tv Discussion CSPAN December 29, 2013 10:45pm-11:51pm EST
they encouraged me to arrange this event which i'm so glad i did. that was great, but come back to my main sort of prepared remarks in a moment but today of course is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of president kennedy and those of us of a certain age remembered this very well where we were and looking at the audience most of you are in that same category where we were and what we were doing and there are lessons that kennedy still could teach us today. i'm sure you follow all of the documentaries and tv shows and commentary and so on. but one thing that is in my
caucus that he listened and learned among the examples of this and having covered the white house for 27 years i can tell you that many presidents do not listen and learn and are frozen in their own little bobble and they don't break out and managed to do this. when he took office he expected to be a president dealing with the superpower relationship of the u.s. versus the union. his only contact with african-americans was with the valet that andreu him too bad this a day and shined his shoes but as time went on, he noticed that this tremendous ferment was going on called the civil rights movement, and by 1963 the year that he was killed, he had been
braced the civil rights movement and so that is one example he did listen and learn and paid attention to the news media and one point that registered with me is he was a hero in world war ii in the pacific and admired physical bravery and by paying attention to what was going on, and by the way, presidents for years now have not paid a lot of attention and that is for a whole nother talk but kennedy did pay attention and solve the protesters being arrested and police dogs and fire hoses and that really resonated with him and so you remember this was the year of the march on washington that the increased the movement and so he listened and learned and was on the right side of history.
he also listened and learned on foreign policy. they had the decisions one was how to deal with the bay of pigs invasion and 51. second was how to deal with the missile crisis in 1962. the difference between night and day that went very badly. the support never materialized and was a terrible ambassador for the country and around the world but kennedy took responsibility for it. the historians that studied kennedy and in mine own research i found this to be true he concluded after the first crisis that he was in a bubble in the white house because he was listening to much to the so-called experts in the military and the intelligence community. and he realized that these
people had their own little bubble that they were in and at that time they were basically hawks like you may remember some of them. but then he realized that they couldn't pay attention to them as much as they had so he brought in the inner circle at the cuban missile crisis he found his own judgment in he was skeptical and felt they led them astray before and the cuban missile crisis goes down in history as a success for the united states that lasted to this day as we look at the kennedy administration. so just as a moment in history and given that this is the anniversary i just wanted to start off with a little moment by talking in the book about someone who did listen and learn and was able to break out of the
isolation of the white house. now, this has been around for a long time to meet president washington and 89 was understood in the natural isolation that the president would have even though he was the first president setting up a lot of precedent. but even the title indicates the problem that we have from the beginning they came up with different titles and one of his high eight maecenas george washington said the sound great but mr. president will be just fine and that is the title that he adopted and never kept to this day. they called the white house the great jail and president clinton said that it was the crown jewel in the federal penitentiary system and president obama said that one of the mistakes he made in his first term was failing to break out of the white house and moved around the country as much
as he should have and now he is trying to change that so we had this problem and presidents recognized it was an adviser to johnson 40 or 45 years ago and he said the biggest problem coming from the presidency was being isolated from reality. and i think if anything it has gotten worse since then because of many of the factors that i'm about to talk about. some of them are positive from the president's day to day life and has a tremendous spurt of office. there's a giant white house staff that's there to do whatever the president wants and there's about 132 household staff members in addition to the political staff. there's camp david at the retreat at air force one and i wrote a book about air force one and i can tell you that of the president might have heard that is the thing they always say they missed the most of the
flying white house. having traveled a lot lately the never have to wait in line at the airport or have the plane delayed and the sky for air force one so it is a wonderful way to travel and presidents just love it. but it's a very normal life and i remember when my first started coming to the white house and i walked through the northwest gate in 1986, shortly after that i realized how abnormal the president's life is. some is positive and some is - but on the more positive is all the other perks of the white towels and the family theater and the ability to use the military golf courses that other presidents have used and the tremendous difference that people give you. but on the other side of the life of the president is very difficult to deal with to keep in contact for a number of
reasons. one is security. of course we talked about the kennedy assassination that every time there is a security issue whether it is attempted assassination, 9/11, the security goes up and never goes back to the way that was before. we were talking about this earlier how it gets more and more intense. if president obama were speaking there would be secret service guards all over, motorcade ready to go, secret service agents in the audience. it's more intense than i've ever seen and i've never interviewed president obama and there were literally a secret service agent behind the curtain just standing there. but nevertheless, this is what the deutsch. no matter who you are, so you just wonder how a president could have any kind to mr. action with this incredible security that is around everywhere to the president obama and others tried to break out and meet with families in their homes and so on and president jimmy carter actually
