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tv   Book Discussion  CSPAN  January 1, 2015 6:30pm-7:56pm EST

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and much more geared to coming up with resolutions that are friendly. >> so did you find that there was more lack of an inclination to prosecute or what it was -- is there another option other than not? >> there's a lot of different factors. i think one of the big problems is that federal prosecutors are afraid of taking on big companies like jpmorgan chase and goldman sachs because they know they will be in a fight for 10 years. they know they go up against the best lawyers in the world. they have to devote enormous amount of resources to winning the case. they also worry that juries don't understand the material. we can go after 100 drug dealers are one bank when we are going to win this case is that we might lose this case. a lot of it comes down to not than they decided me and the
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calculation when we take a find from these people and put these people in jail and did make kind of sense. what you end up with his people in jail and a lot of people who pay money over here. >> was anything is surprising your findings? >> no. what i was surprised by is how i did know a lot about how the criminal justice system worked or people on public assistance or for undocumented émigrés. i've never covered that story before. it was kind of eye-opening to me to find out how aggressive than we let us that system is. if you are a single mom on welfare come on welfare, you have to sign an affidavit once every three months. it's an automatic drug case you can do time. you could lose your kids. it's amazing. if you commit $100 million fraud
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on wall street, the likelihood is you personally will never pay a single cent. >> digs for your time. >> thank you. >> next, aaron david miller argues that her preoccupation of presidential greatness overinflate their expectations and causes president to misjudge their capacities. he says we be better off if we never had a great president. this is about an hour and a half. >> welcome back to the miller center american forum. i am doug blackmon. when the united states cold war with soviet union came to an abrupt halt there was slight hope among americans that her country would soon enter a golden era. our form of capitalism have tried them it would be extended to hundreds of millions of people, new levels of prosperity would follow for all indicating
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our economic system. peace dividends redirected at combating hunger and misery in the national budget would finally balance. the american presidents of the future for whatever political parties had the opportunity to reengineer for the world a new hybrid democracy and free enterprise. how differently things appear now. after the longest wars in our nations history against elusive indecipherable terrorist thousands of deaths and casualties, chileans of dollars spent without clear benefits come at the most bitter dissension in hostility between our political leaders, racial unrest, mass incarceration in a series of president who shocked us with moral indiscretion, blundered unapologetically and according to today disappointed us with empty rhetoric and incoherent execution. aaron david miller says we live in a post-rate era in judaism likely america will ever happen other occupant of the white house of achievement on the
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scale of washington, lincoln or fdr in fact americans don't want another great president. aaron miller worked side-by-side with american presidents for the past 20 years serving as an adviser to state department under ronald reagan, bill clinton and both bush administrations. he's a vice president and distinguished scholar at the woodrow wilson center in washington tiered his most recent book is "the end of greatness: why america can't have (and doesn't want) another great president". we are privileged to have an hour of your time. >> thank you. happy to be here at the miller center in particular. >> thank you. let's start with the second president bush bush 43. there is a president six years ago was deeply unpopular at the end of his presidency and viewed widely as a poor precedent, a failed president. you say almost as much in the book approval rating at the end
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had been in the high 20s to the low 30s. yet today when americans are asked in polls in 2014 about president bush 50% say they give a strong approval rating. so a failure six years ago is now a great president? >> let's start this way. presidents like fine wines age with time. the reality is they are much more popular once they sever their relationships with the american people in contemporary political terms and they are remembered in ways that are driven by many factories including who succeeds them, which is critically important. who comes before you and who after you is critically important to shaping your presidential reputation. there's no question about it. any number of presidents, look at two of our greatest.
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lincoln and fdr. lincoln preceded by james buchanan. and fdr preceded by herbert hoover. presidents who follow great presidents are usually individuals for whom there's low expectations and harry truman made that an exception even though he left office with one of the lowest approval ratings in the modern history of the president he remembered over time is a much better president given the fact what happened after truman loved there is good prosperity and the man turned a very dramatic the proverbial fall. lyndon johnson although transformative for medicare, medicaid. via tom. there was of course richard nixon who harry truman may have said that the constitution but
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didn't understand it. and then you had gerald ford, a transitional president, jimmy carter a one term president and mourning in america again with ronald reagan. again, we succeed has a lot to do with how you ultimately are judged. my argument here and i would not include george w. bush. he's not a failed president. i would not include george w. bush is an undeniable president driven by simple proposition . greatness of the presidency is rare. any dimension of the human enterprise is rare. i use the term great 15 times a day. it was a great movie. she's a great tennis player. have a great day. but we don't understand what it is. we don't need the notion of greatness of any meaningful content and we've transferred our appreciation for greatness from our political class because
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we haven't seen it to our entertainers, athletes and actors. there we appreciate greatness and then we can easily have relationships. we buy tickets. they may be expensive. these people rarely disappoint. it is an art class that we can't appreciate greatness because in many respects it's gone and it's gone because it's driven by the three factors that have to align like the sun, the moon and the stars in the right astrological formation. by the way not just a garden-variety crisis. using the nation encumbering character. you need the right individual with the right internal makeup of the right orientation publicly.
