tv Conversations with American Historians Douglas Brinkley - Part 5 CSPAN May 31, 2022 7:00am-8:01am EDT
what in the world has happened to johnny depp? i don't know alcohol probably drugs bad divorce case, you know, it's a i worry about him ben. you know that his he's hit a hit apart, but he keeps acting and keeps going but i'm not in regular touch with him anymore, but he's how well i know him very well. you write a book with him. no, are we edited a book on witty guthrie together? we found a long lost manuscript of woody guthrie. and we called the house of earth. and it was a bit of a literary find and actually i found it, but we were trying to get money for the guthrie's music for kids for after school music programs. so johnny's involvement with it
allowed my publisher harper collins to put some money into it and went to this school fund and the bookcare number 10 on the best seller list of for fiction in the new york times when he got through he's been dead forever. so it had a little bit of a nice run. i wrote a cover story of depth for vanity fair where i'm attributing editor. we went on a boat from porter now we went from what we went to puerto rico, but we left the bahamas to puerto rico and i rode along. along essay about them i once did a story a cover story on them for george magazine if you remember that so i've known him over a period of time but his mother died in this divorce that he got in with the amber heard. it's just gone. he's you know swimming her ex-wife and it's just spiraled to the point of tabloid beyond
tabloid speculation. i had somebody call me maybe a week ago. and it was a look like a normal number for some reason a blind call. i took it in with somebody trying to do a documentary on their thing. i just kind of sorry. bye, you know, but you know, here's a quote from johnny depp me. i'm dishonest and you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. it's the honest ones you have to watch out for. yeah, there's a line of he there there's a line of dylan. it's that you who live outside the law must be honest. and i think on that quote it sounds like he's he's riffing on that. that was a sentiment of people like jean janae a great french writer and some of the depths very influenced by that kind of
outlaw. an outlaw tradition, you know, they're all billy the kids, you know hunter used to call himself believe the kid, you know that they're they're operating out and an outlaw situation, but i think that's what he's riffing on there one other quote. we're all damaged and our own way. nobody's perfect. i think we're all somewhat screwy every single one of us johnny depp. well that may be true. you know, jeff had a a bad abusive father and he grew up in kentucky and then florida and his mother was a waitress and tried to raise them and he got into a band called the kids. and became famous and he was unbelievably handsome and became a matinee idol when they still existed and just did a series of
incredible films that got people just adored i so many you can't tell i mean the pirates of caribbean with him as jack sparrow where the biggest raking money movies of all time. but you know, there's an old adage japanese adage the nail that stands the tallest gets hammered down. and he got pretty tall. in his divorce case came right when the me too world was coming up and you know and then his a partying, you know it catches up with you unless you you know life so got a long haul. and so he's in transition right now and i have to see how he how he deals with the but he made some of the most memorable movies of our time. i mean edward scissorhands or you know, willy wonka. yeah. okay caribbean caribbeans. i mean, these are films that
people watch and watch and watch and watching every year. he would win the people's favorite award, you know when academy awards for best actor, but the people picked his movies his number one so he is a very very large fan base, but he hit the kind of skids. the last few years is in legal entanglements, and i hope he pulls through he's his solicit. he's been doing a lot of rock and music recording with people in the rock and roll world where they have a band any place and it the hollywood vampires and it have people ranging, you know for alice cooper and steven tyler of aerosmith and people in the band and that sort of his family at this point. his kids are grown and doing well and and acting and and he's just come till you when you go through these divorce settlements at that level. you know, he's got i think another case coming in, virginia
soon. why did you write a profile on evil knievel? he will knievel. i actually have to give great and carter. so great and carter the editor at vanity fair. invited me to lunch and said i want you to make a list of 10 people to profile. so anybody listening to us can make their their list? and i did. and at the number 10 was evil knievel who i saw once jump at kings canyon when i was had over at an amusement park and in near cincinnati, and he i couldn't believe that he was still alive. like i was just vaguely, you know once in a while you get somebody like wow evil knievel bob knievel was what has happened to him what has happened to daredevil and winter? and so it was on my list and that's the one grain gravitated
towards i was trying to get a bigger profile with somebody, you know other people, but he thought that was a good idea. so i found myself going down to florida and saint petersburg, sarasota. he was and i went and hung out with them and spent time and wrote the profile of them. he was piece of work, you know, the only thing i'll tell you brian is that he grew up in butte, montana. and his early money. he made us a kid was they had a live cougar in? anna in a pit and they would take a bicycle and he'd ride over the cougar and kids would give him money and then he went out and started it, you know once you do a stunt like that, then people wanted more we'll do it further and and he got that started with motorcycles and became a great motorcycleist and then started making money as a daredevil.
