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tv   Conversations with American Historians Richard Norton Smith - Part 5  CSPAN  February 7, 2022 7:00am-8:01am EST

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severed in 1880 not in 1862. ladies and gentlemen, kevin the year 1968 television and ronald reagan. you have always been a big fan of anniversaries. well, i guess any historian would welcome the opportunity to remind people that there was a past.
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68 we're 50 years beyond 1960. yeah. why are you interested in 68? well, you know, we're about to embark upon all sorts of commemorations some. mostly for commercial reasons um, you know we'll see lots of familiar television clips. lots of celebrations of television by television um, not what i'm interested in the fact that first of all to people who lived through it and were sentient enough to to appreciate the revolutionary history that they were living there's a natural human tendency 50 years later. to reflect on those events to
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rethink conclusions that you might have made at the time. to measure their significance what you thought was their significance against, you know, intervening events to see what if anything about then. is directly relevant to or foreshadowing now, i mean then and now is a is a large part of it. how have you changed your attitude? about 1968 in the last 50 years. i'm not sure i have a lot. i think i know a lot more now. for example, the rockefeller book. i i know a lot more now about that campaign and about the campaign general way. i think i think the wallace candidacy. in 1968 the third party southern. you know unabashedly racist. campaign turns out not to be and
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aberration not to be freak show that was the exclusive. creation of one man the governor of alabama who you know for whatever reason struck a particular gourd at a particular time in other words, i'd pay less attention to george wallace. as an individual and i would see much i would pay much more attention. to what it was about. george wallace's movement and the emotions that he tapped into and they are relevance their direct relevance to our subsequent history and i would argue a contemporary history. i mean that i i there are some real all too familiar elements
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in wallace's appeal and even in wallace's style but more important i again, i don't want to the question about what i've learned about 68 it's to pay less attention to the individuals. and more attention to the movements the emotions that they aroused i can remember literally being with my grandparents. who then lived next door to us house on the same property and i spent a lot of time with them. i mean, that's where i think my initial sense of history in some ways developed. and i remember. tom jarrell on abc christopher i'm sure it was a bulletin. and the news came that the doctor king had been shot in memphis. and strange that we've talked about this before. i mean, i have a very keen
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awareness now more than i did at the time. that the civil rights movement which after all you know, i didn't ever directly participate in and yet i felt vicariously a great emotional. connection to it. i mean, i remember vividly the margin on washington. and and i remember the pictures from birmingham. and there was a sense. you know even in a child, i was nine years old at the time. you knew what was right and what was wrong? and you and you and you identified. strongly with with king and what he was trying to do. and i i, you know, i had this obviously. childish, but emerging appreciation of at least how important history was when he was shot.
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you were nine. no, no. no. it's in in birmingham in 63. sorry, but was a 14. and high school and at least i certainly at least knew. that this was a major historical. event and what about bobby kennedy? same yeah, which of course folks just just two months later and and then course, you know. that's the thing about 68. any one of these individual events? could stand out and define a year. but when they all happened in quick succession. it's almost a blur. that unthinkable things were happening. with regularity and the american political system seemed to be under a stress. that you know, you couldn't imagine you certainly had never. seen before mccarthyism had
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posed challenges. but but this was this was, you know top to bottom. what about vietnam? well, and that was and that was inseparable. let's take all of this became caught up this great. dreadful stew of of illegitimacy and popular unrest and and extra constitutional actions assassinations, i mean if there was ever a time to despair of the future of popular government 1968 could very well have been in and and gets again the value. if you will. 50 years later there are lots of people. and i'm one of them. who worry? about the course of american democracy and and above all the
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long-term consequences of dispensing with factual truth measurable truth as the standard by which a democracy decides and it and it becomes. and particularly as you get older too, i think as you get older you become prey. to it's a strange kind of variant kind of nostalgia. that doesn't necessarily hold things were better then. but implies that things are are more vulnerable now. that you know, i i have school of thought which is a uniquely my own i guess. i'm convinced.
