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tv   Brian Lamb Susan Swain Jeffrey Rosen Michael Gerhardt Robert Strauss...  CSPAN  May 22, 2020 10:47pm-12:07am EDT

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ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the national constitution center. (applause) i am jeffrey rosen, the president of this wonderful institution. this is such a happy day, to
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celebrate the great cooperation between the national constitution center and c-span. c-span, has inspiring non partisan mission, to bring unfiltered information about the u.s. government to american citizens, and that coincides with our mission, which i want all of you to recite along with me, to inspire our guests and our c-span viewers. the national constitution center, is the only institution in america, chartered by congress, to disseminate information about the u.s. constitution, on a nonpartisan basis. beautiful that was so well done. i was so thrilled when my friend and colleague, the head of c-span, susan came a few weeks ago, about three weeks ago and she said, we've got this great new book on the presidents, let's just launch it at the national constitution center. and it's an honor to welcome
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back, the founder of c-span, brian lamb. he is america's, greatest interviewer, i was honored to be interviewed by him, for my peace on the book, as well as my colleagues, and welcome back to the center. and now to introduce this program, it's a special pleasure to welcome back to the center, because susan has been here so many times, susan's wayne, she is among her many other virtues, she is a philadelphia woman born and bred. harasser. here please welcome susan's wayne. >> it's a delight to be back to the constitution center. it's hard to replicate that enthusiasm. and welcome you all here as you heard this is my hometown and in addition to our wonderful partnership that the
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constitution center and we have a shared constitution to provide information about government. i have my family members here today, that makes it a special occasion. this is c-span's 40th anniversary, 1979 in march they went on television for the first time, in the cable television industry private industry, created a service called c-span to bring congress into your living room four years ago 40 years ago. it is a not-for-profit station. you can decide for yourself what is happening in washington. since we are in comcast, home territory the folks are our largest cable affiliates. they are tremendously an important part of what c-span is today. many thanks to them for what they have done for us for these 40 years. when we talked about c-span's 40th anniversary, we said what will we do to celebrate this
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name meaningful way, and we decided to do this book. this is called the presidents. it is subtitled, noted historians, ranked americas best and worst chief leaders. we have a treasure trove of interviews, many of them down by brian, of presidential historians. here's a look at some of the names of the people that are included in the book. they are a part of our collection here. you will see some familiar names, ron chair now, douglas brinkley, robert castro and others. presidential historians. with a three panelists today,
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the idea was to bring together three presidential biographies who are featured biographer's who are featured in the book, jeffrey rosen has written a biography on taft. he was interviewed by brian. as you know in addition to his work here he is a professor at g w. law school. it made him interested in the work of taft. he became the chief justice of the supreme court, we've known him as a journalist, which he is in his heart and soul, offer author of six books. we also have the forgotten presidents, in our book he is does a chapter on jimmy carter. and robert strauss, is a journalist he works at the daily news at kyw. his presidential biography is my favorite, worst period
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president period ever period. that's the name of the book is my favorite. it's james buchanan, he is from the southern tier of the state. but he is our states claim to frame. we are going to learn from robert strauss as to why james you cannon was the first worst president ever. a survey that we have done, of presidential historians three times, we did the first one in 2000, when bill clinton was leaving office. the second one when george w. was leaving office, and then when brock obama was leaving office. we worked with three well-known historians, and the mid-furred, richard norton smith, these people helped us put together this book. we said today to 100 historians who worked very hard and we
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look for gender diversity ideological diversity, so we could represent different points of view. here are the qualities that the presidents are judged on. you might think about them as these conversations about to unfold. public persuasion. crisis leadership. economic management. moral authority. international relations. administrative skills. relations with congress. vision and setting an agenda. pursued equal justice for all. final one they wanted to add, because the office of the presidency has changed so much, performance within context of the times in which they served. what do we do the service? we do them because i'll tell you a story where we do them, i was standing out at the register where the books are being sold, and i heard a woman
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going why is he on the cover of this book, i don't think that was a great president, and that's exactly what we do the surveys. we want people to get involved, interested and passionate about our own history. and we live in a society where books do that. our email is filled every day with the top ten of this or bottom five of that. and doing, this although this is an historians who have an academic base, it provides a basis for you to get involved and have conversations around the dinner table about whether or not you think historians did a good job of raiding presidents you know, or presidents you're just looking at learning about. so who is up and who's down at the time we did. this andrew jackson secured his place on the 20-dollar bill. he went from 13th place to 18th place in 2017. woodrow wilson, from six down to 11. this one boggles my mind,
