tv Measuring Presidential Failure CSPAN May 14, 2016 6:40pm-8:01pm EDT
announcer: next on "american history tv," presidential historian richard norton smith talks about measuring presidential failure. he looks at three former presidents often considered failures, james buchanan, ulysses s. grant, and warren harding. the free library of philadelphia hosted this one hour, 15 minute event. >> i am so pleased to introduce tonight partial speaker, distinguished presidential historian, richard norton smith. career, he was a
white house intern and then a speech writer. he has a long record of acclaimed books on presidential this has brought him to the helm of five presidential libraries and centers across this country and throughout his career. he appears regularly, as many of you know, i'm sure, on "news is c-span's in-house historian. he will be on a presidents and patriots history tour. he focuses this year on truman, eisenhower, and churchill. in his his tours and writing, he is able to bring history to life. "the boston globe" praises his writing as compelling and provocative and "the new york
times" says his writing has authority and is immensely readable. we are so pleased to have him here tonight, and ladies and gentlemen, i hope you will join me in welcoming richard norton smith to the free library of philadelphia. [applause] mr. smith: thank you for that more than generous introduction. or disagree about what is a failed president, but this is a successful introducer, without a doubt, so thank you. [laughter] [applause] mr. smith: anyway, and thank all of you, gosh, for having come out and survived your mounting democracy here on a monday after a primary that apparently drew records. -- drew record voter interest.
and a special thanks to c-span for being here ever being part of this event. dickt to thank levinsohn and all of his colleagues at this marvelous institution for organizing this series on the american presidency. you could not have chosen a more timely subject. now, conventionally-minded program organizers would ask someone like me to talk about presidential successors and the criteria by which we judge provincial successes -- president of successes and the criteria by which we judge presidential successes. not the free library, they wanted me to talk about president of failures. dour subject,very but in fact, it is a very interesting one and one that we pay very little attention to.
this is something where i want to personalize this subject by zeroing in on three presidents who have traditionally brought up the rear of most historical surveys. james buchanan, ulysses s. grant , and warren harding. allally, the more i studied three, the more i came to the question, "just how much of a failure they were?" we will get to that in a minute or two crew. who wants to read about residential failures, asks jean baker, the most recent of buchanan's residential biographers. better to focus on presidential winners than its losers. having raised the question, professor baker than answers it nigh intohat are indisputable.
in substantial ways, unsuccessful presidencies serve as an negative reference points, lessons in avoidance. critical times often summon our best presidents, and it is worth taking the measure of those presidents who, given the opportunity, failed to rise to greatness. not mind if, will without neglecting the unholy trinity of buchanan, grant, and harding, i adopt a somewhat broader approach in the subject, examining some of the criteria we employ and some of the factors that cause later generations to reconsider such judgments. late, great historian and lincoln scholar, david herbert donald, liked to tell in his 1962 visit to the kennedy white house, in the course of which jfk voiced unhappiness over the
glibness of methods in journalists in rating his predecessors as below average or even failure. "no one has a right to rate a president," wrote kennedy, "not ,ven the poor james buchanan who learned why he made his decisions." whoever defines history as argument without end will apply kennedy's formula to the ongoing debate over presidential performance. recent scholarship, for example, has raised our view of ulysses s. grant, the last american wasident for 80 years who willing to deploy federal troops to protect black americans in their most basic rights. a smaller group of revisionists warren harding credits with
pursuing -- revisionists credits warren harding with pursuing budget ax and as for poor james buchanan, his mishandling of bloody kansas, his mishandling of the supreme court or the dred scott case, and the construction of residential authority at a moment when the nation's existence how in the balance, well, revisionism has its limits. [laughter] mr. smith: i don't know whether buchanan is the worst president on record, i am likely to reserve that dubious title for andrew johnson. a man who squander the moral high ground, gained at such terrible cost in blood and utterly toho failed grasp the meaning of the civil war, or the difference between a and what he preferred to call,
"restoration." a man, not unlike buchanan, who was defined by his resentments and who set back the cause of racial justice in this country by 100 years until another southern president named johnson , who succeeded another assassinated president, came onto the scene. in asaid, buchanan managed single term to combine many of the basic traits we associate with executive failure, poor appointments, misplaced loyalties, stubborn inheritance mosttworn document, and total lack of flexibility, and overall, the inability to practice the kind of crisis management that lincoln envisioned when he said, "the occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise to the occasion." if you want a single sentence by
which to measure presidential performance, good or bad, you couldn't do much better than that. instead, in the final years of his life, you can and asked for our sympathy. in his words, "i shall carry to my grave a consciousness that i at least meant well for my country." stirring words, those. [laughter] conceive: let us buchanan's good intentions, no american president sets out to fail. some are victims of unexpected events or changes in the culture to which they cannot adapt. some, like franklin pierce or warren harding, are weak men simply overwhelmed by the job itself. experience, should, by the way, put us on guard, i think, against the short-term --edience of the dark course
dark course candidate, usually a second grader chosen by delegates who are less impressive than the front runners. history will demonstrate -- isuse me -- that hope utilized by a quietly effective administrator of u.s. territory, that piercexpect fumbled his way into civil war in kansas, or harding, whose glitteringluded both nobility and jail bound lowlifes. case, he wasing's not to be the best president, but the best-loved president. incredibly,ortedly, be theed to be hoped to best president since george
washington, needless to say, neither man came close to realizing his ambition. --this, we can all agree there is no better place to ponder the mysteries of presidential performance than this city, which is the true mother of presidents. for it was here that the american presidency was invented. vexed explanation owners in that miraculous summer of 1787. our first it was political convention, some and not to choose a candidate or create a platform in the modern sense, but to create a republic and to define an executive office that would be at once unifying and yet limited in power. generation, it was defined by its resistance to centralized authority. authority remote from the government and often deaf to popular opinion.
