tv Book Discussion CSPAN January 25, 2015 4:00pm-5:16pm EST
>> we are going to take a 15 minute break and then return to our wonderful ntc bill of rights book fair. before we do that, ladies and gentlemen, for starting off this phenomenal day with such intelligence and vigor and illumination, please join me in thanking lee levine and steve vermeil. [applause] >> booktv is on twitter. follow us to get publishing
news scheduling updates author information and to talk directly with author during our live programs. twitter.com/booktv. >> saturday, january 24th, is national read-a-thon day. organizers have asked participants to pledge four hours to to reading as part of a fundraiser for the national book foundation's educational programs. throughout the past week booktv asked viewers on social media what they were reading. here are some of the responses: >> let us know what you're reading for the national read-a-thon day on our facebook page or on twitter using the hashtag time to read,
and go to penguin/random house.com/read-a-thon for more information on how to participate. >> next on booktv john dean author of "the nixon defense," and rick perlstein author of "the invisible bridge." they talk about their books at the miami book fair international. [inaudible conversations] >> good morning. good morning! it's a sunny day in miami.oo [laughter] my name is pascale charlot, i am the dean of the honors college at miami-dade college and it isle
an absolute pleasure to be withs you for the 2014 miami book fair international. the book fair is grateful formi the support of the knight gre foundation ohl american airlines and many other generous supporters.li we'd also like to acknowledgete very special people inrs the audience today and i see some of you here. thank you for your continued support. [applause] for your continued support. [applause] >> today's presentation features two speakers. we will reserve time for q&a. if you entry would have been given an index card. please be certain to jot your questions down on the card and pass them to the right on this side and on that side as well. we will be collecting them throughout the program. at this time we invite you to silence your cellphones and enjoy the program. please join me in welcoming the mayor of miami beach, philip
levine. [applause] >> thank you very much. good morning, everybody. welcome. a great, windy morning but they got it doesn't feel like rain. is a great day for a book fair. as we say if it sprinkles a little bit it is not really rain it is liquid sunshine. i am the mayor of miami beach. let me get to the introduction. i am so honored to be here to introduce both these gentlemen who i grew up listening to. a lot of you did and they will be very exciting. first off is a john dean legal counsel to president nixon in watergate scandal and senate testimony led to nixon's's resignation. in 2006 he testified before the senate judiciary committee investigating george w. bush's war was wiretapped program.
he is a new york times best selling author of blind ambitions, broken government, conservatives without conscience and worse than watergate. his latest book the nixon defense, what he knew and when he knew it, he connects the dots between what we come to believe about watergate and what actually happened. in the nixon defense he draws on his own transcripts of almost a thousand conversations, a wealth of nixon and secret recorded information and more than one hundred 50,000 pages of documents in the national archives in the nixon library to provide the definitive a rented questions what did president nixon know and when did he know it and what will stand as the most of forte of count of one of america's worst political scandals "the nixon defense" shows how the disastrous mistakes of watergate could have been avoided and offers a cautionary tale for our own time. i have always been a fan of john
dean because i remember they were always on tv and my parents let me stay home from school so from that point forward i thought he was one of the greatest guys in the world. also i will introduce eric peristein, the author of the new york times best seller, the rise of another, before the storm, barry goldwater and the unmaking of the american consensus. is essays and book reviews have been published in the new yorker the new york times, washington post, the nation the village voice among others. his latest book is the invisible bridge, the fall of nixon and the rise of reagan. in january 1973 richard nixon announced the end of the vietnam war and prepared for a triumphant second term until televised watergate hearings hastened his downfall. the american economy slumped into a prolonged recession as americans began thinking about their nation has no more providential than any other
country, pundits declared that from now on successful politicians would be the ones who honored the adjacent national mood. ronald reagan never got the message against the backdrop of melodramas for the arab oil embargo to patty hearst to the near bankruptcy of america's greatest city, the "the invisible bridge" asks what does it mean to believe in america. i am honored to bring out our first speaker, john dean. [applause] >> thank you. thank you very much. i have got these new glasses in case i have to look at my notes. i typically don't. i found something good about
getting old. i had cataract surgery and as i was about to head out to do it my doctor said i am glad for you. i said what in the world? just do it. i am now better than 20/20 vision. i got these glasses but started wearing them and a friend of mine said no one is going to recognize you. you used to wear those round kind of things. he was right. the first time i had a lot i went to lax. he sizes va and things he knows me, i have been through this before. he gets the courage and says didn't you used to be dick cheney? [laughter] >> this morning we are going to talk about political histories. it marked like i had done eight of of them by most counts.
