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tv   Presidential Biographers Panel  CSPAN  November 12, 2016 12:00pm-1:46pm EST

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>> "lucifer's banker: the untold story of how i destroyed swiss bank secrecy." that all happens tonight on c-span2's booktv. [inaudible conversations]
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>> good evening, everyone. it is so nice to see you all here in this great greenberg lounge of the new york law school. i'm the director of the nyu center for the study of transformative lives, and over the past six years we've sponsored courses and public programs on people who have deeply affected our world for the good. individuals like frederick douglass, margaret fuller, georgia o'keefe, martin luther king jr., pope francis and many others always studied in context. not all american presidents are transformative. [laughter] but some have been. as members of tonight's panel know well. my own interest is focused on
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lincoln and his times. it is my belief that students who spend an entire semester studying a person like lincoln or douglass or king or elizabeth candidacy stanton -- cady stanton, will never forget them. the center's chief ally over the years has been the biography seminar at nyu. founded in the 1970s by eileen ward, the nyu professor and acclaimed author. for decades this group has quietly brought together academic and career biographers to support one another and to share each other's work. it's my pleasure to work closely with the seminar's chair, john maynard, and with his circle of leadership including charles defonte, ann heller and james atlas. tonight's program was, in fact, architected by james who asked
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me to say nothing about him. [laughter] though for those who don't know, he is a dynamo in the world of publishing and biography. jim will introduce tonight's distinguished moderator and panelists, and i would also like to thank them for their generous giving of themselves this evening. thank you all for coming. please, welcome jim atlas. [applause] >> have to lower this about a foot here. i know the cubs game is starting in a while, so -- [laughter] and some of these people are from chicago, as am i, so we'll get you out of here as soon as we can. but phillip was, is always someone i go to when i have a strange idea that i want to invite 400 people to so they can share it with me.
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and the idea i had after days of watching my tv on my phone, slacking-i jawed in amazement and horror as i watched wolf blitzer and ann coulter and a bunch of people named chris all yammering at each other -- [laughter] all day while i was supposed to be working or whatever it is. but i do, i became as a member of the fact-based community hungry for a fact, one fact. [laughter] a fact. a fact, my kingdom for a fact, i would cry at the end of the day. so i do know people who know facts, and they're up here today. these are the only four i know -- five. [laughter] and i don't really have to introduce them or say anything about them because they are fixtures on the cultural/political scene and have been for many years. david remnick, with his little
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magazine, and david maraniss with "the washington post" and john alter with a whole variety of associations including "newsweek" and msnbc. and who have i left out? jacob weisberg, the founder or co-founder or ceo of slate. and these people are all known to you as legends. but i wanted to convene them to talk about my passion which is biography so that in addition to being the distinguished people that they are, they've written these astonishing books, all which i recommend to you. jonathan is at work on a biography of jimmy carter right now, author of a distinguished book on fdr. be and david maraniss has written many books and is the, i would say, authorized if not officially authorized biographer of clinton.
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and jacob wrote a book on reagan, and david remnick somehow miraculously managed to write a 600-page book about obama while tending to his day job. and they, i hope -- i know -- will bring considerable depth to this constitution because they're both journalists, writers and now biographers. now, in terms of the guy that i will call "that man," that's what fdr's enemies used to call him, "that man." i wrote to each of the participants tonight and said why don't we just sort of lay off and try to talk about something else. and david remnick wrote back and be said, yes, of course. i'm going to be focusing my remarks on polk and buchanan tonight. [laughter] so i'm going to hold you to that. but i'm sure that's not how it
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will turn out. [laughter] i was at a phone bank a couple weeks ago -- i won't say for which candidate because this is -- [laughter] new york, so who knows. but i asked who they were voting for. that's the first question we would ask. they were supposed to be democrats, but this guy said, no, man, this year we're trumping it. so i guess we'll be trumping it a little bit. and to preside over this, i invited my hero, leslie staal, who has spent the last quarter of a century at cbs, "60 minutes," getting people to talk. i don't think that'll be a problem tonight, but she's -- it's been her life's work. so i feel very confident that this is going to turn out well, and i hand the proceedings, leslie, over to you. thank you so much for coming. [applause] >> is this working? can you hear me?
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great. i'm going to start the evening by asking each one of our biographers to say something very briefly about their books. each one has been assigned a president, and we'll go chronologically. so we're going to start -- and by the way, we're going to hold off on trump as long as we can so that we can talk about these presidents. so, first, jon alter and he has carter. take it away. >> so strangely enough, there hasn't been a biography of jimmy carter unless you include the arthur schlesinger series, a very short one, but a real, full biography in 25 years, and that was written by one of his aides, peter bourne, and it's the only other one out there. i sort of saw a gaping hole in
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the line of scrimmage on a president who i think has been badly understood and has now 92 years and counting of a fascinating life. and this was a man who, i think he's really the only major american figure who effectively lived in three centuries. he was born in 1924 in sumter county, georgia, in plains. and at that time, he might as well -- as he has described -- he might as well have been born in 1880. his family was not poor, but they had, they had no running water, no mechanized farm equipment, and life was really unchanged for hundreds of years. so he -- they finally got, when he was 14, they finally got running water, but it was basically a 19th century life.
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in the 20th century, he was not part of the civil rights movement, but he was kind of caught in the vise of the civil rights movement and the way he handled that profound change in the jim crow south of his youth and then serving as president, you know, obviously made him a significant 20th century figure. and now in the 21st century, he is on what bill gates considers, you know, the cutting edge of 21st century issues like conflict resolution and disease eradication. so i think it's a big life, and i'm -- as far as his presidency goes, i'm basically going to conclude that he was a political failure but a substantive success for reasons i can explain as we go on. >> i can't wait to ask you about it. jacob weisberg, you are our reagan expert. and i can't wait to hear what you have to say, because i cover toed him. he was my -- covered him.
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he was my most, my most -- this is my most fascinated subject. >> it's a little intimidating, doing this with you, lesley. [laughter] i share with jim atlas a passion for reading and writing short biographies, and i had done one about george w. bush, and then i tried to figure out how to do an even shorter one about ronald reagan. and the main characteristic of reagan as a biographical subject is there have been a huge number of incredibly long biographies of him. but i was doing it for this american president series that john mentioned that arkansas through shlaeserier mentioned -- arthur schlesinger. to make it interesting for me not just to digest, but figure out what i could do that would be new in that space. and i went at it by asking myself what are, what are the mysteries of ronald reagan to me? what are the questions after
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reading a number of these books that i'm still really unsatisfied about? and i came up with three. and the first one, which i think is tremendously obvious question, but it's been written about hardly at all, is how did he switch from left to right? at the beginning of the 1950s, ronald reagan was a liberal democrat who was almost drafted to run for congress by the democrats, supported harry truman. he was a liberal democrat. he was a liberal anti-communist, he was a democrat. by the end of the 1950s, early 1960s, he was so conservative that he was sort of off the charts in the republican party and, you know, by 1964, the goldwater campaign was scared that he would make them look bad because he was so right wing when he did his television broadcast. so it was a huge mystery that i really go at hard in the book about this switch from left to right which happened in the 1950s. second question was really about the end of the cold war and how much credit he got for it,
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hotly-debated subject. ask lastly, sort of the biggest and hardest question is what was going on inside of reagan's head. a subject on which at least one biographer be famously foundered, and several have gotten in trouble. and the short answer to that is not nothing. [laughter] >> really? all right. well, i know the three questions i'm going to be asking you. [laughter] there are -- so david maraniss who is here to talk even though he's written a wonderful book about obama, he's here to tell us about clinton. so give us the thumbnail before we get into it. >> well, the title of the book was "first in his class." bill clinton was never first in his class, as a matter of fact, he was rarely in class. [laughter] he spent an entire fall down in texas running the mcgovern campaign and came back in late november, borrowed the notes of one of his classmates and aced the test better than she did. [laughter] the notion was he was the first
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member of his generation, which is my generation, the post-war baby boom generation to reach the white house. and that's really what compelled me to write this book. it was my first book, first of eleven. i woke up the day after the election in 1992 and just realized that this was something i had to do, i was ready for it. i'd spent the year writing about bill clinton and wanted to do this book. and the central thread of the book is one of loss and recovery. that's the repet thetive cycle cycle -- repetitive cycle of bill clinton's life starting with the loss of a father before he was born, loss in politics as the youngest governor in american -- youngest ex-governor in american history when he lost in 1980 rendering him as sort of the quintessential rhodes scholar which is a bright young man with a great be future behind him. how he figured out how to
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recover from that and that loss really defining the rest of his political career. when i was finishing the book, because it was my first book and first biography, i really struggled with the central question which was, well, do i like him or not? what is it about bill clinton? you know, i thought as a biographer i had to come down on one side of that issue. and it was only -- for three months i was really beating myself up about trying to finish the book and resolve that. and then the obvious became obvious to me which is of course he's both of those things, and the same impulses that drive bill clinton this negative ways also drive him in positive ways. and it's only -- that's true of all of us, of human nature. we all have that, those contradictions within us. and with bill clinton it's just an exaggeration of all of us. >> excellent. all right. mr. remnick. obama. >> so -- >> and don't talk about trump. >> i wouldn't -- [laughter] i think we're going to wait 9-10 minutes before we mention trump.