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and then unique capacity. does this person know what they are doing and can they do with the cabinet, congress media? can they make washington work? those three crisis, character and capacity or what has made our three undeniably greatest presidents grave. washington, lincoln and fdr. a half dozen others, maybe five including one of the favorites down they are thomas jefferson, andrew jackson, woodrow wilson arguably. i work at the international center for scholars. are only phd president and the only one in washington d.c. might be on the list. harry truman, clearly consequential. you have the three undeniable, the close but no cigar presidents and three others. i choose to identify jack kennedy lyndon johnson and
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ronald reagan as exhibiting traces of greatness, real or perceived. but that is 11 presidents out of 44 the 43 different presidents because grover cleveland was president twice in nine consecutive terms. we've had 43 different presidents eli ben of whom in my judgment have been truly consequential. the point of the book and it's provocative, we don't want another great president because the founders created a political system, which was designed to disaggregate power. they fear the royal governors. they feed the team. they may feared the mob as well. they created a system of an energetic executive, but an accountable one highly constrained. the only thing that liberates presidents in the political system is the nation encumbering crisis. again, when i talk about nation
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encumbering crisis, not even the cuban missile crisis which lasted 12 days for 9/11, which frankly might've been a moment to encourage the nation but it turned quite the other way. i am talking about in a crisis that is fruitless inescapable in which everybody has to essentially participate the three greatest presidents. washington, lincoln and fdr confronted the three greatest crises the nation faced in mind the nature and capacity to go along with it. i don't want to risk threatening the nation again with such a crisis in order to test the proposition that a great man and one day while then will emerge to deal with the crisis. forget great. stop expecting presidents to be a cross between harrison ford in air force one and superman so you can allow them to be good.
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the meaning of the word good that they can be affect it. they know what they're doing. good in the sense that they remain within the limits of the law with great moral sensibility and good in the sense that they understand themselves. they have emotional intelligence. not content are driven by demons or aspirations that force them into scandal or self-created crises which causes overreach. give me a presidents like that. maybe we can begin to imagine what we haven't had in a long time which is a truly genuinely popular president. it's hard for me to imagine in our political culture right now the emergence of a genuinely popular president. i'm not a presidential historian. but i am an american then this conversation we all have a
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stake in this. this is our office. i mentioned earlier that the founders used the word i twice and lower -- in the constitution. it is because they embedded the inaugural oath document for not these reason to demonstrate is the source of authority is not the president. this conversation is one we could have a must-have. >> i wanted to ask you about barack obama. measuring americans, the people measuring their expectations to something reasonable. in your critique on president obama you call the great disappoint her in your chapter
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on obama. >> he's not the only president. we have on our general discourse today i was sitting eating a hamburger a couple nights ago and nights ago when a guy sat down beside me and asked me what i did and i started explaining something about it. right off the bat he says is the presidency of barack obama the greatest abortion in american political history? that was the terminology. we have all of these voices saying we are being taken to catastrophe by president obama. on the other hand a lot of folks supported them who are also disappointed that are not the great leader that they have expect it to be. let's talk about that for a second. this is a presidency who is in fact 40% approval rating which is not disastrous.
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yet the very beginning with the presidency be went on with an extended economic approach strategy that arguably a lot of people believe, averted the great economic catastrophe. he successfully pushed through. legislation is not popular but may well turn out to be the most significant domestic legislation in two generations. 9/11 arguably. we tried some day and is the first vice president. the first nonwhite male president with the unpopularity how is it that dozen is in a trace of greatness to the good >> it takes a generation or more to accurately assess whether or not the democrats contained the control which is extremely
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important in judging the reputation of the president. only the two presidents and 20 century century, fdr ronald reagan served two terms and maintained party control past members of their own party. doesn't happen often because they don't think dynasties. presidents are like computers or new cars. every four to eight years there may be need for another one. let's be real about iraq obama. 's fingers on earth at some of the detractors suggest. my whole night here. you said the bar the aspirational bar the aspirational buyers heisey did. you set yourself up for profound disappointment he had we can soften the edges of the critique
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only want. we can claim that he averted the great depression. we can say perhaps dodd-frank on financial reform will be a critical piece of legislation. the affordable health care act perhaps was jefferson who said the transformative change cannot rest on the majority. it was pursued bipartisan presidents and the nation to bring the opposing party which is why these pieces of ledges nation three silver rights does it came transformative. they were perceived to be legitimate. it is the vast sense of emptiness in my judgment between what was promised in what is now perceived that in my view more in the title of disappoint her
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and cheese. when you ride into washington from philadelphia cover re-creating the journey from springfield. when you were sworn in on the lincoln body, you consumed at the post-inaugural know. when you re-create the exact mail that lincoln consumed. someone argue this is trivial. it is for the first and not grow lunch was all about. when you have arguing your inaugural that the political argument of the past no longer apply in the environment in which you know you are faced with the partisan, polarized political system with extraordinary challenges that you may not evil to actually online. you risk becoming the
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disappoints her in chief. that is in my opinion what happened. i don't want to trivialize it. what fdr did in response to his crisis created a set of systems is a scarred that were inherently responsible for why we didn't end up in the great depression. his crisis was not as deep as fdr. his character in my judgment was far too conflicted. he was not as fiery or is passionate. peace attached. he's not the motor in chief. the thinking president is extremely important but you have to also have one that is engaged and really involved. finally, the capacity. they're simply too many stumbles to suggest to me that in fact the experience required to
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manage the presidency, he actually had. i am not an adversary of barack obama. i voted not once, but twice. but that vote was designed to achieve another purpose, which was to validate the system of governance that i think is more important frankly than any single individual. they are still very much an open question. lbj said there are no final report on the president. only interim report. that is where i think barack obama stands. i use in 20 pages out of the 280 page book to demonstrate the gap between aspiration and delivery in a politically obsessed culture with our president in a way that has never been the case.
