Skip to main content

tv   Conversations with American Historians Richard Norton Smith - Part 5  CSPAN  April 12, 2022 7:24pm-8:26pm EDT

7:24 pm
but given american history tv. she spent sat down with him for nearly eight hours to get his insights on american history, popular culture, good books, and more. and up next, part five of that conversation, which focuses on the year 1968, television, and ronald reagan. >> you have always been a big fan of anniversaries. >> well, i guess in historian would welcome the opportunity to remind people that there is
7:25 pm
a past. >> 68. we are 50 years beyond 1968. >> yeah. >> why are you interested in 68? >> well, you know, we're about to embark upon all sorts of commemorations, mostly for commercial reasons. you know. we'll see lots of familiar television clips, lots of celebrations of television by television. and that's not what i'm interested in. the fact is, first of all, the people who lived through it and were sentient enough to appreciate the revolutionary history that they were living, there's a natural human tendency, 50 years later, to reflect on those events.
7:26 pm
to rethink conclusions that you might have made at the time, to measure their significance of what you thought was their significance against, you know, intervening events, to see what, if anything, about them is directly relevant to, or foreshadowing now. i mean, then and now it's in 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 know a lot more know about that campaign and about the campaign generally. i think, i think the wallace candidacy, in 1968, third-party, southern, you know, unabashedly
7:27 pm
racist campaign, turns out not to be an aberration, not to be a freak show, that was the exclusive creation of one man, governor of alabama, who, you know, for whatever reason struck a particular court at a particular time. in other words, i 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 at the emotions that he tapped into, and their relevance, the direct relevance to our subsequent history. and i would argue, contemporary history. i mean, i think there are some real -- all too familiar
7:28 pm
elements in wallace's appeal, and even in wallace's style. but more important, again, i don't want to, the question about what i'm worried 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 why i think by initial sense of history in some ways developed. and now remember tom jarriel on abc, it was a bulletin in the news came that dr. king had been shot in memphis. and it's strange.
7:29 pm
and we talked about this before. i mean, i have a very keen awareness know, 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 march on washington. and i remember the pictures from birmingham. and there was this 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 identified strongly with king and what he was trying to do. and you know, i had this obviously very childish, but emerging appreciation of at
7:30 pm
least how important history was when. >> he was shot, you were nine? >> no, no. living in birmingham in 63, so, but i was 14. >> and you are in high school? >> and i, certainly at least knew that this was a major historical event. >> what about bobby kennedy? same deal? >> yeah, of course, which followed just two months later. then of course, you know that's the thing about 68. any one of these individual events could stand out, 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 cannot imagine.
7:31 pm
it was certainly not seen before. mccarthy-ism in post challenges, but this was, top to bottom. >> what about vietnam? >> and that was inseparable. that's the thing, all of this got caught up. this great dreadful stew of illegitimacy and popular unrest 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 it. and that gets to, 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
7:32 pm
democracy. and above all, the long term consequences of dispensing with factual truth, measurable truth, as the standard by which a democracy decides. and it becomes, particularly as you get older as well, i think as you get older you become prey to ... it's a strange kind of nostalgia a virulent kind of nostalgia. things were better than. it does not necessarily hold. but it implies that things are more vulnerable now. that, you know [laughs] i have a school of thought which is uniquely my own, i
7:33 pm
guess. i'm convinced it's nature's way of making all of us more or less accepting aging and the process we all read about people who are comfortable with, indeed enamored of, the change that is going on around them. they are ahead of every trend they welcome every technological advance. all of that i'm just the opposite. and i'm convinced that there is an element, it's not articulated very well, and i'm afraid i can't articulated very well, but i think one becomes so alienated from the prevailing culture, which seems the opposite of humanistic.
7:34 pm
a culture who 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 greet you having 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 don't think greed is one of them.
7:35 pm
i think greed is, in the end, the most dangerous of all human lists. because it's so basic. >> where do you see it in today's society? >> oh gosh. i see it everywhere. this is going to pigeonhole me, but in this case i mean, fox news is a classic example whether you believe or not fine, but the fascinating thing is conservatism, as i sort of understand it, is first and foremost almost reverent about tradition. it is protective of tradition.
