Skip to main content

tv   QA Jeffrey Rosen  CSPAN  August 27, 2018 3:34pm-4:35pm EDT

3:34 pm
cable television companies. today we continue to bring unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c., and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> supreme court nominee brett kavanaugh will testify before the senate judiciary committee starting tuesday, september 4. judiciary committee chair chuck grassley says he expects the confirmation hearing to last three or four days. you can watch that live on c-span3, online as he's been out of work, or listen live -- online at, or listen live on the c-span app. ♪ this week on q&a, national constitution center president and ceo jeffrey rosen discusses
3:35 pm
his biography of william howard taft. ♪ host: jeffrey rosen, where did it all start for william howard taft, president of the united states? jeffrey: in cincinnati, ohio. he was born in 1857, before the u.s. constitution. he was born to a family that embodied the constitution. his father was alfonso taft, who wrote republican platforms in 1856. that founded the republican party on the principles to defend the union and the constitution have resisted slavery. his father went on to be secretary of war and ambassador to russia and told young william to be chief justice is to be more than to be president. young will imbibed from his father a reverence for the constitution and a yearning to
3:36 pm
be chief justice that was finally fulfilled after the a detour into the presidency. brian: what was his life like up to his education? jeffrey: he said everything i do about the law i learned at the expense of hamilton county, where he was a prosecutor. he fell upward into a series of golden -- that invites and him a reverence for the law. he went to yale. he excelled. he started as a young lawyer as an assistant prosecutor and watched a jury acquit an accused murderer and a mob burned down the courthouse and created a fear of mob violence that defined his outlook for the rest of his life. he went on to be a judge at the young age of 30. he introduced the practice of confessing error, saying when the government has made a constitutional mistake, it should not profit by the error.
3:37 pm
he became a judge on the sixth circuit, federal judge at the age of 35, which he found as his heaven. he loved judges and courts and they are his idea of heaven on earth. he went to a transformative career, governor general of the philippines. president william mckinley asked him. he thrived there. he created a constitution for a grateful people and extended the sum of the protections of the bill of rights to the philippine people because he thought have to be educated in order to be ready for the duties of citizenship. what he wanted to do was be on the supreme court. roosevelt offered him a supreme court justiceship and his wife nelly made him refuse because she wanted him to be president . she had gone to the white house under president harrison and she said, i hope to marry a man someday who will be president and he said i hope you will and he is in ohio. she is pining for him to join washington.
3:38 pm
she thinks the supreme court will sideline him. so he turned down the offer of the supreme court seat with reluctance and distinguishes himself in the philippines and becomes secretary of war where he is an administrative marvel. henry stetson, the circuit as secretary of war under president taft and roosevelt and hoover, and truman, said taft was the greatest administrator of them all. he was still effective as secretary of war that roosevelt anointed him as a successor and ran for president in 1908 and won a resounding victory. brian: when did he start his relationship with roosevelt on a personal level? or did he ever? jeffrey: they were extremely close, almost like brothers when they were working together in the government. roosevelt relied on taft to provide the administrative apparatus that would carry out
3:39 pm
his extraordinarily poignant ideas with an igneous force of nature who wanted to do everything by executive order. he was impatient and wanted to circumvent congress. during the roosevelt administration, taft disapproved of roosevelt circumventing procedures and he wanted supporters on from constitutional grounds. -- firm constitutional grounds. they were so close that roosevelt predicted that taft would be the greatest president since maybe even washington or lincoln. after the taft election, he confessed to a journalist that taft means well but he is weak. he is beginning to have second thoughts. the story of the collapse of the rivetingonship is a one. brian: where did he learn politics? jeffrey: he never learned politics. he told his aide, archie butt, i will not play a part in popularity.
3:40 pm
if the people want to reject me, that is their prerogative. this madisonian view. his heroes are james madison, alexander hamilton, john marshall. he considered one of the greatest americans ever. they said the majority should rule, but only slowly and thoughtfully over time so that reason, rather than passion, could prevail. taft believes the system is setup to slow the direct expression of popular passion so the people can be governed in public interest rather than through faction, that is mobs that favor self interests rather than the public good. in the philippines, as secretary of war, and then as president, he is viewing everything through legal and constitutional terms. as i say in the book he was our , most judicial president. and presidential chief justice. as president, he refuses to consider political implications of his actions with disastrous political consequences. it was his decision to fire
3:41 pm
roosevelt's close aide, the environmentalist, that led to a scandal and let roosevelt to challenge taft and spoke the -- split the republican party. roosevelt refused to bring a tax. it is really a remarkable example as an anti-politician as president. the judge as president. who instead of considering popular implications, he considers constitutional implications and the political consequences are dire. brian: why didn't theodore roosevelt run in 1908? and then why did william howard taft run again in 1912, given what happened in those four years? jeffrey: roosevelt did not run because he made a promise the day william mckinley was elected or soon after. saying i will serve one elected
3:42 pm
not want to i did keep the tradition of presidents serving two terms. he regretted it, but felt duty bound to obey it so that is why he did not run again and let taft run instead. taft ran again even though he did not like being president, but he ran because he felt the election was a crusade to defend the constitution against the demagogic populism. the election of 1912, george will said, all american politics can be traced to the election of 1912, and you can tell who was a conservative today based on who they would have voted for in the election of 1912. he says conservatives would have voted for the constitutionalist, taft, trying to defend judicial independence and the rule of law against the attacks of roosevelt who says people should overturn judicial decision by popular vote.