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it's it's nature's way of. making all of us more or less accept the aging process. you we all read about people. who are comfortable with indeed enamored of the change that is going on around them. you know, they are ahead of every trend. they welcome every technological advance all of that and i'm just just the opposite. and i am convinced. that there is an element. it's not articulated very well, and i'm afraid i kind of articulate it very well, but i think one becomes so hey we needed. from the prevailing culture which seems the opposite of humanistic a culture who
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standards however, you measure them seem to be in decline. a culture where the universal definition of truth is itself under constant attack? a culture in which technology and above all greed. commercial greed are eroding anything like a cohesive? common shared culture, how much greed do you have in your soul? boy, you know, i don't want to compliment myself, but i honestly do believe. god knows i have shortcomings and failings. but i i don't think greed is one of them. i mean, i think i'm i think
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green is in the end the most dangerous of all human lusts. because it's so basic. where do you see it in today's society. oh gosh. i see it everywhere. see this is going to pigeon hold me. but in but in this case, i mean fox news is a classic example. you know whether you believe it or not five. fascinating thing is conservatism as i sort of understand it. is first and foremost. almost reverent about tradition it is protective. of tradition it is keenly and
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often bravely. willing to stand up for traditional values however, defined money lost it's just the opposite. it's it will it will coarsen the culture it will lower the standards. it will sensationalize and exploit any situation. no matter how crude or course or dangerous it may be ultimately to our culture and our politics to for clicks or commercial sales it's the it's the it's greed as defined. classic lust for wealth. that is the most revolutionary and in many ways the most corrosive. of the very values the very standards the very useful
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reticences that i associate with classic conservatism restraint. voluntary restraint good manners. you know the old the old notion that quite frankly when someone died if you couldn't say something nice about them then you were silent. but why name one operation fox news? and when you're talking about this and i well i and i do not i do not for a moment mean to suggest that they invented this. what the murdoch press though? what's broaden the focus? all right. the murdoch press in britain. on the one hand trumpets itself quite often as the champion of traditional values they're working class traditional values.
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the practical consequences though of eavesdropping on people on breaking down any kind of traditional respect for individual privacy? of exploiting for gain the private emotions the private pain. the private fill in the blank of people um because it will because it will sell. what's in it for me? the most dangerous words it seems to me in a democracy. so many of the media companies that you don't name. people that you're your favorite
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william paley made fortunes. off the media, but you know what selling but they also had at the best. they had a sense. in the early days of the medium that there was a public obligation. in some ways to give back because the airwaves were ostensibly public property. so you had elements that didn't draw big ratings, but were you had cbs reports. you had a mall and the night visitors, you know an opera commissioned by nbc nobody thought it would make any money now granted you could say the economics of the industry were such that they could afford. to do but cbs playhouse much of what passes for the so-called golden age of television and there are a lot of people who
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will tell you that. we're living through the golden age of television. the difference is you have to pay for it. you know. and it's as if we've reverted 60 years when television no one wants to say this. when television was brand new it had a very small audience. and and the demographics of that audience. in 1950 because people could afford television sets. and they were probably disproportionately on. these coast the democrats the demographics of that audience i probably not december to the demographics of an hbo or you know similar today in other words. commercial television has by and large been left as a mass.
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audience phenomenon quality television with great scripts and great stories and great acting has migrated. from the commercial but free arena to pay television. it's the equivalent. in a 21st century sense of the exclusive. undemocratic early days of television. i mean in other words what i'm saying is the first golden age of television. unfolded against a backdrop when television itself. was something of an elitist? instrument. it didn't really become a mass. fact for example news, i mean classically the kennedy presidency. and the years thereafter, i
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worked upon the man on the moon. i mean the 60s were the era when television became when we when television in many ways. it's the real golden age of television news because television realized the vision of the water cooler nation people sat around their sets watching the same things so that the next day they could engage in a conversation speaking the same language. and in numbers that had never been imagined before. that i would submit we've lost. and i think it's a huge loss and a real danger to to american democracy, however once they public had an opportunity.