and particularly caesar's palace in las vegas had him do this extraordinary unbelievable jump over the fountains. and this was a day without protective helmets and equipment and he like broke every bone in his body. i mean he was spotting he was shattered and yet he came back and he kept doing these stunts and stunts and stunts. so at my age again when i grew up evil knievel was pretty well known sports figure he kind of created. stream sports mentioning muhammad. ali is going to be a ken burns. ken's not going to do evil knievel. but he's seen his too much of a off figure or whatever but knievel and his day was attracting massive sports audiences on abc and when i saw him he was born again christian
living with his wife. it was younger than him very nice person. and you know, he was eating a lollipop like a morphine lollipop that looked like something you get as sugar candy or whatever, you know type of thing. and he broke i'm not exaggerating. he like broke every bone in his body had liver transplant. it was and yet the spirit was there and it was a very wolverine like old pioneer spirit that you don't see any more he came he was like that part of butte up there where the winters and the mining and the he was like you wanted to see what real western like gold rush in the uconn or something's like he he was a remnant. from all of that living now in florida, and i the one thing that i remember the most is at
one point. he said i want to show you something. and he went over in his bedroom and he pulled open his drawer and he opened up an envelope and it was a hundred thousand dollars of travelers checks, and he said every man needs a hundred thousand dollars. you can always survive if you can leave. with a hundred thousand dollars and then his hero is harry truman. and he hated hollywood and despised actors. he was very conservative born again christian, but really because he said i liked people that do stuff and you know, but it was then the humor was evel knievel telling me these kids today. they call it jumping, you know, the my day we didn't have these kind of helmets fancy. they my elbows weren't protected like, you know, and it's just like what talking to somebody out of um, you know a distant
past and any passed away not that long after 207. yeah, and i i was kind to him in my writing i didn't there are a lot of opportunities not to be but in the end, he's a guy who's regularly visiting the doctor all these broken bones pain medicine praying to god on he joined evangelical church and you know me just after all of it people have been talking the culture people. that i don't know that this means anything dylan bob from hibbing, minnesota. johnny depp from owensboro, kentucky hunter thompson from louisville, kentucky carouac from lowell, massachusetts chuck berry from st. louis and knievel from brute montana say anything any yeah. it's a it might be that i wasn't part of a new york kind of the intelligentsia.
i was out there in public schools in america eating at seven elevens and you know land grant universities those all were figures that were very popular in america, but probably weren't aren't given the respect by critical community perhaps as much as as they could, but i don't know. i mean i those are just some of the cultural people i've written about, you know, there are a lot of people i like i just didn't get that opportunity either. i didn't get an assignment to write about them or you know, if i wouldn't have had the connection for bob dylan if i didn't first get to do the profile. rolling stones so as much as i'd like to do an oprah winfrey profile, i'm not being asked to do the oprah winfrey profile, so i can't, you know talk about but she is an amazing career and some days oprah winfrey's biography will be very important to mean some i i don't know what
she's done, but she did a lot and in the sense of her empowerment of women and it is just been extraordinary in her career, and it's a business woman. also, i would love to go do a profile of her but you know, there are a lot of she is her own magazine. she's got a vanity fair if they did get to do her they would probably give it to somebody else besides me. so, you know, you have to take and i've written a lot of political so we're talking about those people, but i've, you know don't cover stories and joe biden in barack obama and i've done you know, the reagan diaries and nixon i did. are vanity fair story on gerald ford? what about vanity fair? let me ask you that is great and carter. how did you get the assignment of the contributing editor? yeah, they just i was writing for a lot of places. i did some pieces cover pieces
for the atlantic monthly. as it was called in the atlantic of today and braden noticed that in a guy named david friend a creative editor. they wanted to bring me to vanity fair which is unique cuz i'm an academic historian. there's no other academic historian working on the vanity fairs meaning it actual professor. and they brought me in and i did. i did all sorts of pieces. i did clarence jones the martin luther king jr's lawyer. and probably my most successful story. i did a piece about rain egg in the mayor of new or for vanity fair that really led to negan going to jail in many ways. i was on the the hunt of that with them. i premiered. why wait, um his his cronyism and taking money giving government contracts to people
who were his friends so he can get up pay off just old-fashioned corruption and i got put onto the feds were down there investigating him and i kept hearing the shop talk going on that he was doing this walk katrina was going on. he's still impressive he is. yeah. yeah. i'm quite proud of it's a bit of my ability to during i wrote the book the great day loose on katrina like i sort of hone in on him a little bit and but you know, so they would ask me to do different things i came and i'm sure i'm forgetting a lot of the different profiles right now, but less so now we're deca jones is the editor hitchens and great and are gone from there and you know i get along great with radika jones. i'm just not getting the biggest assignments like i used to. you go back and look at your own life. you're 60 years old. yet 35 years to go.