7:36 pm
it is keenly, and often bravely, willing to stand up for traditional values, however defined. money lost is just the opposite it will course and the culture, it will lower the standards, it will sensationalized and exploit any situation, no matter how crude or course, or dangerous it may be ultimately to our culture and our politics, for clicks or commercial sales. greed as defined as a classic lustful wealth, that is the most revolutionary, and in many ways, the most corrosive of the very values, the very standards,
7:37 pm
the very -- useful reticences associated with classic conservatism. restraint, voluntary restraint. good manners. you know, the old notion that, quite frankly, when someone died, if you cannot say something nice about them, then you were silent >> why name one operation, fox news, when talking about this? >> i do not for a moment need to suggest that they invented this. the murdoch press though, let's keep the focus. the murdoch press in britain. on the one hand, it trumpets itself quite often as the champion of traditional values. working class traditional values.
7:38 pm
the practical consequences though of eavesdropping on people, on breaking down any kind of traditional respect for individual privacy. of exploiting, for game, the private emotions, the private pain, the private fill in the blanks, people. -- of people. because it will sell. because it will sell. what's in it for me? those are the most dangerous words, it seems to me, in a democracy. >> but so many of the media companies that you do not name,
7:39 pm
your favorite, william paley, made fortunes off the media. >> but you know what? >> selling -- >> but they also had, at their best, a sense, in the early days, of the medium. that there was a public obligation, in some ways, to give back. because her waves were ostensibly public property. so you had elements that did not draw big ratings. you had cbs reports. you have that a mall and the night visitors. a opera commissioned by nbc. granted, you could say the economics of the industry was such that they could afford to do it, but cbs playhouse, much
7:40 pm
of what passes for the old age of television, and there are a lot of people who will tell you that we are living through the golden age of television. the difference is you have to pay for it. it's as if we have reverted 60 years. no one wants to say this, when television was brand-new it had a very small audience. and the demographics of that audience in 1950, because people could afford television sets, and they will probably disproportionately on the east coast, the demographics of that audience are probably not dissimilar to the demographics of an hbo, where they are similar today. in other words, commercial television has by and large
7:41 pm
been left as a mass 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 is the equivalent in a 21st century sense of the seclusive, undemocratic, early days of television. in other words, what i'm saying is the first golden age of television unfolded against the backdrop when television itself was something of an elitist instrument. it did not really become a mass, for example in news, classically the kennedy
7:42 pm
presidency, and the years thereafter, the man on the moon, 60s riviera when television, in many ways, it's the real golden age of television news because television realized vision of the watercooler nation. people set around their sets watching the same things so that the next day they could engage in a conversation speaking the same language. in numbers that had never been imagined before. that, i would submit, we have lost. and i think it's a huge loss and a real danger me to american democracy. >> however, once the public had
7:43 pm
an opportunity to watch other than through television that works, they went away very quickly. >> i don't dispute that for a moment. and what i'm saying is i am the first to acknowledge that i'm a practicing kind of, many people would 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 three networks fostered a national conversation, to be replaced by the cacophony of instruments of communication, and then the web where, by rights, all of us have access to more information than human beings i've ever had in history of the world. i totally agree with you i
7:44 pm
totally can see the point. the problem is something called human nature and human behavior. this instrument, these instruments that we were told would foster a common conversation have, in fact, produced fragmentation, cynicism as a way of life, in catch destructive polarization in our politics, and something else. i heard this this week, and i immediately said that's right, i know it. i can't prove it, i don't have statistics, and i don't even know where i heard it, but it makes perfect sense. some was talking about the distorting nature of social media. i'm sure people on capitol hill,
7:45 pm
i mean, i'm writing a book on gerald ford. gerald ford treated the mail as if it was sacred. he spent two hours, as a congressman, he spent two hours a day answering his mail. at every letter, they had tiny staff, three people when he first came to congress, and every letter got answered within 24 hours if you mentally possible. now, undoubtedly there was something distorted even then. the nature that people carried something enough to express an opinion or ask a favor register a protest, that for a motion sets it apart from the vast majority of people around you. understandably but it's a phenomenon that is greatly exacerbated by the nature of
7:46 pm
social media. which disproportionately channels anger. and often it's vicious anger. when you do washington journal and taken. i've done the show on a number of occasions, and there are days when you get nothing but wonderful calls. there are days, having nothing to do with what's your area of expertise maybe, people are riled up because of something that happened in the news the next day. but you know in your gut that this is not a representative sampling of public opinion. it's angry people who care enough to vote and to register their anger they call to a call
7:47 pm
in show. and then finally, there is that element that we sort of know exists, that quality about the internet that permits isolated people, in isolation, to give voice to whatever is sour or rancid. why do we pay attention to it? >> most people don't. >> i would argue there is a disproportionate number of people with cable tv who do. >> yeah, but when you have a nation of 300 plus million. >> and we [inaudible] it. >> did not have to.