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to watch other than three television networks, they went away very quickly. i i don't dispute that for a moment. and what i'm saying is i'm the first to acknowledge that i'm practicing a kind of many people say warped nostalgia and indeed it seems undemocratic the irony the paradox is what i'm arguing is the seemingly undemocratic. formula whereby three networks fostered a national conversation to be replaced by the cacophony. of instruments of communication and then the web where by right? all of us have access to more information than human beings have ever had in the history of the world. i totally agree with you. i totally concede the point.
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there's a the problem is something called, you know. human nature and human behavior and this instrument these instruments? that we were told would foster a common. conversation have in fact produced fragmentation cynicism as a way of life. intense destructive polarization in our politics and something else. it's funny. i just heard this this week. and i and immediately i said, that's right. i know it i got prove it. i don't have statistics but and i don't even know you know where i heard it. but it makes perfect sense someone. was talking about the distorting nature of social media. that and i'm sure people on capitol hill. you know, i mean i'm writing a book about gerald ford gerald ford.
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treated the male as if it was sacred. he spent two hours as a congressman. he's been two hours a day answering his mail. and every letter then tiny staff that had three three people when he first came to congress. and with those every letter. got answered within 24 hours if humanly possible, okay. now undoubted away. there was something distorting even then. the the nature that people cared about something enough to express an opinion or ask a favor or register protest that very emotion. sets it apart from the vast majority of people around you understandably. but it's it's a it's a phenomenon that is greatly exacerbated by the nature of
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social media which which disproportionately channels anger. and and often vicious anger it's it's when you do washington journal? and you take calls. and i don't know but i mean, you know, i've done the show number of occasions. and there are days when you get nothing, but wonderful calls and their days when having nothing to do with whatever your area of expertise maybe people riled up because of something that happened in the news the next day, but you know, you know in your gut. that this is not a representative sampling of public opinion. it's it's angry people. who care enough? to vote and to register their anger. with a call to a call-in show or
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and then again the then finally there is that element which so we sort of all know exists that that quality about the internet that permits. isolated people in isolation to give voice to the worst to the to their whatever is sour. um or rancid and why do we pay attention to it? well, most people don't. i would argue that there's a disproportionate number of people in cable tv. who do yeah, but when you have a nation of 327 to pay we never did. i didn't have to well, i don't see but but i'm not sure he would even if you know, i mean, you know, they were elitists.
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all right. once in a while, you know eliteism is a dirty word. but but the founders understood there's a reason why classic government. successful government combines elements of monarchy aristocracy and pure democracy as long as you brought it up. yeah founders the founders. let me just pose this to you. the founders didn't care about anybody but white males who only see there's the genius i always say well the real miracle in philadelphia. the real miracle the philadelphia was it 55 white men? who would not even particularly representative of their stratified society nevertheless? whatever their intentions. at the time created a system wrote.