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i would say this that on this stage that i am the best of judge of talking dog cartoons. [laughter] i really -- there's no one close. however -- [laughter] i am no scholar. i think i saw ron chernow here, real scholar, and on this stage i'm probably -- i've written the third best book about barack obama. when i set out on this book and i was getting somewhere, i start jon alter at a birthday party, and he was talking about his obama book, and he said and the title is going to be "the promise," which i thought was my title. [laughter] and then i published a book called "the bridge," hastily retitled -- >> you are such a mensch. [laughter] that was the -- >> and not long thereafter, i got david maraniss' book which is the start of a truly
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magnificent biography on the part of robert caro on johnson. so my book is not a biography at all, it's really about the theme that i've been writing about a lot of my journalistic life which is race. it's maybe a biography in disguise, there are biographical aspects to it, but it's all about obama and race. and it was also a book written in the shadow of or in light of obama's own memoir which he wrote, remarkably, when he was 32. who writes a memoir when they're 32? especially an obscure state senator? and in an examination of what that book itself is, "dreams from my father," which it comes in a long line of african-american autobiography which is one of the most spectacular and rich genres of american fiction. so it is, indeed, has biographical aspects, but it really is about race. and if you take into consideration the book's
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original title and jon's title, "the promise," i think we're all thinking now about to what degree does obama fulfill his promise both as this historical america as the first african-american president, but also in his attempt to be, in his terms, a transformative president. just one very, very short story. when he was running for president or thinking about running for president, he was in a hotel that had portraits of all the presidents, be he was talking to a reporter. that reporter may have been jake weisberg. and he looked at all these presidents, polk, harrison, etc., etc., and he said i really want to be -- if i'm going to be president, i want to be a transformative president. and i think that's a lot of what the heavy-breathing journalism of now and from now until the end of january will be about, to what degree was this promise -- good title, jon -- was satisfied. [laughter] >> all right. here's the game plan. i'm going to do a round, and we'll go chronologically and ask a couple of questions of each of
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you on your president, and eventually we'll open it up to some broad questions for all of you. but let's start, first, on jimmy carter. speaking of cartoons, some of the most vicious cartoons you'd ever see about a president were done on poor jimmy carter. he shrunk as his presidency went on til finally he was just teeth, if i remember. [laughter] but you brought up this idea that he succeeded legislatively, but he was considered a failed president. can you explore that and tell us how that contradiction came about and is why there was the contradiction? >> well, i think any president who runs and loses for re-election especially overwhelmingly will inevitably be be seen as a political failure, although i have to say george h.w. bush who is not represented here tonight, nor is his son, you know, he, i think, has been getting better marks
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even though he too was a one-term president than carter who has been much more of a punching bag and is most often compared to another engineer, herbert hoover, who before he was president was called the great humanitarian. i think in carter's case after his presidency he's thought of as the great humanitarian. but he didn't, he was president at a bitter, small time, the 1970s, where people didn't really like anything. he was, you know, i'm not speaking of you personally in this, lesley, but the press corps as a whole, i think, was coming out of a post-watergate mentality where they had taken down a president, richard nixon, and pretty much every story was how can we, you know, figure out
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the hypocritical or unimpressive underbelly of this presidency. and he actually only got -- the scholars kind of raked coverage, and he got less than one month of positive coverage in four years just right at the time he was inaugurated. and even after the camp david accords, he did not get particularly good press. i'm not blaming that, because he made many mistakes from the way he set up his white house to the the way he managed his own time. and i think his engineering background, which was a kind of a double-edged sword, it allowed him to engineer peace. it was enormously helpful in him doing the camp david accords which have been the best thing -- interesting considering
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how many american jews and israelis don't like carter -- it's been the best thing for the state of israel since the creation of the state of israel, because it took the only military force with the capacity to destroy israel, the egyptian army, off the table for the last nearly 40 years and counting. and he did that through a tour de force of diplomacy not just at camp david, but in the years that followed. and he also got the panama canal treaties through against great odds. everybody expected they would be defeated as ronald reagan and others were leading the charge against these treaties which have been kind of neglected by history. but without them, there would have very likely been a war in central america, a guerrilla war against the united states that would have been much worse than
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what later happened in central america. and the human rights campaign that he initiated led to, led to the, it was maintained after some hesitation by reagan, and it eventually led to a transformation to democracy throughout latin america or partially led to this as well as giving great sustenance to dissidents in the soviet union and eastern europe. and that's not even talking about various domestic achievements. the alaska lands bill set aside more land for protection than all prior presidents including theodore roosevelt combined. and i could go down the list, but the -- because he had a democratic congress and unlike bill clinton and barack obama who only had two years of a democratic congress, carter had four years, and he put a lot of points on the board but got
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almost no credit for many, many pieces of legislation. so there's a gap here between perception of carter and what actually changed in the country as a result of his presidency. unfortunately, we do judge presidents politically because he did prove to be so inept politically, and he lost so overwhelmingly to ronald reagan in 1980. he has a very hard time being resurrected by history. >> i feel like, i feel as a member of the jimmy carter white house press corps that i are to defend myself here -- that i have to defend myself here. and be that is while he did accomplish all those things, he had double-digit inflation, and he had the hostages. and i will tell you, and i covered the white house for many, many years, he was so unpopular that even people in his own administration would call me and give me -- leak stories to me, negative stories. >> right. >> so --
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>> no, no, i'm not -- i hope i made it clear that i'm not blaming the press for what happened to him. i'm just saying that was the climate that his ineptitude took place in. but remember, the hostages came home all in one piece. we lost -- we didn't lose a single american soldier to hostile fire during his presidency. not one. for the first time since the dawn of the republic. and jimmy carter's very proud of that. now, did he do that through appeasement? no. he did it through a very messy foreign policy that left him deeply unpopular. were the long-term effects of what the iranians did and the hostage, were they harmful to the united states? clearly, the iranian revolution was. but to blame him for that is kind of like blaming obama for
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isis, you know? history happens. they did, he tried and failed to rescue the hostages which cost him hugely politically in april of 1980. but they did eventually come home, although they did so on january 20th, 1981, so as to give ron reagan the credit -- ronald reagan the credit, just a few minutes after reagan took office, the iranians released the hostages. and it was one thing after another with carter. and also there were these little things that kept happening that were seen as -- nowadays we'd call them memes. they were called, you know, symbolic of his problems. like at one point a killer rabbit emerged in his mother's pond in plains. and that consumed weeks of attention. [laughter] it was somehow seen as representative of something. [laughter] and then, you know, at another