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part of that is because of our 24/7 media culture, which does many things. i mean 535 legislators, nine supreme court justices it is so much easier to personalize and create a relationship with one and then one woman who was an individual who has a wife, kate, usually a presidential pac-10 follow him around in a way that essentially turns the presidency into a transparent fishbowl intends in a mystique that is required for greatness in the presidency. they don't present the emergence even though every white house complains about it. news media, one example on october 22nd when jack kennedy in response to the cuban missile
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crisis, the networks immediately went back to normal programming. there was no 24/7, 24 hour buildup to that speech. there was no post-speech analysis. no mediation. i was 12. my parents watched it and that meant, think about it, that meant that my parents had to sit there for an hour and relate to jack kennedy with no mediation from anyone. no talking head commentary. they had to come to terms with him. his wisdom, his prudence his words in a way that we are somehow no longer denied, no longer able to do. we also end up trivializing them because they get so many speeches and they are now forced to play in the pop culture game in a way that can only strip away and in my view diminish. once you go on john stewart or jail i know that in the same
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stumble on the question of spores of the conversation turned to bully and barack obama said i bowled a 129. the quote was that it was good enough for the special olympics. he found himself the next day apologizing to tim shriver. that notion somehow presidents have to compete. the president -- the first presidential twitter conference in june 2011. i argue with my kids about this. dad come you are old. you don't understand it. it smart politics. it all may be smart but in some respects it diminishes than degrees kind of attachment that leads to the mystique of authority that is necessary for greatness in the presidency. >> what do we do about that? how cannot be changed. in a society where people say whatever they want to say within who they want to listen
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to and pursue what we have free speech that is so attached to commercial it to be that people make money off as in money as decides what continues. how can this be any different than the world we live in? >> you are making my case. this is not about individuals. this is about what has happened to american politics and media culture in the last 40 years. my argument is essentially the greatness of the presidency is no longer possible because there are four factors which have conspired over time which are structural now. number one is what i caught fdr's high bar. can you even imagine a president that will ever be perceived greater than fdr and the republicans thought they were getting even in 1851 when they passed the 22nd amendment to the constitution. they must not have thought
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clearly. forever enshrined, franklin roosevelt the only one that would ever be alike did to four terms combined fdr's high bar with a truly nation incumbent president, which allows for remote action and the president, which we don't want combine that with a 20 were senators media, which diminishes the trivialize the enforcers the president to compete and to be exposed. think about it. our last bald president was dwight eisenhower. i'm not sure president terry truman. our last obese president was william howard passed. he looked men and women who will inherit this office. they are all truly physical specimens. i'm not even sure we could abide
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looking at presidents that somehow have physical flaws. fdr had the nation been aware of the kind of his disability, had they seen him carry through windows, up and down stairs i am not sure he would have been able to manage the image of the presidency. truly extraordinary. >> bosley medical clinic. >> add to that the polarized politics and our mistrust of government. forget government big or small. there is so much mistrust about government as an agent of remedy and reform the president can no longer use it affect to bully can be appreciated for using it. those 45 years have conspired to make the odds i'm not arguing in my judgment sure to be
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possible. but the trend lines in my view are not running in the right direction and frankly i think that is probably not a bad thing. >> let's back up to one of these interim report. the ultimate interim report on great residencies and that is not rushmore. where thomas jefferson, george washington abraham lincoln. two of those guys you put on your list as the truly great. the third on your list hasn't come along yet. so why is it in 1927 thomas jefferson and theodore roosevelt is greatness to be carved into a mountain that don't make your list quiet >> aro on the list. >> none of the truly great. >> truly undeniably great presidents i call close but no cigar. five additional presidents, two of whom are in fact on rushmore.
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the sculpture are actually cited in this case to those four would be and they were picked for a specific reason. washington for obvious reasons. tr because of his work in conservation. and lincoln, are clearly greatest president because the most imaginative of any nation which is civil war. i think those are at the time quite appropriate. the historians basically what arguello and played the waiting game is a fun national pastime. that is not what this book is about. it's not an effort to reach a conclusive development on rating the presidents. but the rating game as historians tell it shows a
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remarkable consistency since 1948 when arthur's a future senior and his son later continued to gain a remarkable consistency in terms of the top seminary presidents. there has been very little movement in historians comments on this issue. truman and eisenhower have very little movement from the bottom up or from the top down. you ask the historical community and basically they come out with a judgment more or less along the lines that we argue here. ..