some autobiographical, some are autobiographical and some of them are a little bit of both. it is because i happen to know so much about a period of history i wish i didn't know about as well as i did, that i ended again into watergate with the latest book. my editor said to me as we were approaching the 42 the anniversary of nixon's departure from office, he said isn't there any question you have at this late date you might want the answer to? i thought about it, i can't really figure out how somebody as seemingly intelligent and politically savvy as richard nixon could make the kind of mistakes he made, let a bungled burglary desecrate his entire presidency. so i said probably the case will
tell that tale. while i might have to transcribe a few i don't thing many, historians by now have gotten through most of from. that was a mistake right away. as i started to go into the material i realized nobody had catalog or made an attempt to catalog what might be called the watergate conversations. the national archives, bless them, i have dedicated the new book to them given 40 years of work on those tapes, they have gone through so they could release the tapes and make them public, every single conversation. it is a godsend. they don't transcribe them that at least gets you into the substance to release them because they withhold anything that is personal or national security, they listen to every conversation, get the people
speaking in the conversation and the images of the conversation. when i started the new book that we are here to talk about they hadn't digitize this yet, but i was able to manually go through all their subject logs and found a thousand watergate conversations. the next thing i looked to see is how many of those had been transcribed. this got a little depressing because there were not as many as i thought had been transcribed. the watergate special prosecutor did 80 conversations, 12 of which were really good because they were used in the big trial of former attorney-general john mitchell, white house chief of staff bob haldeman, former assistant john ehrlichman. charge for the watergate cover-up. we listened to the conversations and tweaked them and they were good. the rest of the watergate prosecutor's conversations were
not so good. the content was good but then they would have the wrong person speaking so i called one of my friends who used to be it in the watergate prosecutor's office and said what happened? they said these were first drafts by fbi secretaries so if they didn't recognize the voice and often they didn't, it is not so good. i had to reduce those. stanley cutler, a historian who forced nixon to release the tapes much earlier than he wanted to release them all so did 320 watergate conversations. stanley did more than watergate. he did free watergate as well. at least the watergate conversations they are all basically partial transcript so i realized i would have to redo stanley's conversations. but that was 400 conversations 80 by the prosecutors, 320 by
cutler, there were 600 more conversations that the best i can tell nobody outside the national archives had ever listen to so i realized this was a huge assignment. i started a test to see how difficult it would be transcribing some of these myself particularly those where there were rough draft and preliminary transcripts. it is tough work. this is a pretty primitive system. i told my wife, maureen, with whom i am still married, that is a question i get everywhere i go i told her god forbid, these are high heads, i would turn the speakers up in my riding area, very loud, the men in families start losing in the 70s and god forbid the last voice i hear is
richard nixon, but i can hear use this morning. i plowed through uzi's and quickly realized i was going to have to have some help so i got some graduate students, a friend of mine who teaches in california, actually he is a historian but teaches archival science as well he started supplying some students who were hoping to be archivists one day and we got lucky or i got lucky because one of the first ones he found was a woman who had been of former legal secretary. older and other students and working on her master's at that point and she is now probably just about completed her doctorate and we put braces on her daughter in this project and worked out really well for her and she ended up doing 500 of
these conversations. it was impressive because these can be run from 5 minutes to eight hours. there is one conversation of nixon listening to tapes of my conversations as though it is a tape of him listening to tapes and it is, i said don't do my case. we will do those in a separate -- just did what he says around them and what have you. ..
>> the break-in will occur or did occur on june 17th of 1972. looking at my watch to see if it's going -- i've got 25 minutes before the hook comes out, so i just want to be careful. [laughter] he tells haldeman on air force one to have nobody talk to him. in other words, this is sort of a willful ignorance. he really doesn't want to know what's going on. but for those of you who read the book you'll see there's something -- and in writing the book, i don't do this. i don't give a lot of my interpretations. i give enough information for the reader to know things that i know but i hadn't gone through all these tapes so i want readers to reach their own conclusion. but one of the interesting things that happens in the early weeks is while he's not getting a lot of information from haldeman who's his principal
source secondarily and later ehrlichman his white house top domestic adviser and thirdly "the washington post" was supplying a lot of information at that point but that's it. and as he goes through, he has questions from time to time. the thing that surprised me is when pressing haldeman and ehrlichman for information he doesn't get answers. they have their own problems with what's happened. if you will -- how many here witnessed and followed watergate live during its -- well we know how old you are. [laughter] a lot of you remember this. but the details will be a little hazy at this point all these years later. the -- what -- as they feed the information in, haldeman and ehrlichman have their own
problems. the break-in occurred on june 17th second break-in occurred on june 17th of 1972 right in the middle of the '72 campaign. nixon is out of town. he returns from florida on the 20th. that's the first conversation that's recorded. it's the one where the 18-and-a-half minute gap will occur as well and i understand there are passed out some sort of question be you want to have a question -- if you want to have a question today we'll be happy to go through those. and anybody who hasn't filled that out yet who has a question and i don't get to it today, if it's a really intriguing question and i somehow miss, put your e-mail on there, and i'll answer it. be happy to. because i won't get to -- maybe i won't get to all of them. anyway, haldeman and ehrlichman
have their own problems. ehrlichman had been responsible for howard hunt who is, along with gordon liddy had organized the watergate break-in. i guess most people remember liddy. i was asked yesterday what i thought of -- day before yesterday before i got on a plane to come down here i was doing -- cnn is doing a documentary on the '70s like they did on the '60s. so that's in progress now. and for some reason they wanted to talk to me, and they talked to me for four hours about it. the -- and liddy came up. and i said well, you know, liddy has kind of left the image post-watergate of being someone who nixon had brought in sort of a james bond character he brought in to the white house for special assignments, which is not true. even more importantly it's not true that he's a james bond character.