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point he was a long distance runner, and he overheated, and he had to stop a marathon. and that was also seen as a metaphor. this was at a time when, you know, people liked to use those kinds of things to tell us everything we need to know about a president, that gerald ford stumbles when he comes out of air force one. and i think there was a bit of a habit in the culture which it's important for historians, we're trying to get at the long-term changes in the country that a president brings. it's really important for us to get past the fact that he made the mistake of letting the public know that he had hemorrhoids, you know? [laughter] >> and that he had montezuma's revenge -- >> and montezuma's revenge another time. >> i'm going to move us along to reagan for a minute, the man who trounced jimmy carter. so what was in his head? >> and i get twice as long because he had two terms, right? [laughter] the --
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>> well, first of all, before i ask you what was in his head, you know, he is seen and very much in comparison to jimmy carter as one of the giants in the 20th century, actually. did you come down thinking he was a giant as a president? was he transformative? and was your assessment that he was one of the great presidents of our, of all time? >> well, great is a harder term for me than transformative. i think he was pretty clearly transform ty. i mean, i think you date the new deal era from 1933 really until the end of the carter presidency, and then i think after that you are in the reagan era where reagan transforms the republican party, transforms what conservativism stands for. and at least arrests the direction of the new deal. the extent to which he reversed it is subject to debate. but it's sort of -- the new deal didn't, was pretty clearly
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mostly suspended between 1981 and 2009, and arguably the reagan era extends to the present day. actually, we're not going to talk about trump, but i think trump signals the end of reaganism as the dominant ideology inside the republican party. but let's talk about what was going on inside of his head, maybe going on inside of his head. we don't know and we'll never know because reagan didn't leave a record. he was a voluminous writer which was one with of the things that was so fascinating to me, and he was a good writer, although he wrote mainly for radio, for speaking speeches and radio scripts. but he didn't write in a way that gives us huge insight into that. he wasn't close to a lot of people. i mean, i think he was really close to two people in his life, his mother and nancy. and maybe, you know, something more will come out. i don't think he left, there was any correspondence or any record of his relationship with his mother that tells you. but i think what we do know is he had this tremendous,
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objectively, terrible childhood. he lived in ten different homes by the time he was 10 years old. his father, who was an alcoholic, dragged the family from pillar to post, getting jobs in shoe stores. they went to chicago, at one point he got a job in a department store, and then he got arrested for public drunkenness, they'd moved back down state. and when you hear reagan's older brother describe this in an oral history, he says, you know, this was miserable. i mean, we ate bone soup, you know, we were practically starving. and you hear reagan describe it, and be he says it was like a huck finn/tom sawyer childhood where he would be out skating on the frozen rock river and, you know, he said we were poor, but we didn't know we were poor. and you think, what's going on there? someone with not just an optimistic imagination, but someone who is actually able to tune out reality. ask my kind of -- and my kind of psychological theory of what was
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going on inside reagan's head was he was able to do this. it was a kind of willed fogginess or a kind of selective hearing. but that actually became tremendously functional quality for him in politics. and the -- >> so optimistic. >> well, you know, the same kid who would sort of not know he was poor, you know, could not hear david stockman telling him you've got to choose whether you want to have a budget deficit or you want to have your defense, defense budget and tax cuts. and there was a way in which reagan, by not hearing things that were uncomfortable or involved conflict, preserved his political effectiveness. and i think there was a very positive side to it and a very negative side to it. but i think, you know, at some level too it was physiological. reagan had very poor eye sight as a child, didn't know he needed glasses until he was a teenager --
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>> i stop you? >> yeah. >> i want you to explain how a person who doesn't hear what other people are telling him, because i know a great deal about this, i mean, how is he effective? he goes into the white house, he's not listening to what people are telling him, or he seems to listen, but he comes back the next morning, and it's gone. >> right. >> and yet he's an incredibly effective president. >> well, i mean, just to pursue the example i was just talking about, about his original economic plan where he was facing a choice in things he was being told were incompatible. he actually was pass ily making a choice. -- passively making a choice. he was choosing the least bad alternative because he wasn't going to give up his defense build-up, and he wasn't going to give up his tax cuts, and that meant de facto he was going to have a very large budget deficit. he wasn't going to acknowledge even with the people close to him that that was the choice he was making. he -- this read as not making the choice.
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but, in fact, it was a choice, and i think it was quite a good choice. it ended up that the original reagan economic plan ended up being a classical keynesian plan to stimulate a weak economy. it was a conservative version of keynesianism where the money, you know, goes primarily to defense but, of course, keynes said it's okay if you drop the money out of helicopters if you need to. it stimulated the economy. it worked at many levels. but reagan, by never acknowledging those contradictions, preserved both his own idea of the purity of what he was doing. and, you know, if you imagine carter in that same position, carter had a kind of intelligence and a kind of acumen that he would never have been able to get away with not making that choice in a clear way or recognizing that choice. >> or almost any other president. >> yeah. so that's what i mean when i say it was functional. in many cases, the passive choice, the unacknowledged
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choice ended up working if not substantively, working very well politically. you know, avoiding conflict -- which reagan did, he didn't like conflict -- let sort of certain things get resolved without using up his personal political capital to resolve them. >> he, when he came in to office, jimmy carter had created a mood in the country of weakness. he was seen as weak and the country, therefore, was seen as weak. and really overnight, overnight suddenly everything was looking up. and i'm wondering if you can talk about reagan, but also presidents in general. through the sheer thrust of personality, do you think a president can completely change the mood of the country on a dime just by being the president? if they have an optimistic personality? >> timing helps. i mean, i think the mood of the country really had bottomed out during the carter years.
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it was probably on the mend in many ways. you know, the hostages were being released, the worst of the previous recession was over, watergate was further behind, you know? there were a lot of reasons why the country was -- the country had gotten much too pessimistic about itself, about the economy. and so in many -- it was a very good moment for someone to come in with reagan's attitude. but it's interesting, i mean, it's been, i think, conventional wisdom in politics that optimism and positivity is the right, is the way to win elections, right? and you certainly see that with bill clinton, you certainly see that with barack obama. you see it with almost every candidate at every level. i mean, donald trump is a strange exception. there's some candidates who are just temperamentally incapable of pulling that off. but -- yeah. >> can i, since carter's involved in this, can i just jump into this for a second? [laughter] >> i was taking my full two
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terms, but go ahead. [laughter] >> you can resume, but while we're on this point, i just want to -- i believe that optimism is very important, it was very important to fdr's success. but i have a kind of a fed-centric view of presidential popularity. and jimmy carter appointed paul volcker to be chairman of the fed, and volcker applied very, very stiff medicine which basically sent interest rates through the roof which was the main economic reason why carter lost. unemployment wasn't particularly bad in 1980, but interest rates were insane. they were approaching 20%. and inflation was insane. and so if -- so then volcker applies his medicine, it really hurts carter, and it also hurts reagan.