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they could not identify one and they asked me, who do you think. this is an easy answer to me great political figure, not necessarily president. i said martin luther king. one of them shot back, back, but he died. he was assassinated. i said, that is exactly the point. with all of all of his imperfections, no leader like him has emerged. >> but also king was not
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anointed in the universal fashion he is now until 20 years after his death. the idea that greatness is something that can be registered is -- >> it takes time. but assassination of course in the case of kennedy and the attempted assassination of ronald reagan, and real-time washington, lincoln, and lincoln and fdr were partisan than polarizing figure. read. but there was an appreciation of the time even at the time that these leaders shepherded the nation through remarkable crisis, extracted some piece
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of transformative change and began to be appreciated. you are right, over time as true national figures. if we continue to misunderstand that the greatest obstacles in the presidency may well be the nature of the office itself we are prone to continue to invest in individuals far more than they can actually produce, and that is one of the lessons. read presidential history. what you see are individuals who inherit circumstances which they read accurately and correctly. they enlarge opportunities already available and if they are good with the right character of capacity they can actually exploit the crisis in some aspect of how
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we see ourselves govern ourselves to make the country better forever, and forever and that is inherently and essentially what the greats of done. >> i i think this is important, that what is greatness question and a more granular way. it is is a big claim you make "the end of greatness: why america can't have (and doesn't want) another great president"'. you you are saying it is not going to come back. so i am interested in mount rushmore and teddy roosevelt, now incredibly popular but in 1927 the sculpture he was truly a great president. why then was it as time went by, what is the clinical analysis that tells us in the end he was not quite so great? >> again my definition of grace for greatness, you confront a nation
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encumbering crisis changing the fundamental nature of the system appreciated perhaps, over time for that greatness and dominate your times. the close but no cigar presidents jefferson, jackson, tr wilson and harry truman all affected the temper of their times in a consequential way but they are crises were not nearly as severe, imperfections much greater, and that separates out what i call these dispensable's or undeniable's from the next tear down. schlesinger and his son told him near greats, a very sort of loose term. i think getting at the issue of where their crises as to
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redmond to the nation in the case of these five? no. were their accomplishments as consistently and undeniably great? did they get most of the big decisions right? jefferson's second term was a disaster. twelve out of our first 18 presidents were slaveholders. how do you deal with that on a moral and ethical basis with respect to greatness? p.m. supplement to the absence of the kind of crisis that would have made him undeniably great. if there had been no civil war no one would have known lincoln's name. that that is an extraordinary statement. lincoln came from nowhere but it may well be clearly without the secession, civil secession, civil war lincoln refashioning the bases and extracting out of crisis a new moral
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foundation for the nation with the 13th amendment, first the the emancipation proclamation and then, of course, the assassination the undeniable's are beyond contention. i would i would debate and argue with any professional historian. washington fathered the nation, lincoln nation lincoln saved it through civil war and the scots and fdr helped with confidence and experimentation get america through its greatest economic calamity and made it through open war that was the last good work that america has probably fought the last war that left america stronger at home and abroad was world war ii. the others fall fall off and greatness is, i think did they produce great acts? absolutely. jefferson alone,
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the louisiana purchase can be considered the greatest executive action in american history, given what it did to the physical size of the nation. >> is it possible to greatness we are talking about so -- and i want to be double -- devils advocate with you to some degree but a society wants, human beings want to have mythological figures. every figures. every solicit -- every civilization always has. is it possible while on the one hand it is true that they were great leaders in their times, highly times highly successful presidents by the definitions that existed in that moment but at the same time if king george had backed off of boston in 1774 we might have never heard of george washington. lincoln is a guy who holds the nation together, insistent on keeping the union together. if he if he were president today there would be people saying if he would go have a beer with the secessionists maybe we would not have to have a
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civil war. also by virtue of assassination he does not have to deal with the fact that african americans do not get really fully freed from enslavement enslavement, does not have to live with the consequences. and one can make an argument that the way the war was prosecuted was highly dubious. the deal is cut. >> imperfection for sure. >> and death means he does not have to actually reconcile the thing our country is still arguing about today big government small government how much should government look after people who cannot look after themselves. to some degree it is by exclusion that we are able to offer these three up" -- momentous terms. >> yes because nations are like individuals.
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if they survive the early years against extraordinary challenges and threats they no longer -- it is music to my years because you are validating my whole case. >> i told you i was. >> not that the nation is somehow permanently secure. death dysfunctional politics, dependence on hydrocarbons, decaying hydrocarbons, decaying infrastructure, disastrous educational system, and deficits these are crises that over time we will sap the economic and social power from the country. they just are to a large degree is capable and lead to political division, not unity. along the way as the nation goes through formative years it requires myths, historic
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tropes, greatness in the presidency. we have grown up but we have not given up because we cannot give up on ourselves. ourselves. i find myself somewhat conflicted here, too. i have to be real. we are part of a post-heroic era that does not just affect the united states. i spent time talking about the end of greatness as a global phenomenon. 193 nations are represented in the united nations, and nations, and i am not sure there is one leader we could all agree is transformational and good, too. that is why nelson mandela's mandela's passing was so deeply felt by so many people. it is harder for the reasons i identify to acquire, maintain, and use power effectively in a modern democracy and even an
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authoritarian state. the not to give up on the promise of america. it is to get real in our own expectations. i have no illusions that in a year from now not for search by the effort to validate the one who we will redeem and save us will already be well underway underway, and that process of expectation and fantasizes us. we cannot wait around to be rescued because their are no more franklin roosevelt's coming. that creates a sense of obligation on all of us to invest in politics, reinvest in politics, not not just in our entertainers and athletes,, to believe in a
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functional, political system and that is really really hard to do because i do not see polarization in american politics, which is not some media creation. we are genuinely divided on many issues, but the one that i think i think divides us most is the essential instrument of greatness and the presidency. what is the role of government to be in remedy and reform in this nation. forget small or big. if a president is denied as agency, how then does anything really change? can we really go back to the days of very small government? at tea party rally in downtown washington, one of the most extraordinary signs was the one that said barack obama don't touch my medicare.