he's not quite up to the maxwell smart level character. [laughter] he is a huge bunkler. [laughter] -- bungler. but ehrlichman's problem is he brought hunt into the white house, and he had authorized earlier, long before watergate in the fall of 1971 a break-in into daniel else burg's psychiatrist's office. and this will actually drive the watergate cover up from the white house perspective. otherwise i think that haldeman would have gone in to the president and said listen mitchell is the head of the campaign, made a mistake. this is dangerous, we've got to cut him loose. but they couldn't do that because of this problem of what hunt and liddy had done while they were at the white house. so there's a lot of animosity also that comes through between mitchell who thinks that ehrlichman has given him this
problem and sent it over to the re-election committee, and then on the other side on ehrlichman's behalf letting liddy break into the watergate. he knows that that had to come from the highest level of the re-election committee. and while mitchell isn't confessing at this point he certainly -- everyone knows this wouldn't have happened without his, his blessing. anyway so these two men have trouble, so they don't really tell the president much of anything. in fact, he won't learn about the ellsberg break-in until march -- remember, the arrests occur on june 17th of '72. nixon will not learn about the ellsberg break-in until march 17th of '73 when it comes up in a conversation with me. i won't see the president for eight months. the first eight months, what's ironic -- and these are the
tapes that nobody had ever listened to or really gone through closely -- everything that was key to the cover-up every single thing from payne, the watergate defendants -- paying the watergate defendants to the perjury of jeb magruder the number two man at the re-election committee to make the first phase of the cover-up work and those are just two highlights -- everything necessary mitchell, excuse me, nixon had been told about and had been approved. so it's not that he is unaware or out of the loop, so to speak of the cover-up. he has blessed everything, and haldeman has taken his cues from the president and authorized a lot of these activities. so the tapes themselves to me, there's not a page i would write in the book i didn't want learn something -- i didn't learn something i didn't know before.
small things bug -- big things. i didn't know that nixon had literally sub borned -- suborned perjury of magruder, i didn't know nixon had sold an ambassadorship to raise money for the watergate defendants. all these things come through. and i also as a result of going through all this came to a very clear conclusion of why nixon's presidency went down. and there's only one person to blame. while the staff did not serve him well, you know, for example a personal example. as soon as liddy confessed to me about what had happened, i go to ehrlichman, one of my two superiors, and tell him, you know john, we need a criminal lawyer in here. i am not a criminal lawyer. i happen to realize today in that presidency it was essential the white house counsel be a highly experienced criminal lawyer. [laughter]
but that wasn't the case. and he just dismissed that with a wave of a hand. and that, you know, we would start making mistakes right from the beginning. i don't think that anybody planned to get involved in an obstruction of justice but slowly, step by step we crossed that line. and it's quite evident to me you know how that happens. a lot of it is ignorance and doing things for political motives that -- motive doesn't count when you're breaking the criminal law. that might be something to consider in sentencing but certainly not -- it's something we should have been aware of. in fact, richard nixon really never hires an able criminal lawyer until he's resigned. that's when he first gets one that really knows what the score is. i know that from talking to watergate prosecutors, and i said did you ever feel there was anybody there who was anywhere close to your peer in dealing
with these issues, and they said no, nobody. they said we just were dumbfounded that they didn't get a good lawyer in there. so in looking at the trajectory of the tapes and watching nixon's day-by-day behavior, i came to just a very realistic conclusion that richard nixon is just not as smart as i thought he was. he is clearly his conversations about foreign policy he's articulate, he knows the world, he's got clear thoughts, and he's brilliant in many regards. when he starts talking about domestic policy, there's very little he's good on. he bumbles he stumbles, he's hesitant. the only exception to that oddly enough, is finance. he's very good on the budget. he's got very strong feelings on spending.
but his, most of his conversations are halting they're -- he is, he is stuttering, he is sputtering, and they're difficult. acoustically the oval office is pretty good. his telephone calls can be almost close to broadcast quality. his eob, exconservative office building -- executive office building office is terrible because the microphones are in the desk. they drilled holes in the desk. his oval office, which was woodrow wilson's desk they put some holes right there in the sides and the front. i happened to always be sitting over a microphone when my voice was recorded. [laughter] which, actually, i'm pleased with today, to have -- because i wasn't saying anything that didn't bother me. i was telling him exactly what the dire circumstances he was in.