3:43 pm
it was that claim that most alarmed constitutionalist and made taft run for election even though he did not want to. roosevelt for the first time insisted that the president is a steward of the people who can directly channel the people's will. he endorses instruments of direct democracy, like the initiative and referendum, that he believes empowered the president to be a channel of populism. wilson, too, is a progressive populist who insists in his latest book on constitutional government that the president in congress is like a prime minister who represents the people's will directly and this appalls taft who says no, he derives his authority not in the -- not directly from the people, but from the constitution. they designed and electoral college to filter popular will that people elect wise delegates who will choose a president. this appalled taft's constitutionalist heart. that is why he ran.
3:44 pm
he came in last. he won only two electoral votes. he felt it was necessary to defend the constitution. brian: you mentioned archie butt. who is he, and why do you quote him so much in the book? jeffrey: there is a two volume and more. he serves roosevelt and taft. he is at his side while taft is dancing alone on the white house and while he is reading. what is so interesting about butt is he admires taft and roosevelt so he watches with sympathy. as for taft, archie butt says it is almost as if he is too good for politics. people cannot appreciate him.
3:45 pm
butt also noticed taft's achilles' heel, which is that he was a hater, the greatest hater he ever knew in politics. if taft knew someone who was disloyal, he took an instant dislike to them and lashed out against them. the most romantic example of this is when taft was young, someone insulted his father, and he bashed his head against the ground. spasms of anger would erupt in him in the name of loyalty. taft would engage in self-defeating spasms of anger against people he considered disloyal. not only the environmentalist he fired, but also the deputy and these had catastrophic political consequences. butt is clear-eyed but sympathetic. butt went down on titanic and taft was heartbroken. brian: when did he write the
3:46 pm
book? titanic was 1912? when did he write a two-part series? jeffrey: i should have it immediately in mind. it was after the taft presidency. it must have been a contemporary diary. there were letters to his sister. taft's presidency ended in 13. -- 1913. the book breaks off in the middle when the titanic goes down. brian: he had been a military aid. he served both roosevelt and mckinley. brian: you allude about how long it took you to get the book done. when did they first ask you, part of this 44 book series on the presidency? jeffrey: it is this wonderful series started by shawn willens. they asked me years ago, another author had been asked and he
3:47 pm
couldn't do it. they gave it to me seven years ago. like william howard taft, i can only write on tight deadlines. there was no deadline, so i did other things. finally they said, if you do not , finish the book, the guy who is writing obama will be deal. -- beat you. my pride was quickened. i set myself a six-month deadline and i wrote it in concentrated bursts. it was the most satisfying book i ever wrote. i felt like i had an opportunity and duty to channel taft and let him speak in his own words to resurrect the underappreciated constitutional figure who ginsburg said is the most underappreciated constitutional figure since george mason, the anti-federalist who refuse to sign the constitution because it did not have a bill of rights. it was this intensive burst and it was more fun than any book i have ever written. brian: i counted that there have been 42 written so far. no president trump and no president obama yet. and they sell for $26 and they
3:48 pm
are only 170 pages long. or something like that. jeffrey: that is the discipline of it. they make you write short. my first draft was maybe 65,000 words and they make you frame it down to under 50. the benefit is it is short and you are forced to intensely distill the core ideas of the president so that you can educate people. brian: what were the accomplishments? the four or five big accomplishments for william howard taft? jeffrey: he lowered the tarrif. brian: let me ask you, though. he lowered the tariff? can you explain that? jeffrey: tariffs were the biggest constitutional battle of the early republic. the question was how to fund the
3:49 pm
republic. alexander hamilton, defended the government by excise taxes, taxes on things like whiskey and carriages and particular goods. the income tax is only introduced during the civil war by lincoln and it is temporary. there is a brief one again in the cleveland administration and very unpopular so it is allowed to expire. a supreme court decision in the 1890's called the public case rules that the income tax is unconstitutional. because the constitution says direct taxes have to be a portion among the states. it makes it impossible to administer. it was a 5-4 decision and taft thought it was wrong because alexander hamilton thought it did not have to be a portion. he's so respected the supreme court that did not want to embarrass them by trying to overturn the decision. he thought a constitutional amendment was necessary and the 16th amendment was introduced during his presidency. and passed.
