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tv   QA Harold Holzer and Amity Shlaes  CSPAN  May 4, 2020 12:00am-1:01am EDT

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contact with it. that is one of the steps that i take. >> representative abigail spanberger on the steps she -- congress. watch the communicators monday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span 2. >> next, harold holzer and amity shlaes talk about a compilation of interviews with noted historians. president lincoln ranks first in ofpan's most recent survey presidential leadership. mr. coolidge came in at seventh place. ♪
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brian: amity shlaes, why do we spend so much time in this country, and on our network, and in your life, talking about presidents? ms. shlaes: thank you, brian. i'm glad to be with you and with harold. we talk about presidents because people understand people better than ideas. and we eventually want to get to ideas, but we get at those ideas through people, our presidents. brian: dr. holzer, i'm often i often want to call you even though you're not a doctor. mr. holzer: thank you for that mixed introduction. thank you for having me on the show, and welcome to franklin roosevelt's home, from which we are broadcasting tonight. why? i think amity has it right. i also think that we were blessed to have a first
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president who was a national hero before he became president, and was a touchstone and an icon and created a presidency that was centered on both personality and ideas, but in large measure, personality. everyone since has been measured against george washington. and we look for extraordinary guidance, leadership, and inspiration from these, so far, men. brian: talk about this house in a second, but i want to ask amity, is there a house anywhere for calvin coolidge? ms. shlaes: there is a house for calvin coolidge in plymouth notch, vermont. that's near killington. it's near woodstock, vermont, if those are important points for you. and the interesting thing about coolidge's house is, he was sworn into the presidency there by his father, by virtue of his
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father being a notary public. it couldn't be more american than that. when president harding died, the president had to be sworn in. and they did it right there by the lamp with the family bible. so it's a very compelling site. brian has been there. i think harold has probably been there. we welcome all of you. brian: the fdr house, this is one of, i assume, many places dedicated. what is this house? mr. holzer: so, we are in the carved-out basement, not original to the house, of the townhouse that franklin d. roosevelt's mother built as a wedding present for franklin and eleanor roosevelt. both families moved in in 1908. fdr occupied, and his wife, eleanor, and their children occupied the east side of the house. fdr's mother stayed in the west side of the house, and immediately opened the walls so
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that, as eleanor said, my mother-in-law was on our side of the house for the next 25 years, -- years. [laughter] sometimes at the least expected moments. we'll leave that to the imagination. but this was fdr's political base. it was also the home at which he recovered from polio in 1921. fdr's mother wanted him to go to hyde park and sort of retire in luxury, or rustic luxury. eleanor insisted that he stay here, because here he could get his bearings back into society and government, politics. the house had two elevators, which made fdr immediately mobile once he got into a wheelchair. here, he ran his campaigns for governor of new york. and here, he conducted his campaign for the presidency in 1932. it was his base. and this house, i guess, most famously, in terms of historical
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importance, was the transition headquarters between november, 1932, and march, 1933, the 4 months interregnum then that separated elections and inaugurations. and upstairs, a few floors, in fdr's modest library, the parameters of the new deal were forged, argued, and created, including, as i love to tell our audiences here, social security -- created in this very house. for which thank you, thank you, all. brian: are you on social security? mr. holzer: barely, but yes. [laughter] brian: ok. i would not ask amity that same question. [laughter] if calvin coolidge was here and you could talk with him, based on the book that you wrote and the way you look at the world, what would you want to talk to him about? ms. shlaes: well, he would want to talk to us about the national debt.
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and what he would say is, it may not seem as though it matters now, but it might one day, and what do you, plural, plan to do about that? because coolidge did manage to -- his great feat was not a war. it was not a war victory, but it was a fiscal victory. he actually managed to cut the debt by one third, and what's more, he managed to cut the government, brian, so that after his 67 months in the presidency, the budget was actually lower than when he came in. and the audience always says, "is that real, amity? is that inflation? did he restrict the growth of the budget?" he actually cut the budget so that the number was lower, notwithstanding a population growth, very healthy, and economic growth of 4%. it's quite a feat to do that. and at times, it may seem it doesn't matter, but it can matter very much, particularly when our currency for example is
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challenged. -- when our currency, for example, is challenged. and we have a scholarship we give to honor calvin coolidge. and this year, we had 3,400 candidates, and each of them wrote an essay about what calvin coolidge would do about the debt. so, the point being to acquaint young people with thought about the debt and the knowledge that perhaps they may shoulder some of the burden of the debt. brian: you have spent most of your life thinking and talking and writing about abraham lincoln. if he were around, what would you want to talk to him about? mr. holzer: well, first of all, i would forgive him the national debt that he racked up. [laughter] because he thought of the first federal income tax, excluding state and local deductibility, i might add. [laughter] well, i think, again, i'm going to reverse the question and take amity's approach. what would he want to talk about if he spent a couple of days
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looking at the headlines and going online, assuming he got into that rather quickly? -- rather quickly. i think he'd wonder why we haven't settled some of the intractable divisiveness that he encountered and was forced to confront. he would wonder why, when he believed he set the country on a path to racial reconciliation, how that transformed into sectional reconciliation as the priority. what went wrong there in terms of speeding equal opportunity, which was one of the promises of certainly, the latter part of the civil war? i would ask him, the questions i've been storing up are what's with you and your father? [laughter] but that's just me trying to figure out what that relationship was all about.