the eob office is terrible because nobody sat near the desk. so they're very difficult to transcribe, and what we did is found -- and i've talked to other people who have transcribed tapes now, and they all seem to stumble into this sooner or later, there's only one way to do this and it's highly repetitive activity. you listen and you listen again, you listen, you change machines. i went out and actually digitized all of the archives' tapes before the archives themselves had digitized them. you can manipulate that somewhat. you get distortions on the voices, but you can also pick up the words. so i got most of it. and my book is, of course, not a book of transcripts but rather i drew a narrative and dialogue out of these tapes. i would end up with 21 volumes of three-inch notebooks that represent about 8,500 pages
roughly four million words of nixon on watergate. i told my editor i'm not sure which was more difficult, the transcription to make the tapes or digesting them back down to a readable document. nixon gets highly highly repetitive late in the game. there are two phases to watergate. there is the cover-up, and then there is the cover-up of the cover-up. [laughter] and that's when nixon has jumped in with both feet. the taping system comes out during the start of the cover-up of the cover-up when al -- excuse me, when alex butterfield testifies, and al hague, who's white house chief of staff, had no idea that there was a voice-activated system. he knew nixon had taped a few people principally me, but he did not know he'd had a voice-activated system, and haig
just can't believe the president of the united states let every word get recorded. so for this political history, as it happens i had probably the most remarkable primary source any author could ever have. i was able to -- let me kind of wrap up my session on a couple stories about the tapes. i'm able to hear things. i couldn't listen because of the volume to every single conversation. i could immediately tell from my transcriber's work if he or she was having any trouble. if it was a difficult conversation. if it was a good one, i trusted it unless something was particularly important, i would tend to look at that. just to make sure that i heard what they heard. but i often heard things that they could not hear because of my -- not because of my great
hearing, but because i knew the players. a wonderful example is an incident that occurs with mark feldt, who as we later knew as deep throat, bob woodward's principal source. in october of 1972, i had gone over to the criminal division at the department of justice to talk to henry peterson the head of the department. and the person responsible day by day for watergate. and henry said, john i haven't told the attorney general this, i haven't told the acting director of the fbi, pat gray, because i'm worried they'll overreact to this. but you should know, i think the white house should understand that part of the reason this fbi investigation is being handled the way it is is that the number
two man who's in charge of it, mark feldt is leaking. i said how do you know that, henry? he said, well i've known feldt for a long time. in fact he's known by those of us who know him not to his face but behind his back as the white rat. and i said why's that? he said, well, he's prematurely gray, and he talks all the time to the papers. so i wasn't -- henry said i wasn't surprised to learn he was leaking. but i said the person he told me the person i learned he was leaking from was the general counsel of a major publisher of this kind of information. i've narrowed it down to it's either "time" magazine where actually feldt gave better material than he gave to woodward or to "the washington post." but the general counsel of one of those is the place henry got
this. and he had given this person a commitment not to reveal his identity. so that was pretty good information. i took that information back to haldeman not knowing what he'd do with it, but i realized when i was listening to the tapes that he shared it with nixon. the, there was -- this is one where stanley cutler had done a partial transcript on it. and so i looked at henry -- at stanley's transcript and then was listening to the tape, and there's one point in the conversation where the president is reacting to what haldeman's tone is. you know what i would do with feldt, bob? and then cutler has cutler has an expletive following that. so he just drops -- which is not a surprise. but i hear something totally different. and everybody who's listened to the tapes agrees. when he says you know what i would do with feldt bob?
ambassadorship. this is exactly what he'll do with helms, the head of the cia, appoint him ambassador to move him out so he's still loyal and what have you. this never went anywhere. in fact, that's one of the interesting things on the tapes and in these conversations where nixon raises some really interesting things that haldeman never shares with anybody else. so the tapes were -- there is no question today in watergate that i really don't think i know the answer to or the answer isn't found in those tapes. it was a, it was a grinding exercise. one of the most difficult parts of the book was nixon gets compulsively obsessive about the conversations and starts repeating himself where he'll make a little spin differently here or a little change there as
he repeats these conversations, often with the same person but with somebody else over and over and over again towards the end. and i wanted to -- i couldn't burden the reader with that, but i wanted to give the reader a sense of how this man operated. so with those opening remarks, i'm going to turn it over to my friend, rick perlstein, whose works i enjoy. he and i have had the pleasure of doing programs before. he's -- it's always reassuring to see really good, young historians coming along and getting these stories right because too many of them never to the digging of the kind that rick does and get it wrong. so with that rick it's your turn. [applause] thank you. >> thanks, john. it's one of the great joys of my
life an unexpected joy to be able to call john dean a friend. i'd like to say that without this guy richard nixon would still be president. [laughter] also i want to say something about the hospitality of the miami book festival. it's been amazing. someone said that they treat us guys like rock stars, and i feel like i've been swaddled with all the comforts of home. everything except for my morning banana muffin. [laughter] if i had that the day would be complete. john tells the story of many of the same years i write about here very much from the inside the fly on the wall. and our books complement each other very nicely because i tell the story of some of those same months from the outside. if you raised your hand when john asked you if you followed watergate, this book is about you. [laughter] you guys are the subject of this