7:48 pm
>> sure. i mean, they were elitists, all right? once in a while, you know, elitism is a dirty word. but the founders understood there is a reason why classic government, successful cohen -- government, combines elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and pure democracy. >> as long as you brought it up. >> [laughs] >> the founders. let me pose this to you. the founders did not care about anybody but white males who owned property. >> there is the genius. the real miracle in philadelphia? the real miracle in philadelphia was that 55 white men, who are not even particularly representative of their stratified society, nevertheless, whatever their intentions at the time, created
7:49 pm
a system. they wrote a document. they gave birth to a government that was capable, overtime, not because people passed a law, more often because people took to the streets and demanded change. but nevertheless, you know, fdr talked about it continuing revolution. that since the beginning, since the founding, we have been engaged in a continuing, mostly peaceful, revolution. the notion of a country that has never become, but who is always in the act of becoming. someone says that's a [inaudible] view of american history. but is an optimist, i look at
7:50 pm
the founding and see that as the real miracle of philadelphia. it also explains why the civil rights movement connected in the way that it did, and why even now, when it's easy to despair, i like to be more optimistic. >> so let me ask you some short questions about the presidents. who's the smartest person that has ever been president of the united states? >> okay. now the problem with that is how do you measure intelligence? >> i'm just asking you. >> for example, political genius is a form of intelligence. i would look at lincoln, at fdr,
7:51 pm
i look at washington actually, who's never thought of as a political figure, and that's part of his genius i would argue. like you, and obviously i don't know anymore than anyone else does with they are, is by and large it seems to me not a reliable measure. >> do you know your own iq? >> i knew what it was in the ninth grade. [laughs] the woman who made high school bearable for me, we've talked about the librarian, her name is laura conley. she provided protection and encouragement. the day general de gaulle died we had morning in the library. we had rallies against g harold
7:52 pm
kerr as well. >> who was? >> who was a deservedly obscure and forgotten nominee for the supreme in 1970, by president nixon. it's not so much that she actively encouraged my interest. in an environment that was perhaps hostile to them. she provided a refuge. anyway, the lengths to which she would go, we were given iq tests in the ninth grade, and god knows why because they kept the results. she had the results. so she broke into the room
7:53 pm
where they were kept like one night and rifled through the files and found mine. and one other person who was in her coterie. >> it's not fair for me to ask you what it was. i will even give it a -- don't give a number, but is it high? >> it was 149. which is reasonably high. >> could you be mensa with that? >> don't get me started. i don't know. please, these self appointed, talk about elitists. there's got to be a basis for elitism, and iq doesn't make it. i'm sorry. >> presidents. how about the least prepared? >> woodrow wilson. john quincy adams. i mean, you know, certainly in the academic sense. >> the least prepared person to become president? and i'm not looking necessarily
7:54 pm
for a vice president, or automatic -- >> yeah, i understand. aside from the incumbent? >> you don't think he was prepared? >> no. and it's not because of resume i think it's because of temperament and personal qualities. >> who else? >> and again, you have to define preparation here. preparation i think for any job means that you understand the culture that you are getting into. you have some basic ideas, some criteria, of what is necessary in order to succeed. you have some combination of personal qualities that will
7:55 pm
advance your leadership and your agenda. i mean, pretty basic things. anne -- zachary taylor was a man who had never voted. he was a soldier, and a good one, and a good man. i would argue, in some ways, between jackson and lincoln, he was probably the most courageous of american presidents. >> what years? >> 1849 to 1850. he had a short presidency. he died in the summer of 1850. and that gets complicated. here is where the nuance comes in. i admire zachary taylor for his
7:56 pm
courage, and making it very clear 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, the question becomes, but is it politically wise? taylor opposed, or made it pretty clear, that he opposed what we know basically as the missouri compromise. for example, taylor wanted to bring california into the union as a free state. taylor was, despite being a slave holder, pretty quickly disillusioned his southern supporters with the degree of loyalty he showed, not only to the union as a concept, after all he wanted to unify.