as they tell otherwise, independence hall today might still be known as the pennsylvania state house. debateds, the delegates the structure, powers, and accountability of this executive embryo. very, not one individual, but several, thereby diluting authority i dice pursing it -- authority by dispersing it more widely. should he be chosen by delegates or chosen by the states? benjamin franklin thought the key to the executive officer should be to serve without pay, an idea that hasn't been heard since. [laughter] mr. smith: unlike george mason's all too relevant alarm over the president's proposed war powers, which he considered far too broad. before they were done, the founders had established the first set of criteria by which
to judge presidential success or failure. they didn't make it easy. , andgeorge washington equestrian of legendary skill, found it challenging to ride two horses at the same time. one marked head of state, the other marked head of government. the former would be above politics, while the latter must be something of a political animal, one would defer to the people's representatives in congress, the other would define y them as the national interest required. such tensions build into the office make it all but impossible to develop a unified field of theory of presidential performance. is not ale, deference trait we ordinarily associate with strong leadership. and contemporary popularity is no guarantee of historical approval.
consider the fluctuating fortunes of andrew jackson. history, ranked among the most influential of presidents, a working-class hero who made war on the banks of the united states with the same ferocity he had once reserved for the british front line at new orleans. , jacksonnal populist moved boldly to set the national agenda, even while liquidating the national debt. for a long time, the jacksonian democracy was praised for its contrast with the well bred and well read who would presume to govern the early republic. indeed, jackson himself is the only president to have his own age named after him. his influence in the 19th century was as pervasive of that as franklin roosevelt or ronald reagan in more recent times. ironically, a more truly democratic -- the more truly
democratic we became, the more inclusive we became of women, african-americans, and other minorities long to find to the margins of society's. as we rewrote our laws, so we revised our views of jackson and his legacy. today, old hickory is termed as a slave owner, an indian killer, and it economic illiterate. agenda reachedss its apogee under james polk. those men would suffer under the fate of manifest destiny, once a glorious rallying cry for american nationalists, more recently a synonym for imperial conquest. at that, paul has fared better than jackson, who is about to be eldest from the $20 -- that, pol k has fared better than jackson, who is about to be forced from the $20 bill.
has aexander hamilton broadway musical with a hip-hop soundtrack has made alexander hamilton as favorable as jackson is out of favor. it doesn't end there. noting "hamilton's" popularity broadway show, "bloody, bloody andrew jackson," shows how americans regard the swashbuckling tennessean sets a precedent for lincoln's breathtaking assertion of presidential powers one generation later. what all of this points to is what might be labeled the amount rushmore rule of presidential assessment, that is, while some presidents are literally carved in stone, most are subject to endless revisionism. becausegood thing, too,
jackson's countrymen have long emulated his impetuous habits, and that includes a rush to pass judgments on past presidents, some still in office. if ever a man was debauched, if ever a nation was debauched by a man, the american nation has been debauched by washington. let his conduct then be an example to future ages. let the history of the federal government instruct mankind that the mask of patriotism may be worn to conceal the foulest design against the liberties of the people. so to claim the philadelphia -- "the philadelphia aurora," the "washington post of its day. nothing on thed distinguished "london times" in the autumn of 1864.
down tooln will go posterity as the man who could not read the signs of the time, a sort of the editors, who plunged his country into a great , who faileda plan without excuse, and who fell without a friend. the last time democrats met in philadelphia was in 1948. their task, accepted without much of dizzy as time, was to renominate president harry truman, dismissed by opinion leaders as the little man from missouri, a failed have a -- or are of whom it was said to err is truman. [laughter] mr. smith: forget nato and an theshall plan -- and marshall plan, the containment of korea and the desegregated armed forces, when he left withe in 1953, truman took him some of the lowest popularity ratings ever recorded.