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why did you build -- pay for a gravestone for your valet, but didn't listen to your stepmother's plea that you pay for a gravestone for your dad? there were some deep-seated problems there that have never been explained. and i guess i would ask, so what's with you and emancipation? did you always plan, somehow, to be the liberation president? wasn't it always in the back of your mind as someone who said, "i have always been anti-slavery, i'm naturally anti-slavery." what was the real end game here, and did the ends justify the means, i guess. brian: let me go back to what i asked you about the fdr house. how hard is it, and i'll ask both of you, how hard is it to maintain these institutions today? mr. holzer: well, we're very lucky at roosevelt house. when franklin roosevelt's mother died, he, i think, could not bring himself to return to this house. they were very, very close. and fdr put the house up for sale. eleanor had become very close to
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the students at hunter college. this house is part of hunter college, which is a part of the city university system in new york. she hung out in the hunter library. she brought hunter girls here for lunch. she only could make grilled cheese, but she made grilled cheese. [laughter] so fdr put this house up for the staggering cost of $60,000. eleanor prevailed upon hunter college to make a bid for the house. fdr lowered the price to $50,000 for a double townhouse on the upper eastside of manhattan. and it opened as a multi-faith, interreligious, multiracial place for the female students of hunter to study, to socialize, to join clubs. and it was that for many years, until the house began to run down, inevitably, because it wasn't well-maintained.
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and then, under our hunter college president, jennifer raab, money was raised to rehabilitate the house. and now it functions as a public policy center for undergraduates and a center for policy discussion, like we are attempting to have tonight. brian: attempting? [laughter] your question is. how about raising money in the name of calvin coolidge? and how do you maintain plymouth notch? ms. shlaes: well, that's very difficult, because president coolidge was ambivalent about taking government money, especially federal money. and you can read it right in his autobiography. so the question is, did he cut off his nose to spite his historical face, right? he didn't like that idea, when his nice friends got together, this was before the law that pays for the presidential libraries to be maintained.
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his nice friends got together, clarence barron of barron's, the magazine, and so on, and got some money together, coolidge didn't know quite what to do with it. he was very grateful to his beautiful wife, grace, for tolerating the presidency. and she was a professional lady. she was an instructor of the deaf and had trained at the clarke school in northampton, massachusetts. and coolidge thought about it, and he thought it might be vanity to have a presidential library with this money, and so, he gave the money from his friends to the clarke school for the deaf so that his wife might have what she dreamed of, and also, he thought he might go. he had a weak heart. and he wanted her to be professionally recognized, and of course, the most important lady in the town, which she was through the rest of her life,
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and that benefited many, many generations of pupils and teachers at the school. however, what did it leave? it left plymouth, his birthplace in vermont, a little challenged. we have the calvin coolidge presidential foundation there. we don't take -- in my time there, i'm the chairman, we haven't emphasized federal money. we try to raise money ourselves to honor the president's philosophy. and in addition, we now have coolidge house in washington. place is expensive, but place is worth it, because people come, and they can think differently about their subject, about a president if they know something about him. so for coolidge house in washington, which is by georgetown, we're currently having a graphic novelist draw coolidge's life so that all the children and adults who come to coolidge house can walk away with coolidge's life in mind and some knowledge of it.