stayed overnight in people's homes that must be quite difficult because i have had a security given to how they would come to my house in the washington hearing and people look in your closet and they look under your bed and everywhere. president clinton didn't end up coming but i got a taste of what it's like and president carter stayed in people's homes and tried to reach out and get a sense of everyday life but after awhile, there were big democratic donors that set i'm giving all this money to you. so he stopped staying with everyday people and started staying with the donors just another example of how difficult it is for a president to stay in touch. the decision to president meeks also cause this kind of problem. i have a number of photographs that i have had access to over the years and one is a dramatic picture of lyndon johnson who was one of the presidency list
in the book as being stuck in the bubble particularly at the end of the presidency and he was almost literally a president of the white house because of the decisions made notably the vietnam war. we think about how difficult the politics are but remember they chanted how many kids did you kill today that has to be tough for the high minded politician to deal with and he had to deal with that day after day and for a while at the end he couldn't speak except in the military bases where there was deference shown to the commander in chief or a conservative campus is because everywhere else there would be sometimes violent demonstrations against the vietnam war. nixon felt the same way. he had the same problem as he escalated the war. the treated more and more in his
inner circle and didn't really break out of it and feels the need to at the end of the scandal of how isolated nixon was in the paranoid atmosphere around him he was already talking to a couple of staffers at the white house and was a very lonely person in many ways. so, that's sort of another example and i would be glad to talk about the other examples of individual presence but sort of on the more high note, who are the president's seem to have broken out of the bubble and seem to have broken out into the regular life of the country and try to understand? one was a person that i consider to be the first most modern president of this franklin roosevelt. franklin roosevelt was paralyzed from polio which he contracted when he was about 39-years-old. he never recovered the use of his legs that he would take therapy and he struggled all of
his life to recover his mobility but he never could. when you see those pictures of roosevelt going to the podium, when he was about to speak he's walking very slowly, he is waving and he looks like he's having a great time this was an act because if you look carefully, they had to bodyguards with one of his sons holding him by the elbow as he braced himself and then they maneuvered him over to look like he was walking, but he actually had a steel braces from his hips to his ankles and so by the time he meets the podium he kept at it so that's the point i'm raising is that franklin roosevelt learned empathy because of the polio that he had and eleanor his wife said he never would have in this tremendously and that the president if he hadn't had polio. so he made use of that in his public life. you might have seen the movie warm springs which is about roosevelt and his younger days when he bought the property and
warren springs georgia which was a rehabilitation center recently for children with polio. he would go down there even as president as often as he could and you can go to the site and see the pool he used to go to show the children the therapy that he used that make them feel better and he never recovered the use of his legs that he tried to teach the children that even the president has to persevere and struggle sometimes. he played water polo games and so on. but the kids didn't think of him as president roosevelt the thought of him as dr. roosevelt. i always thought that this was a poignant story because roosevelt could have had therapy and rehabilitation anywhere that he wanted to as a wealthy man. but he kept going back to the springs in order to give an example to the children. i always thought that was a wonderful story. but eleanor felt it gave him an empathy with the country coming
and that helped make him a better president. another quick point about roosevelt. she realized since he couldn't get out of the country since he wanted to he relied on his wife to do it for him. she became what they called his eyes and years so she traveled around the country and would go to places first ladies had not gone before. she went to migrant camps come in and cities, the coal mines there's a famous case she went down to the mine shaft in pennsylvania wearing a miners outfit and she would report back to franklin. so she was serving almost as a pollster and a reporter and she found a way to also connect with him as president because they were having trouble in their marriage and this was the way that she could be a partner with him in governing because he looked forward to her coming back and getting these fact finding 40-hour dinners she would go over her notes and she was a very voluminous note taker and he valued this.
he tried to reach out. he had fax machine. he had a fax at the white house he gave out to friends around the country who could send him a note directly to tell him what they thought about his policies and speeches. he got back to his friends. i thought it was a positive thing. he liked to travel. there were many times where he did talk to people. he was known for being late. part of the reason he was late all the time because he was talking to individuals. and if you can get them what i had considered a private moment, he would like to keep talking. a lot of us would feel like we're waiting him for all the time. when you did an interview with him. i interviewed him a number of time. you benefited. if he was engaged he would want to know. talk about flattery. the president ask what you think about it? some is public relations. hef interested.
