaut's story of invention". she will be signing copies of the book. she will only be signing copies of the book, no memorabilia, don't bring your jar of tang or anything. back to the left looking that way, you can find someone who will direct you, no selfys but you can do candid photos. thank you, join us again. ♪ >> tonight on booktv, highlights from our "in depth" program. we begin with a history of the
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black national anthem followed by novelist jody pico including her novel a spark of light. in journalist & 6 novelist corey doctorow discussing his books and activism. after social distancing get close to a good book tonight, booktv on c-span2. [inaudible conversations] >> thanks for coming out. my name is travis cohen, i will do some quick housekeeping and jump right in. quick second to remind everyone to silence your cell phones. we are recording video and audio. when it comes time for the q and a portion, we ask you speak
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to it and keep your question to a question and following everything we have all the books on sale behind the cash register at the front of the store so if you want to get those, keep your chairs in place, we would greatly appreciate that. many of you know we host a lot of events and if you need any help keeping track of those we have the calendars at our info desk and check your website, it is the best we get the information we can. we have the pleasure of hosting matthew algeo, an award-winning journalist whose stories appeared on all things considered, marketplace, many books on harry truman's excellent adventure, the president is a sick man among them.
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he is here to discuss his new book "all this marvelous potential: robert kennedy's 1968 tour of appalachia". the story tells of kennedy's tour starting in mid february four months before his assassination. books like a victim hillbilly elegy recast the story of appalachian life, what decisions were in place to generate the world. having lived near cumberland for years, has seen how the story resonates with the population but even deeper into the book's pages, readers familiar with the story of economic withdrawal and party infighting will find much to discover. please join me in welcoming matthew algeo. [applause] >> thanks, travis. how is everybody feeling? everybody feeling okay? it is great to be at politics
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and prose again. it is like madison square garden, it smells better. travis was mentioning my earlier books. i kind of like where this fits into the previous books i have done but a little background about myself is in order. always good to let people know the person who wrote the book, the people you will be giving your money to hopefully. i grew up in a town about 30 miles north of philadelphia, i went to college at the university of pennsylvania and major in folklore. i have that going for me. after i graduated, i couldn't
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find any work in folklore. i started working in public radio, the place folklore went at the time. i met my wife in st. louis, we were married in 98, hired by the state department. i have been able to write these books, my wife has a real job. the string of non-selling books is given me something to do when we are overseas. quick plugs for my earlier books, last team standing, big fan, the 1943 merger of the
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steelers and eagles. the nfl was so short of players during world war ii they had two teams. it is on them for -- they are not the last team standing but the publisher insisted on calling it last team standing but don't worry about that, it is a good book. harry truman's excellent adventure retraced the road trip harry and this truman took in summer of 53 after they left the white house, pensions and secret service protection. harry and best got in the chrysler and drove from independence missouri to the east coast to visit their daughter margaret who lived in new york and the second time. it is a sweet book, eating at diners, speaks to a bygone era.
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when truman left office, he was the last president to return to something resembling a normal we -- life. a sick man, the secret operation in grover cleveland to remove a cancerous tumor from his mouth. how are these not bestsellers? pedestrian is him, the history of competitive walking in the 1880s, the 6-day walking race and, okay. abe and fido, the greatest biography ever written of lincoln's dog. lincoln plus dog, what do i have to do. we will see about this marvelous potential and how well that fits into the scheme of things. this came in 2016 after the presidential election.
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you are aware donald trump is president and a lot of people were surprised when he was elected and they looked at the numbers and were especially surprised at the overwhelming majority he picked up and a lot of counties in appalachia and people started writing about this, that is interesting, i wonder how that happened. i knew about the kennedy trip. these famous poverty tours to eastern kentucky. he was considering against lyndon johnson in the democratic primary. it was in effect a campaign stop, had all the trappings of a campaign trip, photo opportunities and speeches. it was interesting that robert kennedy as a liberal could go to eastern kentucky and credibly campaign and 50 years
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later you see donald trump winning these counties with 60%, 70% of the vote. i thought i should write a book about that and everyone else thought the same thing so this book ended up being a little different, it focuses more on the trip itself, i don't get much into the analysis of why things changed. i look at how things have changed and leave it up to the reader to decide whether the changes are for better or for worse. i went to kentucky and began researching the book in 2017. i grew up in philadelphia, outside philadelphia. i have a lot of biases attached to it, to the story of appalachia in the 1960s, my idea of the 1960s was woodstock and the chicago convention, san francisco. you don't think of kentucky when you think of the 60s. at least i didn't where i came from. but the 60s happened in kentucky, a lot.