3:50 pm
the tariffs are bubbling as a political issue and splits the republican party. the party had traditionally been devoted to protective tariffs for income but not protection, in other words moderate tariffs , to fund the government, but not protect certain industries over the others. tariffs naturally favored some over others. eastern manufacturers, glove manufacturers. it raised the raw material of goods. within the republican party there were three camps, one who wanted to keep the tariff as it was or raise it to pander to their constituencies. the insurgent progressive republicans who wanted to lower the tariff and not eliminate it like the free trade democrats. and then taft was caught in the middle. the republican platform pledges the party to revise the tariff and like a lawyer, taft takes is
3:51 pm
t so seriously that i pledge to revise the tariff. he calls congress into special session days after his inauguration, and they are waiting for what he is going to propose. the clerk reads this 340 word message that taft scribbled out. isaiah said on the platform, we should revise the tariffs. that is all i have to say. everyone expected a state address and he wrote it like a lawyer writing a judicial dispatch. but he is doing get as a contract with america. that he has to dispose. all the craziness breaks loose because politics are dying. refuses to intervene. he gets rolled. the initial bill proposed by senator paine lowers the tariffw s substantially. but then a lot were raised.
3:52 pm
it wasn't the only achieved since the 1890's where the democrats tried it and lost the election. howard taft went on the campaign trail. you remember when i was at the new republic and mike kinsley was there and in the 1990's he said that a gaff is when a politician tells the truth you taft went on the campaign trail and said this is the best tariff bill the republican party had ever passed. actually, it was. this goes viral on the telegraph and people are outraged that he is defending it because it is flawed. it is an example of him being an anti-politician. it was better tariff revision that anybody else had achieved. woodrow wilson continued as a free-trade democrat. and then with exception of the tariffs in the 1930's, basically represents a
3:53 pm
bipartisan consensus until the election of 2016. so i think taft gets credit for trying, but not for being a good politician. brian: what else did he accomplish? jeffrey: the canadian free-trade agreement, the precursor of nafta. this is a really big deal. he thinks free trade between the u.s. and canada is crucial to the economy. convinces congress to pass a canadian free-trade treaty. he writes a letter to theodore roosevelt while canadians are debating it saying that if canada does not pass it, they will be in annex of the u.s. it leaks and goes viral. the canadian premiere called him tricky taft and said he was trying to pull something over on canadians, and canadian voters rejected it. it would have been the greatest accomplishment of his presidency. because he blurted out the truth, he could not get it through. his other significant achievements are his constitutionalist vision of foreign policy.
3:54 pm
he sends troops up to the mexican border where there is an insurrection, but not over it. he thinks the constitution gives congress the power to declare war. he invokes as his model a young congressman lincoln who criticized president polk for sending troops over the mexican border. a spot where my skin to cross over to the u.s. taft, like lincoln, maintains the peace and resists the cries of his party for war and it starts the u.s. toward a path of he has a vision of legalization of foreign policy in international courts which he thinks can adjudicate all questions, including questions of national honor. and that is proposed by woodrow wilson in league of nations and is not entirely succeed but it is a vision of his approach to foreign policy. brian: what impact did his appointment of six justices to the supreme court have? jeffrey: well, he created a conservative court and he served
3:55 pm
with many of those justices when he became chief justice. some had retired by then. it was a court that protected property rights and also, under his leadership, became a cohesive body. we can talk about what he achieved as chief justice. that is interesting, too. brian: six in four years. is that one of the bigger numbers in all of history? jeffrey: it is and he cared so much about it. he care tremendously about the supreme court. the moment came when he was about to appoint a chief justice. he is about to appoint chief the former governor of new york. as he is dressing for the appointment on the way to the white house, taft cannot bring himself to appoint him because taft wants to be chief justice. he was so young that taft knew he would outlive him. he counseled the appointment and
3:56 pm
appoints edward douglas white, and older man whose only qualification was the hope that he will expire in time for taft to succeed him. he loses at the presidential election and he is pining for douglas to die. he keeps stopping by, how are you feeling? finally, president harding meets with him after the election and says if there is a seat on the supreme court, i will appoint you. howard taft says it has to be chief justice. miraculously, the chief justice died a few weeks later. taft laid the groundwork. now taft lobbies hard for the seats because his service in war made people reject them. he is appointed and confirmed unanimously. that is the fulfillment of
3:57 pm
his lifelong dream. how many stories in american politics are there of not only a president who goes to the supreme court, but someone who, ever since he was a child, had pined to be chief justice and waited meticulously and finally achieved the dream? that is the most beautiful story of someone who has found his true calling, excelling in the most miraculous way. very briefly, i know we talking are talking about his presidency, but he achieved three things as chief justice that make him arguably the greatest chief since the judge john marshall. first, he passes the judiciary act of 1922, creating conference of the federal circuit judges and creates the modern administrative apparatus of the judiciary and gives the judges the bandwidth to challenge the president and engage in a moderate administration state. second, he passes the judiciary
3:58 pm
act of 1925, giving courts total control over its own jurisdiction. before that past, the justices were wasting time with obscure private disputes. by allowing the court to focus on great constitutional battles, taft increases the prestige of the court. third, he built the supreme court building, a temple of justice designed by taft. it is right across the street from here. it was a product of his lobbying congress for the money, helping choose the site, and when it was opened after his death, chief justice hughes gives him credit for it. , he alsos not enough makes consensus in the court. a primary goal. he persuades justices like brandeis to suppress their dissent in interest of creating a single opinion of the court, as john marshall did. there are more unanimous opinions, especially early in his chiefship than others. our current justice is a great admirer of taft.
