tv Michael Beschloss Discusses the History of Presidential Inaugurations CSPAN January 20, 2017 9:01am-9:24am EST
washington of the answer coalition rally and protest against the trump administration. we are having technical difficulty with our signal. we apologize. we are working on the problem. in the meantime a conversation with author and historian michael backslosh on the inauguration and notable addresses in the past. >> host: author and historian, as we prepare for the 58th presidential inauguration we were looking back at some old films and pictures and one thing that is remarkable, the consistency of these ceremonies. >> that is the idea. the ceremony may not look exactly like george washington taking his oath on that balcony in 1789 in new york city but the amazing thing in a country that has changed as much as ours has over two centuries this is one
of the few ceremonies that is relatively consistent and one of the few times in which the nation tries to come together under a new president who is trying to unify it. >> what does it represent in your mind, the peaceful transfer of power. last time we side eight years ago when george w. bush left the white house and barack obama became our 44th president. >> one of the things thank god we do well and we take too much for granted because if you look at the number of countries in which this does happen with so little fanfare and such little agitation it is unique and americans don't understand that. >> the role of the military parade and all the traditions that go with it. what is its origin? >> people celebrate with parades that were often pretty military compared to an inaugural parade nowadays and one of the things is if you just looked at
inaugural parade through history, you knew nothing else about the president when he was coming to power it would tell you a lot. >> how does it represent the president taking office? the inaugural ceremonies are organized by the house and senate, the parade is organized by the transition committee and you have other things. >> everyone combining on this with one of the impressive things about our system this year where people tend to think this is nothing but tumult and division and conflict, members of congress are of different parties from the incoming president or may disagree with him totally, nonetheless being the ones who put on this inaugural ceremony. >> host: let's talk about five inaugural addresses back to 1933, franklin roosevelt set the
stage for his remarks and why we are talking about that speech today. >> every president says i want an inaugural address like roosevelt at 1933 pretty hard, roosevelt was coming in, the banks were in big trouble, closing. country was in great depression. they were looking to this president to fix the problem quickly. eleanor roosevelt said of that day was almost terrifying because you have the sense whatever franklin told members of congress to do and the people, they would do. not an experience most presidents had. roosevelt had to tell people who had lost hope over the previous years because of the depression, huge unemployment, there was reason not only to hope but fear but the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. if you deconstruct that there are a lot of things to be afraid of in 1933, so self-confident
was he, so great was the rhetoric, it gave people a lot of hope. >> what makes a good speech? what do you look for? >> above all, you have the sense you are actually listening to the president, that it is his voice, talking about the deepest, most important things he wants to do as president, not always does a new president follow that will because often times they will say i have to measure up to fdr or lincoln avenue second inaugural or some of the greatest so they hire speechwriters and right speeches that don't sound like them, richard nixon in 1969. i don't know this but he had to have told his speechwriters i want this to be as great as john kennedy's inaugural address in 1961. the result is that speech was almost an imitation of the
speech kennedy had given. it didn't sound like nixon, sounded like someone trying to imitate. >> what about abraham lincoln's second inaugural address, one of the speeches we still talk about a century and a half later. >> we do because it was as sublime a statement of what was important to lincoln, saying with malice towards none, charity for all. talking about the way he wanted to end the civil war which is becoming quickly, and the idea of reconstruction to the south. >> when franklin roosevelt was sworn it was march 1933, that changed after that. >> roosevelt rightfully said the congress said why do we have a long period from a residential election in november, and the fourth of march, you have a lame-duck president not to be able to do very much and the country is in limbo. the result was they moved the
inauguration up and you had modern communications and transportation. you don't need those month to get to a new administration. the downside is these inaugurations, usually it was springtime and it was pleasant, the 20th of january, meteorological he a horror show, has not been great for those who do that. >> second of 5 speeches, john f. kennedy 1961. >> that was something kennedy had the help of the speechwriter, but a lot of it he did himself. it was a statement of kennedy's dealings at that point which were essentially i was elected by a narrow margin of a 100,000 popular votes, i'm a minority president so he thought what is the way i can unify the country, not to talk about domestic