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in appalachia and eastern kentucky, things to do with environmentalism and poverty and that is a way to approach the story, what the 60s were like, by way of background, before the rfk trip, in 1960 his brother jack ran for president as west virginia was an important primary for john kennedy to win. body was his campaign manager. this was the first time jack and bobby were exposed to american poverty up close and it stuck with both of them. there is a funny story from the 1960 campaign in west virginia where a coalminer came to jack kennedy and that is a true you never work today in your life? jack kennedy said there is some truth to that. the coalminer said don't worry, you haven't missed a damn thing. kennedy really was enamored by the people in west virginia and
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appalachia and they stayed with him. and 63, july of 63, harry caudle, a writer from kentucky wrote mike comes to the cumberlands. it was an expose on the exploitation of the people in eastern kentucky about the coal companies and the major corporations in the us that depended on coal and in october of 63, a reporter for the new york times wrote an expose about poverty in eastern kentucky. jack kennedy had seen both of these and they make quite an impression on him. he plans to go to eastern kentucky to see what the conditions were like for himself and the trip is scheduled for december of 1963 so of course that never took place. after his assassination, lbj took up the mantle for anti-poverty campaigns. in his january '64 state of the union address declare war on poverty and in august of 64
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just we 7 months later, the economic opportunity act was passed creating the office of economic opportunity or oe oh which was the agency that oversaw the war on poverty programs. there were so many programs. it takes a page in the book just to list all the programs but somewhere head start, medicare was something that came out of the school lunch program and things like this. rfk when he went to eastern kentucky in january of 68 had a few reasons to go. one, it was in the back of his mind that his brother had wanted to visit eastern kentucky in december of 63 and never made it. he wanted to gauge the success of the war on poverty too, the bill to reappropriate the office of economic opportunity was coming up and he wanted to see what progress had been made on the war on poverty. robert kennedy also wanted to show the poverty wasn't just an
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effort an american problem or native american problem or mexican american problem but an american problem. disaffected every community and every group in the country including white people, white people in eastern kentucky particularly. i think he thought it was important to show that to the country. the trip itself was two days, hills hearings in a 1-room schoolhouse and at a gymnasium in a town called neon. a high school gymnasium. as i was writing the book i thought it was more interesting, robert kennedy, a lot of books have been written about robert kennedy. larry tie wrote an excellent biography and gave me a good blurb which is the most important thing. i didn't want to write a book about robert kennedy, a biography help him, as much as exciting what he did on this trip, the people he met in the issues he faced and try to put them in context of what was happening in the 60s and what
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is happening today. also to show what changes have happened since the 60s and what changes haven't. a few of the issues he discussed or confronted in eastern kentucky, one was strip mining. at the time there was a system called the broad form deed. i don't know why was called that. maybe was big. these were deeds people sign over the mineral rights to their property, often 50, 200 years earlier. these deeds gave companies the right to strip mine, to strip the land that the coal was on and companies weren't required to repair the land or do anything to fix the damage that was created by stripmining so people -- coal companies would take out the call and leave. environmentally it was disastrous. it stripped hillsides, the
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hollows would flood every spring not to mention very exploitative since it destroyed the land people had and they got no benefit from the coal that was taken out. something like $1 trillion worth of coal has been extracted from eastern kentucky and not much of that money made it back. another issue that was pressing at the time was the concept of maximum feasible participation. the economic opportunity act provided the people most affected by these programs, i.e. poor people, would be given maximum feasible participation in deciding how the money would be spent and what the money would be spent on, where the money would be spent. as an example there was a grassroots citizens committee of wolf and brevet counties that was organized, got a 40,$000 grant from the federal government to build new roads and this was a committee formed
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by unemployed minors. it seemed like a fantastic thing that they were able to get this money but who do you think didn't like the fact that the federal government, the state and the county politicians were used to having the money go to them first. ..e to that despite this to the world poverty in the economic act paternity act and the economic opportunity act with maximum feasible participation it was a fantastic idea but in a way, playing it a little seed of its own demise right there in the act. that it trigg that it triggered such a backlash among the entrenched lyrical interest. this was an old in kentucky but everywhere that any of this money went here of course 1968, the presidential campaign was heating up. lyndon johnson had not withdrawn yet from the campaign.