3:59 pm
and has also embraced that model , trying to discourage dissent and create unanimous opinions , and it is a tribute to taft's legacy. brian: you wrote a book on louis brandeis. what did he think of taft? jeffrey: they clashed dramatically during his confirmation. he had the completely unrealistic point that wilson would appoint him for the seat. taft hoped he'd get on the supreme court. taft attacked brandeis. today had almost an anti-semite tinge. he denounced anti-semitism. but basically after taft and brandeis get on the court, they bury the hatchet. taft is so devoted to the institutional legitimacy of the court that he persuades brandeis in joining him in unanimous
4:00 pm
decisions. brandeis embraces the decision. his administrator asked how it was possible that he is a good he hated being president, indian being chief is all happiness for him. an example of two great thinkers putting aside their personal differences for the devotion to the institutional legitimacy of the court. brian lamb: weight. what impact did his weight have on him as a person, a politician, a justice? jeffrey rosen: it is an inspiring and moving story. as americans think of taft asay, they think of him our largest president. there are cruel jokes about him
4:01 pm
in bathtubs, that he was stuck in a bath, a story by the white house that has been confirmed by no other source. he was large, 340 pounds. he ate his feelings. he hated being president. what is a remarkable about his weight is that he lost it after . after he was president, he went on a paleo diet of fruits and vegetables and lean fish. he lost 76 pounds in six months. it was an incredible example of self-discipline. he kept it off for most of the rest of his happy career. when he was chief justice, he was of a lower weight. when he died, he was at his college weight of 280. what is soain, remarkable about the story of discipline is that taft connected his struggles with weight to the struggles of citizens in a democracy to restrain their own passions. he gave a speech that "he who takes a village," quoting the bible, citizens of democracy, like those who struggle with weight or strong drink,
4:02 pm
have a responsibility to restrain their passions so they can discipline themselves. it is a beautiful story. even in his own day, his weight was an object of public fascination. there were all of these mean jokes about him. the citizens of glenwood, colorado, waited for him at a train station with a specially constructed bathing costume they put on s wanted him to o they could gawk at him. he refused. he took the jokes. they would be considered weight-ist today. we really would not tolerate this sort of thing today. they must have stung. then he lost all of the weight. it is an incredible tribute to self-discipline. brian lamb: his father, you talked about him. he was the secretary of war. what about his children and their children and their children? jeffrey rosen: what a family they are. it is a remarkable story of public service. the taft children were a distinguished group. robert taft was known as mr. republican, the most famous isolationist senator of the 20th century, who passed the taft-hartley act, which forbade
4:03 pm
secondary boycotts, that is boycotts by unions against companies that do business with companies that they themselves are boycotting. like a technical thing, but it was a thing he cared most about as a lower court judge. it was poetic justice that his son managed to pass this into law. he is the founder of the modern isolationist wing of the republican party. his other children included charlie taft, who became mr. cincinnati. his daughter helen herron taft was a very distinguished historian and professor and intellectual. their children were equally distinguished and include the recent governor of ohio. we are having our first william howard taft day on september 14. i am going to go to cincinnati , and we are going to assemble the family and pay an overdue
4:04 pm
tribute to this giant whose children continue to ienn oble america with their service. brian lamb: did robert taft's son have any impact as a senator? he died in 1993. jeffrey rosen: huge. the taft party act was significant. brian lamb: i mean after that. i'm talking about his son. jeffrey rosen: i think you are talking about governor bob taft, who is senator taft's son. if not, it was another taft. yes, that their generation was equally distinguished. brian lamb: bottom line, it is a dynasty. jeffrey rosen: it is an amazing dynasty. underappreciated dynasty full of people who are devoted to public service. brian: you have some quotes that, i am trying to remember if they came from, i am not sure where they came from. it doesn't matter.
