tv Politics and Public Policy Today CSPAN August 23, 2016 11:00am-1:01pm EDT
changing our entire culture. our tastes in moususic and clot and everything and now inventing a new way of grandparenting. boomers have more energy than grandparents of old. we certainly look younger. no more tightly permed gray hair. look. we are all blonde. a given. and we have more money. and we are spending it on our grandchildren. listen to this thing i found out. grandparents today spend seven more times money -- seven times more money on their grandchildren than they did just four years ago. paying medical bills, paying for day care, straightening their teeth and we're buying stuff -- i'm not talking about toys. we're buying big ticket items. we're buying the crib.
we're buying the car seat. and i know one grandparent who bought them a piano because my daughter wouldn't practice. i'm determined to get the little ones. so as someone said to me, there are three phases in life. in the first phase we believe in santa claus. in the second phase we don't believe in santa claus and in the third phase, we are santa claus. the reason i wanted to write this book is because the first time i held my first grandchild i had a thunder jolt of elation that was so powerful it affected my entire body from my brain to my toes and it was so enormous that i kind of felt like one of those big trucks with those giant wheels as this surge of loving rumbled through my body. a new kind of loving.
it's purity. and it's depth. grandparent love is unfettered. unconditional. if god turned to abram and told him to sacrifice his grandson, he would have said forget it, that's not going to happen. and becoming a grandparent no matter how strict or how concerned we were with molding our own children into good citizens into people who can make it on their own in life, the minute that grandchild is born we are indulgent, we are softies. our ability to say the word no is completely disabled. we are completely changed in every single way. i also found out a lot of
grandparents today walk on eggshells. we're terrified of antagonizing the parents of those grandchildren. we are afraid because they hold keys to our access of those children. most dreaded words are, no, we don't want you to come over today. that hurts. all we want are those babies. we are the baby sitters who beg to come over and we don't charge a dime. we learn pretty quickly that the balance of power in the family shifts because our children now hold the key to the most important thing in life, which is those babies. so what we do now as grandparents, we bite our tongues, we try very hard not to say, look, we didn't raise you that way and you turned out okay. we don't say that.
we engrash ate ourselves and we suck up to the daughter-in-law. which is a perfect segue to geoffrey ward to talk about the roosevelts. i'm getting tacky. i want to show you geoffrey ward's new book he did with ken burns, which is if you didn't see the roosevelt documentary, you have to find it. it's on a dvd. it's extraordinary. you learn all kinds of new things. you can see i've gone through it and i have my stickies out here. let's first talk about the relationship speaking about mothers in law and daughters in law between eleanor and franklin's mother sara. is it as bad as the impression
we have in our head? >> i have a terrible problem with this. i'm going to call eleanor roosevelt mrs. roosevelt because you get confused in these things. our version of sara roosevelt is mrs. roosevelt's version. it's a version she came to very late in life. she -- her upbringing was so awful, so emotionally aired, so devoid of real parenting, she had not only a drunken father but a demented father who was there and not there and seeing visions and telling her he loved her and sweep her off and live in europe and be happy ever after and disappearing and finally dying and her mother was distracted and disappointed in her so she had no model parent so when she became first a wife
and then a parent, she relied enormously on franklin's mother. >> wait. she relied on her or sara took over? go ahead. >> many people who write about the roosevelts have different views. this is my view. sara roosevelt was happy to fill the vacuum. a most devoted mother there ever was. but eleanor was terribly grateful at the time that she took over hiring nannies, that she gave her child raising advice. later in her life some of that stuff became distorted and she began to see it as somebody taking over her life. when it was happening, she was grateful for it.
she developed and she was -- since we're talking about grandmother's, grandparents, let me just go onto that. >> please. please. >> i knew three of the roosevelt children. all of them believed that their grandmother had really been their mother. that she had provided them -- whatever you think of her, she had provided them with the unconditional love that you mentioned. she just adored them. they could go no wrong. spoiled them dreadfully. couldn't wait to get to hyde park and be with her. that was their real home. they all told me that was their real home. part of that was because their father had fallen ill with polo
and when they were formative ages as children, he really wasn't home. he was in florida or warm springs trying to get back on his feet. that left them with their mother who did not believe in unconditional love. in a passage i won't be able to quote it exactly but in one of the things she wrote she said i have always believed that one must earn the love of people around you. and she learned that in her childhood. that's how she had been raised. she really believed it. she carried it on with her own children. she did not, you know, do the opposite thing that you would sort of hope she would have done. she was an extremely stern mother. if you felt ill, you were not to tell her so roosevelts didn't get sick.
she was not a comforting mother and then the rest of her life she spent being haunted by having not been a good mother. and she reached a point late in life when she considered killing herself because of that. >> really? that i had not known. i want to -- i'm going to pull out antidotes that i read in your book and some of which i wrote about in mine. first off, to back up what you're saying, curtis roosevelt, one of sara roosevelt's grandsons wrote a book and in it he kind of said what you're saying that this portrait of sara that we all heard about as a monster was grossly unfair and suggests that eleanor got to write the history. it is whoever gets the last word when it comes to history. who writes it.