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bobby would not announce his candidacy until march so we're in february when the trip took some attempt takeses place, six weeks before robert kennedy officially announces his candidacy. but like i said it really had the trappings of a campaign trip and it's funny, i have pictures in the book, kennedy's aides did not expect quite a crowd of present to accompany the senator on this trip. you would see this long caravans of cars following him and he would stop sober and go inside a house and talk to somebody and done in light, onto the next house before the care of it even finished pulling up to the house. it was kind of funny how much attention it got. i was surprised to learn the networks did not archive nightly newscasts until august of 1968
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win the democratic convention came. it would be occasional news cast would find it some thought it was important to save for one reason or another but the network newscasts from kennedy's trip, i was not able to find anything they just were, they didn't archive the newscast at that time. there were a host of issues, edges were briefly, food stamps was one of the fascinating issues to me that i learned about in this book. mainly because people had to pay fornl food stamps which i hadn't really appreciated but when the food stamp program began you paid foror a certain denominatin of stamps and then an addition to that you were given free stamps. you would pay like a $10 and get $15 $15 with the food stamps, and that he was determined by a number of factors, the size of your family, , your income, that can think but it could be a fairly big price.
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kennedy, one of the people he talked to on the trip at one of the hearings was an unemployed minor name swank of phuket. i lovees these names, who spent $72 a month for $94 in $94 in food stamps. he had to pay $72 $72 to get $n food stamps. guy name johnson who was a father 15 whose monthly income was $60. he paid $206 a month for $112 in food stamps just leaving 34 for all other expenses. johnson said at to kennedy he said have you seen 15 kids in three beds? robert kennedy said i'm headed in that direction. [laughter] he had ten kids at the time i think. and after the trip, one of the things that did come out of this was that eventually, the purchase requirement was lifted. although it did not take effect until the food stamp act of 1977 and that did not
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ta that didn't take effect until january 1979 when the purchase requirement was finally ended their participation in the food step program went up 1.5 million in one month so it made a big difference in a lot of people's lives just by lifting that purchase requirement. food stame program for people for the hungry. also welfare program for walmarts, because about 4% of walmart sales come from food stamps. so it's always interesting to see walmart, how they come down on legislation that makes it harder for people to get food stamps because it cuts into their revenue. of course, after rfk's assassination in june of 68, richard nixon was elected president. he had to appoint someone to oversee the office of economic
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opportunity to oversee the world poverty. of course republicans for the most part did not like the war and poverty inhaled the programs. it kinda put nixon a tough spot who is he going to find to this thankless job that nobody wants. he found a congressman from illinois a guy named donald rumsfeld, who took over the office of economic opportunity and one of his first tires was a young ambitious congressional intern from wyoming, a guy named dick cheney. so in 1981, the office of economic opportunity oh eo, was finally abolished altogether. we couldn't give rumsfeld and cheney credit for ending at least one war, and that was the war on poverty. [laughter] what to soon? finally, we took a couple statistics one is poverty was reduced, 1959 poverty was 22%, that's pretty crazy. let me do the math that's one and four, one and five?
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and in 1973, it was 11% so is cut in half. in the space of 14 years. when you look at a graph a chart of where poverty was headed, from 1959 to 1973, it's just straight down. but since 1973, when the effects of putting the brakes on the world poverty took effect, it is held steady. it's been about 11 to 15% since then. in some ways i think the warm poverty was a success in other ways it was not. i'd be happy to take any questions if anybody's got them, you can step up to the microphone and let it rip. somebody has to have a question. >> thanks for being here, thank you for the talk. i look for to reading your book. my question is, i wondered if you could speak more about the decline in poverty?