4:05 pm
you will get the gist, when i read them to you, about the feeling that the taft and roosevelt had about each other. here's one of them. you say, "taft campaigned vigorously after winning the massachusetts primary. he told a crowd in maryland, i am a man of peace and i don't want to fight, but when i do fight i want to hit hard. even a rat in a corner will fight. after alarming the public with this unfortunate image, this is during the 1912 campaign, he lamented the "hypocrisy, insincerity, selfishness, the monumental egotism, and almost the insanity of the megalomania that possessed theodore roosevelt." why would he be saying this about a guy who got him the vice presidency, and then encouraged him to run for president? jeffrey: the egotism, megalomania, it was his constitutionalism that animated those colorful insults. he thought it was egotistical, and megalomaniacal, for roosevelt to embrace a vision of
4:06 pm
the presidency that will allow the people to overturn judicial decisions, and he thought that roosevelt was acting like a populist demagogue. but here is what is really important, too, as you know. after he unburdened himself from one of these attacks, he went back to his railroad car, weeping, saying, roosevelt was my closest friend. of course, roosevelt is reciprocating, calling taft a flubdub with a streak of the second rate. the aristocratic roosevelt, no man of the people when it comes to those insults. but the story does have a happy ending, of sorts. after the election was over, and after both men went into the political wilderness, they run into each other by accident in a hotel, and they are in the hotel dining room and approach each other. first they are wary, but then they start talking animatedly, and they are clapping each other
4:07 pm
on the back. basically the whole dining room erupts in applause. they were reconciled in the end, and that meant a lot to taft, that they made up before roosevelt's death. brian: you talk about a "flubdub," he also called him, william howard taft in the campaign, a puzzlewit and a fathead. jeffrey: [laughs] brian: how strong is that language, in those days? [laughter] jeffrey: john marshall, thomas jefferson used similar insults. marshall called jefferson the great llama of the mountain, and jefferson accused marshall of twistification. there's a great tradition of literate insults in american politics, but this is generated by passion and emotion. they really came to discuss each -- distrust each other during the campaign.
4:08 pm
brian: when you went to research, where did you go for the best stuff? jeffrey: the eight volumes of taft's collected writings, an effort to present taft in his own words. he wrote a lot. he wrote clearly. not gracefully, but exquisitely. he made his thoughts transparent. a great, eight volume series. listeners who are really motivated to learn more can read the whole thing, but the goal of the book was to distill the essence of his thoughts, so they did not have to read the eight volumes, and present his basic ideas. there are also a lot of great biographies of taft. taft has been fortunate with his and lots of people start with the wonderful doris kearns goodwin book, "the bully pulpit," which tells the story of the friendship and deterioration between roosevelt and taft. also wonderful biographies by lewis called, jonathan laurie, donald anderson, judith anderson. just, listeners, go to the library, go to amazon, google taft. of course there's a two-volume set by henry pringle, the first
4:09 pm
which wa the first significant biography. it is good, but he writes about taft with this aristocratic condescension. he is very stylish, but calls taft sort of a second-rate mind, and he thinks he's not an effective politician. what is frustrating to me is pringle didn't allow taft to present himself in his own terms, and i thought it was very important that when you judge taft by his terms, rather than by objective political standards -- and also when you view his presidency and chief justice as a whole, in constitutional terms, then his full achievements come into proper weight. so i viewed this as an act of resurrection, allowing taft to speak for himself in a way. but pringle had not. brian: theodore roosevelt, the supposed trustbuster, or taft? jeffrey: taft brings more antitrust suits in one term than roosevelt does in nearly two. we think of roosevelt as the great trustbuster, but he refused to prosecute u.s. steel, because some say he was too close to jpmorgan.
4:10 pm
whereas taft, the constitutionalist thinks the machinery of law has to be allowed to see its course. we don't think of taft as a progressive, but he was. he thought of himself, and notes, heurie called himself a progressive conservative. not only did he bring more antitrust suits in one term, he withdrew more lands for federal conservation, including national parks, but taft did it in proper procedures, ordering congress to pass laws rather than the doing it by executive order. we are having this debate in america about if presidents should act unilaterally by executive orders, and taft's constitutionalism and environmentalism is especially appealing.
4:11 pm
brian: why did theodore roosevelt run against him, then form his own party, then actually get more votes? jeffrey: well, he really wanted to be president again. brian: but what was driving that? jeffrey: you know, it was almost a kind of messianic sense of his own destiny. when he walked out of the republican convention of 1912, the supporter said, we stand at armageddon, marching for the lord. there was a revivalist tinge to it. roosevelt claimed the convention had stolen votes from him. 70 contested votes, kind of like the sanders-hillary clinton dispute today. but the truth is, the republican party leadership was committed to taft, and he was going to win , according to the rules at the time. there were not a lot of direct primaries. the first were occurring in 1912, so roosevelt felt the election had been stolen. he might have won the popular primaries, but that wasn't the system in place, and he believed taft had betrayed his progressivism. he saw taft as a conservative,
4:12 pm
stand-pat conservative, despite the environmentalism and antitrust statistics i quoted, and he was convinced of his own rectitude. roosevelt was a great president, and he deserves our honor. he's on mount rushmore. but he did not crown himself with glory in the election of 1912, and had he not run, i don't know whether taft would might have been reelected, but not only did his running split the republican party, but it guaranteed the election of really defeated both of their mutual aims. brian: you say in your book that the most scandalous decision of his presidency was firing ballenger. what is that about? jeffrey: the pinchot-ballinger affair was the james comey firing scandal of its day. brian: who were they?