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in vermont, the state, our wonderful partner, that of the coolidge foundation, maintains the show, all of the objects, and does own many of them. and this summer, there is a show about calvin coolidge and grace coolidge's pets. [laughter] numerous. there is an apocryphal statement, but i will still attribute it to him, that he said you really shouldn't be president if you don't understand about pets. pets are very important, including rebecca the raccoon, who is featured in this show. [laughter] brian: i want to divert just for a moment, because i had the pleasure of interviewing both of these people on many occasions. but amity might remember an event we had some time ago, when you came in, and i want you to complete the story. this is a very painful thing for me to bring up, but i have to get it on the record. she came in to do the interview
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in a nice-looking red dress, and she said to me, "this is going to be a very important interview, because my grandmother watches this program." then what happened, amity? ms. shlaes: oh, then the tape did not tape. [audience exclaims] and brian put it in the can, but it was blank. and brian and the poor young man, who was a new hire, i believe, brian: he is still here. -- i believe. ms. shlaes: he is still here. a tribute to mr. who saw passed over that, were very upset and i had to come back another day and tape the whole story again. it was the tax book. it was a book about the tax code, too, so exciting. brian: in 30 years, it's the only time it's ever happened. but it's very painful to remember it, but i wanted you to put it on the record. and she did come back. i mean, she had to come all the way back from new york down to washington.
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now, mr. holzer, i know that there have been some questions that i've asked you over the years. people don't see it off camera. i remember the one in particular when i asked you, we were in fort wayne and i asked you, do you know where fort wayne, indiana is? and you were unable to describe it. i just want to give you the same opportunity to take a shot if of something i've ever asked you in the past. mr. holzer: you didn't say you actually said, we're here in fort wayne. where is fort wayne, in indiana? and i said, i don't know. you said, spoken like a true new yorker. painful, painful. what have you said that has pained me or made me blanch, whatever that is? brian: but you don't have to you don't have to go beyond that. the first time we were on air, 26 years ago, for some perverse
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reason, you asked me if my mother worked, and i said, no, she's a housewife. i know it's a terrible thing to say. i was nervous. i'd never been on c-span before. and she was really upset with me. [laughter] and she lived until she was almost 100 and never let me forget that i said that. [laughter] i blame you. but she liked you. she didn't like me that much, but she liked you. [laughter] brian: that's the first time i've ever heard that story. mr. holzer: can i tell one other story? brian: if you insist. mr. holzer: brian and i like to have dinner in washington, and brian is one of the most recognized people in washington, d.c. the problem is, most of the people who recognize him think he is john glenn or john mccain. [laughter] i've been with him when people come up and say, what you did for the space program is the best. [laughter] the best of these happened at the mayflower hotel, after a dinner. someone came up to brian and rushed out of the restaurant to the lobby and said, oh, mr. lamb.
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i said, this is good, she knows it is brian lamb. brian: so far. mr. holzer: mr. lamb, i've always wanted to meet you. i have to tell you, i can never go to sleep until i watch you on tv. [laughter] brian: to tell you how bad it is, since i have been in new york, i was walking down the street yesterday, and a couple walked by me, and as they walked by me, the woman said, that is john mccain. [laughter] ok. back to presidents. [laughter] i really want to ask you this question, if you had to pick between fdr and lincoln, what would you do? you are working -- mr. holzer: who's writing the check? [laughter] they obviously belong in the top three. roosevelt dealt with two
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emergencies, in a state of diminished health, which i find extraordinary. lincoln destroyed his own health working for 4 years on the existential crisis that challenged the country and determined whether it would survive. so i would like to get them both in a room and talk to them both, but i don't choose. i'm privileged to have created an association with lincoln and to have had this thrust on me unexpectedly four years ago, and get to work in this inspiring place. brian: in this book that we are fortunate enough to be able to publish, there are 44 historians -- and that's the important work in the book published by public affairs and peter osnos and a company who have done all of our books over the years. i want to get back -- we do have a survey in there and we don't need to go through the details now, but 27 is calvin coolidge. why do you think why he is at
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27 instead of either lincoln at one or fdr at three? ms. shlaes: well, thank you for asking that. of course, i think coolidge should be in the top five, and i would defend that. [laughter] presidential ranking's a bit like any game up-down. it's zero-sum game. if someone goes up, someone must go down. and i would say, i think economics features here. and if you think franklin roosevelt was a wonderful economist, you think calvin coolidge was a poor economist. it's sort of like that. in a way, it's impossible to -- i do -- but for most people i would say it's impossible to like both president roosevelt, be a roosevelt person, either a