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i work in montgomery county with patient population of uninsured adults. the criteria to get into the program listed the below to below 250% of the poverty level. the federal poverty levels of same across the night safety and the cost of living is not the same across united states. when you went from 22 to 11% could you give us the context of where those numbers came from? >> one of the things, and a talk about it in the book, and excruciating but fascinating detail is how you determine poverty. this was a huge thing when kennedy came in and 61 and said what we do about poverty, the first thing you want to know is what's the number? people said we don't know what the numbers. i think rita or sharansky was her name at the department of agriculture was a woman who came up with a formula for determining what the poverty line was. and basically, she took the usda, i'm giving a long-winded answer here, she took the usda figures for nutrition for a family of four, she figured
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out the average housing prices et cetera et cetera, she came up with his number. formula has basically been unchanged now for what are yet 60 years? and the problem is, at the time housing was very cheap and food is very expensive. now, you have the opposite. food is cheap housing is expensive. but if you made any changes to the poverty line, it would immediately put millions of people, technically in the poverty, no politician wants to do that. so they don't want to change that. she had these things with the criteria keep going so 250% of the poverty line, why don't you just move the poverty line? why don't we just make a fluid by regions, by metropolitan regions or things like that. so i think, the problem it's is so politically difficult for people to come up with a comprehensive and up-to-date formula for exact determining exactly who is in poverty and where, there's just not the
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political will to do that, nobody wants to touch it. the war in vietnam, these young men who are out in the appellations and other poor areas of the country, how did he deal with -- sometimes the military was their only way out. and yes, how did he convey the fact that this was an unjust war, it's best not to participate in it. and yet the military was often the only way out for these young men and often time these young men in these reason pension region will be on the front lines and more likely to be killed or injured. statement kennedy had come out just a month before this deepening swamp speech in chicago where he had unequivocally came out from expanding the war in vietnam. and you are right, the support
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for the war and appalachia was strong. i think there is a lot, even in the people who supported the work, there is a lot of people opposed to the way is being managed. and they saw that their sons, and eastern kentucky or dying at higher rate than any other region in the country. west virginia had the highest casualty rate of any states in the vietnam war. and eastern kentucky the counties of eastern kentucky were considered their own state. it would have an even higher rate. appalachians i was in a say appalachian boys their men, were considered especially good at walking points because they were film layer with mountain terrain. they were fantastic marksmen, and they were familiar with living in rough environments because they did for long periods of time. i think it was 8% of the
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combat veterans, of the combat soldiers in vietnam were from app to latch about 13% of the medal of honor recipients were for appalachia, so it's a pretty big disparity. so to answer your question, there is ambivalence, definite ambivalence and appalachia the time. young people unequivocally opposed the war. i think their parents were more ambivalent than that. they supported the war but they certainly did not like seeing their children go off and fight it and die in such proportion. >> what is known about the health effects of the war on poverty? it certainly must be something that has been studied, but i don't know anything about it for sure. >> you made in terms of so improvement in health at any age,. [inaudible]
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>> it was one of the fascinating things i didn't even mention some of the people while researching the book. just amazing, the war on poverty program is the creation of committee health clinics and there are still community health clinics that were founded 50 years ago. and eastern kentucky that are the primary health care providers for communities there. and i would say, statistically i don't know off the top of my head, but the incidence of childhood diseases, which were still prevalent into the early 60s, home are bigger when he wrote his article in october 63, talked about the number of cases of child malnutrition that were documented there. and so they certainly, that decrease come the school lunch program helped immensely. this was a guaranteed meal that the kids had every day. they hadn't had a before even there they had political problems in trying to get those implemented.