he would come back and -- sometimes talk for an hour. he liked to chat. there was one time coming back from australia air force one has a compartment in the back where a group of reporters travels with the within. we won't take it within the press corp. everybody gets a turn in the press corp. i happen to be my turn. coming back from australia. we had a 22 hour flight. about half way through the cabin was dark. it was about 2:00 in the morning local time. i'm standing there with a soft drink. everybody is asleep. how am i going to pass the next hours? and hi, kid, how you doing?
it's bill clinton. he has on a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. everybody is asleep. he exhausted everybody. i'm standing there thinking, well, do i wake up the other press people? or do i talk to the president myself and brief my colleagues later? what do you think i did? [laughter] i just talked to the president. a half hour and nobody et. else woke up. he talked about the politics of the philippines and the leaders he met. and he talked about holding baby al-shabaab and al qaeda wall i passed over a giant clam, it was huge! i'm thinking i know something about the giant clam. i don't know why he talked about that. but that's as a reporter that's what you want to get from him. you're covering the white house. you want to get to know the president. i felt like i had a sense of the president behind the curtain. you got a feeling for an
intellectual curiosity that clinton had. several brilliant mind. and of course everything came back to him. as i say that's self-indulgence we saw also in the monica lee win sky scandal. i credit clinton in the book and generally trying to reach out. he read letters, he was very much interested in keeping in contact with people that way. president obama does that today. which i'll go back to. it's not new. franklin roosevelt wrote a lot of letters as well. clinton is one example that tried to stay in touch. one other quick. he was really whetted to polling. he a number of pollsters during the time in office. he was whetted to polling.
he came up with the idea of polling where he should go. most americans kept it a secret, of course. most felt that the president should go a national park. names sense. clinton went west to the grand canyon and hated it. he's not an outdoor guy. swatting flies, they had a tough time finding pictures to make it look like he was having a good time. after he was re-elected he never went back to the national park. he went to martha's vineyard. he loved it. the amenities, the beach, all the stars and entertainers. he admired were paying attention to him as the president. so it was an interesting insight in to clinton. but he did try to stay in touch. i think i credit him for that. ronald reagan. there's a lot of chris schism for being isolate and too much in the pocket of the wealthy and
compings and so on. but there was another side to reagan to be fair. i cover the last two and a half years of reagan. reagan had a tremendous first of all a tremendous pollster. also from california and utah. but response with people. thousands and thousand of letters. as president obama talks about letter today. president reagan conducted this incredible letter writing that was kept private. there was one case i'll share with you that just summarized this just to show that he was trying to keep in touch in his own way. he went to a grammar school in washington, d.c., and asked the principal to have -- give him the name of a student. he could be a pen pal with. they came up with a guy named rudie heinz. a young african-american student. we didn't know anything about it in the press corp. reagan didn't want a lot out.
he felt like it would be distorted. did carry-on a response with rudie heinz. and actually visited -- had him don't white house with the single mom and went to their house to have dinner. secretly. now i don't know how he did that. we thought we were keeping tabs on him in the press corp. we apparently weren't. all through the end of his.single female and after he left office and he showed up at the funeral. very greatly admired reagan in the end. and sometimes we knew we didn't get the full -- and reagan's case he tried to keep in contact. at least he recognized there was a problem that presidents had to deal with in breaking out of the bubble of the white house. now again in the book i talk about a lot of other presidents and so on. but i wanted to before we take some questions talk about president obama.