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because i like rather furred be haze. he's gone from 26 to 32. 17 to 23. i'm sure historians will have some perspective on things have changed it who is up. dwight di eisenhower, he is up. he was it ninth now he is at fifth. bill clinton, when the first survey was just coming out, he was 21st place, the next two surveys he settled in at the 15 position. finally this is an interesting one, from 33rd place to 22nd, ulysses as grant. and also these big biographies that are coming out they do influence people and make a difference. the top five overall, it's not going to be any surprises. dwight highs and how are now in
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fifth position. theodore roosevelt in fourth. franklin roosevelt in third. george washington, in second place and in number one place, abraham lincoln. the bottom five. john tyler comes, he went on to join the confederate congress after he left the white house. a man without a party when he was in the white house. and he was buried with the confederate flag on his grave. the warren harding we're learning more about him and his active love. life franklin pierce he had a
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very difficult time. he had three sons him in his wife, the two sons had died before going into the presidency, the third son was wisdom on the train, to washington there was a tremendous accident, their son was thrown out of the train and he was killed. and the president carried his lifeless body of his son back to the train. of course he had a hard times assembling his cabinet. his wife spent much of the first year, we basically morning tom and sending letters to her departed son. difficult time, and a difficult time in our nation's history. 42nd, andrew johnson, and there is james buchanan. worst president ever. quickly on the modern president, ronald reagan is the only one of the top ten. george h. w. bush, he is in the
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20th spot. i think it will be fascinating at the end of the trump presidency, because we just went through three days of national scene setting of his presidency. the we witnessed an awful lot of themes being presented during the three days of the bush funeral. so we will wait to see what happens next time. how he fares. so george w. bush isn't 33rd. spot we already mentioned bill clinton. so george bush he has some difficult things, and it will be difficult over the course of time to see what happens with this rating.
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and barack obama, in his debut he is in 12th position. a good start to his assessment. the idea with this is to get you interested, and to showcase the work of these wonderful historians. we have a rich website attached to this book for yours to peruse at your will every one of the interviews from which this is drawing is listed there. you can watch the video from it and all the chapter references. if there is a reference to sectionalism or to a certain war, we have linked all of them so you do not need to do the work and you can go through history as you are interested and learn more about that period of time. these are the three presidents featured with our three historians today. william howard taft, his highest score was in administrative skills. his lowest skill was public persuasion. rings true doesn't it? total score is 5:28 out of a
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possible 1000. jimmy carter, highest court is equal justice for all, lowest score is crisis leadership. there we go. europe. total score 506 out of 1000. and james buchanan. he was in the cellar for all of them. he had either 41, 42 or 43 in every single category. he was so low he was 30 points below andrew johnson. sorry about that. his highest score was 41st position in administrative skills. his lowest score in seven of the ten categories was the number 43 spot. how about that? 245 out of a possible 1000. i can't wait to tell -- for you to tell us stories about this man and how he fared. i will sit down to enjoy this wonderful panel along with you. thank you for your attention. >> (applause) >> you will have car it's passed out to ask questions which we will do for
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the last 15 minutes. also, everyone's books will be available afterwards if you are interested in learning more. i do want to tell you about our book because c-span does not make any money on the sales of books. the very small amount of royalties that we get from the sale goes to the c-span education fund which makes free teaching materials for high school and middle school teachers. if you buy a book, you help support teachers in schools. thank you for your attention. >> susan i only have one quarrel with you, you referred to ronald reagan being the only modern president in the top ten for someone like me. eisenhower, lbj are still modern for me. this book would not be here today without seasons editing. let me start with our three historians. would you all start off about telling us why you even got
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into the writing of history? robert strauss? >> business or? >> history. >> i was a journalist who worked at the daily news and channel three among other places. i was always interested in it. my father brought me little statuettes of the presidents when i was a boy. they were my guides instead of soldiers. they brought me a book that was facts about the presidents. it's like money ball for presidents. baseball statistics, i was always involved with that. i'm also a contrarian as my level tell you. to write about the worst president was much more fun than figuring out who the best one was. >> that's a good question. still trying to find out the answer. i think a couple of different reasons. the first is i am a constitutional law professor.