or more what? what do you want to get done when it comes to the culture part of this? what what's on your what's on your docket? um, well i would love to write on about blues and jazz with the wynton marsalis situation. i told you about i've worked a little bit with a friend of mine doing some jazz productions this year. we worked on an album together with on dave brubeck great jazz musician who this is a hundredth birthday brubeck. i like to keep doing my music. let me jump into ask. does anybody care though? no. very high do you sell that? i mean don't dave brubeck was big in my life. yeah. i'm a historian though. i have that problem. i look back on people with the kind of fondness. i think you hit an age where you want to do. what's nonprofit and so for me it's doing love with the
environment or and we'll buy that i mean, wild in scenic rivers saving special places in america. i'm really into the national park state parks outdoor recreation. the natural world because i feel like a million dollars when i get to hike. or look at the ocean or see a hummingbird and i've stayed very connected, you know throw used to henry david throw used to say you're you know, you don't to look at, you know heaven by looking up is here on earth. there's so many beautiful places and it's just kind of creating a mindfulness and awareness of what's going on. i read a lot of poets like william carlos williams. they were called symbolism. so williams from patterson, new jersey would write like so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow
glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. now the point of that was just a photo image. so i sometimes like try to have mindfulness where i study something almost like you would be sketching it just to create a sharp memory when i see things other people will do. oh look at that and i'll take a photo of it, but i just try to etch like a great, you know moment that i i remember and that way i keep my memory fresh. i like, you know, i have three kids. so i'm excited to get my kids to college. i'm excited to go to there sporting events. i'm excited to see their lives and get lucky. maybe i'm alive for them to have grandchildren and i our kids are just everything. i mean we are we are two dogs two cats a parrot and three kids, so i got my my life, but
there are books that i'm hoping to write. you know, i'm realizing as i hit 60, i am fatigued a little more. i don't have quite the energy it just left me at around 58 and i'm going to have to cope with that. i have to gather all my papers. i've saved an awful lot. so for example if i wrote rosa parks's biography i have oh, i don't know maybe 50 cassette tapes dealing with rosa parks or seminal people around her. we're gonna do with all i have two options now boston university has been for a decade now actively trying to acquire my archive. and i've hesitated because of rice university where i'm at and their special collections it hesitation as it's going to take some time for me to weed through all of these boxes that i've saved and put in store storage and i started that when covid happened a little and it i only
went so far. it's sort of weird looking at your back pages. and so but i'm gonna have to confront doing that and then if i get that burn off my back there are places i want to travel i'm embarrassed. i've never been to ireland. i love irish music. i mean deeply love it, and i've never been to ireland. so i'd like to go to dublin and drive around. i've also very high miles before you leave there. let me ask you you have a favorite irish writer. oh irish writer. um, well, i mean i actually have spent. yeah, obviously, i mean james joyce for me the dubliners portrait of an artist as a young man, but also i studied finnegan's wake with the readers god. i couldn't learn it on my own and so i had one of these guys the only two writers i've ever done that with or thomas pension
with gravity's rainbow and finn against wake i couldn't make heads or tails out of them. and so i got some academic did these wonderful readers guys that they can help you decipher it. there's one on kurt now too and encyclop. of kurt vonnegut, so if you read it and match it with it, then you starts going and then it really comes together, but the way joyce tried to save dialect in the language to me is very impressive i once went to his grave in which is in switzerland, and i i made a great long pilgrimage to just go sit there and eat a bologna sandwich because i was reading him. you know, i like going it, you know, so a little bit of travel i've seen almost all the united states, but i'm not been to one state. 49 and i still have never been to hawaii. and the reason is i always feel if i go there. i like to go for a month and i never have the month.