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tr person or an fdr person, and be a coolidge person. so, it's binary like that. and it oughtn't be. every president has his charms. but what's behind that, there was an economist at wake forest named whaples, whaple-s, who had -- whaples, who had a look at what historians thought about presidents, economic historians and also economists thought about presidents. and one of the things, he also looked at what they thought about economic events. and about half the economists thought roosevelt made things better in the great depression of the 1930's. and about half thought he made things worse, the new deal made things worse. if you surveyed historians, people with a phd in history, more or less most of them would say roosevelt made it better. so you have a culture in history which tends to the progressive, and the historians have the pens, so that's just the way it goes. you'll notice grover cleveland didn't do so well, and he's doing worse, and that's because
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history is moving leftward in our adulthood. so i think that's why coolidge doesn't do so well. his econ is not known or understood. it doesn't fit in the modern framework, even which professional economists have, he's really a prewar economist. but he is a good economist and his prosperity was genuine. mr. holzer: could i just comment? brian: no. [laughter] mr. holzer: i'm not going to challenge you. i'm just going to say that the one added element that distinguishes lincoln, roosevelt, and others in the top group as ranked by the historians is communications ability. and i think the magic of roosevelt, if you go past the economics, is the extraordinary ability to connect with people, to reassure people in the depths of the depression that government was working, or trying. and even if the depression didn't technically end until
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world war ii production boomed, those radio addresses, the first of which he gave in this very house the day after the 1932 election, i think, fortified people. and lincoln's extraordinary public letters, which he wrote to individuals but made sure were published in newspapers -- in newspapers, gave people a sense of where he was thinking, in an age in which presidents did not make speeches or tweet or do any of those things. communications is key. ms. shlaes: could i -- brian: my guess is that amity shlaes will tell you that calvin coolidge started on radio and was very successful, but i'll let her tell you. ms. shlaes: can i? brian: it's in the book, that's why i brought it in. ms. shlaes: but you know what? i wasn't answering your question. i don't rank communicator up there in my 10, but coolidge was a very good communicator. how do we know that? in 1920, as you know, president harding passed away, so the vice president, which was calvin
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coolidge, became president, but he had an election in 1924. he had to run himself. and in that election, that year, the progressives were doing very well, so there was a third party, la follette, which sort of ross perot-wise was dividing things. and normally, when that happens, in our experience, the democrats win, right? coolidge took in that election because he was so popular an -- he was so popular, an absolute majority, not a plurality, which means that is he beat the democrat and a very healthy progressive party at 16% or 17% combined. he was massively popular. the republican party had a heart attack when it realized he would not run in 1928. he could have. and he was on the radio. what are missing, and they may yet be found, because so much is found nowadays, are recordings of coolidge on the radio. we don't seem to have those.
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we have the recordings of fdr, and that became national memory. that's not to say coolidge was a lovey-dovey person when he entered the room. he was famously spare and restrained, but he was a recognizable type, especially to midwesterners, actually, a farmer type, which is to say, dry humor didn't say a lot, but much appreciated. so i wouldn't say he was a poor communicator. he was a different kind of communicator. and i'm looking for those radio tapes. there's only one or two i know in existence, one where he praises charles lindbergh when lindbergh returned. coolidge loved aviation, particularly civil, because he thought that it was a way to preclude war, to build up build the world together through airplanes. and the other is a brilliant tax speech, which he made subsequent
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, very close to the death of his son. brian: i want to dip into the book and quote gordon wood who -- and quote gordon wood, who was a well-known historian brown university. and there are a lot of nuggets like this in this book. thanks to the fabulous historians. he said this, and i want you both to deal with this. "john adams was a realist. he did not believe all men were created equal, didn't believe in american exceptionalism." mr. holzer: he believed in english exceptionalism. [laughter] that was one of his problems. i don't know -- i think he believed in a certain class system out of new england, but i think he bought into the founding principles. so with all due respect to gordon wood, i think, it may be a little bit of an oversimplification. ms. shlaes: i thought that a little strong. i'm also a fan of john quincy
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adams, and i'm wondering how he does here. that's all i'll just say about, brian. brian: a quote from bob merry, who wrote a book on mckinley, "he was maybe one of the finest human beings who's ever made it to the white house." mr. holzer: i'm very persuaded by a recent interview you did by him and with richard norton smith, in which he who was featured in the book, of course, in which he made a very good case that mckinley deserves higher recognition. he was very popular, maybe the war he led was a little bit contrived, but he was humane. he was lovely toward his wife, who was ill, which counts for something. oh, yes, that sounds right. ms. shlaes: bob merry's book is an excellent book.