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there were a lot of hurdles to tackle but overall public health, the effect was positive. >> thanks. >> thank you. >> we mention the people you met in your reporting, i wondered sort of what reflection or did you hear many reflections of people about kennedy's trip? or? >> this was cool it's the one that's on most recent and happening so not very well worded, but you know what he mean. it was only 50 years earlier? less than that. there's still a lot of people who admit kennedy, the problem i had as i'd mentioned few
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gates everywhere. there's isom's everywhere, the nays, everybody has the same nays or took a little work to track people down. but a lot of people had memories, first-hand memories of the trip itself. i think it was interesting to look at the impact it had on people, even to this day. people got really emotional talk about meeting robert kennedy. one of the women i talk to, she had gone with her sister to see kennedy at the high school in neon, and she had written on a piece of paper, and excuse slip and had kennedy sign it so she could get excused from school. which was a good thing, because a lot of the schools did not want the children to attend. they didn't think bobby kennedy was a positive influence on the children at the time. so, yeah, it was a lot of fun finding people who remembered the trip and had first-hand memories. one of the guys i talk about
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in the book was a guiding steven kay when he was university of kentucky law student. he was a friend of karl perkins who was a congressman from eastern kentucky. one of the reasons candidate went to that he was going to go to carolina but fritz collings was running for reelection at the time and he was like hey bobby, maybe not shine a light on poverty in south carolina weimer running for reelection. so kennedy said okay, and then hollings later supported some of the legislation. so went to kentucky because there is not a senator up for reelection in the congressman was karl perkins. he like held the job like the pope. he hadn't until he died, which is exactly what happened. steven caywood was a law student who would occasionally come to washington and help out karl perkins in his office. so he finagled a ride in the car with kennedy. so with a state trooper that drove kennedy, karl perkins, kennedy and steve caywood,
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23-year-old prospective law student. it had a huge effect on steve caywood's life and he basically has worked in environmental and poverty issues ever since then. i'll even know if i answered your school did i? >> yes. smack good answer. [laughter] >> part of the enduring narrative of the 1968 presidential campaign, the ability of robert kennedy to talk to and to gain the support of african americans as well as working-class whites. in all of your preparation for this book, and all of your research in all your background, did you find trayce of that? would you uphold that particular theory? >> absolutely, one of the quotes i have in the book and i'm not going to go through, there's a quote from somebody a reporter who asked about her in indiana, white kid do
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support bobby kennedy he said yeah, well you don't like negroes around her very much and he said no we don't like negroes. while kennedy was to improve life for the negro, why do support kennedy? i don't know i just do. think a lot of people saw kennedy had been the attorney general and so we kind of had that and he came from a background of lot order purity thing people saw him as being someone who would balance the interests of communities with law and order. the other thing that was interesting was in 64, george wallace ran as a democratic candidate in the primary and in indiana he had like 24206% of the vot and then four years later kennedy ran in indiana and won the primary with 40% of the vote. clearly some of the people who voted for george wallace in 64
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in indiana voted for bobby kennedy and 68. i go into george wallace in here a little bit because kennedy and wallace were competing for the same voters. in appalachia. george wallace was a piece of work. appetite and 68 when he was campaigning, he couldn't run for reelection forgot his wife elected governor of alabama, and when she had i think their third child in 61 or 62, the doctor saw some suspicious tissue but, of course, told george and said you need her to get this checked out. it might be cancerouset tissue. she had cervical cancer. george was running for reelection at the time, i don't want to deal with that. he never told her it wasn't until late 67 that she finally was formally diagnosed with cancer and then died in i think
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march or april of 68. and then of course wallace was running for president at the time and farmed out his three kids to relatives. not a nice man. i'm just going to go out on a limb and say that but it was fascinating to look at, george wallace and bobby kennedy that was overlap in their constituencies. it's fascinating. >> i would support that. since i grew up in western pennsylvania and i was 18 in 1968, i had friends had friends who knew acquaintances, people who thought george wallace or bobby kennedy, without any hesitation. then wound up voting for ronald reagan. >> right, right. >> thank you. >> thank you. no more questions? very good. thanks all for coming out. the most important thing to take away from this today is to remember to buy the book. [laughing] >> thank you.
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[applause] >> books are available at the registers and will have signing line right at the table. [inaudible conversations] >> tonight on booktv started at the eastern, highlights from our "in depth" programs. after a day of social distancing get close to a good book tonight, booktv on c-span2. >> jaquira diaz is with us today courtesy of david anday noel ray and rosalind rock. she was born


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