and then have some summary remarks. president obama, i think, does try to keep in touch. he has brilliant pollsters. we saw in the campaign. his pollsters lead by joel of new york completely outfoxed the republicans and romney. the republican nominee. they sliced and diced in ways that pollsters had not done. they use a lot of corporate meths where think that would have researchers actually almost live with families for a long period of time to get an idea of what was going on in the lives of every day americans. that's very expensive to do. but president obama raised about a billion dollars. he had the money and wasn't challenged in primaries. they came up with a fabulous series, which i've seen at lough private memo on this. series of able cease of the american public particularly swing voters. and they understood them far, far better than the romney
campaign did. and the republicans are not trying to play catchup. you see some of the memos and realize why he did some of the things had he did. the phrases he used and so on. the focus on coming baseball to the middle class, the economy and so on. and so anyway that was one thing he did. he does read the letters. i come back to that in a moment. i'll come back to it now. he gets about 40,000 e-mails and letters a day. that's what the white house tells us. the staff boils that down ten they give him every day and takes them with him and reads them. sometimes he reads them to his wife and talk about what can be done. i think they take it seriously. it's not new, wows tries to make it seem newer than it is. but he's tried to reach out. lots of times, the staff doesn't like this because the letters will then be sent back to the staff with annotations on it
from the president and so a farmer in des moines, iowa gets five calls from white house senior staffers. the president read your letter. how can we help? and they lost a social security check or something. the staff doesn't like it too much. because the they have to go scurrying around following up. president obama really does value the letters. and i think that's important. he does try to break out of washington. he's doing a lot more traveling now than he had done beyond the campaign. he's going to be in san francisco, monday, by the way, you'll see that probably on your highways. [laughter] when he arrives. but he does try to break out. as i said earlier, it's difficult for the president to get that human interaction but president obama tries do it. and i credit him for that. and again we were talking about the polling. president obama does try to widen his circle of contacts so that he --
terrorist a problem now the whole health care issue, i think is an example of how somebody who tries to reach out like president obama does often does not succeed. because the whole rollout of the health care law of obamacare has been struck all kinds of embarrassing problems with the westbound and president obama saying you can keep the plan you like. which didn't turn out to be true for millions of people. basically i think what happened here he was surrounded by so many presidents are idolizers.
this happens again and again other the years. that's part of the isolation that presidents have to endure. and so how does president obama deal with this? he tries. he starts out with a blackberry. he tries to -- now the secret service didn't want him to keep the blackberry. they felt the bad guys would track him as we learned from the surveillance stuff. they can track it. he still uses the blackberry so his friends can communicate with them directly. he keeps in touch with popular culture. it's another thing for presidents to do. you know, one of the people watching not only in the news sense but also on just on television or in the movies what is going on in the culture. he does try to keep in touch with that. and i think that's everybody's advantage he tries to do that. he also tries to have din we are his family at 6:30 every night.
it makes it seem like a miner thing. it goes back to the notion of listening to your spouse and family. michelle obama will speak truth to power. she will say, barack, that was not a good speech. you're off on this and that. there's not many people that will do that for any president except the president's spouse. nancy rage did it for president reagan. he talks to his daughters. they see him as dad. i got a b on my test and should have gotten an a. that's basic. and valuable to ground the president. they don't care about his great speeches to help policy or news conferences. they're talking about their own world but his report i think get insight in to that because president often don't. they lose contact with the everyday life of the country.
i'm paying attention to the people in i had district. i don't care what the rest of the country wants. they're in their bubbles. the business communities is in a bubble. the unions are in a bubble. we're sort of all sort of in the strange little now and people aren't listening to each other very much. i think it's a problem. above all for the president who is supposed to represent all of us, and it's a real challenge to stay in contact with all of us. need to pay at lough attention to. with that, i think question take some questions. thank you very much. [applause] i'll follow directions and get in my seat. [laughter]
[inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [laughter] are we on? okay. all right. i want to remind our radio audience first we are in san francisco, california listening to kenneth discuss his new book "prisoners of the white house imts which is a fascinating book called the bubble that various presidents seem to exist in not by choice but by design. we're now going proceed to the
audience questions. i have the unusual task of trying to juggle the microphone, cards, and notebook at the same time. i'll do my best on this. you talked about at the very end . >> i haven't seen it this bad. thing people are more and more retreating to their own worlgtd. you see it in the news. fox on one side. msnbc on the other. people can get their views reinforced very easily. and often people don't do anything beyond that. they just get their views reinforced. it bounces back to washington in a series of can cocoons people
are in. i think that is really going on. i think that the whole notion of why this is happening. why it's so bad. because partly in the house of representatives it's called jerry mannedderring. democrats and republicans. once it's elected it's hard to dislodge them. we have a sense of an antiincumbent move developing now. i don't know how it's going turn out. i think it will turn out there's antiwashington lead to outsiders running against washington. whether democrats or republicans. that probably will be the same thing that will happen in republican presidential race, by the way. on the democratic side of hillary clinton wins, she'll almost clear the field. we have to be careful of that. we thought it would happen the last time. and barack obama defeated her
for the nomination. you never know how it's going work out. in the republicans, when i travel around the country, and see at lough polling. it's the governors that seem to be more in touch probably of any political group in the country. the governors seem to be more in touch than certain politicians in washington. i think that's where a lot of people will tush to in the next campaign. particularly for the republicans. but also, i think, around the country that's what people are doing so much of of our politicals politicals is cocooned now. it's difficult for the people to realize that and break out of it. >> on that encouraging note.