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a document gave birth to a government that was capable. over time not because people passed a law. or somebody who to decree more often because people took to the streets. and demanded change but nevertheless you know fdr talked about a continuing revolution that since the beginning since the founding we've been engaged in a continuing mostly peaceful revolution. but you know. the notion of a country that is never become but is always in the act of becoming now someone say that's a pollyannis view of american history, but as an optimist, you know, i look at the founding and i see that as the real miracle of
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philadelphia. which also explains why the civil rights movement connected? you know in a way that it did and why? even now you know. when it's easy to despair. i like to to be more optimistic. so let me ask you some short questions about. presidents who's the smartest? person that's ever been president united states. okay. see the problem with that. is do you measure? intelligence i'm just asking you for your no. i mean there are people they're from for example political genius. a form of. smartness, you know, i'd look at lincoln. i'd look at fdr. um, i look at washington. who's never thought of as a
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political figure and that's part of his genius i would argue. iq and obviously i don't know any more than anyone else does exactly what are is is by large. it seems to me not a reliable. measure do you know your own iq? i knew what it was in the ninth grade. but what? because wonderful the woman who made high school bearable for me. we've talked about the was the librarian. her name was laura conley, and she she provided. protection and encouragement she you know the day general to go died. we had you know, we had morning in the library. we we had rallies against g
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herald curds. well, i think since he was a who was a deservedly obscure and forgotten nominee for the supreme court in 1970 by president nixon. it's not so much that she actively encouraged my interests. in an environment, that was perhaps hostile. to them she provided a refuge. and anyway she as a token of her of the the links to which he would go. we were given iq tests. in the ninth grade, god knows why because they they kept the results. they didn't hear the results. so she broke into the wow. well, wait what night broke into the room where they were kept
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and rifled the files and found. mine and and one other person who was in her her cotery. i don't think it's perfect for me to ask you what it was. although you can give it the number on it, but is it high? yeah, i was 149 which is reasonably high you could you be mensa on now? i have no idea. see don't get me started, please self-appointed talk about it wheatus, you know, there's the leaders. there's a good be a basis for leaders of and iq. i'm sorry iq doesn't make it. presidents the smartest how about the least prepare wilson john quincy adams amino? it's no great. i mean certainly in the academic sense the least prepared person to become president. and i'm not looking when necessarily for a vice president
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that automatically yeah, no, i understand. aside from the incumbent you don't think he was prepared. and i and it's not because of resume. i think it's because of temperament. and personal qualities it's it's when and again you have to define prepared. i mean i think preparation for any for any job. means that you know, you understand the culture. that getting into you have some basic ideas some criteria. of what's necessary in order to succeed? you know you have some combination of personal qualities that will will
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advance. your leadership and your agenda? you know, i mean pretty basic basic things. zachary taylor was a man. who had never voted? he was a general soldier. and a good one. and in good man and i would argue in some ways between jackson and lincoln. he was probably the most courageous of american presidents anna president at what years aging 1849 1850. he had a very short presidency died in the summer of 1850. and that gets complicated because here's where the nuance comes in. i admire zachary taylor for his courage in making it very clear
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that even though he was a southern slave owner. he would not hesitate jackson like to march into the south with as many troops as it took. to put down any attempt at breaking up the union. that's gutsy. that's brave now then the question becomes is it politically wise? taylor opposed or made it pretty clear that he opposed. what basically, what we know is the missouri compromise. taylor wanted for example to bring california. parental into the union is a free state. taylor was despite being a slaveholder. a pretty quickly disillusioned his southern supporters with the the degree of loyalty. he showed not only did the union as a concept. right. he wanted to uniform.
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defended its interests, but but his seeming disregard for many of the more extreme southern positions, okay. he died in july 1850. what happened as a result his vice president millard fillmore a man otherwise known mostly for being obscure. takes his place. no one feel more matters for one reason. millwood fillmore is willing to support the compromise of 1850 with with all of its including its dreadful fugitive slave act and why is that important? because it forstalls it buys ten years for the north. to develop its industrial mite. it's railroad system. it's warmaking capacity and also it buys 10 years for the emergence. of an obscure one term
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congressman from illinois named lincoln so you look at the long view of history. millwood fillmore who we've all written off as a the quintessential not entity. turns out well just watching history one way is what if that person had never existed. imagine american history without millwood fillmore. well at first you'd laugh and say no one would notice. it's impossible. they noticed profoundly. so i admire taylor. his moral courage and admire fillmore for his political pragmatism and you say who had the longer vision? who's the luckiest president in history?
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ronald reagan was pretty lucky. i mean ronald reagan. demonstrated put it this way. ronald reagan earned his locked runner ronald reagan demonstrated that look is is almost invariably part of a really successful presidency. that you could argue. he's very unlucky to be shot. you can actually he was lucky. to survive did you ever talk to him about being shot? i did it was. i'll never forget the the last time i saw him. it was early in 1996. this was over a year after the alzheimer's letter had been written in published. but he would continue to come up to the library. i was indirect at the reagan library in simi valley, california, and the president would come up from time to time.