book with, not the fellas in that house on pennsylvania avenue. and, basically, this is a book about how the american people absorbed and responded to the traumas -- and that's a word i use advisedly -- the traumas of the years 1973 and 1974 and 1975. and rather than kind of explaining that temp lawyer -- extemporary, i will read a little bit from the book, set the table for what it's about, and i will very much look forward to the discussion that we're having. and like john i will be very glad to have e-mails. or if you prefer join my facebook clan at rick perlstein. i think i've got 80 more spots before they -- 800 more spots before they max me out. so without further ado, this is
a book about how ronald reagan came within a hair's breadth of winning the 1976 republican nomination for the presidency. but it is also ant much more -- about much more n. the years between 1973 and 1976 america suffered more wounds to its ideal of itself than at just about any other time in its history. first in january of 1973 when richard nixon declared america's role in the vietnam war over after some eight years of fighting or maybe ten years of fighting or maybe four years of fighting, it depends on how you count it. thanks brother. some 58,000 americans dead 699 billion expended in american treasure. this nixon called peace with honor. but that just obscured the fact that america had lost its first war. then almost immediately televised hearings on the complex of presidential abuses nonas watergate which revealed
the man entrusted with the white house as little better or possibly worse than common criminals. in what one senator called a national funeral that just goes on day after day after day. then in october came the arab oil embargo and suddenly americans learn that the commodity that underpinned their lifestyle was vulnerable to shortages. and the world's mightest economy could be held hostage by some mysterious cabal of third world sheikhs. you know reading about and studying the energy crisis, one of the the most striking and shocking things was people didn't even really think of energy as a thing, you know? as something that had, was subject to the law of supply and demand. it was hike the air and the -- it was like the air and the wart. and the real trauma of 1973 was, oh my god, this entire new category of things to worry
about that we couldn't even imagine worrying about before. now, this list omits some dozen of smaller traumas in between. one of my favorites lost to everyday historical memory was the near doubling of prices of meat in the spring of 1973 when the president's consumer adviser went on tv and informed viewers that liver, kidney, brains and heart can be made into gourmet meals. [laughter] with seasoning, imagination and more cooking time. [laughter] the letters were unprintable in response to the white house. [laughter] in the next few years, the traumas continued compounding. the end of a presidency accompanied by fears richard nixon might seek to hold onto office by force of arms. inflation such as america had never known during peacetime. a recession that saw hundreds of blue collar workers idle during
christmas time. crime at a volume and ghastliness greater than at any other time since the 15th century. and when i have the shied show this is where the tonya -- patty hearst goes up there with her machine gun and the seven-headed snakes. senate and house hearings on the central intelligence agency that accused american presidents since dwight eisenhower of commanding squads of law wills assassins. -- lawless assassins. with these traumas -- and this is where you guys come in -- emerged a new sort of american politics, a stark discourse of reckoning. what kind of nation were we, to suffer such humiliations so suddenly so unceasingly so unexpectedly? a few pages hence you will read these words from one expert: for this first time, americans have had at least a partial loss in the fundamental belief in ourselves. we've always believed we were the new men, the new people, the new society, the last best hope
on earth in lincoln's terms. for the first time, we've begun to doubt that. and that was only in february of 1973. by 1976 a presidential year, such observations would become so routine that when the nation geared up for a massive celebration of its bicentennial, it was common for editor i can't recall u.s.es and columnists to question whether america deserved to have a birthday party and is whether the party could come off without massive bloodshed given that there had been 89 bombings attributed to terrorism by the fbi in 1975. if the bicentennial helps us
focus on the contrast between your idealism and our crimes, so much the better. now, the most ambitious politicians b endeavor to speak to this new national mood. an entire class of them dubbed the watergate babies, were swept into congress in 1975 pledging a thorough going reform of america's broken institutions. and nearly alone among ambitious politicians, ronald reagan took a additional road. took a different road. returning to the nation's attention toward the end of his second term as america's governor as pundits began speculating about which republican might succeed richard nixon, and then -- thanks to john -- which ones might succeed his replacement, gerald ford. reagan whenever he was asked about watergate insisted it said nothing important about
america at all. asked about vietnam he'd only say that the dishonor was that america had not expended enough violence that quote: the greatest immorality is to ask young men to fight or die for my country if it's not a cause we are willing to win. one of the quotes he liked to repeat in those years came from pope pi yous xii writing in colliers magazine in 1945 -- back when the united states was on top of the world -- the pope said the american people have a genius for great and unselfish deeds. into the hands of america god has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind. now, when ronald reagan began getting attention for talking this way, washington cited him only to dismiss him. no one who called the watergate
burglars not criminals at heart, as ronald reagan had in the spring of 1973, could be taken seriously as a political comer. but a central theme of my previous two books chronicling conservativism's ascent in american politics has been the myopia of pundits who so frequently fail to notice the very cultural ground shifting beneath their feet. in fact, at every turn in america's reckoning with its apparent decline, there are always dissenting voices from the right. they said things like richard nixon just couldn't be a bad guy and that america just couldn't be surrendering its role as god's chosen nation. that's possible. at first such voices sounded mainly in the -- [inaudible] of america's political discourse. in letters to the editor among right-wing institution builders whose industriousness were being
largely ignored conservative churches whose pews grew more crowded even as experts insisted that religious belief was in radical decline. i find a quote -- i found an ap article by the ap's religion editor that quoted a very distinguished professor of religion saying christians must accept being an indefinitely minority for the time being. another bad prediction. but those voices were moving from the margin to the center. this was related to what ronald reagan was accomplishing politically, but things shifted independently of him as well. read one wire service headline about the bicentennial celebration, nations hunger to feel good -- nation's hunger to feel good erupts in a fever of patriotism. the keynote of articles like this which were common was surprise, surprise that it wasn't that hard to