[laughter] you talked about the roam that eleanor roosevelt played for fdr -- [inaudible] for some sense? >> that's a good point. hillary clinton was not so much a gathering of information for bill clinton about where the country was. she was a policy maker. she played a more policy maker than any first lady before or since really. bill keep in contact with the country on his own quite well. hillary clinton understood that. i think he's far better at that today than hillary clinton is. and i think that's one problem she's going have if she runs. which i think she'll do. but now she saw herself not as a barometer of the public but a washington policy maker. and they tried to get the health care go through. you remember it didn't work. then after that, and she was in charge of that. then after that hillary clinton backed off because there was a failure of the health care
bill. but i think there was different than the eleanor roosevelt role. hillary admired roosevelt greatly. because eleanor did take policy positions too. it's the the role she played as policy adviser. >> you talked about going -- [inaudible] she flew down second world war to visit the troops there. imagine doing that today. >> right. as the war went on. eleanor broadened her missions to include visiting troops around the world. there was a famous visit she made try to keep it secret for security reasons. and then the rumors were spreading there was a famous adviser going show up, i believe it was sydney australia. it was eleanor. she went to hospitals.
she visited troops there. she went to the soldier camps and so on. and she went to a famous incident they still talked about over there. she turned up at the community event, and sang "for she's a jolly good fellow." she loved that. but she also on the fact finding missions took the information from her own agenda she wanted to promote. civil rights was important to her. she pushed civil rights. franklin did. and a lot of times he wouldn't listen to her he said as so many of the other presidents have said. if i push for civil rights i'm going lose the rest of my agenda because of segregationists in congress or because the conservatives who oppose it. so he didn't push a lot of civil rights. but eleanor felt she could get franklin beyond through on some thicks such as letting the african-american troops have some kind of recreational
facilities comparable to what the right groups did. rerefused to desegregate the military. that's what truman did, by executive order. you remember the famous case of mary anderson, the african-american ended up -- american revolution would not allow her to speak at their facility in washington. so eleanor arranged with franklin's approval to have her speak at the lincoln memorial, which they became iconic moments in civil rights where she gave a wonderful concert. which eleanor arranged to be broadcast nationally. so eleanor did not only serve as -- for her husband but used her travel to inform her on what she could do as first lady to affect change. >> you have not yet discussed two presidents who had the same last name. bush. >> yes. >> could you compare the bubble
qualities of george h. w. -- >> right. >> and the son. >> i knew we would get that in the question period. but i covered both of them. both of their administrations. president bush, the father, i think was elected and he was the right president for the times when he was elected. to end the cold war he was either -- unravel ling of the soviet union. the structure of the berlin wall and so on. very effective are i. he didn't take a lot of credit for it. he would say i learned from my mother not to pay too much attention to the great i am. that's what his mother used to say. control your ego. in other words. he took that to heart. now that hurt him. because a lot of people wanted the president to explain what he was doing. he has to do that to get the
proper credit. he didn't do that. by mid way in his presidency, the country turned against him because of the economy and the recession. they no longer wanted a foreign policy president. that i wanted a domestic policy president. president bush didn't get that. i say that sadly because i liked president bush, the father, personally. any of you know who him knows he's a gentleman decent and generous to people around him. he could never convey the qualities to the country. just one other quick point about the staying in touch. there was a famous incident why bush went a supermarket scatter demonstration. you might remember this. and they couldn't get the whole press corp. they took one and put anymore there and refer him back to the rest. it misunderstood what was happening. it was a scanner technology exhibit. theyer to up and threw it on the
screen and comowter read the bar code that was torn up. at the time i think we would have been surprised. it wasn't something that did that. that's what he was reacting to. he was aware of the technology. he didn't understand this bar code dearing up business. it became a symbol he was completely out of touch. it became sort of an iconic set back for him. people felt he doesn't even know what a supermarket is like anymore. he did lose touch. i think it was a big reason why he lost to bill clinton. clil ton was in touch. knew what people wanted. we come to president george w. bush. the decider, as he called himself. he had a notion that he knew better. he said i am a conviction politician. not conviction in the term of felony. [laughter] conviction in term of believing