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and and quite frankly, you know if you did not know. um, and i guess this is often true of patients particularly. they're always stages of the disease, you know, he seemed very much himself. a little hard of hearing um, and a little bit detached. but you know, very very you know very much involved in the conversation and and and very aware of people around him and i mean you can imagine people were up there visiting and they look over the shoulder and they saw ronald reagan. well, he was still the performer anyway, but he was storyteller. i said i mean the the way to measure the progress of ronald reagan's disease was the repertoire stories diminished. okay, so this was the staff news was probably going to be the last time. that we were together and they were they were decent enough and i'm forever grateful.
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we were going to lunch with the president. about a 10 mile ride, and they said look getting the backseat with the president. i know he'd like to talk with you. so so we're talking on the way over and you know. what? propels you to say things i don't know. i mean, i'm not sure if it happened again, i'd ask but i was curious and and i never heard anyone else ask him. so i said i hope you don't mind mr. president, but i really be. interested to know what it felt like to be shot. and you know without any pause he answers needs that describing it and i realized after a couple minutes. he was not talking about the day john hinckley the washington hilton he was talking about the movies. it was like to be shot in her own hollywood western. well, of course remember is hard of hearing. problem was resolved of a gun is
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supposedly if a gun going off, you know, very close to his ear. but anyway, that's he was. he was reliving hollywood. and i think what happened is the disease progressed. he never told a lot of wash of white house stories in my experience. he went an occasion, but what he liked to tell hollywood stories and he loved to tell dixon illinois stories and above all his favorite story was talking about his days as a lifeguard. when he saved 77 lives, you know in seven years and i've often. thought that an effect i even heard some evidence to support this that it was probably the last story. he told when all the others had. had disappeared for memory, who was the most religious not in not in appearance, but in fact from what you know well if you
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think of region as a quest. as opposed to the practice of a creed i mean so people like james garfield. we're was deeply. religious his years of president say he was only present for six months because he was assassinated. in the summer of 1881 and by the way, he's a classic illustration. of you know, never write anyone off. until recently the thought that one let alone three. first rate bestselling works on garfield would appear i think most people would have said you were crazy. and yet, you know, that's the case and it's if you know, it illustrates again, they're all of these unexplored.
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you know. always of history the gilded age i think is the period in american history. that is most neglected. i think all of those presidents who you know thomas wolfe not. tom wolfe but thomas wolfe in the 1930s the young novelist described him as the lost americans. and it's true. it's it's all these kind of post civil war generals with beards. or mutton chop was i mean? you sort of tell them apart by facial hair. but you don't really think much more and it's as if there's a wonderful line richard white's new history of the gilded age for the oxford american history series he refers to those years as fly over country for historians. well, that's that's true the president's test stop and stop
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people on the street corner and ask them to name a 1865 and 1900. religion and you name garfield. who else? well, of course woodrow wilson famously was the son of a preacher. but was he very religious himself who had did some debate over how practical? he was certainly a fervent calvinist. who believed that what he was doing see when you say religion too? there are again, i don't mean to split hairs, but for some people it's intensely personal they are walking with god. and like wilson, they tend to identify themselves with the almighty and to believe that they are doing the lord's work. if you go to plains, georgia any sunday still jimmy carter jimmy
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carter's standing the church school. yeah carter certainly among it. but but there is someone who i were all recognize. whatever people believe about organized religion. they look at president carter and they see a man who lives his faith. who practices his faith and it's a faith that is less richtek. than it is about. making the world a better place which president had the best staff. well, you know that's is it's a good question. yeah your wife because i'm saying this because it it's so counter to to conventional thinking. you know richard nixon had a really good white house staff. i mean there were some really bad people on it.