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if you look at the popularity numbers, reagan -- one of the reasons he got off to such a great start in 1981 is that he was shot in the same way that, the dr was almost -- fdr was almost shot just before he took office. and in both cases fdr just escaped assassination in 1933. in both cases, many americans felt god had spared them for a purpose. and this helped enormously. but his popularity went way down in 1982. it was as low as carter's. for all of his optimism and great qualities, he was really unpopular. and be it was because volcker's policies finally worked in 1984 that he had this monster re-election. so i asked volcker, you know, did you elect reagan in 1980 and reelect him in 1984? >> all right. >> and he said, some people have said that. >> quick. it's his turn. >> i don't quarrel at all with
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the saintliness of paul volcker and, of course, i think reagan accepted it. he gets credit for not challenging the fed. but there's something else. because of stagflation, you couldn't use monetary policy further to stimulate the economy. and that's why this conservative keynesianism i talked about was so important. and by having a huge tax cut and this military spending, reagan stimulated the economy in the only way you could. the fed had no available bullets. and so paradoxically, it was the combination of these two policy toes held by people with different views of the economy that ended up producing this wave of economic growth which spurred reagan's re-election. >> that's brilliant. we're coming back. >> thank you. >> you're welcome. david. hello. all right, so i think today a pertinent question to ask about clinton is to focus on his marriage. so was it a co-presidency? and how how did husband and wife
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really work together in the white house? >> well, going back to when they first met at yale law school, it was from the very beginning sort of what i call a fair fight. two very intelligent, very ambitious, very pragmatic people who wanted -- saw that they could rise together in ways that they couldn't get to apart. and that symbiotic relationship, you know, was first felt when hillary, against all of the advice of her friends, moved out to fayetteville, arkansas, in 1974 when her boyfriend was running for congress. and from then on, at various stages in their rise together she was central to what he did. when he was governor of arkansas after that first term, it was hillary who realized that
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because of social pressures, she had to change her name from hillary rodham to hillary rodham clinton. she changed her hair. she's the one who pushed him to go back and run for governor again. she paved the way for him. she flattered the press in arkansas which was down on her husband. and then in those, in that second coming of governor clinton, it was hillary leading the education reform policy in arkansas which really made him a national figure. and so he relied on her time and time again until he got into the white house. and during that campaign when he perhaps unwisely said buy one get one free, in his mind that's really what he was thinking, that they were a team. and that's the way they had been from the very start. and then for the first time in their political career together for reasons that largely were
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not her fault but some were, she failed him in the first effort at health care reform. of course, there were enormous money and powerful interests against her. but nonetheless, that was the defeat that caused him to lose congress and really be sort of on his heels sort of in a defensive jiu-jitsu position for the rest of his presidency. the interesting thing about the relationship is that generally speaking when one is up, the other is down. that was true throughout their presidency. so that whatever trouble he would get in personally in his personal life, her popularity would rise. you know, sympathetic figure. when she was down after that health care thing, his popularity actually started to rise. so it's been that way throughout and essentially, you know, you could see it evolving in 1999, that it was her turn.
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and it's been sort of her turn ever since. the irony of what's happened since then is that i consider bill clinton a master campaign strategist for everyone but his wife. [laughter] and virtually every time he's been involved in her campaign, something has that happened that's hurt her. >> so she helped him a lot when he was president. what -- is he going to help her, or is he going to hurt her? >> you know, when she's president? >> yeah. >> well, i mean, everybody in this room try to imagine what it's going to be like when the big dog is back in the white house. [laughter] it's kind of mind-boggling. and i think that as i've always said about bill clinton, you know, you'll get the good and the bad. there'll be times when he will help her and times when she'll wish he was not around. [laughter] but, of course, you know, you could send him around the world, but he's still going to be doing something.
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[laughter] i think it's, i just think that there's, you know, until the clintons are gone, you're going to have this endless cycle, as i've said, of turmoil and success and loss and recovery and just a sort of everything sort of surrounding them will be interesting and exhausting at the same at the same time because that's who they are together. but i want to say one last thing which is that, you know, when people wonder about who hillary really is and why she's not more transparent and so on, i think that in her defense of him and of them together, she's built up this encrusted sensibility of defensiveness and lack of transparency that she doesn't even see entirely. but it was because of they had the rise together and because of all the trouble, basically, that he was getting into. so the real question for me is
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will some of that wash away when she's president. will she finally be liberated. and i'm usually skeptical if not cynical about those things, and i do think there'll be some of that, but i think that this will free her to be her better self. >> really? i want to ask you about -- and and all of us, actually -- the recuperative nature of some presidents. now, reagan, reagan was like a phoenix rising from the ashes of iran contra. but clinton was the most extraordinary phoenix. how do you explain his recouping after monica lewinsky? >> you know, it didn't surprise me at all. i predicted that he would come back because that's clinton's nature. he'll come back, and then he'll get in trouble again. and then he'll come back again and get in trouble again. >> but we liked him, didn't we? >> see, if i can step on david for a second and obama, the way i've always described the two of
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them is that here they both -- they had these similarities. they both came out of nowhere, southwest arkansas and hawaii, they both came out of dysfunctional families. obama had the additional problem of having to figure out who he was which david's book is about racially, but they dealt with everything that life threw at them in completely different ways. barack obama really spent eight years of his life trying to figure himself out internally, sociologically, culturally, racially, and he pretty much succeeded. and that gave him the self-confidence and lack of neediness that helped him get to the white house and then got him in trouble in the white house. i'm just saying opposed to clinton who never dealt with his problems, he just figured out how to get past them. his mode of operation was survive. wake up every morning, forgive yourself, keep going, forgive the world. and he became so good at that, at transactional politics, at
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needing people, that he became the master survivor. and he got to the white house because of that and, of course, got into trouble in the white house because of that, can that's the cycle of bill clinton. so him rising like a phoenix is really just part of that cycle. >> david, can't you even go farther with clinton? isn't there a way in the which he gets in trouble in order to get out of it, that he digs the hole for -- [laughter] that's what he does his whole life? that was my revelation reading "first in his class." >> well, sometimes subconscious lbs. you -- subconsciously, you mean? no matter what, he would find his way out. when he was president, that had the paradoxical effect of sometimes helping him. the public realized, oh, this guy's in trouble but, man, can he get out of it. he will. [laughter] and that feeds into an optimistic impression of somebody. >> okay, david remnick.