languished ine near obscurity, only to be rediscovered and reassessed in vietnam and the betrayal of watergate. it wasn't so much the new facts that had emerged as a newfound appreciation for truman's candor and character. in an age of focus group convictions, truman came to be seen as a real deal. "iness his observation, wonder how moses would have gone if he had taken a poll of egypt." [laughter] if journalists write the first draft of history, it may help to explain why proximity to a president increases the harshness of our criticism. in recent years, we have fatigue,ed clinton bush fatigue, and no doubt in some quarters, obama fatigue. but that is to confuse failure
with the overexposure of a punishing and often superficial 24/7 news cycle. on modern media thrives conflict, real or imagined, and in that sense, little has changed in the 100 years since william randolph hearst a misleading instructed a reporter in cuba, "you supply the pictures, i'll supply the war." contrasts, at least by , like to think, that they are in the perspective business, history without perspective is so many bricks without straw. time provides the straw, time for polarized emotions to cool, for papers to be opened, for old memories to be unlocked. above all, time for successive presidencies to confront many of the same issues that may have stamped a predecessor with the taint of failure.
obvious ways, a dozen of american presidents have grappled with the tangle that is the middle east, some more successfully than others. the cold war test of the metal of every chief executive from harry truman to the first george w. bush -- george bush. knowng ahead, we cannot how many future occupants of the oval office will find their priorities held hostage to terrorists who confuse murder with martyrdom. but as andrew jackson's fate makes clear, it is the history yet to be written that may cause seemingly fixed presidential reputations to bounce around like corn in a popper. the older i get, the more suspicious i become of that academic game called ranking the presidents, if only because it presumes in the word of one
scholar, "to measure the immeasurable." as the presidency involves, so do our measurements of successes and failures. talk about apples and oranges, the 19th century presidency is a totally different office than the 20th century, entirely different, much closer, it could be argued, to what the founders intended. have their chief function carrying out the legislature's wishes, someone who at the same time it have a predominant role in determining american foreign-policy, but certainly not someone who, for example, would be regarded as responsible, good or bad, for the state of the nation's economy. james monroe was reelected in 1820 with all but one electorate. electorate voting for him,
and this, in the midst of an economic panic. martin van buren suffered in americanworst history until herbert hoover 90 years later. none of his contemporaries look to washington to address what actregarded as an economic of god, unlike, obviously, hoover's contemporaries. overreach,presidents it is a universal trait, think of franklin roosevelt, a master politician, who nevertheless tombled so badly in trying pack the supreme court with justices friendly to his new deal, or harry truman, a very
strong president who took itself -- who took himself to seize the nation's goals with the vietnam war and the threat to strike. one of the most assertive of presidents, theodore roosevelt, had his own system for ranking presidents. he thought they should be divided into two categories, the lincoln type and the begin and type.- the buchanan modern presidents use different words to say much of the same things when they speak of transformative and transitional leaders, bold visionaries. self-serving, as turns out to also be prophetic, because in sharp contrast to the 19th century, the 20th century wood the long the roosevelt activists who ushered america onto the world stage, who entrusted a private
economy to public planners, and who belatedly committed uncle sam to the fight for democracy and indeed, inequality at home as well as abroad -- indeed, equality, at home as well as abroad. first we had the great depression, then world war ii, and in the cold war had the effect of centralizing power in washington and personalizing that power within the presidency. the process reached its height, arguably, in the 1960's, when television brought us closer to the man of the oval office, even to magnify the reach of the influence of his movements going forward. eisenhoweright d. coming back to newport to speak to the nation on television from the present's house, from the office of roosevelt and lincoln. think of jfk one day in june,
he turned on the tv and he saw george wallace standing in a schoolhouse door, and up at that point, jfk frankly tried to avoid the coming a political tool of the civil rights. he sent word to the television networks that he wanted a half hour of time that evening. when he went on, he had a speech that wasn't finished to introduce a bill that had been written, but he had committed himself, he had grasped the fact that ultimately, there is a moral component to the presidency. bepresidency that cannot served, not if you want history's approval. no one better captured the heroic presidency at the height of his powers then clinton rossiter, the premier political scientist of his age. this is how he put it in 1951.
"the president is not a gulliver, immobilized by 10,000 tiny men or even a prometheus chained to a rock of frustration . he is, rather, a kind of magnificent lion who can roam widely and do great deeds, salon is he does not try to break loose from his broad reservation." wrote that sweeping tribute to executive power under the spell of both roosevelt's and harry truman -- roosevelts and harry truman. think of the presidency of stewardship under roosevelt, frankly, that a president is free to do anything not explicitly described in the u.s. constitution. the lion in professor rossiter's theyn dominate their time, dictate to congress, they monopolize the media.