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my field and in my classes, everyone is totally absorbed with the supreme court and focuses their time on that. i am fascinated by other institutions that are really intertwined with into a lot of constitutional law. presidency, congress, so i have been particularly interested in how presidents impact the understanding of the constitution and its development overtime. the second reason, i think of myself sometimes as a child of watergate. i grew up in the shadow of watergate and watergate shaped a lot of my understanding of constitutional law. particularly the conflicts between presidents and congress. and so out of that shadow we get jimmy carter. we also get nixon and ford. it changes a lot of how we view
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constitutional law these days. that is another reason i got into this. >> jeffrey rosen >> as susan said i'm a journalist at heart. so i only right to deadline and assignment. the first biographies i wrote war assignments. i did not know about either man before getting the assignment and i was just so excited to learn about taft as an underappreciated figure and share him with the world. i resonated with the writing of history because as a kid reading inspiration -- presidential biographies was inspirational. i remember going to the library of congress for the first time in the adams building and being filled with wonder. to think that all the books of the world were in that building. then learning more about adams and jefferson and reading biographies of truman. the biography about the bookish
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kid who read and learned leadership through reading. or the amazing fdr biographies about how another bookish boy found his life through books. i resonated so much to these, his heroic stories, that is why i find writing biographies such an inspiring experience. >> i want to go back to robert stresses book on james buchanan and i want you to jump in on this. it does not need to relate only to james buchanan. he waffled about everything. >> right. >> i picked this right out of our interview. why did you say? that >> you know, at some point the buck does stop and the president is the point where it has to stop. most of our great presidents, guys who are up there, made the decision. they were not all great decisions. i would say that the japanese internment was not a wonderful
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decision. but sometimes it comes to a head. buchanan was the ultimate diplomat. first of all, he was the best party giver of the middle of the 19th century. there are positive things. he was apparently a really nice guy. he had no enemies. he was always just trying to please people. he was a diplomat like i said. he was ambassador to pressure and to england. he was really good at having the czar over for lunch. like i said, there are certain things that were good about him. but he did waffle. >> michael gerhardt, your book, the carter chapter came out about 13 presidencies and 12 men. any other of those presidents aside from carter were
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waffler's? >> yes they were waffler one of the more interesting things we learned about presidents being low rated is precisely because they were not waffler's. they were actually too strong. they were stubborn. sometimes stubborn in really destructive ways. i would not say carter was stubborn in a destructive way but carter was not a waffler. carter came in with a strong sense of what he wanted to do. part of -- his problem was that he did not listen to other people. he felt he was morally right about different issues and charged ahead. it turned out that maybe that was good and sometimes it was bad. sometimes it's popular and sometimes it is unpopular. that became the story of his presidency. some of the other folks i wrote about like henry harrison, he died 30 days about becoming president. in those 30 days he was stubborn. he actually had to be stubborn
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in some respects. he had to push against henry clay who really wanted to be the power behind the throne. harrison did not want that to happen. it turned out to be the defining moment in his short presidency. a lot of presidents and up becoming unpopular or rank low precisely because they will stick out a position, not listen to other people, not react to context or events of the time and end up losing. end up losing the presidency and historical judgment of people. >> do you think he was right about william howard taft being among the list of 12 minor presidents? >> sure. as a presidential leader, the c-span survey is right, he's incredibly high in administrative. if you want to book about the
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constitutional legacy of the presidents, read michaels book because he's the only one who wrote a sustained book about their constitutional visions. taft is among these 12. characters who are not great as presidential leaders but had a very strong constitutional vision. in taft's case, his vision was heroic and seems all the more pressure and trying to defend the madisonian strained presidency at the time when populist presidencies of woodrow wilson rising up. if you are too sure of your constitutional vision as taft and other minor presidents show, you refused to engage in the arts of public persuasion. taft says i will not play a part of popularity, if people do not like my vision so be it. instead of lobbying congress and speaking to the people, he would write the speeches and expect these to be persuasive. i was trying to think about the difference between waffling and
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deliberating. the great presidents took a while to make up their mind. you think about harry truman and the bomb. he did a lot of reading including literature. before he made up his mind. roosevelt waiting so long before he thought the american public was ready for world war ii. seizing the moment. lincoln changing the purpose of the war from preserving the union to eradicating slavery. a real vice was perhaps a lack of deliberation. waffling is not the only way of avoiding deliberation. you can refuse to deliberate because you are too sure of your principles and i think that was the case for taft. >> in the book that jeffrey rosen wrote about william taft. someone called him a great hater. you wrote about him. did you see that in him? >> he had his moments.
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in those moments, he could beat not just angry but hateful. >> did it work? >> not for him. one of the more famous hates he had was for louis brand ice. it was mutual. i think it ended up working more for brandeis then taft. to have tons more reflexive of his time. he like many people reacted negatively to brandeis in part because he was jewish. there were other issues to. to some extent when a president becomes that way, someone who hates something -- notice lincoln tried really hard not to hate the enemy. even right before he died in his great second inaugural address, he is still trying to hand out a hand to the other side. to find a way to bring people
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together. great presidents do that. awful presidents do not do that. >> robert strauss, can you expand on any of the president you studied? where they haters? >> haters? >> and didn't work for them? >> that is interesting. i know my guy buchanan did not seem to be a hater. he did not get along with one guy in particular, stephen douglas. that's one guy. he was a big guy, and influential person. it does not seem that there were that many haters. even when you go back way back here in philadelphia. adams and jefferson politically were against each other but they had a history before and a history after that they were able to obviate those political difficulties. >> it also seems to me that that is part of being a
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politician. trying to bridge your hatred in order to get things done. >> tell the story about the charles evans hughes appointment, william howard taft and the court, and who ended up on the court instead of charles evans hughes when william howard taft was president and why? >> william howard taft pined to be chief justice of the united states. when he was a child, his father told him to be chief justice is more than being president in my estimation. his best job was being judge of appeals on the six circuit. his wife and roosevelt make him do it become president. he's pining still to become chief justice. a moment arrives where the chief justice dies, he needs to be replaced, and taft desperately wants to take the seat himself. he says i cannot help assigning the commission of whose job i want. he is about to appoint charles
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evans hughes. he's the young dynamic former governor of new york was admired by. all hughes is going to the interview the white house when the phone rings and taft cancels the interview. then taft appoints in his place edward douglas white. and overweight southern democrat whose only qualification for the job is taft's hope that white will die in time to be drafted to take his place. so he becomes chief justice, he served for about ten years, taft is a former president. calls moving out against the how he's doing. you want more cheesecake. how you doing. so white refuses to expire. happily and without any warning, white drops dead. all of a sudden. and then taft lobbies hard, mobilizes all of his forces, and persuades hearting to appoint him.