7:57 pm
he defended its interests. but his seeming disregard for many of the more extreme southern positions. he died in july 1850. what happened as a result is vice president miller gilmore, a man otherwise known mostly as being obscure, takes his place. phil more matter for one reason. millard filmore is willing to support the compromise of 1850. including it's dreadful future [inaudible] slave act. why is that important? because it stalls, it buys ten years for the north to develop its industrial might, it's railroad system, its were making capacity. and also, it buys ten years for
7:58 pm
the emergence of an obscure one term congressman from illinois named lincoln. so you look at the long view of history. millard fillmore, who we have all written off as the quintessential nonentity, turns out -- one way to look at history is, what if that person had never existed? imagine american history without millard fillmore. well first, you would laugh and say no one would notice. it's possible that they would notice profoundly. so i admire taylor for his moral courage. and i admire millard fillmore for his political pragmatism. and you can, say who had a longer vision? >> it was the luckiest president in history?
7:59 pm
>> [laughs] ronald reagan was pretty lucky. i mean, ronald reagan demonstrated, let's put it this way, ronald reagan earned his luck. he demonstrated that look is almost invariably part of a really successful presidency. you could argue he was very unlucky to be shot. you could argue he was lucky to survive. >> did you ever talk to him about being shot? >> i did. i will never forget the last time i saw him. it was early in 1996. this was over a year after the alzheimer's letter had be written -- had been written and published. but he would continue to come up, i was director at the reagan library and simi valley, california.
8:00 pm
the president would come up from time to time, and quite frankly, you know, if you did not know, and i guess this is often true of patients, particularly in the early stagesly in stages of the disease. he seemed pretty much himself. little hard of hearing. sometimes a little bit detached. but, you know, very, you know, very much involved in the conversation and very aware of people around him. and you could imagine people were up there visiting and they saw ronald reagan. he was still the performer. but he was a story teller. the way to measure the progress of ronald reagan's disease was the stories to vanish. so, this was the staff knew this would probably be the last time we were together and they were
8:01 pm
decent enough and i'm forever grateful. we were going to lunch with the president and it was about a ten-mile ride. get in the back seat with the president i know he'd like to talk to you. we're talking on the way over and, you know, what propels you to say things, i don't know. i'm not sure if it happened again i would ask, but i was curious and i never heard anyone else ask him so i said, i hope you don't mind, mr. president, but i'd really be interested to know what it felt like to be shot. and, you know, without any pause he answers and he's describing it and i realized after a couple minutes he was not talking about the day john hinckley shot him outside the washington hilton, he was talking about the movies and what it is like to be shot in a hollywood western. of course, you remember, his hard of hearing problem was the
8:02 pm
result was supposedly a result of a gun going off close to his ear. he was reliving hollywood. and i think what happened is that as the disease progressed, he never told a lot of white house stories. at least in my experience. he liked to tell hollywood stories and above all his favorite story was talking about his phase as a life guard when he saved 77 lives in seven years. and i'm often thought i heard some evidence to support this that it was probably the last story he told when all the others had disappeared from memory. >> who was the most religious, not in appearance, but in fact from what you know?