unapologetically celebrate america after all. and this book is how that shift in more than political and cultural sentiment began. it is also a sort of biography of ronald reagan. he had been a sullen little kid from a chaotic, alcoholic home whose mother's passion for saving fallen souls could never save her own husband. it also seemed to have kept her out of the house almost constantly. and by the time of ronald reagan's adolescence, the boy who told his friends to call him dutch had cultivated an extraordinary gift in the act of rescuing himself. the ability to radiate blithe optimism in the face of chaos. to reimagine the morass in front of him as a tableau of simple moral clarity. he did the same thing decades
later as a politician. skillfully reframing situations that those of a more critical temper saw asker resolvable muddles as chris line black and white melodramas. others witnessing precisely this quality saw him as a tony and a hustler -- phony and a hustler. in this book ronald reagan is not a uniter, he is fundamentally a divider. and understanding the precise ways about him that divided americans better helps us understand our political order of battle today. the pattern emerged extraordinarily early. in 1966 when reagan the tv host
and former actor in b movies shocked the political universe by winning the republican nomination for california governor. a young aspiring journalist began researching a profile of him that never got published because no one was much interested in ronald reagan. industriously, though, the journalist tracked down acquaintances who had attended tiny eureka college in illinois in the years between 1928-1932. i just learned that miami-dade has 170,000 students. eureka had about 2 or 300. if you corralled a random sample of politically-attuned citizens today, half remembered him as a hero and a figure of destiny and half judge him as precisely the opposite, as shallow at best a manipulative fraud at worst. so before reagan had served a
single day in political office, a polarity of opinion was set and it endured forever more. on one side those who saw him as a rescuer a hero a redeemer. on the other, those who saw him as a goat. read a handwritten get well note he received after the 1981 assassination attempt against him. it referred to his first job as of course, a lifeguard. this was a handwritten note that he got in the oval office. i met you in the '20s in lowell park, illinois. therapy 17 year -- you were 17 years old then, and everyone called you dutch. we need you to save this country. remember all the lives you saved in lowell park. the letter appears in a religious biography of reagan that argues that his coming into the world, culminating with his single handed defeat of the soviet empire, was literally
providential, the working out of god's plan. on the other side, those who found reagan a phony a fraud a cody. the first time such an opinion of reagan shows up in the historical record is in his high school yearbook. he is depicted furbing a suicide out of -- fishing a suicide out of the water who begs don't rescue me, i want to die. reagan responds, well you'll have to postpone that, i need a medal. [laughter] like the reagan worship, the reagan hate lives on. i wanted to share this manuscript with a friend of mine who grew up in california in the '60s and '70s. she told me i'd best not send it she couldn't think straight about ronald reagan for her range. her beef was simple that all that turbulence in the '60s and '70sed that given the nation a chance to finally reflect critically upon its power, to shed its ignorance, to
grow up. more these citizens -- for these citizens what reagan achieved foreclosed that imperative that americans might learn to question leaders ruthlessly throw aside silly notion that american power was always innocent, think like grown-ups. they had been proposing a new definition of patriotism. one built on questioning authority and unsettling ossified norms. i think some of those guys are in the audience today. then along came ronald reagan, encouraging citizens in his estimation to think like children, waiting for a man on horseback to rescue them and that this was a tragedy. the division was present even among his own offspring. maureen, his elest who became a republican activist wrote of the
time as her father missed one more of a train of important milestones in her life. she cast it in the most optimistic possible terms. i think dad always regretted times like these the way the tug and pull of his public life kept him from enjoying firsthand successes of his children. oh he enjoyed them with us in spirit, and he was always there for us emotionally. at the other pole there was his other daughter, patti who disagreed. patti, a rock and rolling liberal, wrote: i had been taught to keep secrets, to keep our image intact for the world under our family's definition of loyalty, the public should never see that under carefully-preserved surface was a group of people who knew how to inflict wounds and then convincingly say those wounds never existed. this gets to my favorite ronald reagan story. of it's in patti davis' memoir. she writes very, very damning
things about her mother nancy reagan and she was suffering horrible depression. she's one of two reagans, two children who apparently attempted or thought about attempting suicide. she was in college -- no, i think she was back in california at the time, maybe she was in college, and she wanted to go into therapy. but nancy and ronald thought that that was for people who were crazy or whatever it was and so what she did was she got hold of a pound of marijuana, and she sold it. and that paid for her therapy. [laughter] while her dad was the governor. [laughter] and the future just say no first lady of california. of. [laughter] none the wiewzer. she wrote of how her mother nancy beat her, was addicted to pills and used the intercom system as a tool for orwellian surveillance. now, maureen described that as a
prove deny cial gift. [laughter] -- providential gift. writing at the time it broadcast the sound of little ron, the youngest crashing to the floor in the nursery allowing them to save his life. call maureen's version denial and liberals are always accusing conservatives of a politics of being in denial. call patti a cynic, always seeing everything in a negativing light, and god knows conservatives are always accusing liberals of doing that. optimism pessimism, america the innocent, america the compromised, these have become two of the polarities that structure the very left-right order of battle in american political life as much as the debate over the role of government led by barry goldwater and the culture war between mutually recriminating cultural sophisticates on the one hand and the other that i