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but there are some some really. very very skillful people you look at his domestic one of the elements of revisionism. is we'll get nixon's domestic record. which is first of all much more. complete then then people think of nixon as a foreign policy president who didn't care about domestic policy and i think the truth is is very different. i would say eisenhower. head next one staff of course you're talking about it's apples and oranges because as late as the hoover administration. you know the staff. was half a dozen people. staff and the modern sense it doesn't even really begin with i mean fdr had more but again, it was a it's a fragment compared
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to to the modern white house. i mean when gerald ford became president there were over 500 people. we're on the white house staff and they may have been that may have been the last administration that made a deliberate effort to downsize. the white house staff and of course what they found was they needed all those people. who in your opinion was the best speaker? by the way, also it's a reagan it excellent staff the reagan. kim baker you know chiefs of staff. i mean, it's tough to to top. baker but anyway, i'm sorry you were who's the best speaker in history the president? well again the thing you need to keep in mind is. for most of our history speaking or something you read in the newspaper the next day so the question of if you mean
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speaking, for example, jefferson's words are immortal. and we quote them. but jefferson himself. was a terrible by all accounts a terrible public speaker whose voice did not carry beyond the second row. in fact, the reason we didn't have the state of the union address for 100 years. washington and adams both delivered the annual address in person even though washington didn't like public speaking. it stopped with jefferson. ostensibly because he thought it was too it smacked of royalist trappings. but there's a school of thought that it's really because jefferson was a very inadequate public speaker, and it was woodrow wilson who was a natural platform orator. and a great student of british parliamentary politics. he gladstone was his hero. i think wilson was was without a doubt one of the best.
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public speakers if you want to read a brilliant speech the best presidential speech since the gettysburg address or the second inaugural of lincoln is wilson's speech asking congress for decoration of war in april. 1917 it's it's just gorgeous. he's not going dresses all also among the richard nixon. when he was elected. a sat down red every presidential in our address and he was particularly taken. i mean some of them we know the roosevelt. roosevelt's forest and second and i will address obviously the kennedy and i go address. but wilson's was the one that really jumped off the page at him. when you look in you've been talking history and presidential history all your life. what are the myths that exist in your opinion?
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about presidents that you would knock down if you ever wrote a book about him. i guess i would approach that. i remember american heritage used to do. a feature on the on the most overrated and underrated presidents and that too is is going to be in some ways seasonal. it's going to reflect changing attitudes and tastes. i mean for most of the 20th century. the roosevelt model tr and fdr was seen as that's what that's what it successful president was, you know presidents occupying the boy pulpit determining the national agenda. overall in congress monopolizing the media lending their name to an age, you know great swashbuckling figures. and then along came fred
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greenstein and princeton writing about the hidden hand leadership of dwight eisenhower, which was the opposite of the theatrical. stage center president of avalatharsinger for example and then came ronald reagan who? combine some elements of both. who clearly had the theatrical? centralism if you will of the roosevelts. who had an agenda? who had unique communications abilities the abilities to to persuade we carry truman said is the main job of the modern presidency, but for for a small government. decentralized reversal of the new deal in a very real sense so, so anyway, the reason i mentioned all that is there are
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there are multiple schools of thought about what makes for a successful president and at times they they into stereotypes and caricatures. how do you measure? when nick johnson hugely important in the history of civil rights a president maybe a uniquely so more than fdr. who insisted the american people? had the wealth and the moral obligation to care about the poor in their midst i mean a president. was willing in some ways to shame us. and yet a president who fritted away his moral authority by the
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way, he wasn't honest. with us about vietnam i mean, how do you you know, how do you label? a president like that. and how long does it take before you can put all of that? duality complexity contradictions, it is some kind of historical perspective. what do you measure that against? johnson went himself to stereotype. johnson suffered i think because he thought he was being stereotyped condescended to as you know, the southern. corn pone figure johnson's insecurities which are not a stereotype?