, what might be properly called the arthur/insurer model of presidential leadership came to be seen as the ideal in a modern arthur/injure -- arthur/injure -- arthur scleshinger model of presidential leadership came to be seen as the ideal in a modern superpower. only then can we appreciate the hand of dwight eisenhower. joby truman has the chief in the modern presidency under persuasion. ike agreed, but he had very for the bullye pulpit and he had a very healthy
sense of skepticism about how much a president's words alone could move the nation. words wered that if the ultimate test of presidential leadership, the american people should elect ernest hemingway. [laughter] mr. smith: he also said the job is to persuade, not publicize. stop and think, dwight eisenhower, i the time he became president of the united states, that was almost other motion. i mean, this was a man who didn't need to see his name in the paper or his picture on tv. that is a wonderful story his brother milton, who was president of the university of agreed toia, and they give the commencement address one year, and the weather was ominousing and rather and they were making small talk before the ceremony and milton eisenhower said, "do you think
the rain will hold off?" "milton, i haven't worried about the weather since june 6, 1944." [laughter] mr. smith: enough said. the idea that a strong president, like eisenhower, could promote a smaller government, seemed contradictory at best. until ronald reagan undertook his own counterreformation to the washington-centric policies of his boyhood hero, fdr. if there is one constant in our national experience, one word that might be said to constitute both our common core and our civic religion, i would submit, it is freedom. indeed, it may be the one thing we all agree on, even if we can't agree on what exactly it means.
so forget lincoln types and buchanan types. some presidents of think fdr, lbj, and yes, barack obama, promised freedom through government. and others, thomas jefferson comes to mind as does will ronald reagan and calvin coolidge, promised freedom from government. neither model is perfect, neither is permanent, but the history of the last century demonstrates is that the dynamism of an office that evolves with the challenges it confronts. leadership demands qualities that maybe ill-suited for a task of postwar reconstruction, the high and holy work of abolition, the crusading vision of a league of nations, the audacious vow to and poverty or pursue foreign terrorists into the remote caves , these great historical
milestones imply a different mindset from what it takes to build an interstate highway system, pursue regulatory reform, or bring about debt reduction. disregardsof thought limits on government, the other mostined some as the insured safeguards of our liberties. they go wartime presidents, lincoln is the quintessential think ofresident -- wartime presidents. lincoln is the quintessential wartime president. people don't think of james buchanan until the last, maybe decade or so, when renewed questions of civil liberties in wartime had invited us to reconsider what we thought we knew about james madison. to fact of the matter is, his admirers, to libertarians everywhere, james madison is a supremely constitutional
president. only fitting, since he helped write it. nobody went to jail for criticizing the medicine administration's ineptitude, frankly, in conducting the war of 1812. that may have been a bigger victory than gettysburg. the plain truth is that most presidencies, like most lives, combine elements of success and failure. their contradictions are magnified by the conflicting demands we make on this ceremonial, operational figurehead turned crisis manager. traditionally, along with economic management and conduct of foreign policy and public persuasion and the ability to get his program through congress, we judge presidents as party leaders. his, john adams blew up federalist birdie in what we
thought was a heroic, self-sacrificing effort in avoiding a war with france. as a party leader, adams failed spectacularly, but unlike woodrow wilson a century later, john adams really did keep us out of war, and accomplishment that looms larger than ever to americans grown weary if little more secure after 15 years of a war on terror. mses.hing about the ada they are too good for politics. john quincy adams, at hero of mine, a remarkable man, spoke seven languages. he wrote latin with his right hand and greek with his left. there is a wonderful, new biography, if you get a chance to read, but there was one last year called "american visionary." adams was ahat dean
visionary leader, he was a visionary leader. in his first address to congress, he proposed a program 100 years ahead of its time. he suggested that in fact, there was a role for the government, the federal government, in job advancement, and he wanted to create a naval academy, he wanted to fund scientific expeditions, he even wanted to build a national observatory, what he called a lighthouse in the sky. brilliant ideas. only in politics is it a crime to be ahead of your time. fdr once said, "it is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find no one there." [laughter] is basicallyat what john quincy adams did in 1826. do we admire adams as the visionary? of course. to be claimed that he was a successful president? i do think so. -- don't think so.
but you invited me to talk about president ofs for failures, so in conclusion, let me suggest four categories that should put us all on her gourd -- on our guard. the first group is what i call the hybrids, the group where their failures are as spectacular as their successes. how would you label woodrow wilson, whose first term saw the creation of the federal reserve? antitrust measures? who laid down the groundwork, in deal, who for the new gave us the first jewish member of the supreme court? againstou measure that his second term in which a war
was one, to be sure, the war that he supposedly kept us out of, -- war was won, to be sure, that he supposedly kept us out of, to be sure, what was also an attack on civil liberties and a profound disillusionment of the nation in regards to what we had been promised what would be the results of this war to end wars? now you can point to wilson's health, which is obviously a factor in which he had no control, but how do you decide for the wilson -- whether wilson is a success or a failure? on thatohnson made good intervening century lost because of andrew johnson, give us the civil rights act of 1964, the voting rights act of 1965, who
and to overcome eradicate poverty in america and who was also less than truthful to the american people about what we were doing in vietnam, who gave birth to the credibility gap that i would , with us in some ways to this day, who planted poison fruit, unintentionally. is he a great president? is a him failed president -- is he a failed president? remarkableon, domestic record, a balanced oferal budget, the creation the environmental protection and of course, balanced by the systematic abuse of powers under the umbrella title of watergate.