so maybe down the line here, i'll go there for my month, but i desperately want to be able to say i went to all 50 states and then i i have the benefit of convincing my wife to become a die-hard detroit tiger. man because i grew up there in toledo and i was really detroit market. so we went last week. i saw the tigers play the astros with in a limited stadium it great the tigers won and we hope to go i with my kids visit all the stadiums. it's just a little like a chuck. but how many of you visit indiana about half? i'm about half. i'm really like to go see where the the brewers stadium and you know, we're talking about people of interviewing and all you know, i recently wrote for the new york times the profile of hank aaron the great baseball great who i knew as a kid and i spend election night in atlanta at the at the erin's house and
he was in great shape. i mean, i taped him and was all set up through people that knew him in atlanta and i was with billy his wife and we had a great time in his home and that was november and then boom i news in january that he had passed so i wrote this piece for the new york times about it and i his story fascinates me how aaron everybody here talks about jackie robinson, but the way hank aaron was able to beat babe ruth with hate threats and the likes swirling around them. what great man. he was did by the way because he was a teacher. did you ever read frank mccourt? oh, yeah, and you used to have frank on you got to know him pretty well. i think probably right where you are. yeah. he was a just a great interview. he's great interview. he hates the storyteller part excellence. i got to know him through my
good friend. very good friend william kennedy annapolis to he wrote a book many books the william j kennedy. well, it's william kennedy of albany. he writes novels about albany and more. he wrote one of the best political novels called roscoe, but he also did iron weed which meryl streep and jack nicholson starred in but kennedy runs the for years with his wife dana randall writer's school at the state university of new york. and he was very tight with frank mccourt in when we go to these writers conferences heat frank mccourt would always be there talk to anybody and tell stories and and william kennedy's that way too one of our most underappreciated. novelist of my lifetime was is william kennedy. i when i would frank mccourt just reminded me of the story, but i went up to stivensen high school where he taught new york city to take his photograph for
the first book notes book we ever did. and after it was over i was so excited because he just he was electric. that wonderful irish accent and afterwards he said were you going next i said, well, i have to go back up town. i said come on. i'll write up with you. i'll i want to buy you a subway ticket. oh we got on the subway and a woman on the subway came up to him. he said are you frank mccourt? and he said yes, that's me. he said well, you taught my son in high school and then there was just a big love affair that went on so he was quite oh man. yeah. well, that's it and you may you start missing as you know, all these people in your life is you get older you people start going in your, you know, i'm starting to we're talking about well known people. i've interviewed today, but i've one of those people in touch with everybody. from my high school we talk all the time last week. i just had a meal with one of my friends from ohio that came to see me and so i'm sad we're
learning starting to lose my team, you know people from my class in perrysburg and stuff there just because i'm gonna ask you about that how i don't mean it was difficult. but how hard have you worked at staying in touch with people you went to high school with i make it a they're my priority often. they maybe are my best friends. i've made other friends, but i'm one of those people that we had a little special thing going on in perrysburg and was hard to explain i guess everybody feels their class was but we are particular class stays very united and we follow everybody's life very closely one of my great friends dave wilson, may a great football player just died as he had a heart issues galore and he just passed some going back up to ohio for his memorial service. and they would want me to be funny. he would want me to be funny in the eulogy. you know, they remember me being funnier than i am. now. i was funny when i was a boy there that they want.