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which i think in some ways. are one key toward understanding. him and yet they existed with very real ideals. real idealism i mean all you can tell is these are shakespearean figure. not many american presidents rise to that. to that level and i mean rise to that level in terms of significance complexity. the difficulty they present in defining them in knowing them. and even understanding, you know their priorities which president do you? most enjoy being asked to talk about or write about well, it's a good question. coolidge is great fun. for many reasons first of all
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because he is so much more than the stereotype. coolidge fostered the stereotype silent cal you know the pink penny from monterey. which if you stop to think about it was politically very shrewd. in the 1920s a period of excess a period of financial and other excess coolidge was the countervailing. you know millions of people who had no intention of living in a farmhouse without electricity or running water felt vicariously virtuous. because they had a president who did. and that then leads to it's the mystery. it's the unsolved. elements of these stories. i mean every president has things about him that you know, we don't really know enough about everyone has easy sort of
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stereotypical components. i mean, it's it's getting behind the one and knowing the other washington is is an inexhaustible. resource in that sense washington is so many stereotypes. they began when he was still alive. we needed a mythical, washington. we embalmed him while he was still alive because we had nothing. the constitution was a scrap of parchment. we had nothing to bond us except. the kind of heroic example of washington the problem with that was we went too far and we turned him into a deity. a demigod and that we've robbed him. we robbed his life of the drama of growth of evolution of from this callow young man who wanted very conventional forms of success to this genuinely heroic
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self-sacrificing figure who literally you know measured up. to the to the figure on on horseback. every president to varying degrees goes through that. process it seems to me. teddy roosevelt, you know i have such. mixed feelings is part of me that just wants to join the crowd and enjoy. dr. um when he died a policeman said to his sister, he said, oh, i think her name was quinn robinson old mr. robinson. it was the fun of him. you know the fun of being led by him. i mean not many presidents inspired that. kind of reaction. there are presents.
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we admire. there are presents we look up to. but there very few presidents who engender engender a sense of joy. and i remember it. and that's why i think tr is the most vivid. of our presidents a hundred years later. we're still selling. maxwell house coffee with his line about good to the last drop. i mean, he's still the and what i mean, of course it's it's the you know. what remains what's vivid is the surface? you know the caricature. it's it's the figure from arsenic and old waste. charging up the stairs, you know imagining. he's teddy roosevelt the slightly mad. you know. yeah, it's the colorful. it's the entertaining. it's a man who gave us the teddy bear. i mean, you know.
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thank god for edmund morris. who rescued? the real tr the subtle sometimes melancholy. very shrewd rather self-absorbed figure in those three brilliant volumes, i mean if you want a model presidential biography, there it is. if you were to write a book about presidents. knowing whether supposed to individual. yeah and about the presidency. would you approach it? given what we've talked about the audience in mind your own career in mind. how would you make it different? well, i mean, i wouldn't think much about my own career. i think what i would the first of all you have to take you have
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to be. cognizant of realities if you want to reach if you want to be commercially published. so then the question becomes, okay. what i'm writing has to have some relevance. it has to speak to a contemporary audience. you have to find a formula a structure of theme. what would be your things it would be your thing? it depends on when you write it if our writing it now. i think it would be. a reminder that it isn't your grandfather's presidency anymore. that generations were brought up to believe that what i call the author's westinger model of the presidency the rooseveltian model of the president father of the son but tr fdr about well, i
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was thinking about arthur schlesinger. sometimes you junior. yeah. who conducted several surveys of historians which in turn kind of shaped the criteria? i mean, all you need to know is that in the first survey after he left the white house the question to survey. eisenhower ranked below chester arthur he was i think number 22 at a time when there were a lot fewer presidents than there are now, okay. in the most recent c-span survey as an hour ranked fifth. now i'm not it's not to say one is right and one is wrong. but there's a discernible trend there. and you know in the larger sets why? why is eisenhower ranked his eyes he is well. that then leads to the fact that
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there are alternatives to the author sourcinger of presidential success. it's it's a mistake. i think say one is liberal and one is conservative. but broadly speaking one is activist. and and and president centric and washington centric and the other for lack of a better word might be thought to be more jeffersonian. more limited and it's approach to government more decentralized. in other words the new deal and the centralization of authority in washington and particularly in the executive. is reversible and you know you could argue that much of the last 50 years. is an attempt to do to do just
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