is he the president who opened whoa or is he the president bred a degree of cynicism in the american public that was unprecedented? there is a second, more predictive category, what i call the politically-challenged. william howard taft and herbert hoover were extraordinarily successful in everything they ever did in their lives, except the presidency. and there is a civil reason for that. they both hated politics. they were very upfront about it. they dreaded it. taft perhaps even more than hoover. but it is the most political office in the world and if you don't have the political temperament, you probably shouldn't run. the third class involves scandal,ies ranked by
sexual, political, or both. three things ruin a man, said harry truman, power, money, and women. [laughter] never wanted power, i never had any money, and the only woman in my life is up in a house now. warren harding's claim to the bottom rung of the presidential latter rests not on the recently-confirmed child born out of wedlock to one of his multiple mistresses, but to the thievery practiced by his appointees who debased the interior department, the department of justice, and veterans affairs. i mentioned earlier that grant has enjoyed an ongoing reappraisal. far aseger of going too it concentrates on his good race, the regarding native americans, and a foreign policy built around arbitration
as a peaceful means of settling old scores. toe of this should blind us the ranked favoritism, the dubious appointments, or the political night to take which -- spurredl naviete which his presidency. we know much more now about jfk's womanizing and remarkably, it does not seem to have affected either the public esteem in which he is held or his place among presidential scholars. as for bill clinton, there is a sense of disappointment on the part of many over what might have been accomplished. , president clinton was seriously looking at entitlement reform in his second term. had he been able to tackle that,
had he been able to bring a reluctant democratic party along , it would have, i think, significantly enhanced his historical stature, but it became impossible because when he needed their votes for political survival, the people whose votes he relied upon most were those who were least willing to consider entitlement reform. anyway, that brings us to the final four, what you might call the dark side of mount rushmore. [laughter] judgment is more important than charisma. every president makes mistakes. these presidents failed to learn from them. they mistook stubbornness for courage. they left the office notably diminished. they failed to hold their party
together and ultimately by far the greatest of crimes, they contributed to the breakup of the nation or missed historic opportunities to foster national unity. , mentioned franklin pierce james buchanan, and andrew johnson. are tempted to say they probably the only three abject history in presidential , but if we need a fourth, you can decide for yourselves, you could throw harding to the wolves or you could go back to the picture of grant, let me suggest a dark course of my own, john tyler -- dark horse of my own, john tyler. john tyler was simply put on the ticket to balance the ticket with william henry harrison.
to ask johnred tyler whether he agreed with anything at all on the platform or anything else that the party that nominated him aspire to toomplish -- aspired accomplish, because no one thought that william henry harrison was going to die. they were wrong and tyler for many years has gotten a great deal of credit, just as andrew johnson got credit for a whole generation of historians for hillary -- historians for heroically withstanding congress so fixed was the notion among historians of presidential that even a woefully inferior president like andrew johnson was seen as a victim of those radical republicans who set out to remove him from office. we now know they did the right thing for the wrong reason. american history would have been very different if andrew johnson
disappeared. innce said, and it got me trouble, and i'm sure i am going to get in trouble again for repeating it, the greatest tragedy of the 19th century was of john wilkes booth's conspiracy against lincoln. the second greatest tragedy was the failure of his conspiracy against andrew johnson. [laughter] mr. smith: so much for andrew johnson. the point is, johnson, for a long time, was seen by historians who were themselves the pathetic to the south, who for years told us about the carpetbaggers and the like. well, now you have john tyler, who likewise benefited for a long time for his decisiveness or the leadership he showed upon torning the first president
so learn that the president was dead. tyler wasted no time in asserting his belief that he was he was notpresident, caretaker president, he was president of the united states, and he let harrison's cabinet no and he basically bullied his way through. and ever since, historians have recognized him and by and large, admired him for his show of force, if you will. that does not excuse him from the fact that from then on, it was all downhill. , to bentury presidents sure, were judged more as administrators than advocates. but it still matters. a major function, even of the modern presidency, is to make government work. internally, within
your ministry, picking the right people, it means being able to work at least at a minimal level, we have the congress, outside groups to foster and advance your program. john tyler was the first american president to experience an impeachment panel. he was the only american to be formerly expelled by his political party, the whigs. accidency,n as his and that was a compliment. [laughter] mr. smith: this is a man who was president for less than four years, he had four cabinet officers rejected i the senate, including one unfortunate who would be secretary of the treasury who was rejected three times in one day. he had four supreme court
nominees rejected by the same body. john tyler brought to the office, on one hand, the decisiveness that enabled him in his first hours as president to put his stamp upon the office, and in effect, to fill in a gap in the constitution. john tyler also brought to his office the rigidity and inability to adapt to changing circumstances. a narrow sympathy for southern slaveholders. a passionate, unyielding leaf -- roights. state's in definingctor presidential failure, and it is a very contemporary one, and it has much less to do with the