8:03 pm
>> if you think of it as a quest as opposed to the practice of a creed. i mean, certainly people like james garfield were deeply religious. >> his years of president. >> he was already president for six months. of course, 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 yet alone three first-rate, best selling works on garfield would appear. i think most people would have said you were crazy. and yet, you know, that's the case. you know, it illustrates, again,
8:04 pm
there's all of these unexplored hallways of history. i think it's a period in american history that is most neglected. i think all of those presidents who thomas wolf, not tom wolf but thomas wolf in the 1930s the young novelist described him as the lost americans. and it's true. it's all these kind of post-civil war generals with beards and you sort of tell them apart by facial hair but you don't really think much more. and it's as if there is a wonderful line richard and he refer to those years as fly over country for historians.
8:05 pm
that's true. the president's test stop people on the street corner and ask them to name a president between 1865 and 1900. >> religion. you named garfield. who else? >> woodrow wilson famously was the son of a preacher. >> but was he very religious? >> some debate over how practical. he was certainly a fervent calvinist who believed that what he was doing -- see when you say religion, too, again, i don't mean to split but for some people it is 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,
8:06 pm
any sunday still jimmy carter -- >> carter certainly among -- but there is someone who i think we would 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 a less ritualistic than it is about making the world a better place. >> which president had the best staff? >> well, you know, it's a good question. a lot. it's so conventional thinking. you know, richard nixon had a really good white house staff. i mean, there were some really
8:07 pm
bad people on it. but there were also some really very, very skillful people. one of the elements of revision is looking at nixon's domestic record which is, first of all, much more complete than -- people think of nixon as a foreign policy president who didn't care about domestic policy. and i think the truth is it's very different. i would say eisenhower had excellent 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. the staff in the modern sense doesn't even really begin. fdr had more but, again, it's a
8:08 pm
fragment compared to the model white house. i mean when ford became president there were over 500 people who were on the white house staff. that may have been the last administration that made a deliberate effort to down size the white house staff. and, of course, what they found was they needed all those people. >> who in your opinion was the best speaker? >> i would say reagan had excellent staff but jim baker. and chiefs of staff, i mean, it's tough to top baker. but, i'm sorry -- >> who is the best speaker in history of a president? >> again, the thing you need to keep in mind is for most of our history, speaking was something read in the newspaper the next
8:09 pm
day. so, it's a question of if you mean 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 a state of a union address for over 100 years washington and adams both delivered the annual address in person even though washington didn't like public speaking. it stopped with jefferson because he thought it was too, royalest trappings but a school of thought it was really because jefferson was a very inadequate public speaker. and it was woodrow wilson who was an actual platform auditor and a great student of british parliamentary politics. i think wilson was without a doubt one of the best public
8:10 pm
speakers. if you want to read a brilliant speech, the best presidential speech since the gettysburg address or second inaugeral of wilson is speak asking congress for declaration of war in april 1917. it's just gorgeous. his inaugural address is also among them. richard nixon when he was elected sat down and read every presidential inaugural address. some of them we know, roosevelt. roosevelt's first and second and address and the kennedy inaugural address. but wilson's was the one that really jumped off the page at him. >> when you look and you've been talking history and presidential history all your life, what are
8:11 pm
the myths that exist in your opinion about presidents that you would knock down if you ever wrote a book about them? >> i guess i would approach that american heritage used to do a feature on the most overrated and underrated presidents. and that, too, 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, fdr was seen as that's what a successful president was. presidents occupied the bully pulpit and determining the national agenda and overall in congress and monopolizing the media, lending their name to an
8:12 pm
age. you know, great figures and then along came fred which was the opposite of the theatrical stage and then came ronald reagan who combined some elements of both the theatrical of the rose velts who had an agenda and had unique communications abilities and the abilities to persuade which harry truman said is the main job of the modern presidency. but for a small government, decentralized reversal of the new deal in a very real sense. so, anyway, the reason i mention
8:13 pm
all that is there are multiple schools of thought about what makes for a successful president and at times they morph into stereotypes and caricatures. how do you measure with lyndon johnson. hugely important in the history of civil rights. a president maybe uniquely, maybe 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 who was willing in some ways to shame them and yet a president who his
8:14 pm
moral authority by the way he wasn't honest about vietnam. how do you label a president like that? and how long does it take before you can put all of that duality, complexity, contradictions into some kind of historical perspective. what do you measure that against? johnson led himself to stereotype. johnson suffered i think because he thought he was being stereotyped, condescending, too, as the figure. johnson's insecurities, which
8:15 pm
are not a stereotype, which i think in some ways are one key toward understanding him. and yet they existed with very real ideals, real idealism. and all you can see he is a shakespearean figure. not many american presidents rise to that level. and i mean rise to that level. in terms of significance, complexity. the difficulty in defining them, knowing them. even understanding their priorities. >> which president do you most enjoy being asked to talk about or write about? >> good question. coolidge is great fun for many reasons.