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and he turned out to become, the second greatest chief since john marshall. >> as you point out in your book, he was appointed one term. six members of the supreme court. and as you pointed out, jimmy carter zero. we talk about all three of you if you would, talk about the importance of, or the lack of significance when you cannot appoint somebody. >> yes making court appointments is something that presidents all want to do. and it becomes part of their legacy. but i should hasten to add, and i know jeffrey would agree with this, taft did not kill white. and i want to bury that right now. but, and that is in some respects something important,
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because it's not just a joke, presidents can do or they can't do certain things. they can't make people get sick, they can't make people get older. i can imagine the current president you know hope something happens to ginsburg, and all of us hope nothing happens to ginsburg. so there is faith, or whatever else you want to use for it that gives some president some opportunities and tough got his sooner than he expected. and lincoln, of course get another opportunity he had to decide, what do we do. it looks like it's going to secede. so bring us back to carter briefly, i can't say carter was pining away unemployment to the court. but every past president that had served a whole term before
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carter got that chance but carter got none, and that's another reason why it downgraded his presidency. he doesn't get to make that important appointment. but he makes a lot of more important maybe lower positions he had to search circuit court judge. so two people were appointed to the appellate court by jimmy carter. >> so go to james buchanan and, well hold on -- >> so there's buchanan wanted the dred scott titration to happen. he had a particular solution
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for slavery. but this was the case winding around, the former slave had gone to minnesota with what became minnesota with his master he comes back to st. louis, he says he's freed because he was living in the territories that were not supposed to have slavery. so the court case comes so the supreme court chief justice, and all these guys were related at the time so. the court is split five to four, not conservative and liberal as today, but southern and northern tier and buchanan apparently had the discussion with tani before he took office,
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and said what are we gonna do about this and tani says we can have a five to four major decision, nobody is going to buy into that. but maybe we can convince somebody to change their mind. will buchanan and does anybody here go to dickinson college. well if so you're responsible for this. so buchanan went to dickerson so there was a third supreme court justice that went there so they went to him and changed his mind, and the case was subject to six to three with the current opinion, and this is how many supreme court cases came to be because of dickinson
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college. >> and your book you talk about jimmy carter and he makes a statement saying, he was a tremendously good man. how often will first we'll do you agree with that, and how often do you say that about the men who have been president. >> before answering that important question, i need to put an a plug for our new civil war exhibit. which i want you to all see downstairs which has the freedom petition that dred scott filed and it's that story as you say so well. that set off the civil war by requiring three institutional amendments to change that. so is carter a good man, he seems to be a good man but are
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most presidents good men and is their correlation, between private virtue and public virtue. >> let me add to this why you're thinking about that. >> yeah that's a lot of questions. >> michael gerhardt writes, and says this about jimmy carter, that he had integrity, he was demanding, he was an outsider and he brings up the fact that he gave amnesty to all those draft augurs during the vietnam war. so talk about the good and the most integrity ridden presidents. >> so let me start with my guy taft was a good man, when you talk about him being a hater it's because he had a strong sense of personal loyalty. we felt it was in front of him he would lash out. and he wanted to be appointed to the supreme court.