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i recommend it. and what he says -- the question, one of the big questions is the tariff. the republicans are the tariff party. the democrats are the income tax party, even before the income tax. what he says is that, merry says mckinley realized the uses of the tariff, but also the limits and damage of it, that he modernized as a man and a president before he was in office and in office. he was the first modern president. it's a beautiful portrait, the merry book. brian: and the john seigenthaler profile of james k. polk. ms. shlaes: oh. brian: a one-termer, who died three months after his presidency. he quotes from the diary, an extensive diary, he says, "this -- he says, this is what james k. polk said, "i know i'm the hardest working man in america, and if i didn't have a cabinet, i can run the government without them." mr. holzer: so i take -- brian: does that give you a lead
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there? [laughter] mr. holzer: no, i'm going to do what i want to do about polk, which is that abraham lincoln loathed james knox polk. he thought he was an adventurer, a warmonger, that he lied about the causes of the mexican-american war, and that he took too much power upon himself in a non-crisis moment. so, i think, where is polk rated in the book? i don't know, but probably below the fold, right? brian: i will get that. mr. holzer: ok. brian: go ahead, amity. ms. shlaes: well, there is something about that statement that gets at the presidency. does the president run everything, or does he preside? and i think some of you may remember the "saturday night live" parody of president carter being called up by a lady from the post office i think somewhere saying, president carter, that is what is a control-freak president. president carter, my franking machine model, so and so here in my town and your post office works not.
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and president carter says, oh, i was just speaking to my cabinet this morning about the qualities of your franking machine and if you push this button and reset, then your franking machine will work great, mrs. jones, in the post office in kansas or somewhere. and that, how much does the president run everything is always the question. what i like about coolidge, i will say, is he delegated ferociously.
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he really didn't like the tax policy that andrew mellon planned, particularly, because he thought it might raise too much money and then congress would have money and the government would grow. but andrew mellon, the treasury secretary, told him that it was a good tax policy for economic growth. so he said, ok. and that model is very rare nowadays, it's even rare in the republican party. the refraining president, kind of interesting. mr. holzer: yes. you know, in the lincoln era, as strongly as he led the government, as identified as he became as the spokesperson for the effort to quell the rebellion and reunite the country, the cabinet was sort of almost like the israeli cabinet is now. if lincoln had a policy decision he wanted to make, like the emancipation proclamation, he would submit it to the cabinet. in the case of the first emancipation proclamation, the cabinet except for one member said this is not the right move in july of 1862, and lincoln acquiesced and tabled it. he soon -- well, not soon, but the next year got past submitting questions because he had fewer cabinet meetings. but cabinets and delegation were serious businesses until modern presidency, the very modern presidency.
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brian: in our book called "the presidents," david stewart has a chapter on andrew johnson. but i want to go to another book that he wrote, i wanted to use these statistics for a while because i think they're fascinating, called "the summer of 1787," which is a book, obviously, about the constitutional convention. and he's got a tremendous number of numbers in there that may or may not interest you to define our country. and to start with, and i'm sure both of you know this, but that 74 men were appointed to participate in the constitutional convention. 55 showed up at any given time, 30 stayed the four months, 39 signed, three didn't who were there, rhode island didn't participate. what does that say, if anything, about how we started when you look at those numbers? and what would happen today do you think if the same kind of a call went out and the people were asked to participate? mr. holzer: i mean, it was tough to get around in those days.
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i think that those numbers are pretty good considering the transportation difficulties and the unpleasantness of hanging out in philadelphia in the summer and all of that. i think, again, it's like the caution in the book, and indeed when we do the surveys, about judging presidents by the standards of their own time. by 1787 to 1789 standards, getting that kind of a super quorum together is pretty impressive, i think. ms. shlaes: well, considering the absence of air conditioning, claritin, antibiotics, statins. mr. holzer: and they kept the windows closed. they kept the drapes. ms. shlaes: and they were pretty good. and nowadays, everyone would be there every day. and he or she would be on their .hone
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so, she would not really be there, would she? so it's a different kind of presence that we have now, ease getting there, trouble paying attention and really being there when we're there, mindfulness. mr. holzer: yes. brian: more statistics from david stewart's book, 29 of these people wore uniforms in the revolutionary war, 35 were lawyers, 13 involved in the trade business, 12 owned or managed plantations with slaves, and 24 owned considerable amounts of debt. how does that reflect what you think we are today? mr. holzer: modern america in 1787, i mean, the numbers sound right. i didn't know about the debt, the people with debt. that's interesting. we're starting off owing money, which the country did. brian: question over here. yes? yes, sir. >> it seems that we almost deify our early presidents.
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and you said that washington and lincoln always come up number one and number two. i went to elementary school in brooklyn and i walked in and there was washington and there was lincoln. do you think that will that continue? i know washington is sometimes criticized today as a slaveholder and sometimes they bring up posts of lincoln during the stephen douglas lincoln-douglas debates which really jarred modern viewers, ripley talks about race relations. do you think they'll continue to be held in high esteem? mr. holzer: as long as i'm a voter, i'll try. [laughter] but i think the pressure is clearly on the founding generation, the southern presidents. washington, i think, is always going to be sui generis and considered apart because he created the presidency, because he gave it up after two terms and refused to become the quasi-king in america and set the precedent that there would be peaceful transition.