strengths or the weaknesses of the men and women who have run for and are now running, for that matter, for the nation's highest office, and it has much more to do with us. factor,that another potential factor, of presidential failure is being created unwittingly, even as we meet, even as we watch unfold one of the more bizarre presidential campaigns, even as we treat it as we treat so much of our public life as entertainment. ,he fact of the matter is whoever we elect in november -- is likely to take office so bruised, so battered, so diminished by the process,
not the process of debating but the process where, in league with a media that is all about quickness and eyeballs and debates thats and have very little to do with debating, it is all about how we cover and ultimately conduct our presidential campaign. we may unwittingly be contributing to a situation in which the january 20, the president begins not with a universal hope of success, but with a mass shrug of the
shoulders, throwing up of hands, and a desire to start the process all over again. thank you very much. [applause] thank you. thank you, thank you, you are very kind. i know we have some time in people that would like to volunteer. if you have questions, comments, preferably questions -- yeah? yeah, send a microphone back. >> in the newspapers was an press.f free there was irregularities about electoral commissions in every
state -- before presidents were elected not 15 years ago but fight the electoral commission [indiscernible] richard norton smith: the fact is that going back to the convention, the constitutional convention, it certainly is fair to say that the founders did not democracy.rect they did not intend either for the legislature or the executive to be chosen directly by the people, and indeed it seems to me, i have always argued the ultimate miracle of philadelphia was the fact that 55 white man were not particularly representative even of that stratified society created a system, wrote a document that evolved intoime,
something genuinely democratic and inclusive. and if you are an optimist about america's history as i am, you process andat presidential elections, and presidents have advanced that process or not. i would go further and suggest that if you look at the monuments to the presidents on the mall in washington, and i would expand the mall to include tr over on roosevelt island, but you look at jefferson and lincoln and the two roosevelt's, they all have in common, in their own way and their own time, they established and they broadened the democratic franchise, if you will. they push this country in the genuinen of the more democratic culture. they arene reason why
looked up to. one reason why they are regarded as model leaders. we don't build memorials to andrew johnson or james buchanan . actually, there is a buchanan memorial. believe it or not, his niece left money in her will because no one else would memorialize buchanan, but there is. , to be sure -- so in the early days of the republic, each state had its own system. each state had its own methodology are choosing electors. some involved popular vote. some, south carolina for example , went out of the way not to involve popular vote. but the glory of american history, and i think that is not too smart of a world -- word is
that over time, we moved away from that exclusive or exclusionary process of choosing our leaders. certainly as early as andrew jackson. one reason why jackson is seen icon, hecratic faulty believed he is president was the only official elected by all the people. and that gave him a particular stewardship responsibility areas indeed, a particular moral authority that mere members of congress representing provincial viewpoints did not have. teddy roosevelt 70 years later built upon that in rather breathtaking fashion. and in many ways, the story of the 20th century, as i said, is the growth of presidential power
, hand in glove with increased democratization of our culture. what is passing is we turn the corner, and the 21st century, a heroic presidency if you will. with the quite fits situation in which we find ourselves. the media, classic example. 40 years ago, an american could have a staff or call three men, three networks in new york and have, that evening, 70 million people tune into whatever he had to say, and he could move the numbers. richard nixon in 1970 at a time of peace over vietnam was able to move the numbers 12, 13 points in mis-direction.
direction with a single speech on television. today, the networks don't carry the speech. cable will carry it, but before the president has finished the first paragraph, there are millions of instant analysts tweeting their interpretation of whatever it is he has to say. so one of the real challenges that confronts whoever occupies the presidency in this time is how to use the media tools that are still available. how to use the web, how to use social media in place of the old oval office speech, which would then be the subject of watercooler conversation the next day in one million
workplaces. it is harder. yeah? i may be wrong in this measurement, so what would you describe [indiscernible] that makes it harder for president to sacrifice [indiscernible] richard norton smith: that is an existing question. i will to you a parallel. for a long time, in fact, harry truman died in december 1972, quite by accident. that month, his daughter's biography appeared, became a bestseller. it was really the first book in since mr. truman left office that reported to
tell about truman the man. there are residencies -- presidencies that do experience this kind of intellectual drought, but i guarantee you somewhere tonight, there is an inspiring assistant professor thinking about tenure and the road to revision has a distinctly positive curve to it. besides, jimmy carter has had a pretty good press since leaving office. some of his contemporaries better than. yeah, what have you got? >> i guess my question is, in the context of today's social
media and the president office dealing with all the social media tools, i wanted to gather your thoughts, your priority on guess thising or, i ranking of presidents, on whether within your power or action through their time in terms of the context and what issues they were dealing with, , i guess their ability to envision a better future for the country. and if that is the case, is that the framework we are working with, do you think the choice is between a failed president and a successful president is a binary? richard norton smith: i leave you with nothing else, there is the obvious assertion was presidents are hybrids, mixtures of success and failure.