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here's my big question about your guy, obama. when he decided that he wasn't going to really deal with congress anymore, did he do it because he calculated that no matter what he did, they were going to stiff him on it? so i'm not going to go there, because it'd just be banging my head on the wall. or does he have a characterological impediment, that aloofness that we see, that he just cannot schmooze and reach out? which is it? >> the former. and i -- can we just stipulate and point out for the purposes of an overarching theme of this discussion how deeply weird these people are -- [laughter] my friend jeff frank has written
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about nixon, and nixon and johnson and reagan and clinton, even carter. i mean, the outsizeness of the strangeness of these people each in their own way is really striking. >> yeah, but -- >> barack obama -- there's a point to this. they're strangely sane? >> yeah. >> i wouldn't agree with all that. [laughter] strangely sane is not a phrase i would affix to nixon or johnson or -- anyway. so when you come to barack obama and to david's point, i think this is, again, i'm not a historian. i'm a reporter. but so far as i can tell from that vantage point and as a reader and as an observer of somebody alive in this time, this is the least strange person to occupy the white house in,
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certainly, the post-war era. and i think that the whole washington/new york dinner table america eme of if he -- meme if he had only played more golf with john boehner, if he had had more drinks with mcconnell is, it's just bad math. it's bad history, and it's not good journalism. the increased radicalization, right-wing radicalization of both the house and to some extent the senate is a historical fact that's borne the fruit or fruitcake that we now know -- [laughter] that has come out of the oven. [laughter] that this is something that was,
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if i can extend this metaphor horribly -- [laughter] prepared and stirred by the republican party and a generation of constantly radicalizing republican party. so the notion that barack obama, who won the health care battle by the tiniest of smidgens however or flawed, however got less than he wanted, however, you know, premiums are going up, but this historical battle was won in a time when he had political advantages that he no longer had for the remaining sick years. i -- six years. i think it's a fantasy. a fantasy. now, look, i feel bad about saying this from an occupational point of view. i think the job of journalists is not to praise power, but to put pressure on power. that's our job. and, you know, i have plenty of things that i have questions about barack obama or criticism of barack obama, but i, i must
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tell you that in my lifetime i've come to the end of no presidency where i have more good to say in the characterological argument. i think he is the most sane, self-knowing person in that office that i can imagine. again, he's a human being, he's flawed, he has this, that and the other -- >> does that lead to good leadership? >> well, i think the results of his leadership have been -- in my view, look, i have particular politics so, yes, i do think that. i think the moral political -- i don't know that it's a bad mark, but it certainly is going to be the biggest question mark of his presidency, to my mind, syria. and phillip gordon, who is one of his middle east advisers, to me, put it, the quandary most starkly when he said the following. i'll get the words wrong, but essentially it's this: the
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united states invaded and occupied a country called iraq, and it was a catastrophe. the united states participated in an invasion and failed to occupy a country called libya, and it was a catastrophe. and we have done next to nothing because of those previous experiences in syria, and it was a catastrophe. and and it's a catastrophe in which we have a half a million people dead, 11 million refugees, a destabilized lebanon, jordan, turkey and the entire european continent, and we're having an argument in the united states when we deign to discuss syria about 10,000 refugees coming into the country and the hysteria about borders. so i sympathize, deeply sympathize with obama's quandary about this, and he came into office, after all, his big differential with hillary clinton was not characterological, it was iraq where he was right, where he was right. and so for him to have acted differently especially in lieu
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of libya which he was part of the screw-up, the cliche that they took their eye off the ball is an up conscionable cliche -- unconscionable cliche. so you can see why this has happened, but i think that's the biggest, blaring question mark -- glaring question mark as he leaves office. i think on domestic issues, i think it's a remarkable record. and i feel uncomfortable saying that as a journalist because i don't think, you know, patting presidents -- >> well, we're encouraged to say what we think now about our guy, people running -- >> i never had any hesitation about it. [laughter] >> no, i asked each one uh-uh -- one of our historian-journalists to tell us an anecdote that gives us a real insight, a window into the cast of mind or the temperament or the quality of mind of each one of their assigned presidents. so let's do a round on that, and we'll start with jimmy carter again. jon.
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>> well, i guess maybe go to camp david, and it's the 13th day of 13 days, and they believe they have an agreement after a tremendous amount of hard work mostly by carter, but obviously begin sadat deserves a lot of credit too. they had gotten an agreement, and carter had promised begin -- promised sadat that he was going to have a side letter that was not relevant to the agreement, directly relevant, on jerusalem and the status of jerusalem and that he would basically reiterate what had been said in 1967 after the 1967 war. and, you know, was not any change in american policy. but begin found it to be a deal breaker, and he was going to
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blow up the whole thing on the last day, and it looked like it was ending this failure which was, would have been completely humiliating for carter and bad for the world. and then carter, with the help of his secretary, brought in these photographs of begin's grandchildren. and his secretary found out each of their individual names, and carter inscribed one to each and brought them to begin. and then they, begin kind of broke down. and then carter broke down. and carter made some adjustments, very clever adjustments in the letter that begin objected to on jerusalem, and they went forward to have their agreement. peacemaking is hard, it's hard work. and the engineering quality that
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made people not like carter very much -- who can love an engineer? it's just not a very politically potent occupation even if we can personally love the engineers in our lives. that same engineering quality really helped him get down into the details where real change happens. >> [inaudible] >> all right. reagan, go for it. >> reagan is the president who most governed by anecdote. i think there was a real reason he did that, which is that he didn't -- his mind was not tuned to abstract thinking, and he could in a lot of way only relate to policy ask ideas by making them stories about people, which he did incredibly well. and, of course, those anecdotes were sometimes true, sometimes he knew they weren't true, sometimes he thought they were true and they weren't true. but here's an anecdote about reagan that i bet no one has heard before -- >> you know, like when he said he went to war?
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he said he was in combat? >> that didn't happen. we can discuss why, but i think that was a myth about reagan, that he claimed to have liberated auschwitz. [laughter] he was not completely detached from reality. but in 1967 when reagan was in the governor's office -- well, first, just a little prep. i spent some time at the reagan library, and after i was there a few days, they said would you like to look inside reagan's desk? i said, sure, what's that? it turns out he had kept -- there were these five boxes, and they're things that he took from california to washington, back to california, and, you know, it's like people's business cards and matchbooks from restaurants kind of thing, but there are also some really interesting documents in there. these were things that he couldn't bear to throw away when he would clean his desk. and one of them is a photostat of an article from pravda in 1967 with an english translation attached. what this article was pravda came to interview him in sacramento in 1967. and the correspondent who was
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called yuri starts the account saying i wasn't sure that reagan would want to see me. but he wanted to convince me that capitalism was superior to communism. [laughter] and reagan clearly had had this article translated because he thought if he just got this guy in the office, he could convince him that capitalism was the better system. and you see yuri is writing this article, very stern, you know, kind of letting pravda, you know, reagan, you know, capitalist governor of this sort of powerful industrial state, military industrial -- blah, blah, blah. and by the end of it, dam it if you -- dammit if you can't see reagan has charmed him. [laughter] he says he's very gracious, and by the end of it reagan -- he hasn't abandoned communism, he kept his job at pravda, but this was what reagan did. whether it was the correspondent or mikhail gorbachev, boy, if i
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could just get them alone in a room, i think i could convince them. [laughter] >> well, you know, reagan's secret sauce was his charm and his sweetness. and people, i mean, the press corps used to melt right at his feet too. he could charm anybody. all right. who is next? clinton. [laughter] >> there's so many, but -- [laughter] when my book came out, clinton responded by reading parts of it to his taffe, the parts that were -- staff, the parts that were inof courseous -- innocuous to, and denying the other half existed. to me, the only valuable thing in the kenneth starr report on the lewinsky scandal is an addendum where it lists all of the books in that study behind the oval office. and among the books it says is
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"first in his class" with annotated notes by b.c. and h.r.c.. [laughter] so i can only imagine what those notes were. fast forward two years, and clinton hasn't talked to me for two years after the book came out for a lot of different reasons. and we never meet until the association of newspaper editors has their annual convention in washington where the president traditionally speaks. and i happened to be on the dais because i'd won an award that year, and bill clinton came hobbling in. he'd just fallen off the stoop of the front stairs of golfer greg norman's house down in florida, so he was on crutches. he comes in, gives his speech, and then to to work the rope line which, of course, he has to do, he has to come by me. so we're meeting for the first time in two years. i'm completely tongue-tied, i've got so many questions that i
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wanted to ask him that i really didn't have anything to say. and bill clinton always says the right thing to say. he said, hi, david, congratulations on your award, nice tie. [laughter] my father and wife are in the audience. he works the rope line, he's got his arm around my wife. he won't talk to me, but he's talking to her. he's talking to my dad about golf and falling off greg norman's stairs, and my father's first words to him are, nice tie, president. [laughter] two months later i'm in new york city at a dinner, and george stephanopoulos is there, clinton's aide -- former aide by that point. and we were talking about how exhausting and interesting and all of the different characteristics that bill clinton has that we both endured for many years. and stephanopoulos said, well, david, did he ever talk to you after your book came out? i said, you know, no, not really. the only words we've ever exchanged is when he said, "nice
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tie." and receive stephanopoulos saidw what that means in bill clinton's private lexicon, and i said, no. he said, well, it means fuck you. [laughter] so i was thinking of my father, who loved bill clinton, unwittingly responded in kind. [laughter] [applause] .. when he was in the office, in
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the hospital, his nurse came to see him and he was in his hospital bed and said, what do i have? and she said, mr. president, you have acute angina. and he said, you're not so bad yourself. [laughter] not true, not true! not true! the most telling story i can offer about barack obama in my personal experience is the following. david's had this experience, john has as well. what happens these days in obama land if you're writing a book that they deem, at least reasonably serious, which is to say not written by, you know, ed klein or something, you get an interview and they tell you it's going to be a half hour and it goes 45 minutes or in the case of david, it went longer because he had uncovered his girlfriends and obama
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wanted to know all about it. but my interview with him was was completely-- he would talk about some things, malcolm x in the white house, something that probably didn't come up a lot with richard nixon, except on the tapes. he was very guarded in at that obama way, but 10% more so on the subject of race, which is a full paragraph came out without a single, you know, lexical, tactical glitch at all and everything completely gathered and we finished this conversation and he walked down the hall to go off to do something, you know, check on the nuclear codes or whatever it might be and then he came all the way back at a clip. and he said, i got to-- this is not something he does.