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and he thought that woodrow wilson would appoint him. so he was so devoted to the legitimacy of the court, that he would join decisions, even if he disagreed, and they would set aside their disagreements to converge and they end up working together well. but test shows that there's no necessary correlation between virtue, because he was it an incredibly devoted husband, he lovingly nursing his wife back to health, after she had a stroke, and taking days to teacher to speak again, devoted to his kids, who did so well and his daughter helen, who became a distinguished history professor, but none of that means you're good man or good leader. because leadership requires things like deliberation, flexibility, competing points
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of view, listen to your opponents, just thinking aloud i, remember reading one anti nixon historian who said that nixon was the only truly wicked president that we have. i do not think that's true, i love presidential biographies and there is such a human side to nixon. he was vulnerable and he also did a great deal of good within foreign policy, and even his awkward attempts or failed attempts to connect with his wife and kids, you can't help but empathize with the humanity of it. >> can i interrupt you for a second, dylan thomas said in that book that richard nixon was weird. >> well he was we are but that should disqualify any of us. >> well they say he was weird. >> yes he was definitely weird, as asking fred mueller to count
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the jews, that was weird calling william ryan quest lynch for. that was weird. as he didn't like to be touched also. there's the sign of him, with teeth marks on the aspirin bottle, he was awkward so he can open the aspirant. but for me that weirdness, just showed it was the awkwardness. which stem from his mom and dad. you know you really have to go back to the relationships with mom and dad, to understand anyone's character, and his weirdness came from that. that pinched but demanding mother, and the reagan's inaccessibility from his father, and each of us is complex in his own way, but i have not really answered your question as to whether you need to be good to be a good person to be a good president. my instinct is know that you
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don't. >> robert strauss, the other presidents that they write about, sack retailer, franklin pierce, grover cleveland, jimmy carter, to name a few how about this business about being tremendously good? >> well we had this if you studied history, probably in high school when it went from jackson to lincoln. there were other guys in between but, so there's a period of presidency, at least i don't know if historians would say that but, it's pretty much that congress ruled. we had great congressman. even if you don't agree with jefferson davis, or john cohen's politics.
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they're great men. prominent men. of course like daniel webster, so i wonder, if they were sort of feel fellows well met, and not made for the presidency. not at least not made for the presidency as we view it now. like a roosevelt, or something like that. >> mr. gerhardt. >> well it's a great question, i think that presidents don't have to be good, but i think they have to recognize good in other people. and they have to achieve something good. that is a commonality for the presidents that we raided highly. lincoln, was a complex guy. was a complex character, he's been greatest the highest president of all-time. the one thing, you know and and lincoln was also something
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else. which i think is a characteristic of some of the great presidents. he was really good at reading other people. and stephen douglas, who wrote about lincoln. not rated now lincoln. we had to go up against douglas a couple times, but what's really interesting, i'm paraphrasing. i really like him, he's a good guy. it's really extraordinary coming from douglas. believe me he would not say that about anyone else. he does say that about lincoln. i think the people end up working with lincoln and up thinking he was difficult sometimes because he was not always tell you what he was thinking. sometimes he would go back on
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what he said. he was pragmatic. he had a lot of on his plate. presidents have to deal with that. i think at the end of the day, presidents have to think about goodness. because they have to achieve something that is good because that is what is will going to be lasting. >> we will go to the questions. i do not know where the little cars are. no courts? okay. >> all right. what are the chances that we talk about and think about the presidency too much? >> they are high. the framers thought that congress would be the most impenetrable branch. the judiciary branch would be the least dangerous.
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the chief magistrate was supposed to be a constrained office that would take care of the lawfully executed laws. exercising the will of congress within constitutional bounds but not a popular leader. this was taft's whole point. to the degree he has constitutional significance, yards -- he marked the year 1912, that the presidency was transformed for constraint constitutional office to a populist one. you have both wilson and roosevelt saying that the president is steward of the people who channels there will. then you have a different vision of the presidency than the framers imagined. taft was a threat of the separation of powers that could lead to demagogue -- demagogues. favor by making demagogic appeals. today we are seeing the fulfillment of some of those fears not only because of the current income it but because
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of social media which allows presidents to communicate directly to the people in a way that madison would have found a nightmare. he says direct communication between the president and the people is the worst thing that can be imagined because of the danger of the -- demagoguery. the president is so salient and occupies so much airtime, that the danger is he will distract us through his tweets and personal virtues. keep us from paying attention to serious public -- serious questions of public policy and constitutional law that require a lot more time and attention than quick takes. i think we are absolutely paying too much attention to the president. >> we also started out with the greatest american, george washington. we started out with a strong president, or at least someone who is publicized to be a strong president. he was a significant man on the
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less, no matter what you would have said about his presidency or agreed with his politics or not. he was a general. he was the guy on the white horse. but in any case, he is the signal guy. our first president was martin van buren, we would not have said that. i do not know the first presidents of other european countries but i would bet that many of them, charles to go all, maybe that's the point of why we discussed. i think the other -- one reason we think about the presidency a lot is because one thing that gets left out of the occasion a lot of times in
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thinking about great leaders is they need followers. they need the people. they need the people not just to vote for them but to support them. and they need to enjoy to some extent interacting with people. taft hated it. lincoln actually liked it. the great storyteller. he would stop almost anyone and say let me tell you a story. this is one of the -- this is the brilliance of spielberg's movie. oh my god another story. the other thing about presidents is to some extent, they reflect something else i think the american people almost in spite of themselves, sometimes want. and that is a king. they go back and forth on it but they like to look up to somebody. they want to look up to somebody. the presidency can occupy a position no other leader can
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occupy which is, he's always in the camera. the peoples i. always being written about. people telling stories about them and biographies about them. we have days dedicated to them, not too great supreme court justices or members of congress, but we do have presidents'day. it is a little bit of a reflection of how to some extent we threw off a king but there is a little bit in us and the american people i think that want there to be good in the president so they can revere them and honor them to some extent like a king. >> should we be trying to write them? i know it's even in the sub head of your book about writing presidents. is it a good idea jeffrey rosen? let me just tell you a quick story and see what your reaction is to this. at c-span we get a lot of students.