4:13 pm
jeffrey: ballinger was the secretary of interior, viewed as a pro-corporate guy favoring industry over the environment. pinchot is roosevelt's former head of the forest service, a moralist and crusader who goes on to be governor of pennsylvania, a supporter of prohibition, even today you can't buy wine in philly thanks to ballinger's blue laws. brian: ballinger or pinchot? jeffrey: sorry, pinchot. he is fired, the one challenging taft's authority. a complicated story. there's a whistleblower called glavis in the interior department, who has become convinced ballinger, the new secretary, has given lands to a
4:14 pm
syndicate that might be controlled by morgan, guggenheim, and other contributor to taft's campaign. so he lays his charges before pinchot, who takes him to task, basically accusing ballinger of being corrupt. taft reviews the evidence, like a judge reviewing a case, and concludes that in fact ballinger hasn't been corrupt, and there's a legitimate reason for not preserving the lands, and he exonerates ballinger, but pinchot is convinced there's a cover-up. first taft fires glavis for insubordination, because he's continuing to make a fuss, and then, although he knows the consequences, he fires pinchot. he's pacing, pale, possessed, because he knows it will have huge consequences, but he says i cannot tolerate administrative insubordination. then there are congressional hearings. unfortunately for taft, the democrats hire as their counsel , the robert mueller of the day, lee brandeis, the people's lawyer. you you do not want against in a congressional hearing durin. brandeis concludes taft backdated a document he used to
4:15 pm
exonerate ballinger, suggesting to those in washington the cover-up is worse than the crime. he exposes this on the stand, basically accusing taft of corruption. taft's defense is that he backdated the documents to create a chronological record of evidence he relied on, like a judge reaching a judicial decision, and he hadn't had time, kind of a convoluted expedition. it is good enough for congress, which concluded that taft did nothing wrong, not guilty of obstruction of justice, did not lie under oath or anything, but it creates the illusion he has been underhanded, and it is the biggest scandal of his presidency. the moral of the story, as always in d.c., don't cover up, be honest, and don't fire people impetuously because you think they are disloyal, because the consequences could be catastrophic. brian: what would it be like today, if roosevelt was in town doing his thing, taft was president, all that, what would the media be doing to this
4:16 pm
story? would they survive it? jeffrey: you couldn't imagine taft remotely surviving in the age of cable news and twitter. his entire premise as president is that it's the greatest sin to directly to address the people. madison says direct communication between the president and the people will foment popular passion and prevent the slow growth of reason, so roosevelt would be the precursor to our first tweeting president. and remember, our first tweeting president was president obama, not president trump, although president trump has taken the art to a new level, tweeting on the basis of passion, and we know from studies tweets based on passion travel more than those based on reason. if we were to refight the elections of 1912 today, taft would maybe do even worse than he did at the time. and you would have a fight between roosevelt and wilson, both of whom were populists. but roosevelt was probably more charismatic than wilson, a
4:17 pm
former princeton professor, and thinking aloud, maybe roosevelt might have won. brian: you run the national constitution center. what were you doing before you got that job? jeffrey: i had two spectacular jobs in d.c. we met long ago, brian, when i was a young journalist and legal affairs director of the "old new republic." i have the honor of doing that for about 20 years. i was a journalist in d.c. very happily. and i teach law at gw law school. i am a professor there, and i have had the privilege of teaching constitutional law at gw. i was a journalist and law professor for over 20 years, and in d.c. and out of the blue, the constitutional center called. it is the most meaningful opportunity of my life. c-span viewers know, because swaim and you and
4:18 pm
your colleagues have been so wonderful in collaborating, from landmark cases to other great programs. the constitution center, like c-span, has this inspiring mandate from congress, although we are both private nonprofits, to increase awareness and understanding among the public. about the u.s. constitution, and for you about public affairs. such a meaningful, important mission. and brian, i need to sit here and thank you on behalf of the constitution center, and all your admirers, for creating this marvelous instrument for public education. it is exactly what taft would have approved, allowing citizens to absorb complicated arguments, so that they can make up their own minds, educate themselves , and develop their faculties of reason. it is a tremendous service, and it is such an honor to be in or and toiewed by you have our collaborations, the constitution center and c-span. brian: go back to the beginning, at the "old new republic," how did it happen that you headed this up? how big of an organization is it? jeffrey: thank you for asking
4:19 pm
that. it was the most meaningful break of my life. i was in law school, and i decided in law school i wanted to be a journalist. i didn't want to be a practicing lawyer, because i knew i wouldn't be very good at it. i was an intern for the "new republic" in law school, writing editorials as a young kid about the retirement of the supreme court, the most exciting thing i ever did. i clerked for a year, then decided to be a freelance journalist rather than a lawyer. my mom wasn't happy about this, because she saw the expensive law school education going down the drain. but andrew sullivan, then the editor of the "new republic," asked me to be legal affairs editor at age 28. a tremendous opportunity.