8:16 pm
he is so much more of the stereotype. he fostered the stereotype. you know, the peach penny which if you stop to think about it was politically very shrewd in the 1920s. a period of excess and a period of financial and other excess. coolidge was the counterveiling. millions of people who had no intention of living in a farmhouse without electricity or running water felt 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 we don't really know enough about.
8:17 pm
everyone has sort of easy stereotypical components. i mean, it's getting behind the. washington 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 embalmbed him while he was still alive because we had nothing, the constitution was a scratch and 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 demy god and then we robbed him. we robbed his life of the drama of growth and evolution from this coward young man who wanted very conventional forms of
8:18 pm
success to this genuinely heroic, self-sacrificing figure who literally, you know, measured up to the figure on horseback. every president to varying degrees goes through that process. it seems to me. teddy roosevelt, you know, have such mixed feelings. there's part of me that just wants to join the crowd and enjoy t.r. when he died, a policeman said to his sister, he said, oh, i think name was robinson, oh, ms. robinson, it was the fun of him. the fun of being led by him.
8:19 pm
not many presidents inspired that kind of reaction. there are presidents we admire and there are presidents we look up to. but there are very few presidents who engender a sense of joy in our remembrance. that's why i think t.r. is the most vivid of our presidents. 100 years later. we're still selling maxwell house coffee with his line about good to the last drop. i mean, he still -- what i mean, of course, is it's the what remains and what's vivid is the surface. you know, the caricature. charging up the stairs or imagining he's teddy roosevelt. the slightly mad, you know -- it's the colorful. the entertaining. i mean, you know, thank god for
8:20 pm
edmund morris who rescued the real t.r., the subtle, sometimes melancholy, very shrewd, rather self-absorbed figure in those three brilliant volumes. if you want a model presidential biography, there it is. >> if you were to write a book about presidents -- >> as opposed to individually? >> about the presidency. how would you approach it given what we talked about. the audience in mind, your own career in mind. how would you make it different? >> well, i wouldn't think much about my own career. i think what i would have
8:21 pm
done -- first of all, you have to take. you have to be cognizant of realities. if you want to reach, if you want to be commercially published so then the question becomes 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, a theme. >> what would be your theme? >> it depends on when you write it. if i were writing it now, i think it would be a reminder that it isn't your grandfather's presidency any more. that generations were brought up to believe that when i call the sclesheninger model of the presidency --
8:22 pm
>> the father or the son? >> t.r. or fdr, both. >> arnold sleshen gr jr. >> shaped the criteria. i mean all you need to know is that in the first survey after he left the white house, and the most recent c-span survey eisenhower ranked fifth. now, i'm not not to say one is right and one is wrong, but there's a discernible trend there. and, you know, and why, why is eisenhower ranked as high as he is? well that then leads to the fact
8:23 pm
that there are alternatives to the adam schlesinger model. one is activist and president centric. and washington centric. and the other, for lack of a better word, might be thought to be more jeffersonian, more limited in his approach to government and more decentralized. in other words, the new deal and the centralization of authority in washington and particularly the executive is reversible. and
8:24 pm
8:25 pm
talk show host jack parr. put these in perspective from your the way you loo


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on