labeled in my previous book "nixonland." note well that reagan's side in this political battle which is carried out far above the minutiae of electorallallies -- tallies has prevailed. listen to lynne cheney in 2009 speaking for the republican multitudes: i believe unapologetically that america is the best nation that ever existed in history, and clearly it exists today. and here is mitt romney accepting the republican nomination in 2012 speaking of the day he watched neil armstrong land on the moon: like all americanss all americans we went to bed that night knowing we lived in the greatest country in the world. i think there have f there were some people in 1969 who might have gone to bed thinking differently, but in that formulation, they're not really americans, after all. this is from a couple years ago, a google search for mitt romney and greatest nation in the
history of the earth just yielded me 114,000 hits. now, such utterances are meant to be an ideological reproach to democrats, always supposedly apologizing for america. remember that one? obama's going abroad to apologize for america. if only. here was san antonio mayor julian castro's address in 2012: ours is a nation like no other -- like no other -- no matter where you come from or who you are the path is always forward. the first lady, michelle obama, spoke of her campaign journeys: every day they make me proud, every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth. then her husband accepting the nomination: we keep our eyes fixed on a distant horizon knowing they are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest
nation on earth. now, this is interesting. here's samantha power, the harvard scholar of genocides at her confirmation hearings early in 2013 questioned about a magazine article she published a decade earlier in which she wrote american foreign policy needed quote: a his to historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored or permitted by the united states. that's the kind of stuff people were really thinking about in the '70s. senator marco rubio -- oh, you guys might know that cat -- [laughter] republican of florida demanded to know what crimes she was referring to. [laughter] she would respond only america is the greatest country in the world, and we have nothing to apologize for. this is a book about how such
rhetoric came into being and how such hubris comes now to define us. in certain ways we live in some of the dark cannest times in our -- darkest times in our history. global warming threatens to engulf us, political polarization threats to paralyze us competition from china threatens to overwhelm us social mobility is at its lowest point in generations to name only a few versions of the national apocalypse that yet may come. but at the same time, somehow something like an official cult of optimism, the greatest nation in the history of the earth, saturates the land. how did it happen? this is one of the questions the invisible bridge poses. here is another. what does it mean to believe in
america? to wave a flag or to struggle towards a more searching alternative to the flag wavers? during the years covered in these pages, americans debated this question with an intensity unmatched before or since. even if they didn't always know that this is what they were doing, i hope this volume might become a spur to renewing that debate in these years at a time that cries for reckoning once more, in a nation that is ever -- that has ever so adored its own innocence and so dearly wishes to see itself as an exception to history. thank you. [applause] >> wow, that was great. stick around we've got some great questions. i mean, these are are really fascinating questions.
>> before you go with your questions, can i ask reduction a question? >> absolutely mr. dean. >> i get one too. >> go ahead. you start your questions to each other. >> i'm very curious if reduction has discovered from his research if the current polarization of this country politically begins with richard nixon or ronald reagan, or does it start earlier or later? >> i'm going to date it to the constitutional convention. [laughter] .. see ourselves exception to history as a society at peace with itself. we have a tendency of announcing such things right before conflicts begin. i write about it in all my books. but just quickly, i mean -- >> i might debate that with you, but i won't today. >> we wouldn't have a republic were it not for a compromise between the slave states of the south and the mercantilist
but the idea that america was an exception, europe was the place they settled politics, the third world, in effect right before that in my first book before the storm had quotes from a pundits, i think it was walter led and saying america is more united than at any time in history. if we could write into the script how we understood america the we do have these profound divisions and are not going to just go away with a wave of the hand, there is no right america, there's no blue america we would have a better time of it when the trauma has finally come. on this anniversary, one of the famous when he testifies for the urban committee in 1973, with nerdy glasses on his eyes 75%
learn about american television sets that were tuned in and one of the things that was so fascinating and traumatizing to the nation was the portrait of the culture of the white house the pick did, how thin skinned nixon was how obsessed they were with protesters one part of that was nixon's obsession with the fair hair and boy, a kennedy. you can tell your experiences of how nixon thought about john f. kennedy. >> that little bit of >> where i explained the atmosphere at the nixon whitehouse, i later read where he thought and read that was the most devastating part of the testimony. he said we could never recover from that. it happened to be true and was fairly damning. nixon's preoccupation with the kennedy's is the aftermath of
the 1960 contest he had where he and jack kennedy had run for the presidency. they actually personly had a fairly friendly relationship. they had been in the senate at the same time arrived at the senate the same time and i think there was a certain neutral regard. it wasn't jack kennedy as much as bobby and teddy kennedy that troubled him. he was quite convinced he was going to see in his re-election bid teddy kennedy step forward. he always read people like musky if not mcgovern when they were buying for the nomination and stepping horse might step aside if kennedy came into play. he never lets up until almost the better end in his
fascination and no-hold bar and the ongoing investigation of teddy kennedy. i know after the acquittal he realized the prospects of teddy running were certainly minimal but he did everybody he could to collect information about it which happened before i got to the whitehouse, for he would be read. questions from the audience. >> we have a few questions. first one is to rick perlstein. please discuss how much more conservative lakeland was compared to nixon? >> every time i do a talk people say if reagan was around now would they kick him out for being to be liberal. i will be interested to know if john agrees.