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this is a manifestation of an opinion that wants to downsize, go back to an older day. yet the sign is, don't touch my medicare. it is too is too late for that. 75 percent of the country if you include tax breaks now benefit from some governmental program or largess. it is too late. the question is question is how to make it credible and effective once again and the fact is, it is very hard it is no coincidence that the tea party and occupy wall street however diverse they are in terms of their ideological approach both target large institutions whether government or corporations. we have lost a good deal of faith in institutions, and by implication we set ourselves up for a loss of faith and credibility.
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>> i wonder about this notion. americans are in a constant state of awaiting a great new president. that is not how i remember the last few elections. i don't think their were many people who imagined and fdr. some of that attached to barack obama simply because he was the first serious african-american candidate to become president. there was a sense of okay, their will be greatness. if you talk to individuals, even african-americans during the course of the campaign and afterwards there was a good deal of conversation about we have to be careful not to expect too much of him. is it true true that we want a great president? >> the final part of this book extends more than a few pages talking about the
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ambivalence that americans have felt with the presidents. we are not the europeans who appreciated their kings peter the great, great, catherine the great, charlemagne. we don't do great in america which is one of the reasons we set ourselves up for a fall. we want great as commonly displayed. jefferson answers the door of the white house and his slippers. much slippers. much to the dismay of the british ambassador. harry truman invested in chrysler, and the president drive 1200 miles up through new jersey and over to michigan gets pulled over for speeding they eat in diners, there is no security, no advance team. we fool and trick ourselves.
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we say we do not want great, and yet we really do, except we wanted packaged in a way consistent with our own aversion to the trappings of conventional power. we want great as humility humbleness but we want our presidents to be greater than we are. we in some respects are already conflicted, and conflicted, and i think that is a understanding and validating your point. there is a quote in that book by john steinbeck i think on page 179. [laughter] and i don't want to use this as a prop. >> you just did.
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>> yes, here it is. >> in short, we may be to ambivalence about greatness to appreciate but certainly we love and blast our presidents at the same time. john steinbeck captured that contradiction. we give the president more work than a man can do, more responsibility than the men can take, more pressure than a man can bear, abuse them often and rarely praise him where him out eat him up and with all this americans have a love for the president that goes beyond royalty or party nationality. he nationality. he is ours, and we exercise the right to destroy him. >> interesting. let me ask you about that. i want to want to talk a bit more about media. strangely enough to take on this paradox paradox, if you would on the one hand we are very willing to at least begin the process of destroying a president over things like sexual peccadilloes, our most recent impeachment a
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president who otherwise was a very popular figure and some would say if had been around for four more years we potentially would have seen bill clinton be a a great president. but we are willing to attempt to destroy that president with the distance of time over things that seem strangely minor. at the same time their are many americans who would say we had a president with serious mistakes or a lack of capacity and ended up in a war that has cost thousands and thousands of american lives and hundreds of thousands of other lives and yet there is an american inability to just say we really failed here. our system failed here. our country failed in a
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gigantic way. we are unable to hold that president accountable. if ever there was a basis for removal of a president from office one would imagine aside from corruption it would because in the loss of thousands and thousands of lives and yeah that is a topic that remains at the fringes of lunacy even in american conversation. >> look at the nature of american wars. wars. only one failed to produce an american president. i will stop the argument at world war ii which ii, which obviously did produce a president, dwight eisenhower. only one before world war ii failed to produce a a president of the united states, and that was world war i. now, part of this has to do with the nature and appreciation of how america gets into wars how they are perceived, and the validation we give to presidents who have been military figures. that, in some respects the
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country is prepared to give you a margin of error and transgression. it is rare that you would ever see a president removed from office or pilloried to the extent that he would be forced to resign. johnson in vietnam chose not to seek a second term in large part because i think i think he knew he would be challenged. the criticism the constant hammering he received took an emotional toll. wars are paradoxical. the image that of war helps a president aggrandize power and enhance his reputation is only partially true. the last good war was world war
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ii. i don't think there is a basis for removing a president from office. take a look at the two longest wars in american history. iraq and afghanistan, why? fought by 0.5% of the population. of the population. that is one of the reasons that criticism did not lead to a much greater public movement to get out of them sooner. had there been a draft in the country do you think we would have been in iraq and afghanistan? we still are in afghanistan and probably will remain there for the next decade. do you think given the nature of the wars the asymmetrical loss of life, the standard for the war was never could we win but when will we leave i'm not sure the public will truly engage
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the result predicted would have ever occurred, a president like johnson would not have been hammered, perhaps even driven from office. the loss of life not nearly as to medic, although every life is a trauma and every injury from which people will never recover is a trauma. but the loss was not as profound as vietnam. we insulated ourselves. september 11 might have been a a transformative experience, something that could have been used to pursue inclusion rather than exclusion, but exclusion but this is one of my points. we are essentially engaged in looking at politics and military on a volunteer basis. 0.5% of the country fought far the two longest wars in the country's history.