you know that me brinks. they just call me, you know, they breaks, you know yet so it went i've been trying my mind think of the eulogy that's both appropriate and very funny because he would have he would have appreciated that and but anyway, i'm happy. i mean, i think i feel always loved this country like you that's one thing that we share. i'm always proud of the us. i'd love to do more with thinking about armed forces and how to i get the most touch like one of my books the boys have point to hawk about the us army second. rangers is taught i get letters from them and from florida. i just monterey naval school there mandatory reading some of the books. i did a military history are alive than those middle, you know military circles, which exciting to me. i think my favorite time teaching was at the naval academy because i didn't have the discipline but to see the young people up that early and
incidentally brian when we talked about today because i do do the environment a lot. we could have done this whole thing on the environment climate change. they come out a climate core like fdr in the new deal people have to realize was different generation fdr's new ccc civilian con. they're up at bugle call. you're going you're gonna, you know you're doing a conservation tree planning, you know stocking ponds doing mountain roads these ccc men and some women they were working from bugle call all the way to the evening hard labor and i always wonder whether we do a climate core of young people today a lot of young people like well, i'm good to work that weekend, but then i need i leisure tie, you know, i've got to go meet my they all are like doing them, you know. they have all of their other issues if you're really going to
do that climate core. you've got to make it so it's real public service like two years where you're up at the crack of dawn and working on, you know, wetlands rehabilitation or being being, you know working to prevent wildfires when in helping bird rehabilitation you can do that, but it's work. it's not just and i felt that job corps and some of these other programs we don't have the same grit that we used to have. i mean the ccc they work their tails often the peace corps when kennedy created it the young people would teach people agriculture and how to you know, do proper sanitation and all now, it's a little bit more like resume padding. how does it look good for me? and so kennedy's sense of public service, if young people we get them back working, i with no
military draft. no public service. i feel people being disengaged from our government and we've got to get cheats civics civics civics and the high schools. we've got to reteach government. i've to teach core american history. we have to open up the narrative american history to form more inclusion of indigenous people women, you know people of color more than we've done but you know, we got to do it in a spirit of that. this is an extraordinary country and we have an obligation to learn our history and learn about how our government works. do you keep diaries when you meet with presidents? i take some notes afterwards brian if you know i at that time, i don't want talking to them when i go home. yes, i would say i journal down what i you know, keep points keep phrases that i picked up in that particular encounter now, sometimes i'm tape recording a
president and that's a whole different thing than i have a transcript of it and some of them for hours and hours. so it's it's always incredible to talk to a president you realize they're so few of them in american history, and it's a privilege to get to ask them questions you want to ask all other i have letters from a number of presidents who i would write and ask questions for a book. i'm working on and they would write me back. i have framed a number of letters from george herbert walker bush who would actually take the time to you know, give it right me a long letters about different issues have a correspondence from bill clinton jimmy carter. fact to the list of recent presidents you might have had some interaction with the current president. have you ever spent any time around here? well, i know joe biden pretty well, i once wrote a long profile of joe biden for rolling stone when he was vice president. he took me around. i also had a private dinner with
him at the at the vice president's home and got to talk to him quite a bit and and once spent time with them up in boston in a very real way. so yes anybody could pull up my profile of biden for rolling stones. so i feel i know him. well, what did you see up close? well, he had such a story political career and everybody kind of knows joe biden being possible to interact with washington dc and not have had an encounter with him. you know, i think he's a little bit there's a as he's gotten older he's and seems to feel pain. are the loss of bo there's there's no question. there's a little eisenhower in them in the sense that it's impossible not to like him and then there's a little ronald reagan and as he's aging in his forgetting fullness, but at heart he's a liberal he's of
that generation of ted kennedy and walter mondale and and you know, he's emerges out of that. he was very close to ted kennedy, but he's marketed himself as a more of a working man's centrist when i see him as a little more of a new deal liberal and he said he has staying power one would have thought joe biden would have been long forgotten in the annals of washington, but he hung in there and obviously being a president the united states that this crucial time is it means he's a chance to become a very important president. did you get any sense of what is is relationship was with barack obama? often the media's suggests that they didn't get along and they and that barack obama didn't like him. i don't think it was a matter of like i used to see barack obama and there was always a feeling like, oh my i think early obama first term when biden was be
making a lot of gas and barack obama wasn't i think the lack of discipline that by an exhibited annoyed. obama it wasn't a matter of disliking show us a person who was just like he put his foot in his mouth again stepping on message. um and after a while of quite remarkably biden started turning his gas into a something endearing and then he started wearing sunglasses aviator glasses, and then i think he did well in some of the comedy skits with barack obama as you know, cool joe and his hot rod car. know and they started creating really a dog and pony show. they they started working with some synchronicity and and you know, almost they needed each other but their personalities are very different barack obama does not like error and he