4:20 pm
the "new republic" in those days was one of the few political magazines writing at length about legal topics, and i had this amazing opportunity thanks to andrew sullivan to write about the law and the constitution for a magazine that featured giants like felix frankfurter, all my constitutional heroes. the most exciting opportunity i had, and i did it with great gratitude and relish, for a long time. the "new republic" was a small group of shining journalists and intellectuals. such a beautiful group of people, who were determined to seek the truth, with conscience, a tradition going back to the days of frankfurter. back in the early 1990's, what a thrill to be a young kid out of law school, working with people like fred barnes, mickey kaus, andrew sullivan, charles lane, all these giants who have gone on to such great careers in journalism, and i was privileged to be a young staffer at that exciting time. brian: the constitution center. how big of a deal is it? what kind of budget does it have? where does the money come from? what do you do on a day-to-day basis in running it? jeffrey: thank you for asking about that. it is this beautiful temple to the constitution, on independence mall, across from independence hall in philadelphia. i want citizens on c-span to come see it. it is the most inspiring space, and the only education center in
4:21 pm
the united states devoted to constitutional education, with a hall of statues of the signers, , wherealled signers call the kids can touch george washington, benjamin franklin, see how tall they were and commune with their spirit. and the rarest original copies of the constitution and declaration of independence, the bill of rights. but also a national education center, devoted to bringing liberals and conservatives together to educate people about the constitution. c-span viewers know about our great online resource, the interactive constitution, which brings together the top liberal and conservative scholars in america to write about every clause of the constitution, describing what they agree about and disagree about. it is so exciting that the college board will work with us to create a special curriculum on the first amendment. supreme court justices gorsuch and kagan will help us to videos to teach kids about the first amendment, and anyone in america will be able to click on the interactive constitution.
4:22 pm
i want people to go online to and see it, and find these materials videos and lesson plans and materials that teach the essence of the constitution in a nonpartisan way. what do i do during the day, and how was it funded? this is very important for c-span viewers to understand. it is almost entirely privately funded. it was created with a mandate from congress, but we get almost no government money. the budget is $16 million, and about half of that is earned from our admissions, rentals and our endowment, and half of that i have to raise. we have to raise about $8 million to $10 million a year to create all the phenomenal programs that c-span viewers have been so wonderful about watching. we are funded by a patriotic group of donors from both sides of the political spectrum. our board chair is doug devos, a amway, a wonderful, patriotic american whose family has been a great supporter of the constitution center since it opened. we have liberals and
4:23 pm
conservatives on the board. it's hugely important for me to make the case, not only that americans have to educate themselves about the constitution, but also to find people at any level willing to become part of the project and help us. brian: who is your single biggest contributor? jeffrey: it is the devos family. doug devos, and his dad rich, have been extraordinary generous to the constitution center of the years, and we are grateful for their patriotic philanthropy. brian: how do you keep your personal views out of the discussion? jeffrey: you do such a masterful job at it, brian. you are one of my models. the way i do it, i insist on separating my political from my constitutional views. i have political views. i used to write about them as a journalist. i am not interested in them anymore. what i need to do is help citizens look at issues from a constitutional, not a political perspective, and understand that on most constitutional issues , there are good arguments on both sides. pick the right to bear arms, the most controversial question.
4:24 pm
what i want citizens to ask themselves when thinking about the constitution, it is not whether gun control is a good or bad idea. people will disagree as a policy matter. the question is, what does the second amendment allow or prohibit? it is possible after you look at the text, you might conclude that assault weapons bans are a good idea, but the second amendment forbids them, for that or that they are a bad idea, but the second amended allows it. i teach my students to separate political from constitutional views, and that is my mission, to bring to all citizens the tools of constitutional interpretation that will allow each of them, all of you, c-span viewers, to separate your political from constitutional views. it is an incredible exercise, because it opens your mind to the arguments on the other side. there are good arguments about the second amendment on both sides. it also turns out that we agree on much more than we disagree about talking about constitutional issues, as the interactive constitution shows, requiring liberal and conservative scholars to write
4:25 pm
1000 words about what they agree on. ands about what unites us, when you address issues on a constitutional rather than political plane, as william howard taft understood, you can rise above politics and cultivate your faculties and reason. brian: on a personal side, you dedicate this book to someone named lauren coyle rosen. who is she? jeffrey: she is my wife. we were married in october. this book has special resonance to me, because we met in january, as i was beginning the book, and finished in june, just as we were engaged. she teaches anthropology at princeton university and has a brilliant research agenda of writing about anthropology and law and comparative spirituality. one of her specialties is ghana, and we are about to go to ghana next week. i will follow her on her fieldwork. i will read the dedication.