things, people have big differences over civil rights and labor, taxes, minimum wage but on foreign-policy a vast majority agreed. he said let's do a speech that is almost 100% on foreign-policy, and he's giving a statement of what america's purpose was in the world and more specifically in the cold war in 1961 did the trick. republicans said that was a great speech, gave kennedy instant factory. >> the weather that day, cold. >> guest: enormous snow but turned out that added to the legendary sense of the day because people had to dig their way out to get to the n there were great metaphors. >> host: for the first time the inauguration moved to the west capital, ronald reagan sworn in
as our 40th president and you had a sitting president up until that day still trying to release those hostages in iran. >> they moved to the west because you get more people on the west side of the capital and reagan said, he was expressing the views, better to have it on the west side of the capital, the new president looking westward toward the american people to the west coast rather than the eastside which is the opposite of that and reagan made use of that in that speech. >> in 2001 george w. bush, one of the most concise elections in american history, won because of the bush v gore decision. what was his mission getting ready for that speech? >> a little bit like kennedy 1961 plus. kennedy had this narrow margin, george bush had a margin of 537
votes, he knew he had to unify a country much of which was very skeptical about him and the speech was very effective. >> barack obama is not only president but an author and his own speechwriter. what do you think he was thinking when he took the office eight years ago? >> i think and i think there is evidence of this too. obama was the opposite of many presidents who were trying to impress people with their oratory. obama was elected with the help of his famous 2004 democratic convention speech which brought international attention. other speeches during the campaign which added to his savvy. to some extent, obama was shrinking back and say i don't want to speech with huge rhetoric that looks as if i'm trying to be kennedy or fdr, don't want people to say i am nothing but an or rader and the results is it is a fine speech
but if you had to remember phrases and slogans, pretty hard. >> host: you touched on this with richard nixon, how do you deliver a speech in your own voice but also looking back at what passed presidents have done and what we remember today? >> one thing that helps, a president who has a sense of history, you expect me to say, not just to keep a story, the best presidents, not every name or date but some understanding of what has worked in history for presidents and what has not. if you were becoming president, you don't know about the president and civil war in some detail or the experience john kennedy had or george washington, you are missing certain elements of a user's manual for the presidency.
any new president, beginning to serve as president in the white house, dealing with mystifying problems, fragmentary information, there is time pressure and one of the things that gives you some insight is to know in what cases, what made presidents succeed and what made them fail. it does give you some contact. in terms of inaugural addresses, the great addresses that you mentioned i would agree with you on the ones you are thinking of, those are people who knew a lot about history. >> host: you sat down with current and former presidents without revealing confidential impressions they asked you. what goes through their minds when talking with historians about how they view their place in american history? >> they will all say we know the way history works is we can't
influence historians and the process has to unfold. some of them are not as sanguine about how their historical reputation will form. the great presidents are people who are not too concerned about history but not too unconcerned and by too concerned, doing things with the idea this might impress some historian 50 years from now. you want a president who is concerned about history because oftentimes the decision has to be made that will be unpopular at the moment but great for the country a half-century later. >> host: back to the lincoln speech. if you had the chance to ask a question about that speech and how he prepared that speech, as a historian and author, a lot of questions you asked? >> what i would ask is how were
you able to write that speech with all the literary, even biblical references, historical references on the basis of less than a year and a half of formal education your whole life. the answer for me would be he would be too immodest to say this but it goes to the most basic part of the american ideal which is you don't need to have a fancy education to be a great leader, you don't have to come from a family that was rich or some other predictable part of the country. abraham lincoln who lost his mother when he was 6, not great relationship with his father, came from a poor family, did not have a formal education, yet this brilliant, curious young mind made sure largely on his own that he read the bible, he read shakespeare, he read military history all of which proved very important to him as president and especially giving a speech like that.