but politicians have to operate according to the context given them. they don't take policies off the shelf. if you go go to nixon library they will say he was a great supporter of the environment and he signed the blah blah and hearts and flowers and clean air act and it turns out that act passed the house 410-5. so it doesn't really show much of what he really believes in his heart. the question is how conservative was he really. i think the best piece of evidence for that is the budget he prepared for 1974 which seemed to be a big deal at the time. news week published it and it was a reagan budget and set to defund all of agencies of the war on poverty and the great society. and at that point he appointed howard phillips to be the head
of the economics opportunity commission which was the agency that administered the war on poverty and his job was to dismantle the agencies they had been hired to run. in fact, he said after my re-election re-election, and he won 49 states, i made haste to continue my mandate to build this new majority which was what later became reagan democrats, and catholics and southerners and all of the rest. i think he wanted to be reagan but was arrested in the march of the right by this guy. you know? did you agree? >> i think basically i do. in some regards i think he was more conservative than reagan. >> he didn't have the heart for
racial racial equality. >> not at all. and things like epa you could tell from the reagan who was more active in the policies and he had no interest in them. he had no interest in the domestic issues >> he called domestic policies out houses. he was politically cynical and supported something called the philadelphia plan and the reason he supported that is he thought it would be great because if he could get democratic unions and democratic african-americans together he could rip a part and destroy the democratic party. >> mr. dean this question is for you: why exactly were the watergate offices of the
democratic committee broken into? was it merely a fishing expedition or something specific being sought? >> that is one of the things. i went through the tape and there is an appendix in the book where everything i found something in the tapes where they talk about their knowledge of my the break-in occurred i put a footnote for the appendix and collected them all in the appendixes which explains everything they knew. it is pretty clear they understood it was a fishing expedition to get financial information on larry o'brian. if you go go to the sworn testimony from the cuban americans who were the burglars from howard hunt to gave them their orderers if you go go through the entirety of what happened you will find that is what they were doing; they were on a fishing expedition and it
becomes quite clear. because it was so bungled, a lot of people think there must have been something more going on. the conspiracy theories developed over the fact it was so bungled with holes and facts don't exist. the bungling was human error plain and simal and not part of some other conspiracy. >> rick perlstein, this is great for you. how did reagan give voice to sentiments that were in the past deemed too extreme to be taken seriously? squashing unions demonizing the poor and defunding the fdr programs. >> that is a great question and very central to the core of why
he was able to succeed politically where someone like barry goldwater wasn't. i listened to all of this radio broadcast he made after he was governor. that was his profession. he would make these three minute radio broadcast every day and i call them homilies. they are very sermon-like. he is good at what i call a literalgy of absolutely. he was the first person i can find to describe black voters as living on the democrats's plantation. he said that in 1968. people who are concerned about crime, union power and he is so good at looking them into the
eye, of course he is on the radio or literally looking them into eye and saying you are not a bad person. his rhetorical guest and you will see in the book how he does it, and it is to either say, you know, i was an fdr democrat and i understand what this is all about. and this is all good people and humane people. sometimes they are bad people. but they don't understand they will achieve the opposite of what they intend. or it turns out, and he is very good at quoting surveys and he doesn't identify the survey and you cannot really check it one way or the other, but there was a survey of black people in washington, d.c. and they want tougher crimes and laws and no knock warrants. and they will tell you you are a
racist and say law and order is a code word for racisms. but this proves maybe they are the racist. and he was so good at that and envelo enveloping the audience for feeling good about tohings past generations wouldn't. >> thank you. what are your thoughts about the campaigns intelligence gathering and the money spent on the ads. and i would like to end it on if watergate didn't happen what do you think you would be doing today? >> i will start with part one. the first part was about campaign intelligence gathering today and all of money spent on ads. what are your thoughts?
>> while it goes on it isn't the same sort of rough and tumble or it hasn't surfaced on any broad bases not from a whitehouse or at the presidential level with the planning planning secretary or wire typing or trying to manipulate a campaign where you will get the one you want to run against versus what surfaces from the voting. the people want the system to work fairly. and not unfairly. so i don't see it. i have never seen anything compareable to watergate in the years sense. as far as the other question of what i would be doing without watergate. well i would still by married to
moe. that is the best part. i tried to resign from the whitehouse in september of '71, long before watergate. i was on vacation and had a couple attractive job offers that related to my good terms with the administration and i explained to the chief of staff and said i would like to leave. i said my deputy who would later become reagan and bush's council, i said he is capable of handling this job and i would like to pursue these opportunities. and he said john you cannot leave. you owe it to us to stay. and he said if you leave it will blow away the jobs. i suspected years later he wished he had let me go. [laughter] >> but i