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16 million of them put on a uniform. there was a a sense of shared sacrifice, obligation, responsibility. that were literally other than the personal wise was the single most important factor in my father's life and that sense of inclusiveness does not exist anymore, anymore, which further enforces the problem that we have with investing something more. >> i think that your notion of the limited range of sacrifice that americans were undertaking in these wars is exactly right on the military front, but it is also right that we asked the american people to finance the war with world war ii by purchasing war bonds
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campaigned and projected the necessity that everyone sacrifice. here we finance the most expensive wars in our history by far when you look at a day by day man by man cost but hidden the cost within the way that we tax people and debt and accuse one another of gross over taxation without saying what it was for. >> the justification cause of world war ii were so morally explicit and clear and victory was so comprehensive and final never again would we participate in such a war. again, i think that is a good thing. who wants another war that we will kill 50 million people? but in terms of our own politics, how can you invest greatness and someone else to mac you come to question the capacity to realize it
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in your own politics and your own life. if you if you are not called upon to participate in something greater than yourself a larger a larger enterprise for my children, 34 and 32 this is the great challenge. my daughter came to me a decade ago and said your parents had depression and world war ii. you had vietnam and watergate. what do we have? what is the large nation encumbering issue that creates a sense of shared sacrifice obligation, and commitment? i don't know the answer but i wonder whether or not it is intrinsically linked to the notion of how we look at politics and how we look at ourselves as a nation. newtown, after, after those killings i was absolutely
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persuaded that this would be a transformative moment in the nation's history. 9/11 fundamentally transformative moment and there are so few of them that force us to come together as a people. and yet what what transformation? this is a serious problem. i do not no how to resolve it. i offer three pieces of advice. the last chapters chapters of books always disappoint. if you are looking for a quick or easy fix get over it. the constitution has been amended. we are not going to restructure our political system, and i will spare you the civics lessons about term limits. none of this is real. real. we will function within the political system we have.
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number one think good, not great and not good in the bin nelsons but good in the sense that it actually has meaning , competency moral sensibility. read presidential read presidential history and understand why things happen the way they did. and think transaction, not transformation. we need people who understand what can be achieved people who can build politics and are prepared not to be detached but to be truly hands-on and to do everything truly possible to position themselves to make sure the other side whether our or deed bears the ultimate responsibility for not engaging, and do not overpromise. a very smart guy wrote 50 years ago that even america and out with our resources and special character -- and we are an exceptional
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people. it people. it is not for export. we cannot make the world that way the we are. even in america the best you can do is come up with approximate solutions. to insoluble problems. we need presidents who practice low idealism. they don't give up but understand that life is about reconciling the way the world is with the way that he wants to be. it is in that balance, that zone that hopefully we we will have presidents that can lead us. >> i want to come back to the question your daughter asked you the you, the challenge of our time, this great crisis of our time. it may turn out that president obama turns out to in the end brilliantly or incompetently handled the first great global pandemic
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and it may be that ebola becomes the great crisis of art country. we will see. that is still looking for the great crisis, great military challenges, things military challenges, things that we can imagine have some resolution and and as opposed to the much softer and complex challenges that face our country in particular now. in the absence of income inequality and balance out big versus small in terms of government and fulfill the ideals of the declaration of independence. this is in response to a review of a biography of woodrow wilson which appeared in the new york times a few years ago. this is a letter. wilson deserves credit for his achievements in shaping modern international relations but slavery and the failure to afford full
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citizenship to african-americans represents the most fundamental test of american principles and domestic policy faced by every president between the adoption of the constitution and the civil rights movement. on that count wilson failed. wilson was a great white supremacist. for too long to much presidential scholarship has accepted the gross racial abuse was inevitable. things could have turned out differently. past leaders should be vigorously judged for why things did not. that is a kind of failure that you don't deal with much. much. you make some reference to the failure of reconstruction, but it is just here and there in the book. it is internal and not external. is it that the great crises the great challenges will be
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fundamentally internal reconciliations over these failures of the american promise? >> i do believe -- and i spent most of my career in the middle east and came back to where i started as an american historian because i believe promise and future lies here. >> i am very much focused on the gap between what america is and what i hope it we will be. filling that gap requires a realistic and sober assessment of how and under what circumstances we change. we are not a revolutionary society. change in america is usually evolutionary incremental change. it took us 150 years to reconcile the promise contained in that declaration of instant --
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declaration of independence that our own constitution validated the greatest slavery enterprise in the world, 150 years, and i don't think anyone, even the most pro- american with sensibility would argue that we have finally dealt with the issue of race. this is very much an evolutionary process, and again, i come back to the issue of our political system. it was not designed to promote political change not constructed by the founders to make it possible for things to happen quickly that remains to me it seems to me, structurally a reality that we are going to have to deal with whether it is climate change, reducing dependence upon hybrid -- hydrocarbons, addressing the race issue.