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he's very efficient with his time. he's not a lingering like clinton would have been there for three hours. >> and not answer a single question. >> and not answer a question, all that. you have to understand, this is early, early in the administration and there's-- this is a big subject about which historians will chew over there for a long time. when i talk about race, you know, i'm perfectly aware that the most important historical aspect of me and race has happened november then on my inauguration day, i get that, but if i put a single word wrong or even half wrong, the world can go crazy. and this happened time and time again. you remember the beer summit. you know, obama convened his beer summit with skip gates and the police officer who essentially assaulted skip gates for the crime of breaking into his own house with his keys. and some large majority of the
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american people were in favor of the cop, not skip gates. and we're very destabilized by obama's performance at a press conference in which he said that essentially could have been me. so there-- it will be extremely interesting to me to see, once he leaves office, once january 20th happens, if two things are going to happen. one for sure, he's going to get, sorry, rob, he's going to get the biggest book advance in the history of nonfiction and then the second thing will he write the truly great presidential memoir in the history of the american presidency? ulysses s. grant wrote with mark twain, a nice editor to have. will he write a book like his first book or more of a product
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that he wrote as kind of testing paper whether he should run for president or not. that would be fascinating to me and how he confronts the subject of race, what he has to say about it, considering that enormous intelligence and that singular experience of being president, the first african-american president will be something that holds over for a long time. >> do you think his ambition is to do first, right a great book? >> i think that anybody who sits down to write a book has it in mind to write something at least good and i think obama has that writerly attention. there are any number of anecdotes of him when he writes speeches, he stays up all night with the speech writer, and his reaction to winning the nobel prize since you broke the obscenity barrier, you've got to be -- kidding about that.
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and opposite of what the nor-- norwegians would hear and the abuse of great american power. >> i know we're going to invite the audience to ask some questions, but first, let's talk about the current roster of people running for president and can any of you or all of you jump in and tell what you've learned from your preside presidents that would-- if you could give advice would help either hillary and/or mr. trump? in other words, what did you learn that makes for a good president? what would you tell them from what you've learned? anybody? or do you just want to talk about trump? is that what you want to do? >> i would say one thing,
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leslie, which is, you know, i think the thing that hillary clinton has found hardest to do is the thing reagan did very naturally, which is to frame his ideas in narrative terms, in human terms, and thematic terms. >> and i think hillary understands as a campaigner this way, but part of the reason she has had a hard time breaking through, and of course misogyny, all sorts of other factors, but she does tend to offer a list of policies. she's not good at telling a big story, something that bill clinton, i think, was excellent at. and i think maybe he learned it in part from reagan, but it comes naturally to him because he's naturally a story teller. and that's, you know, and that's very tough, but i think if you don't do that, you're giving up on being able to
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relate in a certain way of part of the country that isn't engaged in policy at a specific level. >> one thing that surprised me, by the way, about reagan, how much he contributed to his speeches. i was under the impression that he had a stable of speech writers, peggy noonen and they went off and did it. he did-- >> he improved on all of them and he was a really good writer and i think it came out of his early days of writing radio scripts. none of his original radio scripts which he wrote when he was a sports caster in iowa and down state illinois survived, but we know there's the cubs game when he had to tap dance when the results quit coming through. and having read these and they're written out in long hand. he didn't have help with those, didn't have an editor really, i'd give him a--
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he wrote a good punchy column and a good punchy speech. and schultz had written some foreign policy speech and gave it to reagan to look at proud of himself and reagan said, it's good, george, but i would have done it different. schultz said what do you mean? you write for the eye like most people do, but i write for the ear and you have to think about what it-- how it sounds to people and telling a story and telling it in front of a microphone, it's a different kind of writing. but he was a really good writer of that kind. >> i know, david, that you've been dying to talk about trump all night because you told me so. >> i'm so sick of it i can't-- i can't begin to tell you. look, let's be honest, we're witnessing, we're witnessing an ugly freak. [laughter]
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and i'm sorry, i don't mean to pander over much. i can imagine at nyu i'm among, like-minded people and not saying it for that reason. but this is a hideous moment in american history that this happen happened. i can't say it's the logical extension of the kind of radicalization and real decadence of a major political party in american history, but there it is, we're discussing in-- before we came out, you know, is he like hitler? is he like mussolini? i don't know. it seems to me that this is a very american thing. the incubator that he grew up in was not a turn of the century austria. he grew up on -- as a -- in reality television world. mark fisher, my college roommate and now biographer of trump, who has had hours and
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hours of time with trump with his colleagues at washington post, he wrote a very, very good book. he and his team wrote a very, very good book on trump. asked him what everyone on the stage eventually asked their subjects, you would if you could, what do you read? what is forming, forgive the expression, your intellectual, your view of life or as trump would say-- and trump was like, it's as if you had asked him to reinvent the calculus. he could not think of anything and then he went back to high school and he was not embarrassed in the least about this. and no one is asking presidents to be, you know, tenured professors of astro physics or history, but you would expect some input going into-- or hear in the republican party
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constantly the fountain head and-- this is what you hear all the time. nothing. he said, well, all quiet on the western front which i read in high school. so this is kind of blankness in his-- in himself, the ability to say anything that he feels will appe appeal to whoever is in front of him, howard stern or a rally in texas or a rally here or there, and he's been formed by, i feel, not just himself and his own biography, but a moment of american history, both serious and pop, that has, you know, bubbled up in the ugliest way and, god willing, we'll be done with it in early november, but it will be something we'll be grappling with for a long time to come, i think politically and not just historically speaking, because a lot of people are going to vote for him.
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>> i just worry about what happens when somebody goes out of bounds, as he has over and over again from a very early point. and we have never seen a demagogue come anywhere close to this close to the american presidency in all of american history. we've only had one candidate, wilkey in 1940 who hadn't served at all in government. all the other imagine party candidates were either in the military or in elective office or the cabinet. and that's highly unusual, but the sheer demagoguery of it we've never seen and the fallout, i don't think we're really necessarily ready for. i hope there is--
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loses is a real reckoning for who are trump appeaser in the party and who were never trump. the never trump folks whether they're very conservative like lindsey graham or some others, they deserve to rise in the future of the republican party. i'm not sure they will, but we should hold the other ones to account because they were, in my mind, and are unpatriotic. that's a very strong word. if you're an average voter and you -- [applause] >> if you're an average voter and you're for trump, you have a busy life and you're not paying very much attention, kind of like the, you know-- you politics that he represents. i can understand why they voted for trump.