particularly it will be hard on himself if he says something verbally explosive you when he talks you can see him writing the words in his mouth and a deliberate fashion where biden is if allowed a freelance off a teleprompters app to go in any direction and so they're very different political styles. could you see the aging process and brought joe biden? oh, there's no question. i mean, this is not the same joe biden of you know 2008. it's just a naturally he's gotten older, but i think the loss of of beau took a heavy toll on him. i was surprised not that he got the democratic nomination. i always thought biden was going to pull it off even at the at the very end, but i was surprised at his campaign worked that he was going to stay in delaware and use covid as a
recent not to go and do a lot of things. i thought that he may have been, you know being portrayed as operating as a basement joe biden, but it worked for him because there was enough fear across the land about covid. he seemed to be acting responsibly and he he didn't annoy people trump and cuomo got of media attention once we were in the pandemic, but both perhaps were were talking too much and when you talk that much you give rope to hang yourself and what they put a lot of error on the public record where biden playing it low-key a little bit subterranean for you know, even through the summer months of 2020 actually helped him. it was somebody the campaign actually worked in his favor and i it's surprised me a little bit. you see the staff up close? some of the staff that you must have known then are still with
him. now. how did they treat you as a historian slash writer? um, oh everybody, you know at this point in my career brian, i know people democratic party republican party there with historians. it's different than journalists there any president or vice president always wants to you wouldn't want to fight to be that if you didn't want to get a great reputation in history. so you usually get wind and dying a little bit or treated very kindly by a sitting present whatever party they are. once they if they know who you are as a historian. why would you want to tick off a particular historian? so, you know, it's a little different than i'm writing copy the next day for the washington post or the new york times and i'm looking for a phrase that's gonna create front page news the next day. the truth be told it's much more.
effective when their ex-presidents as a historian because at that point, you know, jimmy carter will go back to plains, georgia or bill clinton and chappaqua or george w bush and dallas and they're a little more relaxed to talk to a historian about the historical record because they're not as busy and they can have a just enough perspective to start seeing where they might fit in the history game. i have noticed that any president who thinks their presence he's over when they leave is mistaken. it becomes a sweepstakes game for legacy and the kennedy people john f. kennedy's allies did a marvelous job of selling the kennedy legacy to history and on the right the reagan people did a marvelous job. so you look at public opinion polls, you'll see kennedy and reagan very popular. residents with the public at large and that takes work.
it wasn't by osmosis. it wasn't even by who was the best president. it's just they were able to project and there are two most visited presidential libraries pre-covid were the reagan librarian the kennedy library people are invested in those two leaders. what do you think of presidents being the age of joe biden? it would be better in a perfect democracy that we had leadership in their 40s and 50s showing a new generation carrying the torch but things the wheels came off the tracks recently on the fact that we had to septagenarians and donald trump and joe biden going head to head. it was a little bit of a head scratcher. i don't i'm not sure that will be repeated but it might we might have a repeat match of trump biden. it's very possible. so, i think it'd be more optimal
if we had younger presidents because of the energy factor that it takes to be present. however, you can delegate reagan did a marvelous job of even after he was shot of getting rid of alexander hague and replacing them with george schultz and finding a team with mike dever and baker and the rest that function well, and you know the same with dwight eisenhower who was old as president and he brought a staff around him that was quite effective. so buying her trump if they're willing to let others, you know, do a lot of the work can be kind of above the fray i noticed with buying there. i don't think he's like ronald reagan. however the one thing i have noticed at biden's stylist president. he's like a macy's day afloat. he's kind of floating above the parade reagan did that a lot too meaning just kind of there's all
this noise and clamor and biden's just floating kind of on top of it. all that is probably a smart way for him to govern if he can avoid the gas you don't need to do too many interviews. don't say something off the cuff keep to the teleprompter delegate a lot and then be low keyed and generous and be able to show a kind of public grief with these shootings or climate disasters that we might have he might have a formula of being the right person for the right time character matters and and disposition. so, you know gerald ford was the right person after nixon. he proved tone and a sense of tone in and you might see that in fact ford's memoirs called a time to heal. jimmy carter's was keeping faith. biden is coming after the tumultuous trump years in a very may be people will see him as a
as somebody who healed the country reagan used to also say stay about 50% in the polls and abiden couldn't navigate his first year at 60% approval rating. he'll be able to be a very strong president now as a historian and somebody who's interviewed all these presidents. have you made an attempt yet to interview joe biden as president and if you haven't and you do what angle would you take? well, i haven't because i'm so busy right now writing a book and but i have had a long talk with kamala harris already and that was interesting. i was interested in her because of historic role is the first woman vice president and one of the things i do, in this historians, i look back and say who in history is going to be remembered walter mondale died recently and not it didn't get the amount of attention people aren't talking about mondale's career, but he was vice