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we really are trapped. i argue that we are stuck -- we are not where we want to be, but we have the kind of instruments the things necessary to basically overcome our problems. we have the unique geographic position in this country, non-predatory neighbors to the north and south and fish to our east and west. no country in the world in history ever was privileged and fortunate to have such a sense of security. number two we have an incredible issue of size in this country and abundance, natural resources we may not respect and continue to waste, but they are here. when i travel the country, i am amazed at the expense of land that is still open. that is not the case for
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many peoples in the world world, certainly in the middle east. proximity is a problem, and small is problem. finally, we have a political system, probably the system, probably the only one in history based upon an idea that individuals count and according to circumstance, merit, and luck continue to rise, can rise. barack obama and sarah palin sit -- share the same political space, and i say this neither to trivialize or diminish either is a testament to the reality of the system that people can literally come from nowhere and rise through the system. that system. that is exceptional. it cannot be exported. it is anchored in our history, our real estate, our location.
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but these three natural advantages, i think, position does quite well, even to resolve the slope leads, but it we will require a degree of leadership bipartisanship, and the sense of civility. civility. i say all the time and will say it again i have worked for republicans and democrats, and the dividing line cannot be between left and right, conservative, republican, democrat. it has to be between dumb and smart and which side of the line you want america to be on. you cannot demonize political opponents. while you debate even the most emotional subjects you do not, while they are speaking, think about how you are going to refute there argument. you listen to what they have to say. say. it is what the former speechwriter for ronald reagan called civility.
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it is not only politeness but the capacity to respect appreciate, and listen to what someone else is saying. we do not have that in our argue culture and polarized politics. i am at a loss frankly, to no since i am charged these days with just talking about the world's problems, not fixing them, i don't know and don't have an answer. the conversation has to start. that is why i wrote the book. >> you make the assessment we we will not have another great president. you are counting on that the aliens are not going to invade or there won't be another great war and the crisis will not present itself. do we deserve to have a great pres.? given all you have just said, do they deserve it?
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>> that gets into the issue of making moral judgments. i love this country. i find it remarkable. the answer is, yes, because with a great president deserve sure. we could do so much better and be so much smarter and more effective in the way we deal with the rest of the world. i am simply arguing that in one line, line greatness in the presidency is too rare to be relevant today and too dangerous to be desirable. in our political political system, you want a great president, find you got me. let's have another great president, but buckle your seat belt because the greatness will
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be in response to a kind a kind of crisis that we have not had in this country and that we do not want. want. we got over some extraordinary times. we were blessed with leaders who got most of the big decisions during these crises right and guided us through times where we are now -- how long the country's country's last? i don't know, but we now have the potential to actually begin to address the less the nation income bring crises the slower bleeds. it will we will require a different sense of expectation and our own conception of our own politics and how we participate and what we want. bipartisanship is critically important to this enterprise this is not the most polarized time in american history, as you no from your own pulitzer prize-winning book. preston brooks nearly killed
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charles sumner on the senate floor, nearly caned him to death. there is a darker side to american politics, of violent side, a trivial side out of which greatness came. i am trying to figure out a way we could have really good but not great without some of these nation encumbering crises and the trauma that has some shaped our country's history. >> let's let the conversation began. thank you very much. thank you. [applauding] >> the book is "the end of greatness' aaron miller. [applauding] all right. we're going to take some questions. q&a. hang on one second.
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do the book one more time. with or without pause. with applause. all right. on cue. we want to applaud again if you still think it was good. thank you. [applauding] the book is "the end of greatness' aaron miller. thank you. all right. let's have some questions. raise your hand. we will come around with a microphone. a microphone. ask your question and give the microphone back. >> it sounds like you read the book collapsing complex societies. your next book should be on followership. it seems to me you have made an incredible analysis of american history.
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now, followership is the problem. not. we are we are not following the capacity of those we have elected. >> this is a really good point. the old old quip that a leader without followers is just a person. it is instructive. one of jack kennedy's most's most famous lines came from richard the fourth. i can summon spirits from the deep. so can any man. the question is do they do they come when you call. that is absolutely essential it is with the followership of quality quality not blind and questioning followership, but
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intelligent followership. to a certain extent we have disengaged. there is a voluntary military. we frankly would prefer watching west wing. frankly more entertaining. we contract up political debates to talking heads on tv, and in some respects you are right. right. i see this as a generational problem, but she assures me that i am wrong and her generation -- and i believe that to be the case. the question is how do you involve young people and interview them not with only a sense of global responsibility some overarching sense of national responsibility where they feel part of a group and this is hard because we no longer have a shared sense of responsibility. various groups have been
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ignored. the history of a tradition of dead white european males that has broken down. there is no national narrative sense that we share. i don't see how you can function and expect greatness when that cohesion is not their. i do not want to go back to 1941. i don't. i was born in 49. america sacrificed. it truly was a great generation but in many respects it was an exclusive generation as well. so much of what has happened in this country is wonderful. we really are -- we have a big a big tent
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here unlike almost any other country in the world. there there is a measure of respect for at least tolerance how imbue the future generation with a sense of collective national responsibility is really the key and may be worth thinking through in a serious way making this the next conversation. politicians know that professional military will tell you that they want a draft. we have we have become too disaggregated, but some sense of followership. i think you are 100% right. a leader. a leader without followers is just somebody out for a walk. we have to figure out a way to correct that problem, maybe a more apt subject would be that. >> amen. [laughter] >> i have i have a suggestion. is this on?