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for some reason i get a lot of ohio students. i had a group, the name of the school remained in my head, they are great students and great kids and i enjoyed him very much but i asked them what have you done since you've been? invariably they get to we have been to arlington cemetery. these are ohio students. i'll say what did you see at the cemetery. and they said the john f. kennedy grave site. and i asked them who else was buried there. and they have no idea, and it's a present that's over for years, and nine years as the chief justice of the supreme court. his all the list isn't walking distance. they have no idea, and they have no idea who he is. what does that say about history, or civic losses or glamour or the assassination. but fill in the blanks on all
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of that. >> okay we rate everything. we rate colleges and law schools, and museums and offer houses and so forth. but i think the c-span ratings of presidents is helpful. we learned so much about history from susan's incredibly learned introduction to why the different presidents were good and bad. the fact that the c-span historians accurately identified tariffs greatest strengths, administrative skill, and is weakest as public persuasion. i think all of that helps us evaluate leadership. also it helps us have heroes. and also put them in perspective. it inspires us to learn about history. and makes us have a conversation like we're having now. and i am learning a lot from this, and your question which i'm still pondering over, you know you asked if you can be good and the president. and i thought were the top presidents good? i think about roosevelt, number
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three and such a complex person. he had at least affairs of the heart. if not more on with his secretary, and spent a lot of time with this distant cousin daisy, and his children felt they didn't know him and he had this unusual marriage with eleanor. but it was that departmental is a shun, that allowed him in some ways to give of all of the empathy, that we talked about to the nation. and the polio so humbled him. and gave a feeling of empathy. but he wasn't able to lavish on his intimates, but thinking about that it's interesting, and it's important as citizens. so what c-span and the center trying to do is inspire people to be good citizens, and that's about making judgments about leadership and what you think
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american history means in the constitution means, and that's why i said we are paying too much attention to the president on a day-to-day basis, but the presidents are the way into history. because you need to tell stories. you have to personalize them. you have to make judgments and connect, and you have to be a kid and be inspired to learn more. to read those books. so in that sense, i think he's fine >> well i think that we rate, pretty much everything right. as jeffrey was saying. and i would say, i don't know when this became true, but maybe it was always true. the president is the most well-known person in america. now maybe muhammad ali was more well-known, or big roof and hurt who were babe roofs, but generally he is the one who
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represents america in some way. both internally and externally that. i don't see how you could not say that donald trump is not the most well-known person in america. and that makes us different from even the english system. it's parliamentary its heads a party, theresa may is not prime minister, who is the next guy. he might last for the next couple of months. but we are destin, and we are a celebrity ridden country anyway. i mean i know there are a lot of people, who must read ashton kutcher's tweet, but maybe not as many as donald trump. >> i think again that's a really good question, i think it's not just because americans like to rate things, and great things but it's because presidents care about ratings.
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president care about something else, they care about being remembered. we all want to be remembered. stories help that. and presidents i think, intensely want to be remembered. even not the great presidents. but one of the defining things for presidents is how they are constantly comparing themselves to other presidents even if we do not write them, they will write themselves. lincoln, near the end of his first term, right before his second term, is basically saying what do you guys think? i think i'm doing pretty well against the others. that was paraphrase, he was much more eloquent. but he was thinking about it. so that rating effort is being done not just by americans but i think by presidents. they think how do i compare against the others?
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>> i will ask susan to come out in preparation for the questions from the audience. this is such a trite question but i love it anyway. if each of you could invite three former presidents to the table for a dinner and a conversation, which three would you invite? >> i would of course want to have buchanan because you should seeing the list of food and liquor at his inaugural ball. cauldrons of that. salads of this. of course now that i have sort of studied him, in a way i would want him there. then i would want him to be compared to someone wonderful. i think washington in a certain way, even though he was so popular, he was enigmatic, i'd
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like to hustle him down on a couple of things. >> he had that horrible teeth problem. >> skin problem too. he could probably do adds between minor football games. i would like to talk to nixon as well. he seems the most complex of our modern presidents. >> gerhardt who would you have? >> that's another great question. i don't think it would be any of the presidents of the beginning of the 20th century because they have been covered so much. we know them a lot better. many of them were on tv. i would cast farther back. who would not want to sit down with lincoln and hear those stories or talk to him? i will mention another one who's forgotten, william henri harrison. let's give him a chance to speak. so i would probably invite him
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as another one and asked what would you have done in those four years? the other one might be someone like james madison because he was there and involved with so much, not just with the founding but the birth and development of america. so he would probably be my third. >> jeffrey? >> of course you have taken madison, the constitutional senator, we need him back and ask him a few questions. there is an amazing moment in the civil war exhibit where lincoln in 1840 and frederick douglas discover madison's notes being published. the notes were being published in that year about the convention. they were so important that they convinced lincoln that we as the people our sovereign. the constitution should take no position on we as property of men.