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if you're a politician and marco rubio said he's a con artist, you know he is a con artist and he is, and you support him, and putting a con artist in charge of our constitution and our nuclear codes, what could be a less patriotic act than that? so, you know, i don't think we've fully confronted the moral ramifications of politicians who put party ahead of country and decided that they have to support trump. >> well said. [applaus [applause]. >> i agree completely. there's no reason for me to blab on about trump. note for history's sakes, the people who support trump were there supporting in the south,
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and supporting george wallace in michigan history and they've been there through history. only once in a while that a demagogue can come along and tap into that as trump has. as to what should-- switching over to hillary clinton for a second and books. before i ever got a chance to ask either of them what books they read, i realized-- i discovered what book bill clinton brought along on their honeymoon to acapulco which was the denial of death by becker. a and-- . [laughter] >> the denial of death. >> i wanted to open it up to questions from the audience and i see there are microphones here and here and so maybe you could get up to the mics if you want to ask a question. >> hi there, to the three guys with ties, nice tie.
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[laughter] >> harsh, harsh. i had a question. one of you said something this being the end of the reagan era and the republican party and moving forward, are we looking, is it going to be the right that's taking the mantle or where do you see the republican moving on after this? >> yeah, i mean, and i do look at this in a reagan context. i think, you know, the genius of trump, as it were, he sensed the tremendous gap between what the party represented and what people voting republican actually thought. and the party was still essentially fixed to reagan's principles. smaller government, lower taxes, pro immigration, free trade and trump kind of figured out that people voting republican, a lot of them didn't support really any of that. they didn't want less government, they wanted more from government. they didn't particularly care
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about taxes on the wealthy. they were against globalism and trade and against immigration. i think going forward, it's different from what john was arguing a minute ago. i think on one hand the party is going to have an immediate tendency to blame everything on trump himself, but i think the path to victory in the party in the future is likely to be trumpism without trump. so it's going to be someone without trump's reprehensible character and personal qualities, but who does represent that view and that's why i think the sort of reaganism is gone and won't come back in the republican party. they're there, but i think it's likely to be a minority fashion. >> david remnick has a leave and everybody else stay. david, any final thoughts on the presidency in general and what we're about to face. >> only that it's my 29th wedding anniversary and if i don't get to her and go, i'm
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not going to reach 30. [laughter] >> that's really-- i will say that what was encouraging because i don't want everybody to go home and kill themselves, is that i've never seen a more politically astute thrashing in any kind of political combat in the third debate where i think finally everything was unmasked and yet, tens of millions of people are going to vote for donald trump and it bears watching for all of us as citizens and as journalists, first of all, to understand why this is the case. it's everybody who is pulling the lever for donald trump a white supremacist or a member
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of some incredibly ugly group or thinks ill of the groups that trump has insulted and attempt today humiliate? i don't know that that's the case. i dearly hope not and i don't think it is. but as a political force and what shape that takes, as jacob was saying before is going to be fascinating because the leadership of the republican party, which was given such immense praise for its mastery of policy, paul ryan being exhibit number 1, paul ryan, i understand he's the speaker of the house and there forethe defacto head of the party that is headed by a nut and worse, but i do not see, i do not see how a-- you know, a second term clinton versus paul ryan race doesn't devolve into yet another ugly episode and yet, i think she's
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incredibly vulnerable. unless she performs at the level of that third debate, in every sense of the word during her presidency and becomes a more transparent political personality in the way we've grown not accustomed to thinking of her, there's real trouble ahead. >> it hard to get 16 years in a row for any party. that's almost unprecedented. after 12 years people want a change. so she-- one thing is very interesting that she might learn from carter is, he repeatedly made decisions he knew were politically harmful to him over and over again over the objections of rosalyn carter and he just said, look, you know, i'm going to do what i think is right. not that he was never political. if she applied-- >> she won't do that. >> she won't do that, but it may make her a less historically important president because you have to
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be willing to take some risks of failure, political failure if you're going to have lasting accomplishments. >> you don't think she'll do that? >> david does -- [applause] >> early in the obama presidency, there was a piece written saying he should do the gutsy thing and just get out of iraq immediately and if that makes him a one term president, so be it. he didn't do that. and hillary clinton is twice as pragmatic in that regard as barack obama. so, i just don't see that happening. >> here is a question. >> looking forward and assuming for a moment that hillary clinton wins, she'll be facing media landscape that's much more polarizing, constant, than what her husband faced and also coming out of eight years that's essentially been scandal-free. when biographies and histories
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of this will be written, benghazi and solyndra will be footnotes, imagine, there will be some major trumped up or whatever scandal and potentially sub stand it i have that occurs, what is the likelihood like bill's ability to recover that such a scandal could be fatal in this kind of media landscape? >> you know, not much-- not many of bill clinton characteristics transfer to hillary, but the one that does is enormous will and the ability to get past things and work her way through them. and so, i think that she will have that capacity as president, just as he did. i also fear that, you know, the clintons come with not just the baggage of the past, but a tendency to bring people in who can create problems in a way that president obama was
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incredibly smart and lucky to an i void. >> david, do you think that they share a habit of making it seem as if they have something to hide, even when they don't? >> well, bill clinton does usually have something to hide. know the that it's always important. >> whitewater-- travel-gate those were-- >> hillary was the stronger defender of not being transparent about these incidents and i think, as i said, i think she built up this encrusted defensiveness as part of their partnership. and so, yes, that will be a problem. clinton to some degree, of course it's true with all politicians the ends and the means. and the clintons there's a stronger sense of the ends justify the means and so the means are more less important to them as president obama.
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>> what i worry for hillary clinton and other presidents, how they're going to reach the american people because the media, and i put that in quotes, the media covers everything from, you know, bill o'reilly from 60 minutes and we're all in there together. is how -- how are they going to communicate with this diverse means of communication? and the minute she goes and makes a speech, every outlet, every tweet in the world is just going to chew her up to bits. and her husband didn't face a world like that at all. and obama is just beginning to face a world like that. and i can't see the future for president's means of communicating and selling what they're intending to do. >> they all have the fantasy of going directly to the public without going through the press and i think it depends less on changes in technology, which people focus on on more on
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their personality ability to communicate. i don't think that hillary clinton, as i was saying a minute ago, excels in that respect and i think she has a very, very bad dynamic with the press where she constantly feels mistreated, in part because of scandals that don't pan out or, you know, aren't really scandals, and then becomes more defensive and the press reacts against her defensiveness and she becomes more closed down. the e-mail scandal, if you look at what was happening there, i would describe it as a conspiracy to violate the freedom of information act, which is not actually a crime, but you know, in setting up her private e-mail server, what hillary clinton was really doing was trying to ensure that her communications would not become open, either to the press or investigators in congress or ultimately to historians trying to be shut
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down and private and that instinct, is an unproductive instinct for any politician part partly because of the way the press reacts to it. >> everything will be on the phone. and e-mail will be dead during the clinton administration. who will put anything in an e-mail now. >> for the most part you're preaching to the choir and that's good. and i'm going to add to it with a tiny anecdote and then i have a real question and the anecdote is, in the mid 50's, my stepfather, a new york city architect of some note, got a call from fred trump asking him a left-leaning architect of union buildings in the city, to design a building, an apparent
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house in queens for the electrical workers union. fred trump, because of his queens connection, had been asked to take care of this. and my sweet, dear stepfather very sweet, kind man, agreed and he went out to queens and spent a day, a sunday with fred trump and he came back and he reported, fred trump is really nice man. he has a 10-year-old son who could not be chastised, he could not be encouraged to leave the grown-ups to their talk. what a brat. [laughter] >> okay. so we know how dangerous, too dangerous to contemplate a trump presidency would be.
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why on earth don't the media people give her a pass? whenever something happens, it's evened out. lately, i read the new york times every day, i don't read the journal and i don't read the post, but it is in the times. there have been a couple of columns by brooks who was against her, but a couple of really good columns. a couple of good columns by krugman. even my good friend on msnbc, rachel maddow was kind of snide about her until very recently. i want to try to understand the stakes are so high, what would be wrong with having a hillary band wagon in the next ten days?