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i guess it is. i think you should tell your daughter that the next crisis is evolutionary and going to be climate -based. 90 percent of americans live within 10 feet of water. a couple of centuries and they we will be underwater. we have got to start thinking instead of the next crisis lasting ten minutes or even ten years it will last us a couple of hundred years. i think young young people we will get on the bandwagon to make that happen. >> these problems are generational, particularly climate change, but i have to say i am at a loss to no how to begin to address this. it is a global problem. we have our national responsibility. you cannot do it by executive action alone, which is what this president has tried to do.
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i don't have an answer on that. i that. i agree with your .100 percent, and these great nonpolitical challenges including epidemics, global global warming, climate change our national security problems for us and we have to find a way to address them, but we are dealing with such a dysfunctional political system, and these slow bleeds served to polarize. in part, however, however innocent and self evident climate change may be and less you can produce something that is inescapable, something a politician must deal with now, something that is assessed among broader aspects of the public. fdr once said about lincoln that he died a sad man because he could not have everything. focusing on where you want
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to spend your political capitol in a country that is now only grudgingly in some respects and incrementally recovering from the worst economic recession since the great depression becomes a huge priority. i suspect it will depending upon the state of the recovery for the next president. but i can't i can't -- i agree with you. i do. >> i know you said you don't have an answer for how to have people cooperate civilly and get along. i think one way we can begin to look at this -- i am a clinical psychologist psychologist and marital therapist, and everything you said applies in a couple's relationship. it is possible to have them create a common a common vision and learn to work together as a team. i am not exactly sure how we can take this into the political arena.
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sometimes we have suggested a a little bit off-the-cuff what if their were couples who were actually working politically? they had to learn to work together and could help other people learn how to communicate and cooperate. we have to start at that personal level. it is not 50 percent divorce rate. the conversation if we can bring it to that level to how we can personally be civil to each other as couples, on the internet everywhere, maybe then maybe then from the grassroots rather than the top down we will begin to have some civility. maybe that is a place to start. >> should bring mary matalin and james carville here. abcaseven. [applauding] they have written and talked about the subject quite a lot.
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i agree. you need a transactional approach pursued by government from the top down but down but you also need a transformational approach which has to do with changing the way individuals perceive circumstances. it brings young israelis and palestinians indians and pakistanis to a summer experience in maine with follow-up in the respective regions, and you watch the individual transformations that occur of fear and suspicion on day one. within three weeks you see a remarkable transformation am a in morning, openly weak beam because they saw the future and are now headed back. this is extremely important. it is just hard to imagine how. it is a question of politics beginning at home, frankly. >> that was terrific.
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let me tell you about the president that lamented he lived in the wrong time, a consultant to the clinton administration, in the roosevelt room and was lamenting the fact he could not be a great president because he was a president in a time where their were no great events going on that would catapult him to presidency. one of his staff said, mr. pres., when would you have liked to have been pres.? clinton said, at the end of the cold war when i could have worked -- at the end of the second world war when i could have worked with stalin to prevent the cold war. your premise also exists in the white house with presidents who understand that they -- examples of whatever cannot allow them to become presidents.
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>> a fascinating story. bill clinton has revealed some of that in a comment he made publicly his lamenting he did not live in more tumultuous times, but the story you tell about the staff inquiry is new and quite intriguing. it comes down to the notion that circumstances really drive the opportunities that are available. and without the world cooperating after a fashion it is hard to imagine this. we briefed president clinton a couple of times before the david summit in july of 2,000, a summit which we all knew some of this new was doomed to fail. clinton said to us us, i remember distinctly, trying and failing is better than
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not trying at all which is quintessentially american. he wanted it. by then the two middle eastern leaders with whom he was closest were both dead and he felt the sense of obligation. you could see it even there. it drives the fundamental.that presidents understand or come to understand that it is the times they inherent that really it is that old biblical expression the hour a man i think that is right. the hour needs to be right for what i am arguing. the question is what happens? you don't want that kind of dramatic, traumatic hour to come. we need to learn how to succeed in non- heroic and
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non- crisis environments in an effort to preempt them and that is not going to be easy. >> one last question. >> listening to you i have been fascinated by everything you said and appreciate your being here today. i want to ask about one aspect. the election by the presidents of there cabinet ministers as a to whether they we will be great or not. i look at people like lincoln. great because he had the capacity to hire general grant who could win battles even though he was an alcoholic.
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an example of other good cabinet leaders that people have had over the ages. kennedy, for example, the cuban missile crisis picked a guy who had been a a former ambassador to russia to give them advice that he needed to solve the crisis. why? now we here the russian ambassador talking about puritan and the russian government, and they have no understanding. the ambassador made terrible comments not understanding his component on the other side. it was essential in the case of khrushchev with kennedy that khrushchev and the ambassador at that time were good friends, so he knew how he was thinking and how to respond. true of so many things in our history. it is like business. you have to have people working under you who are capable of answering the problems you need. johnson did crates for civil rights and civil liberties but failed because he became a general in the army. >> part of capacity is knowing who to pick and how
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to rise. you could argue the three greatest presidents washington, lincoln, and fdr assembled the three most remarkable cabinets. you cannot top washington's cabinet. you cannot. alexander hamilton was never president but that is an extraordinary cabinet with jefferson and hamilton and madison. madison. lincoln's team of rivals in the end served him well because he knew and understood how to manage and use them to the best of their abilities and his. and fdr assembled a brain trust. he relied on eleanor as an emissary and barometer of what the country was feeling and


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