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the necessity would be for us to talk to medicine and find out what went on. you have to invite jefferson to see if you could have a better dinner party than when jefferson tine alone. but you also talk about music and science and to just channel his genius and conversation which was supposed to be so incredibly sparkling. then i would, i love the question and there are so many but i would love so much to meet harry truman. he seemed so authentic. staying up nights reading. burning a hole into his pillow with a light bulb because he was determined to learn about the ancient greeks. the strong, proud, humble leader. >> susan? >> thank you. when you were talking about haters before.
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jeffrey rosen, in our book through your interview, we tell about the rift between theodore roosevelt and taft. just like adams and jefferson, they came together late in their life. could you briefly tell that story? >> it is a wonderful story of course. roosevelt was taft's mentor, persuaded him to run for president, said he would be the greatest president since washington. then they have this painful falling out precipitated by a series of misunderstandings and political differences including taft's decision to bring in anti trust suit that roosevelt refused to bring which embarrassed roosevelt. then roosevelt through ambition breaks his promise to not run again. runs for president. roosevelt is convinced that taft is a demagogue. then reporters seem on the
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campaign trail after he has denounced roosevelt and says roosevelt was my closest friend. he convulsive some tears. it is an incredible drama. they do make up soon before roosevelt dies. they run into each other by accident in a hotel dining room and come up slowly and approach each other and then start talking and cost me each other's hands. the whole dining room sees them and breaks out in applause that they have reconciled. then roosevelt dies soon after and taft is always happy that they made. up i love the room applauding because they knew their leaders had come back together again. to the questions from the audience, how has the availability of universal and instant information impacted presents in a way that would be different from their predecessors? michael? >> i think of course another great question, all leaders
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care about information. i think the presidents who get more information, almost all presidents want more information, they want to be informed. why not? you better understand something if you get informed. so being able to gather information more quickly and better throughout the developments that have occurred and risen with technology would probably be something all presidents would want. the other thing about it is you would not want them to abuse it. how they deal with that information is oftentimes the defining thing about the president. >> i will name someone, if either of you have thoughts please jump in, is there any correlation between good or bad presidents and legislative experience coming into office? >> well i will say this. in the last election, a lot was made of hillary clinton's resume. there was no one with a better
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resume sensibly than james buchanan. he was a state legislature -- legislator in pennsylvania. part of the u.s. house and u.s. senate. he was part secretary of state, and russia and england, he had been up for a supreme court justice ship a couple of times. it came to nothing. he had no great legislative triumphs. he was sort of the last man left to be nominated. he was not exactly nominated in the first bout. i think it was the 16th or something like that. something that will not happen today. they were not going to have franklin pierce back, he was a disaster. it's like the fillies sometimes with a relief pitcher. bring in somebody else because he is somebody else. essentially he was applauded to the top. i have a thought that perhaps
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abraham lincoln did not have a big barr to jump over. maybe you are comparing before and after, it's hard to say that about lincoln but ... >> michael do you have a thought about that? >> sure. i think legislation is critical for a presidency. especially a presidency that will endure or be remembered. presidencies aren't remembered in part because of their speech, what they say, the rhetoric. they are sometimes remembered because of the awful things they have done. the affairs they had. but they are also remembered for their achievements i think with legislation. , a president who is often raided loan forgotten is john quincy adams. he had no legislative success. while we write lincoln the highest and legislation is part of what he achieves, but of course he creates the possibility for there to be legislation that will be done in the future because he saves
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the union. >> just a possible counter. the passing legislation as president is important but think how few of the greatest presidents had legislative experience. johnson may be the only real serious legislator who had a legislative achievements and michael i would say that i learned from your book greatness, do you have a constitutional vision? do you transform the understanding of the constitution. there are three republics, the founder the founding republic, that the founding constitutional vision, the middle republic, and lincoln is the anchoring figure there. and then the new deal republican. when you ask what is our next constitutional vision, you see ronald reagan aspiring to repeal, and resurrect the transformative our supreme
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court appointments. they argue that if reagan has succeeded, he would have been as great a president as roosevelt and lincoln. because he would've led to a new republic. what's fascinating to think of now, is that with one more supreme court appointment, he may have received that level. it would be just as transformative and important as the others. it may help us all with a great mystery, because oftentimes people say about lincoln, cause she didn't really do anything before he became president. he did how much a resume. >> i think that's one reason why lincoln gets elected, because what people cared about in the 19th century, is what they still care about now. that is what jeff was talking