4:26 pm
although i need my -- brian: "more than i ever hoped, the happiness i have been granted. love led me wisely through tome, rome, passing its palaces by." brian: we were reading goethe as together as we fell in love. i am a very lucky man. jeffrey: you talk about your children reading. brian: hugo and sebastian rosen came into their own as readers while i was working on this. they just turned 12. they are fraternal twins. it is so exciting for me to see their love of books, their hunger for cultivating their own faculties. i am so proud of them. brian: how are they different? jeffrey: well, they are completely different. fraternal twins, i think of them as two people who happened to be born at the same time. but i think i will respect their privacy by not talking about them in detail, but they are two
4:27 pm
beautiful individuals who love books and music. i'm very proud of both of them. brian: given what we have been listening to in our country for the last several years, politicians talking about one another, i want to go back to your book on william howard taft and quote a letter you found, to nelly, his wife. they were married 44 years. this is a quote, talking about theodore roosevelt again, he is "utterly unscrupulous in his method of stating things, and his power of attracting public attention is marvelous. i think he has really convinced a great number of people of the united states that we committed gross frauds, that i am the receiver of stolen goods in taking the nomination." again, what is the depth of this disgust for one another? nelly ispart of it is egging him on.
4:28 pm
he never trusted roosevelt, and when roosevelt ran against taft, she basically said i told you so. he said, i know you did, my dear, and i think you are almost happier that you are right. he won according to the established rules of the republican convention, and he's furious that roosevelt accuses him of stealing the votes. roosevelt supporters say taft has been railroaded through, and they have slogans like "choo choo" and "toot too." t." it's very adult. [laughter] jeffrey: and taft, it is understandable they would work themselves into a mutual lather about it, as is often the case. those are your closest to, when you get disappointed, have a breach, you become most inflamed by. so nelly is just working him up, he's complaining to her, and he is convinced roosevelt is a megalomaniac that will destroy the republic.
4:29 pm
brian: you start out the entire book in your introduction talking about nelly, her husband, the tapestry. why did you begin with that? jeffrey: i will let your viewers decide why i began with that, but it struck me as meaningful. taft, secretary of war, goes to japan. the empress of japan offers in a beautiful tapestry. there's just one problem. taft is convinced that as an officer of the united states, he is forbidden from the foreign emoluments clause of the constitution of accepting any gifts from foreign kings or potentates. so he says he has to give the gift to the smithsonian. there is one problem. nelly taft really wants the tapestry, because it is a beautiful tapestry. she appeals to president roosevelt, who decides that nelly, unlike taft, is not an official of the united states and therefore can keep the tapestry. she hangs it in the white house, where she enjoys watching guests being bewildered by its provenance.
4:30 pm
nelly, when she was exasperated by taft's constitutional scruples, said of her husband, "he stood by the constitution, as usual." for me, that's a perfect epitaph for his career. "he stood by the constitution, as usual." he approached every decision on constitutional terms, and refuses to be swayed by personal gain, despite the importunations of his wife or anyone else. brian: we are about finished, but if you were able to sit down with william howard taft, what questions would you ask, and why? jeffrey: i would be so eager to ask what he thought about american democracy in the age of facebook and twitter. because i think it would represent his constitutional ist nightmare, this dystopia. his speeches are so eloquent, more eloquent even than madison, because he was a clearer writer on this question, about how the whole mechanism of the american republic was designed to slow down deliberation, so people can have sober second thoughts.
4:31 pm
rather than enacting their direct passions into law, they should be required to allow hasty and impetuous passions to cool, so they could be guided by reason. what he would make of our current media landscape i can imagine, but i would love to hear his own thoughts. and i would like to ask his wise counsel about how to resurrect madisonian reason in an age of twitter and facebook, and how to slow down deliberation, to create the thoughtful second thoughts that he and the founders thought were necessary. brian: so what are you working on now? do you have another book in mind? do you have time to do that? jeffrey: i have two more books in mind. but because they are not yet, i will not jinx things by sharing them. as you know, but i hope for this book, and also for brandeis, i take my time to start, but when i pull the trigger, i write them fast. i like writing short books on tight deadlines. i'm excited. brian: will it be about a person
4:32 pm
or about an issue? jeffrey: one is about a person. the others about an issue. brian: president of the national constitution center, jeffrey rosen, has been our guest. the book is "william howard taft: a biography." we thank you very much. jeffrey: thank you so much. such an honor to talk with you about the constitution. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] ♪ >> for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at "q&a" programs are also available as c-span podcasts.
4:33 pm
>> sunday night on "q&a," historian charles calhoun discusses his biography of benjamin harrison. charles: when he was nominated, he was in indianapolis, and is speeches gave four that day, and his campaign people said this is the thing to do, let people come to you. over the next four or five months, that is what happened. wen son stayed at home, he would stay in that committee when visiting delegations from around the state come around the country, talk to special interest groups, farmers, and harrison would give them a short speech, mostly entombed to their interests, but something that
4:34 pm
would resonate. he had his own stenographer takedown and go over what he wanted people to read, he would give it over to the associated press, and the next morning, it was all over the country. >> historian charles ca calhoun sunday night on c-span's "q&a." >> senator john mccain died saturday at his home in the, arizona. on wednesday, the senator will lie in state at the arizona state capitol, followed the next day by a funeral in phoenix. on friday, senator mccain will lie in state at the u.s. capitol, where he served since 1983. on saturday, another funeral will be held at washington national cathedral. and on sunday, senator mccain will be buried at the u.s. naval academy cemetery in annapolis, maryland. t


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on