thing. he said i will make my decisions on what i believe. i don't care what anybody else thinks. i'm going do what i think is right. so now the architect briefed bush on him. oftentimes he didn't pay that much attention to him. he ended up running for reelection basically on the idea he could keep the country safe and john kerry could not. he won. then he fell in to this whole second term jinx or overreach that so many presidents fall in. president obama is now in. pushing for privatization, partial privatization of social security, way, way unpopular in the polls. he kept doing it. the iraq war was going badly. he didn't pay a lot of attention to public opinion on that. then the other quick point is hurricane katrina. he was on vacation in the ranch in texas when the hurricane
hit. devastated the gulf coast and new orleans. he wasn't paying attention. again, to the news media, you know, i'm a member of the news media. i want you to pay attention. president bush did not. there were images of people on the roof and people in the stadium begging we need help. somebody help us. sad moments the people going through. and bush didn't even know. he was cutting brush and burning up cedar branches. and finally one of the staffers put together a newsreel almost amazing what was going on with images. and sat him down and said you've got see it. he looked and decided to go back home after this was going on for some days. that the point people were thinking well, here is the president? thinking back on the presidents. could you imagine lyndon johnson not going? could you imagine bill clinton not going? somehow show some solidarity
with the people. but he didn't do it. so he flew over the site on air force one. you might remember the picture of him looking out the window. it became the symbol ofizelation of george bush. botching the management of the hurricane remember the fema. the agency guide. mr. brown, you're doing a great job. it didn't out to be true. a heck of a job. >> exactly. >> that picture was release bid the white house. it became a lasting image of george bush isolated at 35,000 feet. not paying attention to the suffering under the plane and in the country. and just a final point. his staff then and now say it's the moment where he lost the country nap people no longer thought he was a good manager and no longer thought he could be trusted to represent what was going on in the country. he really suffered from that. that's part of the story of the second term.
>> you talked about the curiosity of clinton. how would you apply the phrase to george herbert walker and george w.? >> well, curiosity. i don't think either of them have a lot of intellectual curiosity in the sense of trying to find out things outside their orbit. the advantage president bush the father had. he had vast experience in a lot of things. he had been a businessman, an oilman, ongoing china. he was director of central intelligence. he had been the head of the republican national committee. a member of congress from texas. he a lot of varying experiences. and he used that to a good extent. he didn't -- learn a lot in addition when he was president. as i said president ken did that. president bush the father did. if anything the son was less willing to learn about things. there's always this discussion president bush the son.
was he frankly too stupid to be president. you have heard all of this argument. i never felt that way. i think he was perfectly had perfect brain power to be president. he didn't have the intellectual curiosity. if he didn't need to learn about something, he wasn't going learn it. he did learn about the middle east and terrorism. he learned about the economy. but there are vast areas he wasn't interested in. he didn't feel like he needed to learn. that's where i would fault him. not having intellectual curiosity. i think that's the problem. >> last question on george w. bush. there's speculation that the president's office isolated him really without his knowing it. >> yeah. nor and more is coming out with the relationship of george w. bush and dick cheney, his vice president. in the beginning he relied heavily on cheney. he didn't have any experience in
foreign affairs. you see the interview with him during the campaign. he didn't know the leaders. who is the leader of pakistan? oh it's that muslim guy, he would say. okay. that's not very heartening. but anyway, they so he -- cheney he selected because cheney had defense secretary. white house chief of staff and veteran in washington and didn't know a lot about foreign policy and defense. which bush didn't. in the beginning, he really deferred to cheney on a lot of things. as we have learned, as time went on, bush felt he learned enough and overruling cheney. cheney wanted further escalation in iraq further escalation in afghanistan. more aggressive use of armed forces against terrorism. and bush rejected a lot of that. and so they did have a falling out. you look at some of the events that president bush is having now. cheney isn't even invited sometimes. they had a falling out. the last point on that, remember
the guy named scooter who was vice president cheney's chief of staff. very important guy in the administration, and he was convicted of putting out information he wasn't supposed to put out. and violating classified information restrictions. china any for months pushed president bush to pardon him. and president bush refused. and because he felt that he had -- and needed to be punished. cheney never forgave bush for that. there was a tremendous friction they had to the end that existed to this day over the scooter business. the short answer is president bush paid a tremendous amount of cheney initially. then it faded as the term wore on and president bush felt he could make the decisions himself. >> several people have asked a little more about the role of pollsters.