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about. they care about vision, they care about the care much less about experience, the president's judgment. and there vision. and of course lincoln had both. and many of our great presidents that's what they had. >> jeffrey i will turn to you for this new york times race timeframe, why has wilson dropped so many points. >> his views on race, he resegregate it the government. he cannot speak to our time. that is one important reason for progressives now, questioning wilson. at the same time conservatives, and the other answer, is that george will was here two years ago, he is coming back i think it's next wednesday, june 20th to talk about his new book. he says that the defining question for whether you are conservatives today, is who you would have voted for in the election of 1912. and conservatives he said would have voted for taft, and anyone
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who voted for wilson or roosevelt, is a progressive. as the rise of demagoguery, and this they blame the solemn wilson. so that's a tough series of critics to have from both sides. that is why he's gone down. >> related to that, michael maybe for you to start on this, do shifting cultural views, impact the way historians rate presidents. >> absolutely, because in part we are all embedded in culture. we are all bound by culture. the presidents as well. they can try to break a lot of things, but they can't break out of their culture. they may be able to change the culture to some extent obviously lincoln's vision, encompasses in part by let's change our culture in part by getting rid of slavery let's break that chain sub speak, and
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begin a different way of sinking their way of thinking about things. but i think culture is critical for a president, because it defines the culture in which they operate. >> so will take about ten more minutes of questions here, anyone want to tackle this one, discuss jfk's place. is it kamala? >> well he didn't pass much legislation, most of the things that he wanted to have done, well not too much success in congress, and if we look back people who don't like trump, is a horror of our age but, the key would missile crisis, and we felt we are all going to blow up so there are a lot of good i wouldn't necessarily call it a successful presidency
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except culturally. except the idea that youth got involved in the peace corps. or any of these things that he represented as opposed to the old times. which is probably not what we're having a resurrection of eisenhower. where remembering those old times. >> i'm thinking as we are speaking, the silence is not something that helps the presidency. this reminds me of one of the greatest stories of any presidents, and that's calvin coolidge. coolidge did not like people all that much, he also was burned by the death of his son when he was president but he didn't like to speak that much either. perhaps he's the present with the fewest words. there is a great story with coolidge when he was at a dinner party, and a woman sits next to him and says i made a bet with someone that i could get you to say more than three words. and he said you lose.
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>> not surprisingly, we have four or five who want to ask about the incumbent president. i'll use this one, perhaps again michael you could start. because you just talked about historians being a product of the culture in which they live. they want to say will they be able to will historians be able to look at president trump in a non biased way? >> great historians, that's what they have to do they have to find a way to be dispassionate about their subjects, so they can write about them in a way that will improve understanding and enrich our understanding of history. i think with president trump it might probably take some time, for people to put him in some perspective. that's what historians. do he's also a president that can't stop himself from talking,
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so the more more words he utters, and provides ammunition so to speak, for people to be able to charge him not just now but later. >> jeffrey i'm going to throw this one to you, because it's about the supreme court appointments, and is using a current example. it's regardless of who wins in 2020, is it possible the supreme court will overturn row and gay marriage, both of which are out of step with current majority public opinion. so that president's ability to appoint, and what the majority of the culture might be saying in opinion polls. so help people understand that. >> it's a very important question, so we just did podcasts, on both of these questions. i think i have some of the ideas my mind a plug for the we the people podcast. which are the scholars of america to debate this. we just did a two part, which
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is so illuminating and the polls have been pretty consistent's, more than two thirds they put it's been consistent so about 80% or more have supported restrictions on the right to choose in regards to pregnancy, that was mirrored in the kc decision. the debate has been transformed recently, by a fetal life, when life begins even within the states a. as a statutory or constitutional matter, it is not supported by large numbers. even in the states to take that position. even when it does have the majority support in the red states. but it could have swung a law stake. all this to say conventional wisdom is to look at another supreme court appointment, to
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it would take that to really completely overturn row. for that reason many conservatives and libertarians, think that they will not be in a hurry to turn over the marriage equality law the supreme court. conceived as a counter majoritarian constitution, as. it often provokes backlashes, which is dramatic and what is so dramatic about this moment, imagine the scenario and the question and the signals, and you know president trump winds, he has another supreme court seat, say the court did overturn row. or even, overturn the marriage
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equality decision. it's not inconceivable. that would beat the court in conflict, with the majority of public opinion. it could lead to the striking down of federal laws, such as regulations. which are supported by the majority of american people. so what would happen next
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