>> a couple traditions unfold on inauguration day and i want to share some of the stories you have heard over the years. let's begin with the copy, the president-elect departs across the street, meets the outgoing president and first family. what has happened over the years, what do we seek you? >> >> this is a day of stability and harmony, especially when you have a new presidential family that may not necessarily get along with the old presidential family and sometimes that breaks down, 1953 harry truman was the outgoing president, dwight eisenhower was coming in, they were close until the campaign of 52 that pitted them against each other and there was a -- eisenhower was resentful of truman's criticism of him during the campaign so truman is inside the blue room with mrs. truman, waiting for the eisenhower's to
come in for coffee and know what is coming in, i will find out what is going on, the eisenhowers head driven up to the portico but they were not getting out of the car and they were not getting out of the car because at that moment eisenhower was so angry with truman. >> host: what about the ride up pennsylvania avenue? >> that can be awkward in a situation like that. roosevelt and hoover in 1933 had run against each other, they were not dear friends to put it mildly and hoover was depressed, did not like roosevelt, roosevelt said later he kept trying to start a conversation with hoover and finally they saw a building being built and roosevelt said something like isn't that nice deal, hoover was pretty silent until roosevelt gave up. one of the better stories from my point of view is 1981, reagan
and carter run against each other but they were more amicable between them and carter was understandably during this ride is you were mentioning, trying to get reports on the american hostages and get them released in tehran. he was a little distracted so reagan in his usual manner tried to warm up the atmosphere by telling old stories of hollywood and hollywood moguls like jack warner of warner bros. went up to the side of the capital, carter gets out and talks on stage, carter said that was fine but who is this jack warner he keeps talking about? didn't work. >> host: a new tradition of the outgoing president leaving a letter for the incoming president and last year a letter george herbert walker bush left bill clinton. what are your thoughts about that? >> pretty much a ronald reagan
development left a note for his successor george hw bush, don't let the turkeys get you down or something like that. he was close to bush and credit goes to george hw bush, turning this into a tradition by writing a lovely letter to bill clinton saying you ran against each other. you don't have to worry about me, i won't criticize you. remember, i will be rooting for you. >> host: has the transition process improved from your standpoint. >> one of the problems was no apparatus or process and the result was you could oftentimes have a new president, at the time of the cold war, looking for national security documents
to deal with the soviet union and the drawers had been cleaned out, there are procedures, now a budget, a newly elected president-elect, much bigger operation, even better in the last couple transitions, there have been national security exercises where a new president, sometimes an incoming president go to the west wing and their predecessors will tell them what to do if there is a national security prices especially if that happens an hour after you were inaugurated. >> have you done any research on the bible used over the years or the significance of the bible the president will use for his 70? ceremony? >> that is something about how the parades tell you a lot about a new president. the bibles will too. donald trump for instance it has
been recorded is going to be using a family bible. oftentimes you have a president who chooses a historical bible. i hope i'm getting this right. barack obama used a lincoln bible use reference for abraham lincoln. >> host: mike pence will use reagan's bible. >> dismissing suspense over who his political hero is. >> if you look at the role of former presidents we now have barack obama among the youngest in american history going back to teddy roosevelt to have a younger former x president so what is next to him? >> hopefully has a long life of decades which he can serve the country and that is an emblem of people who will be seen in the future so often times people live longer these days, you have presidents, former presidents have a much longer career as the next president and jimmy carter became an ex-president in 1981.
here we are 36 years later and fortunately he is going strong and that is why you have seen this development of an office of the next president where they decide what they are going to do with their lives. that wasn't true of eisenhower when he left and harry truman had not been ill particularly but truman in retirement. >> let me conclude a question about you. why your fascination with the american president and the presidency? >> this is a story. when i was 8 years old i grew up in illinois. my family took me to springfield and i was shown the chair lincoln sat in when he read to his children and i asked, i was 8 years old, lincoln's and didn't behave well. what did he do? the guy had a disgusted look,
lincoln didn't believe in discipline. can you believe he let his brats run wild through the house, i heard that so i began with incan and children's books about other presidents. >> host: you will watch from the vantage point of nbc but what do you think the american people should expect friday? >> they should expect the new president to give a speech that heals and unifies. that is what we should expect of every president on inauguration day. many or most of the things a president does our political. a president is asking for certain programs, endorsing certain candidates. those things inevitably divide. that is true of the state of the union, the president saying to congress these are the things i want you to do. something of you will agree with, something the will not. of the idea of inauguration day
is not a new president set aside what he believes in, issues not everyone will agree with, but in the sense that he recognizes he is, as johnson used to say, president of all the people. he doesn't get many chances and this is the most important one. >> host: thank you for your time. >> guest: great to see you. >> on c-span2 we take you live just down pennsylvania avenue from the us capital navy memorial, the site of today's answer coalition and protest without a speeches including from the likes of cornell west and danny glover. it started 20 minutes ago, we are covering it live throughout the day on c-span2. >> melissa lawrence is a community supporter of the