because there are probably as many pollsters as boston red sox. [laughter] how does the white house -- first of all, does the white house look at all of these polls and how do they filter through and figure out which ones are -- >> right. i paid a lot of attention to polling in the book. i have known all the presidents or pollsters starting with reagan. starting with richard, brilliant pollster for ronald reagan. reagan would have him come to the white house and brief him once a month he was not on the staff. he didn't want to be in the staff. he stayed as an outsider and insist order briefing the president personally. often just the two of them. so you wouldn't have other staffers interposing themselves. other people can that later. but the one had direct access to the president which was smart of him. what reagan wanted to pay attention to the polls.
he came up with some of the pioneering techniques that are still used. he came wasn't question is the country headed in the right direction or on the wrong track? the famous right track wrong track question. as to this day, and got to be the best indicater of hue a president is doing. the president tend to do similar to what the people think about right track wrong track. right now 70% of americans think we're on the wrong track. it includes conservatives, one reason, liberals for another reason. everyday people whatever. there's a tremendous dissatisfaction with right now. it's seen as right track wrong track figure. he inconveniented a lot of these polling notions. as time went on if anything has become more important, president obama uses polling very extensively today. as i said and the republican
last time. the key thing to me is the president shouldn't ignore the pollster or polling. but should have other views that he can bounce the polls off people for. president obama does do that. i keep -- president obama because he's president now, of course. but he has terrific pollsters. it anything he should probably listen to them more. from what i gathered, they saw some of the problem coming with the health care law that president obama's other advisers were not telling him about. you talk about the bubble, i think they gave him a disservice in an effort to protect him or in a sense of humor they'll figure it out in the end. it didn't work out that way. one of the contacts the president inevidently has outside the bubble is leaders of other foreign countries. to what degree is that a good check and balance in the
isolation? >> that's a very good question. not everybody does to have more of a relationship with some people rather than others. sometime it is would be surprising why who the presidents bond with. if you look at president reagan and president bush the father and reagan. somehow there was one leader they could call during a crisis. just because the person made them feel good. it was bryan moe loan any of canada. you would never imagine that. he was a back slapping, fun-loving guy. for some reason, he just got along well with the american presidents. part was -- he was giving them small support. that's what it is. i don't think presidents take policy advice very often. they get support or bond with them and get reinforced.
a couple of convict example. there's no closer -- churchill, first of all. saw eye to eye on so many things. it reinforced a lot of roosevelt's views. he disagreed on a lot of things. reagan and thatcher. it was a tremendously close relationship. they got along very well. and the conservatives at the time when they were trying to get their country to go along with them. and bill clinton and tony blair and george w. bush and tony blair which hurt his image in great britain. you remember he was thought of as the lap dog of the -- the poodle they called him in the newspaper for the american president. but he was supportive of clinton and bush. i think that's what it is. the personalities so often is what makes a difference. not the policy advice. presidents want to have almost like a buddy system.
it they get somebody they can count on to support them or understand what they're doing. it's very important. >> the tapping their cell phone. >> tapping their cell phones. it's not the happy camper these days because the phone has been tapped. and i think, you know, president obama said i didn't know. how could he not have known. i find hard believe myself. but the tapping i'm sure we do that. and they do it to us. they try to find out what we're doing. i remember when i covered the white house one of the senior officials. when we're talking, don't stand too close to the windows. because the soviet embassy on a hill. they have sophisticated listening devices and we know they can hear us if we're too close to the window. it's at the white house. and so you can imagine what happens now. things are so sophisticated now. i think the surveillance -- it is a problem with the
administration that it has come out. >> we have a little time left. there are several questions outside of the technical scope of your book. of your expertise on. first the feeling about the senate vote yesterday to change the filibuster rules. >> right. what happened now after many, many months and years the senate has finally changed this part of the filibuster rule, which required 60 votes to approve the president's nominations for senior officers in the government and some judges. not the supreme court but the judges. now we'll take 51 votes. which is where it is focused. but then now what happened is that the republican minority has
blocked so many things. so many judges, so many apartments. that finally the white house and senator the democratic leader said enough. they call it the nuclear option. now what the republicans are saying. okay when we take over the senate. watch with we do. we're not going to let you have the minority blocking things. and so, you know, that's the other part of it. but they have -- i think more of that is made than should be right now. because people are saying president obama can name a lot of liberal judges now. yes, he can. you don't wind up in the supreme court where you have 5-4 court majority. until that change, i think it's a bad analogy that he's going to be able to get a lot of policies through the court now. you have the supreme court
still. i think it's an example of how everybody is looking for every advantage in washington, and this is another example of the democrats feeling that the republican minority has too much power in blocking things. and so they finally take steps to start changing it. and the mlrb for a long time. have enough commissionsers. >> arm inform our courts around the country don't have judges that handle the workload. they have been blocked. they just stalled and don't vote on them then wait so long that the people say i have to do something else. it becomes a real anchor weighing down the judiciary in at lough ways. >> a lot of final area we appreciate your views on. you touched on a bit.