president and important senator forever. we're comma harris being the first woman to actually achieve a vice presidency is going to be talked about forever. she's going to be a key person studied in women's history classes like ruth bader ginsburg or hillary clinton or harriet tubman or jane adams or susan b, anthony and so right now kamala harris interest me some what more than than biden. it's sort of like robert frost the road less, you know, you're at the for everybody's hitting on buying. we're actually kamala harris is a very interesting story to me. would you learn from talking to her? um, you know, she's got up as we all know as she's got a great personality and she's funny and i'm always at the top interactions how just genuinely she laughs at life that's going to serve her. well, it has served or well, i think she's unusual vice
president and her first hundred days because of covid she hasn't traveled many places and so she's been every single day in the room with biden there really is kind of almost a co-presidency going on between biden in harris co-presencies too heavy but there in the history of presidents and vice presidents. it's looking to shape up to be one of the the closest and part of that is age factor with biden. he has she has to start training if she got forbid something happened in bind she'd have to step up and i've noticed she's being very careful to try to carve out what her role is avoiding too much media limelight while she's starting to get her ducks in a row. when you talk to somebody like her on the phone, what are the rules none? i had none with her. i i probably a younger me would have been looking to write an article get on hop on the train.
i've you know had a an exclusive, you know hour, but i'm not interested in exclusives. you know, it's more about thinking long term down the line building a kind of credibility that i might downline right a book about this era and i would need to interview her and and so on, you know beyond talking to you about it. i haven't mentioned it to a single soul. it was just you know what i'd like to do that with biden sure, but you know, it's a right now, it's busy. i mean, we're in the middle of a pandemic there's shots and arms he's got his you know, his hands-filled. what's the point of trying to bust into his calendar unless i were going to write a profile of him. scene, can you explain the relationship of hunter biden? to his father we know that the conservatives have been. highly critical of the mainstream media for not covering hunter biden like they
did the trump family and then can you explain why hunter biden would publish a book in the middle of all this and admit all the things that he did in that book about his drug use you know, i think unlike a lot of people with substance abuse issues which hunter buying clearly had and is sometimes they're angry at their their parents. that wasn't hunter biden's case. it's fact he's overloves his father. they're really really tight and in his he is zero animosity towards dad. so what we're dealing with is somebody who's a deep substance abuse or and when that happens, i mean, it's a disease and it takes over your life and we can see that whether it was crack cocaine or alcohol, you know midnight rambling of all kind hunter biden had a problem a serious problem and he's out in california trying to clean up
trying to get as somebody does they, you know treatment to get healed to get better and the book. i don't know why he you know why he decided to write with the timing right after in the first 100 days get it out mike. guess it's only guess would be two things advance money for the book and be he had been in his mind, you know demonized by the right during the campaign and he stayed quiet and basically when underground so much so that trump would stump speeches. where's hunter, you know, and so he decided once they was safe to pop up meaning his dad's in the white house. i'm gonna tell my story now he obviously was thinking about the book during 2020 and may have kept him busy so he didn't what make public appearances during the campaign and he quite
effectively muzzled himself in 2020 and stayed out of the glare when he was probably one of the most sought-after interviews in the world. and so i the book kind of came it got some attention it made the bestseller list, but i don't think it's i think it was more for him cathartic. then it was necessary to do how important are. stories and spotlights on the children of presidents oh it can it's you know, there's always a great washington post story. i read recently much as i know about presidents. they were laundry listing all the problems different andrew jackson had with this son and on and on with different issues of alcohol or suicide families aren't perfect just because so many suppressant. it doesn't mean there's not dysfunction swirling about them with the sibling or with or with the child or with the, you know a cousin or who knows what and
so the the, you know, look at problems that the kennedy family had with some of the bobby kennedy's kids had drug and alcohol problems and they come forward and they decide at some point once you get clean to share your experience. you can convince others to get rehab and that's the betty ford tradition. right? i mean the bed you go betty ford's clinics are famous for substance abuse and saying admit it come public and get help and you can still have a life and that's happened to a lot of children of presidents. i noticed that you signed at least one of the two impeachment letters. that historian signed to in other words to impeach donald trump. i can't remember whether you did the video or not. but before donald trump even successfully won the presidency
a serious number of historians did videos saying don't elect this man. he's a horrible person. why would a historian do that before the fact i refrain from that during the campaign when trump ran i was doing commentary for cnn trying to be as balanced, you know as you could covering it i didn't sign on for the first impeachment with with russia and all of that the second impeachment of donald trump was the one that i signed on and i felt trump's behavior after the election after he lost was abominable the fact that you refuse to recognize that he lost to put our court system through all of this to spread lies and into endos you could feel that we are heading to january 6 by trump's behavior and incidentally trump. republicans a lot for that
behavior. i mean they very well may have won in georgia, but trump's telling his own base that votes don't count its rigged in georgia allowing to democrats to take over the senate so he was untethered trump. he was you know, really i felt from november till the january he was just the thought of losing was impossible for him to process, you know, donald trump has a code. and i came out of a kind of roy cohen, but and in the code is as you know, and everybody knows never say you're wrong never emit defeat. and he talks trump about his gamble with history and his gamble is to follow his code. and if you're donald trump, he says everybody says i'm wrong, but here i am sitting in the white house. my code had got me that far.