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certainly there's a trump band wagon. >> great question. >> you're conflating all of the media into one. if i may. oh. when you talk about television personalities, and when you talk about serious reporters, there are three completely different entities, so you should not just say the media. it's not the job of reporters to give anyone a pass, but it is their job to be discerning in terms of what's the real story and what is not and to sound self-serving, i think that the mainstream media, quote, unquote, has taken a lot of hits over the last ten years and for the most part, the printed press and the internet press of serious journalists, leading with the new york times
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and "the washington post" and those, have done an incredibly good job of revealing donald trump this year with serious stories. and so, i refuse to accept the notion that we should give anyone a pass, but i do believe that you're right and that you have to be discerning about what is a story and what isn't. >> and electronic media, television was manipulated by trump early on in the campaign. he would call into these shows and ratings, they would put him on all the time and wouldn't ask him very hard questions. >> made $100 million-- >> and wouldn't ask him hard questions and he wouldn't come on the next time and that would cost them money in their ratings. and so there's a story that really reflects badly on certain television networks which i think have done a pretty good job of trying to redeem themselves in the last
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few months, but the print press has not been playing even steven between trump and hillary. it's been much, much tougher on trump. >> i don't know if playing even steven is the way to put it. there's more material to go after with trump. >>, but there's a phony sense of follow that comes in where a lot of people think that balance is more important than truth, and-- it's not a cliche, it's real. >> no, it's real, but it's a cliche, too. >> i want to-- >> good evening, this may be a little tangential in terms of biography, but i withas hoping hear your input. why it is that hillary clinton can't seem to land a final blow on the campaign of donald trump? it seems like maybe he's lingering on. is it something to do with her base? or is it more along the lines of how he runs his campaign? what do you think. >> remember when trump said he
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could go out on fifth avenue and shoot somebody and people would still be for him? i think it's very possible for her to deliver a knockout blow. >> she's poised in a highly polarized electorate. she's poised to win, but what is the landslide? 8 to 10 points would be a huge victory, but what's frustrating to her and to a lot of people is that the election has become a referendum on trump and she stands in for acceptable, not trump alternative. meanwhile, she wants to run for president. she has a set of policies, she would like to be elected with a mandate to do the things she wants to do and i think the frustration for her, i mean, it's better than having the frustration of facing defeat, but she faces a kind of victory without a mandate because when you sort of ask what is-- what will the electorate have done? it will have sort of rejected this cancer of donald trump, but without the kind of
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affirmation of her. you know, and the widespread feeling that she would have lost to a stronger, more conventional candidate. >> the latest disturbing, when you go into it for the first time voting enthusiastically than ever before they're expressing that. >> you think they have to kick in particularly with women. i've been surprised with the women in my own family are not more excited about the first woman president. i'm excited about it, but you have to remember to be excite about it because the campaign has been bogged down in this sort of ugliness. the affirmative part of it has been buried, but i think there's a possibility that's going to start to surface as the reality gets closer. >> and it will surface on election night, i think. >> i'm going to call it a night because this is late and it's been spectacular and i'm glad you brought up the women, finally. [applaus
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[applause]. thank you all for coming. >> thank you all. thank you all. pick up a book on your way out and you'll see some future programs. thank you for coming tonight. you're watching book tv with top nonfiction books and authors every week. book tv television for serious readers. here is a look at some of the staff picks from the harvard bookstore in cambridge, massachusetts. yahoo! news political columnist explores how the down fall of gary hart's presidential campaign shaped today's campaigns in "the truth is out". a look at how high court
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decisions are stretching beyond america's borders in "the court ap the and the world", a review of the decisions fdr had to make regarding d-day and the end of world war ii. a journalist reports on the lives of afghan women and girls in the underground girls of kabul. another staff pick from harvard bookstore "black man in a white coat", ways in on race and inequalities in the american health care system. in "we should all be feminists" arguing that everyone should be fighting for gender equality. gra grandeis professor looks at the 1858 u.s. senate race in "lincoln's tragic prague matism", what she found as a
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pilot and first to slow solo across the atlanta ocean, her memoir. and harvard picks from cambridge and many appeared ton book tv. you can watch them on our website, book >> this photo was sent to me in an e-mail in 2012 weeks after-- days before president barack obama was reelected in 2012. it was at the top of an e-mail from the christian coalition of america. and i was struck by it at the time because it came really right on the heels, in between the election and thanksgiving and it had this caption under neat underneath it. family at prayer. it's a white family saying grace before a meal and then it had this line of text further explaining kind of the transition from the photo to the message, the christian coalition of america.
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it said this, excuse me. it said we will soon be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first thanksgiving. and god has still in the withheld his blessings upon this nation. although we now richly deserve such condemnation, we have a lot to give thanks for and we need to pray to our heavenly father and ask us to protect us from the enemies from without and within who want to see america destroyed. that's the message that comes with this image right after the reelection of president barack obama in 2012. i immediately saved it, i wasn't working on the book, it seemed to me an artifact and a symbol, the viceral reaction to the election of barack obama in 2012 and part of it is like unpacking, what is that about? when we see these reactions and this kind of throwback imagery to a kind of previous time, a kind of mythical golden era.
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what's behind that sense of nostalgia and loss and grief. the book is called "the end of white christian america", and to end confusion, what i mean by that is a metaphor for the cultural institutional edifice built by white protestant christians in this country that set the tone and shaped american ideals. it wouldn't be hard-- many of you may have walked here, to walk very far without tripping over an institution that was started by white christian america, white protestants, the wmca, the wyca, the boy scouts. it would be hard not to find these things. these constitutions and the world they were part of has passed from the american scene. that's what the book is about.
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you can see this in demographic ways. i'll focus on the demographics, if i can show you one chart and unfortunately i'll show you more. if i could show you one chart, this shows us some real changes that happened just over the last eight years. so i've got shaded in kind of light gray, the period of barack obama's presidency. this is all white christians together, percentage that all white christians, protestants, catholics, altogether. and by 2008 when president barack obama was running for president, just two election cycles ago that number was 54%. today that number is 45%. it was 47% in 2014 is and just, in the next year, latest data shows it at 45%. so, just during the last two
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election cycles. during the presidency of barack obama, we've moved from being a majority white christian country to a minority white christian country in a short amount of time and this is in fact, even if people don't know these stats that well, i think many white christians, particularly white conservative christians feel the shift in their bones, right? and this is part of some of the reactively that we're seeing. just to put one more symbolic issue across this same time period, i'm putting up here support for gay marriage over the same period of time. and right, so if you go back to 2008, what you see is that only about four in ten americans supported gay marriage when barack obama was running for president in 2008. that number today is 53%. so similarly we've gone from a country where only four in ten supported same sex marriage, to a majority support same-sex marriage. that's a major cultural shift
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on a bellwether issue in a short period of time. part of what the book is telling is unpacking the grief and anxiety around these demographic and cultural changes that we've seen in the last decade of our nation's life. >> you can watch this and other programs on-line at book >> here is a look at upcoming book fairs and festivals happening around the country. on wednesday, november 16th we're in new york for the 2016 national book awards. and then friday, november 18th, it's the national press club's annual book fair and authority's night in washington d.c. and later this month live from the miami book fair november 19th and 20th. it includes author discussions and call-in programs featuring bernie sanders, fox news host
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dana perino and colson whitehead. for more information what book fairs we'll be covering, click the book fairs tab on our website, book >> i'm going to take off my jack jacket. okay, we might have a few latecomers, they won't interrupt. they'll go around the back. first of all, welcome to the museum, it's our pride and joy, we hope you enjoy it and we also, if you want to tour the museum you'll have to go back out and around and we have a flight 800 room that might be interesting to you after you hear jack. it's my pleasure to welcome jack to the museum for the presentation. you're going to do questions and answers and he'll do q & a after his speech. welcome, jack. [applaus [applause]


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