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but, for sure jefferson is sinking, madison is sinking, the slaveholders who seemed unconscionable or hypocritical are suffering, as they should. jackson's racism toward people of color and native peoples is coming under new scrutiny, and that's healthy. lincoln said things, as you point out, in the debates. he said things in his presidency, when he was trying to assure himself that white public opinion would accept the emancipation proclamation. he renewed his earlier calls for voluntary colonization to africa and the caribbean. again, it is the context of the times. in lincoln's last speech, he says, "i think the time has come to extend the right to vote to the colored man, especially the very intelligent, and those who have fought in the army." so if you look at it by 2019
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standards, it sounds like means testing. but if you look at it by 1865 standards, lincoln is making a statement that was so shocking to one member of the audience, john wilkes booth, that he vowed on the spot to kill him rather than accept racial equality. brian: you have a question? >> i do. i love you and susan. i've been watching c-span for about 35 years. i love all the programming. and i can't help but ask a question, if you were to continue to update the book as we go further in history, where would president trump fit in with these 10 leadership qualities? ms. shlaes: oh, we can't answer that, i'm sorry. >> and where would he fit in, in the top five, the bottom five? where would he fit in in the ranking? mr. holzer: first of all, you have to let him finish, right? presidents are not judged in midstream in the historian
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survey. so, he's ineligible and we are unprepared to answer. time will tell. the categories are fixed. communication, i mean, i would rate him as one of the greatest communicators in the presidency. whatever the policies are, he's mastered the high technology. he knows how to do scrums with reporters. so, there's -- that's going to be an example of a ratings factor. so, you never know. brian: let me ask amity, is this the most divided this country has ever been? ms. shlaes: no. no. the civil war is the most divided, as harold knows, the country has ever been. i think in our adulthood, in my adulthood, it's the most divided school has ever been. that is, what happens to kids in school and what they learn in school, they very much disagree. i think maybe in the 1960's
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there were divisions about civil rights in school, or there were divisions in the past about saluting the flag in school. but now, there are divisions about politics in school that are unusual for my adulthood, and i think yours. brian: next question, the gentleman in the back. >> amity, i would like to know how you came to calvin coolidge in terms as a topic for your book as the head of the foundation. ms. shlaes: thank you for that question. i wrote a history of the 1930's, the new deal and the great depression, called "forgotten man." and the results of my analysis were that something broke in the 1930's. something good was broken and it didn't really get fixed. and what was it that was good that broke, that was the 1920's. so, i worked backwards. so, "coolidge book" is really the prequel to "forgotten man."
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he's the forgotten president or so, like that. and the policies of coolidge were very valuable. that is, government smaller, low tax, coolidge cut the marginal tax rate to 25% from a very high figure. we haven't done that since. president reagan very much admired president coolidge. but it was particularly coolidge's model of a restrained presidency, a non-egotistical presidency that drew me as well. finally, i will say, because some of this is personal, if you devote several years to writing about someone, you have to have a reason. and i had a boss named robert leroy bartley at the "wall street journal" whom coolidge resembled, i'll put it that way. so, coolidge is the pre-incarnation of this taciturn yet lovely and very forceful and thoughtful editor, bob bartley. i knew coolidge before i knew
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him through someone actually much younger than coolidge. and i would guess that's also the midwestern agricultural type. coolidge was from vermont, but vermont moved to the midwest, which is to say, the man of few words and many thoughts. brian: question? yes, sir, the gentleman over here. >> thank you very much for this presentation. i wonder whether legacy could be one of the 10 criteria, the overall impact of the individual on the future. and i think i'll just mention one president, wilson by name, who notwithstanding the lofty rhetoric and initial legislative success, left a legacy of racism, a sign of the times, but nonetheless racism, the inability to get the league of nations passed, the disaster of
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versailles, and, of course, that is the precedent of his incapacity. so, legacy and in connection with it. mr. holzer: well, i think the legacy question is dealt with in the various categories because the implicit judgment is made based on legacy because we are not there. but i think you found a perfect moment to talk about wilson. so, as long as you brought him up, the man who lived in this house left here, franklin roosevelt, to work for woodrow wilson as assistant secretary of the navy and rented the house out for the duration of his service in washington. eleanor became a red cross nurse. fdr deeply admired wilson and deeply admired theodore roosevelt, as opposite as they were in approach to the presidency and ability to communicate and persuade.