and the truly successful presidents are the ones who learn from their failure. i am not sure about the first question, the social media? the problem with visionaries, nelson rockefeller, a subject of my roast -- my most recent book would have been president, trying to understand them man. he was an assertive governor of new york, he used to say you don't want a visionary and executive position. -- in an executive position. 's learned this from roosevelt footsteps. the danger is a visionary gets so far in front that he loses track of the vast majority of people whom he is trying to help. someone whot is appreciates visionaries and can tap into the skills that they
pragmaticwho is more approach to addressing problems. i refer to john quincy adams, that is a great example. adams is a hugely admirable human being, and his vision of america in many ways turned out -- sentient.and we don't recognize presidents for their vision. woodrow wilson would have had a third term. for more precisely, lyndon johnson had a great vision of eradicating poverty in america, and he did a lot to realize it. he was probably the closest thing to someone who combines the visionary impulses when the practical, programmatic
response. the debate over the war on poverty goes on, and probably will for a long time to come. certainly, johnson is among the most important presidents. yes? >> i would like to ask you how ou rate the two bush's? [laughter] richard norton smith: this is where i take refuge in buchanan-like evasion. [laughter] buried in my remarks was the danger of applying labels to either people in office or quite frankly, i think we are too close to bill clinton's presidency. we will not know for example, it is not just whether hillary is elected or not, but does the democratic party, 20 years from
to a basically middle-of-the-road position? which is where clinton moved it. y? is it bernie sanders' part that will go a long way to billmine how we assess clinton's long-term impact. i will say, i tell people it is pretty clear, i think the clinton presidency, at this point, is more consequential perhaps then it seemed at the time. and yet, much that president clinton accomplished is being called into question not in the republican race for president, but in his own party's context. bush is, i think, one of the fortunate residents
who has lived long enough to see his presidency assessed not as an into regulatory -- interr egulatory between reagan and clinton but as a man with a fairly unique set of skills. it is as if he had a historical mission. the cold world did not have to -- cold war did not have to end the way it did. germany did not have to be united peacefully. and the fact of the matter is, george h.w. bush is increasingly appreciated for the deval patrick skills that he brought to the office -- for the diplomatic skills and he brought to the office. and leadership in presidents is sometimes surprising. sometimes it is what a president doesn't do. in the case of bush, the first
bush, when the wall came down in berlin, everyone in the white house wanted him to get on the plane and go to berlin and get the photo op of the century. why not? , i think, lasting credit, he refrained them doing so. he did not need the ego gratification or a few points in the gallup poll. and by not going, by not rubbing it in mikhail gorbachev's face of the failure of the soviet system, among other things, he made it easier to work with v int job -- gorbache repelling saddam's invasion of kuwait and the reunification of germany. worked tohis modesty his historical advantage.
i will tell you one thing about george w. bush. certainly,ow -- we undoubtedly many of us have an opinion about the middle east and the consequences of war in iraq. but we won't know for some time to come what is the ultimate result is. but here is one thing that i guarantee you of the second bush and in aget credit for curious way deserves credit. and by the way that he should share with barack obama. , by discarding their most profoundly held ideological servetions, presidents the national interest. the classic case is thomas jefferson, buying louisiana. he said later on i stretched the
constitution so far it cracked. it ran absolutely counter to everything jefferson believed about small government and the way with limited indicative authority. -- executive authority. fast forward to the collapse of 2008. george w. bush convinced ifkets, said to someone there is going to be another depression, i am going to be roosevelt and not hoover. and faithful to that declaration, he embraced something called tarp, which may be the single most unpopular /successful government venture in certainly recent history. streetsent out on the
and took a poll today, 90% of people would say they think it is a terrible idea, and it certainly runs against our deeply held convictions about what government should or should not be doing, who it should or should not be rescuing. but the fact of the matter is, most economists will tell you in avoided a second great depression. and the great irony is -- and barack obama, who bought on for three months after the election in 2008. president. a 1.5 unlike hoover and roosevelt who cannot stand each other and certainly could not work together at a time when it was desperately called for, the bush administration and the incoming obama administration, for the example, the auto industry, more tarp and worked in a way that kept gradually hidden from the
general public. and it is the talk of historians . the facts that working together, gets you knowbyss credit. if we had gone over the brink, if we had a second great depression, and then the new president would be called upon to do his best fdr imitation presumably or whatever the equivalent was the 20th century americans. but the fact of the matter is, they avoided the worst. now to me, that is a signal of a compass meant. but it is not -- of accomplishment. but it is not how most people are assessed. we judge presidents by how they manage presidencies, not avoiding crises. one more?