good legislation or bad. how do we get there? do we get out of it? >> well, that's a topic a. right now. we were talking about this the other night. what we can piece together, as we know now this is the latest example of it. attempting to change a huge complicated program like health care is just a vast undertaking. it's always going to have problems. and that's what is happening now. i think there were some on the administration's part they can get through this. they are smart enough. they can do it in-house. there was a tremendous number of people they had in the campaign that are technical wizards. they should have used. they didn't do that. now they bring in business corporate experts on technology young people are not trying to
get it fixed. the damage has been done to the credibility of the program now. it's going to take awhile to get it fixed and working. thairp saying by the end of the month, the enrollment website will be working for most people. we'll see. what it is the big problem with it it undermines the corner stone of president obama's approach to the government. the government can be relied on to be exeat tent and get it done. we don't want to, i don't think, take it too far. but it's a black eye for the government so far in trying to take it on. and, you know, you wonder the signature initiative of president obama should pay more attention to how it's happening. i say yes. i think he was relying on the people around him to give him candid assessment what was going on. they missed the vote. they just messed up. that's where we are.
was it a bubble or messing up? i think it was both. they felt -- i don't think they understood the mart of the bubble. they didn't understand how complicated it was going to be and how one thing leads to other consequences they could or could not foresee. the whole notion now can you get enough healthy people, particularly young people, to sign up so there enough money in the system to pay for the people who are sick who need the care. it's been a corner stone of the whole law. young people in particular or healthy people will sign up for it. we don't know if they will. another consult assistant pointed out the other day you have some of the people who who are least tech lodgely able are supposed to sign up using technology. that's part of the problem.
old folks who may not be that in to -- are supposed to sign up through the thing. they don't -- my mother would not know how to do this if. just one level of consequence after another. i don't think it was anticipated. and, you know, a chance it works out. it will take some time. but, you know, president obama has a lot of things he wants to do domestically. and foreign affairs and so will it mean there will be less willingness of the democrats to go along with some of the stuff. it may mean that. immigration reform. >> i was working on a blog about that. he's not anywhere being a lame duck. what you're going it see is him by passing congress more and more. you see him not only in foreign policy, which presidents can do more easily on domestic issue. you'll see him try to work out
deals on syria and iran. try to work out something on the israeli and palestinian. it's a challenge. presidents have a lot of the latitude on foreign affairs. he'll use. they don't go through congress many times. on domestic issues yo u so e more executive actions. executive orders, action. you're about to see a huge over climate change. the epa is about issue regulations to make it much more difficult for new coal-fired power plants to be built.
my feeling we can go on for two, or three, more. we're not going to. because we have to stop. i want to thank you for a wonderful presentation. >> thank you. >> very interesting to us. we will look forward to reading your book. >> thank you for having me. [applause] thank you, everyone. commonwealth club is now adjourned. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]
now joins us is lincoln in the a making of the statesman and dawn of american power. what is the tact you're taking with lincoln? >> well, i mean, there are 15,000 books about abraham lincoln, but his foreign policy is almost never treated. my book is about lincoln and u.s. foreign policy. part of the reason there hasn't been about lincoln's foreign policy in nearly 70 years. a human narrative about it. that's before the lincoln papers were released and library of congress in 1947. so there's a lot of water under the bridge since then. but i think one of the reasons there's no book about his foreign policy. he a strong and competent secretary of state. he didn't do everything in foreign affair. but the things he did do are really important. and s