i never ran for any public office yet. i'm president of the united states with everybody telling me i'm wrong. for and so losing for trump to joe biden who he had already earmarked as the worst weakest candidate in in american history to lose to buy. well, it was it was and something he can't process psychologically can't process let me know stick with the historian thing. i can remember back when david halberstam participated in the democratic national convention. i can remember when bob carroll. i think introduced ted kennedy at one of the democratic conventions. i can certainly remember just recently when john meacham. had been writing speeches for joe biden during the campaign didn't tell the audience on msnbc msnbc. let him go so they must have thought that that was stepping over the line. i'm not allowed to do it with
cnn, but why are historians feeling the need to be on a side when they are historians? well, it's a good question because people are not just you know, jean paul sartre a great existentialist french philosopher used to say, i'm not a waiter. and meaning i'm not just my job. i have all sorts of you know of emotions and feelings. so you have to rank where your civic responsibility kicks in on something if you see an evil or you see something that's threatening the democracy you've got to speak up and in in the case though of writing. you know what we were suggesting with with mitchum or others. cnn would not let me they said where you you can't be presidential story and if you are working for the biden administration and they made it very clear rebecca cutler the head of contributors at cnn. i had an opportunity to do an
event where i would moderate in the campaign an event with i thought was reasonable to have me as moderator. it was like john kerry and leon panetta and there but they were democrats for biden and yet they were former secretaries the defense and is a state all they wanted to be to moderate. great people in american history to be the historical moderator and i was told no. you can't you can't moderate that because it's a democratic party event, but when i want to have my own view on something personally if i want to say, you know, we need to have a climate core to fight climate change. i'm allowed to say what i think personally but i can't get involved with that party game. but i don't don't really agree this or not, but people who watch cnn or msnbc are fox have absolutely no problem understanding where they're coming from people that watch
cnn think they're left of center people watching msnbc left of center fox right of center and therefore, i mean that didn't used to be the case at least people didn't admit it. what about that? why is that happen? and do you believe it has happened? it has happened. it's very hard to be neutral. in this society right now. it's very hard to navigate a centrist course and part of it is that it's not always right left liberal conservative. i believe most americans have mixed opinions there. they shop ideas from a lot of different places. they end up with the candidate, but you know, there are many people who voted for donald trump who despise that could tell you five things. they hated about trump and people that voted for biden that reasons they don't like them. i think though we just become more polarized everything's become political. i mean look at look at nba or major league baseball, look at
company boycotts, you know, it's that's the age we're living in right now. so for somebody like me, i just try to put my head down go straight ahead. try to do my history work. i don't write about current events and my history books. i'm writing in that period but as a human being sometime you have to go of a box for example, i'm just deeply concerned right now about i think it should be a global issue about our oceans becoming garbage dumps. so somebody wants me to sign a letter about keeping the oceans clean and getting the plastics and poisons out of the ocean. i'm gonna sign it. that's a political statement because you're not having the head of the people dumping dumping the plastics, you know signing that letter but it means too much tois views on the
constitution. and now it is such a pleasure to introduce our extremely distinguished panel of america's leading lincoln scholars to discuss lincoln's speeches and the american idea. michael birmingham holds the chancellor naomi b lynn distinguished chair and lichen studies at the university of illinois springfield. he's the author of several