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roosevelt did find great things about wilson. he found him deeply inspiring. i absolutely agree with you about the racism. i've been investigating wilson and his relations with the press. and the racism is deeply troubling and was deeply ingrained. he was a southern man. he remembered hearing his parents talking about lincoln's election and the fact that they would have to leave the union to protect slavery. so, it was deeply ingrained. he was the last civil war president, the last civil war southerner to occupy the white house, as long as you brought him up. brian: amity, legacy? ms. shlaes: well, legacy, i think harold is saying that legacy shifts. someone may be enormously popular when he leaves office as coolidge was, and appear to have great legacy, 10 years later we say who was that?
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who was eisenhower until we got a few good biographies of eisenhower? i want to mention evan thomas' book, too. so, i think i agree, legacy is implicit in the other ratings. brian: question. ms. shlaes: yes. >> yes. another unexpected president that i don't think you've mentioned, harry truman, where does he stand? brian: you want to start, amity? ms. shlaes: currently, i'm writing a book about the great society and it has an unexpected hero, a flawed hero but much-loved, and that is walter reuther of the united auto workers, not much known. we used to hear about him every night in the news, every single night. and what i look at in great society is what about the labor
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movement, what happened to organized labor which was 25% of our workforce? so, i'm interested in truman myself because he objected to an important law relating to labor, the taft-hartley act, which weakened the wagner act of fdr. and i don't side with him. i actually did like taft-hartley, so to speak, before i was born. but i saw how he agonized over it, and i have great respect for the pro-labor view, too, for the union view as part of the united states history, as part of who we are and so on. so, i like truman better than i should for who he was, for his earnest, serious, uncynical attitude towards the presidency. mr. holzer: i think michael beschloss has written astonishingly about truman.
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how did this anti-semitic guy pull the lever on establishing statehood for israel? it was a remarkable journey. i will turn one part of the truman story on its ear. abraham lincoln's greatest mistake was probably either tolerating or encouraging the nomination of andrew johnson as his second vice president. he wasn't well. he should have thought a little more closely about the issue of succession and about legacy. he chose the only southern senator who had not defected to the confederacy, even though he was a democrat, not a republican, even though he was deeply racist. i don't think he basically spent any time talking to him. magically, franklin roosevelt chose harry truman. we know his hand was on that because he made the selection. i don't know why he saw possibility in truman. he certainly knew of his own
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frailty and he, i'm sure, knew -- he didn't expect to live through his third term. he didn't expect certainly to survive his fourth, and thought maybe he would resign in the middle of the presidency if the war ended. he wanted to see allied victory through. so, it's just a remarkable thing that he found this amazing man who seemed greater than the sum of his parts. brian: we have about eight minutes left. a couple questions in the back. yes, sir? >> i wonder if you could comment on robin harrow's suggestion that those who exercise power take great attention to mask it in so far as that masking or that subterfuge impacts upon the ratings that you've given, i'm thinking particularly of dwight eisenhower, who particularly at one time was viewed not to be very articulate and so on. and now, apparently you see he was much smarter than a lot of people thought he was.
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can you comment upon that, thinking of harrow's comment about those who operate sort of in a big fog, but nonetheless know where they're going? mr. holzer: do you want to go first? ms. shlaes: it sounds a little sinister, the way you put it, but a good leader may want to retreat so others may play their roles. they may play roles the good leader supports, right? the good leader selected them, but nonetheless. that happens frequently in the presidency, that the president is behind it all. i'm very fresh on lyndon johnson because of this great society book. and he is a president who does not hide his leadership very well. mr. holzer: so, i first became interested in government when kennedy ran for president. and to an 11-year-old, eisenhower seemed a doddering
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person who was no longer a strong leader. but 75 years ago, this june of 2019, he led the largest military operation in the history of the world, let's not forget that, at d-day. and i think historians love him because he said "beware of the military-industrial complex." that is the most image or reputationally enhancing factor about eisenhower. lincoln said, at one point, disingenuously i think, "i do not claim to have controlled events, events have plainly controlled me." he said that as a way of garnering support for emancipation as a policy that was sort of an add-on to the original rationale for prosecuting the civil war simply to restore the union. so, smart leaders run a little bit behind their own advanced policies, which i think lincoln
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did. brian: as we said earlier that james buchanan has been listed as the worst president in history in almost everybody's survey for a long time. and robert strauss, the gentleman sitting over here, i want to get a mic over here so that we can ask him how offended he is by the fact that james buchanan always comes in last. robert strauss came up to this event from new jersey today, go ahead. mr. strauss: offended? no. i mean, everybody has to give an elevator pitch to cover television while i was a journalist, and so i went to my agent. i said, you know, given the time, i said, half of america thinks barack obama is the worst president, and half of them think george bush is the worst president, but neither of them started the civil war. so, that's sort of how i first -- but it seemed at every turn, every fork in the road, he took the wrong one, an amazing