one more. oh gosh, i don't know. back there? we will get you too, so two more. [laughter] and i'm not even running for office. [laughter] >> thank you. large survey of the last 13 presidents, harry truman was very low down and last on the list. crises in amany difficult time. what does this say about america's perception of the president? richard norton smith: it depends on who is doing the voting. it is as simple as that. aboutlong time i talked for a very long time, a small group of almost exclusively 1%er
academics tended to comprise the academics -- the polls. with dwightt pole eisenhower showed him ranked behind chester a arthur. and in 1966, his papers were opened, and a great journalist wrote a seminal essay called "the underestimation of dwight d. eisenhower." and ever since, we have discovered the man scrambled his syntax and gave the impression of an amiable duffer playing a much morefact skillful, behind the scenes, hands-on administrator and indeed political strategist. so it is bipartisan.
harry truman's reputation rose dramatically over time, and so has dwight eisenhower's. iat you may be referring to, am not familiar with the survey you are mentioning, it may be the reaction. remember, this is a cyclical process. then asrevisionism and the bubble reaches too high, then comes back to earth again. there are waves are scholarly -- of scholarly consensus. at thereagan left office meteor of his reputation but within 10 years was talking on the -- was knocking on the doors of the top 10 presidents. so this factors into the electorate during the judging, the odds are he does better than that. last -- yeah.
>> it seems to me that the problem with drudging presidents -- judging presidents is you are who are onlypeople in office for four or eight years. they are not counting for a great deal. most historians will have to deal with the european monarchs at the advantage of governing people who have many, many more judged on aally get reasonable length of time. really tohile is it try to judge people on some short terms? richard norton smith: i would say presidents have powers
[indiscernible] for what monarchs were basically ceremonial figures, at least in our own time. a lot happened in four years. more happens then used to. there is more paper in the presidential library covering a presidency of 895 days and there is in the franklin roosevelt library. which if nothing else is a tribute to the government that fdr gave us are. [laughter] your point is well taken. i have my own reasons for questioning the validity of offices in many ways fundamentally different over time. it is less the amount of time they served, because well, these
have been for eventful -- four eventful, eight eventful years, the bush presidency likewise. it often feels time has sped up. and certainly over the 20th century, as america became a world power, as america became a complex industrial society, as america grappled with the injustices that have been unaddressed earlier in the history, all of these factors came together, came into play to put the presidency at the center of events and arguably to write the script that was much more crowded than the 19th century counterpart. you can make a judgment that ranking the presidents, if you are going to rank the presidents, it makes more sense to do it in the 20th century,
given the incredible variety of expectations that the office now in the 19th century when it was much simpler, much more smaller, much more purely administrated. thank you very much, thank you for coming. [laughter] -- [applause] thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: you are watching "american history tv, 48 hours of history programming every weekend. follow us on twitter for information on the schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. women's lives
ration -- liberation, women that got together to document their problems. how the bureau got this information is not clear, but it is by informants. we have informants all over the country checking up on what housewives are talking about in to decide whether women should have a different role in this friday. i on particular women who said why they had come to the meeting, why they felt depressed , if like the release of white mice at a protest demonstration. reports on such other important matters as the women's liberation movement is interested in zapping the american pageant in atlantic city by protesting the standards and whatever the protest in atlantic city. [laughter]
my favorite example in the baltimore women's liberation movement, in a document which was sent not only to the fbi, 9.4, but alsoab to three military agencies, documented a long discussion of the origins, aims of the group, its location, and concluding on the purposes of the group, confirms important findings like they wanted to purpose, and it was too free women from being only a wife and mother. they wanted equal opportunities that men have in society and so forth. nothing to do with violence, labels of subversion and extremism. and what is the exclusion? we will continue to report and follow the movements. >> watch more of the church committees investigation into the government intelligence thing on saturday night and
sunday night at 4:00 eastern. tv" on "american history c-span3. on lectures in history, university of georgia professor stephen berry teaches a class about coroners in the 19th century south. he discusses them as an agent of the state and talks about records created from their inquest. he argues coroners can shed and spot threats to public health or lack of industrial safety. his class is about an hour and 10 minutes. stephen berry: well, good afternoon everybody. i am glad to see we are all alive and well. you have all survived seven weeks of american history death and dying and u.s. history. we have reached w