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proclivity for making bad decisions. but what he was also was the most experienced guy to run for president. he had been in the pennsylvania state legislature, he had been a member of congress in both houses, he had been ambassador to russia, ambassador to england, secretary of state. he had sort of run a few times before, like, how you get a guy that didn't, should've qualified everything? he was a disaster. brian: thanks for coming tonight. and we have time for at least one more question. this gentleman over here on the aisle, we'll get the mic to you. yes, sir? >> good evening. i was very surprised jfk was in the top 10. growing up in the 1960's, he inspired me, he inspired a lot of young people into public service. however, he was president for 1000 days. what did he accomplish to make him one of the greatest presidents? brian: by the way, you should know that the american political
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science survey that just came out has him at 16, so who knows where this is all going to go. mr. holzer: i mean, the impact of john kennedy was generational. he was a master of television, which eisenhower had not been, truman had not been. like fdr, like lincoln, like trump, he was the master of a new form of communicating directly with the people. he inspired people into public service. and the two elements that i think enhance his reputation are communications ability, the wit and the warmth and the humor, self-deprecating also, and, of course, the tragedy of his passing. presidents who die in office, presidents who are taken from us violently, hold a special place in national memory.
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not only for what was accomplished, but almost for the might have been. ms. shlaes: i'd just add, he was a president of the center. jfk was not a socialist. he's liked by both parties. there's a wonderful book by ira stole, whom you've probably had on, called "jfk -- conservative," looking at his econ policy. there are plenty of books that go the other way. so, he fit right down the center for many americans, like a bowling ball. brian: final question to you two. you mentioned your book coming out on lbj and the great society. when is that expected to be on the market? ms. shlaes: november. november. brian: and mr. holzer, your next book, i mean, this is 54, i guess? mr. holzer: no. it'll be 55, i think. brian: 55? ms. shlaes: 10 times as many books. mr. holzer: this is also edited books, so it's not as i'm not at prolific as you make me out to
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be. so, my next book is called "the presidents and the press -- from the founding fathers to fake news." it explores all of presidents and their evolving and contentious relationships with journalists. >> when does that come out? brian: when does that come out, yes? mr. holzer: next spring. brian: i want to thank the -- start with peter osnos and one of our guests here this evening, harold holzer, for providing us the opportunity to be here at the fdr house, and to our audience for joining us and asking such good questions. amity shlaes, thank you very much. and that is it. it's done. [applause] >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at
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>> from george washington to george w. bush, every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern we feature the presidency, exploring the presidents, politics, policy, and legacy. you are watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend, on c-span3. the presidents from public affairs, available now in paperback and e-book. presents biographies of every president, organized by ranking by noted historians from best to worst and features perspectives into the lives of the nation's chief executives and leadership styles.
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to learn more about each president and historian featured and order your copy today wherever books and e-books are sold. american history tv is on c-span3 every weekend featuring museum tours, films, and programs on the presidency, the civil war, and more. here's a clip from a recent program. in, we aree you are utilizing it in the same manner as the council house was utilized when built in the first place. all the things you see that the visitors see on the panel, it is all tied to not just the process that happened here originally, but also the process our present day travel government -- it is directly tied to that and tied
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to the past and the mound builders. culture,look at the there were a lot of people living around those mountains and when you have a lot of people living around mountainsides, the take away for the visitors is this type of governance is not something that has ever really been foreign to us, the concept of governments and tribal sovereignty. we have known it for millennia. , this is certainly tied to all of that. ♪
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♪ can watch this and other american history programs on our website where all of our video is archived.
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doneheard that you have cybersecurity checks in your office? like is a lot of concern members of congress do not know how to practice good cyber hygiene. >> i have taken two trips overseas and got no phone that i check out from the travel office that is not associated with me and i take a trouble phone. you never know where you plug the phone in what might get loaded on it, where you leave it where it might come in contact so that is one of the steps i take. spit -- abigail spanberger on the steps she takes to work in congress. watch the communicators monday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span two.
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the conference moved online because of coronavirus outbreak. on session features adam domestic unrest in the u.s. during and after world war i including anti-german sentiment, race riots, and arrests of suspected communists.


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