who talks about it. and that eleanor had the last word and she's the one who painted this portrait. it's exactly what you're saying. curtis complained about it in his book. and again said that sara was the most loving, most fun, most indulgent, delicious and you quote anna as saying she wanted to be with her grandmother. >> they all did. you weren't free. you talked about getting that piano. >> she gave him everything. >> she gave him everything. she also had very strict views. if they had been riding -- they had a stable of horses. if they came to lunch without changing their clothes, she would say you reek of stables and they would run up and get dressed. it was a formal household. if you followed the rules, you had a wonderful time there. >> according to eleanor, sara
could be very cruel to her. you write about an incident at the dinner table about hair. tell that one. >> they all sat down to dinner and she said something like you would look so much better, dear, if you ran a comb through your hair before we ate. >> that was in front of everybody. >> yes. >> other things like that. >> i think that's true and awful, but it's also part of the same thing i was talking about. eleanor felt she needed help with all those things initially. later, of course, she didn't, and she became first lady of the world and was still being treated that way and of course she resented it. >> you touched on how eleanor's mother had treated her. she made her feel unlovable. and this is interesting to me. her mother called her granny. >> because she very rarely laughed and she was very prim
and proper and she tried to be the -- i think -- as a little girl the only person in the family who did all of the right things. the mother was a beautiful socialite. the most pathetic thing to me, i think, is mrs. roosevelt in her autobiography said her mother often had migraines and would be in a darkened room and would lie there having a headache. this little girl would go in and rub her forehead and it made her feel better, and she said that's when i learned that to be loved is to be useful. now, she was 5 years old. think how sad that is. it really is. >> alice roosevelt who famously
said if you have anything nice to say -- if you have nothing nice to say, come sit by me. she was put off by eleanor because eleanor did not have a strong sense of humor and alice was fun loving, but here's what i found so ironic in a way because alice had this sort of flighty image around the country. while eleanor became a cold and distant grandmother, alice was doting and indulgent and like the rest of us. she came sara in a way to her own grandchildren and eleanor went the other way. >> i don't quite think she was cold and distant, but i think she was proper, and she wanted her grandchildren to do the right thing. we were talking about this before.
fdr's children called their grandmother granny. eleanor roosevelt's grandchildren called her grandmother in french. they were fond of her. i never talked to any of them that weren't fond of her but it was an event to go see her. she was mrs. roosevelt. >> even to her own grandchildren. wow. wow. we're going to get to fdr as a grandfather in one minute. but first, geoff, when you and i spoke on the phone the other day mapping out the areas of subjects here, you said i want to talk about your book, and i said why? you said it's because i'm a grandfather. that's what you said. >> right. >> i write about grandfathers. >> yeah. i'm not sure i'm supposed to say this. this is a fascinating book.
it is not a treakly book. i liked reading it a lot. i'm a grandfather. it's a unique role. it does make you think about your own grandparents. this is a diversion from the roosevelts, but my great grandfather was the bernie madoff of the 1880s. he was big-time swindler. he brought on a crash on wall street. he kidnapped his son, who was my gra grandson, and he did not know his father. >> are you serious? >> no, i'm making this up. i'm dead serious. my grandfather was the best grandfather -- i'm sure everyone thinks theirs was the best. mine was the best.
when we were there, he was riveted with attention. i remember i was interested in knights one year when i was very small. when i arrived he had made a complete wooden helmet, shield and sword all painted beautifully. he was a professor of mid evil art so he knew how to do that. he had german stone bricks which nobody makes anymore but they were spectacular. brick blocks. he would build for christmas every year a different cathedral that were this high and as long as a ping-pong table with stain glass windows that lit up and all that. that's sort of what i think of when i think of grandfather. if you have a grandfather like that, it makes you feel terribly inadequate. i cannot build a castle for my
grandchildren. >> what i found out in my research is that exactly what your grandfather did is what grandfathers are supposed to do. they're supposed to give their grandchildren skills and talk about the family, the family history, and tell their grandchildren stories that give the kids a sense that they are connected to something wider and important and of course love them and play with them. so that's a good segue to franklin roosevelt as a grandfather. i couldn't stop writing about this in here. >> he didn't have much time to be a grandfather. he read the dickens thing at christmas every year to his children. they sat around him. saddest thing is it was recorded and they lost the recording.
one of the kids lost it. can you imagine, fdr reading dickens. it's too good. >> i have to tell you what i found out and why this is so devastating. i was only looking for him as a grandfather, so i concentrated like a laser beam. i discovered that he had two grandchildren who lived in the white house. i was looking for grandchildren who lived in the white house. that was my first line of attack. i found out that when anna got divorced, his daughter, she moved into the white house with her two little kids. >> curtis is one of them. >> and the whole country was in love with these little children running around the white house for a while. franklin had his morning staff meeting in his bedroom. he would have his breakfast tray brought in, put up on the bed, and then his staff would come in
and sometimes members of the cabinet would come to this meeting. and at some point these two little kids would burst into the bedroom because they had free reign to franklin roosevelt. he couldn't get enough. they would jump in. he would have one kid on the left and one kid on the right and pull out the funnies and in those days the funnies in the newspaper, we all remember those, were everything. he would read the funnies which is the way he read dickens. he played every character. and in the dialect and so forth and these children just giggled with laughter and all these men are standing around virtually every day and had to put up with this through the crises and whatever else was going on in
the world including the depression. so he was -- when he did have his grandchildren around him, like your grandfather, attentive and adorable and everything we thought of roosevelt in terms of his intelligence and wonderful manner. he was a great grandfather when he had the kids around. >> in 1944 after he had been elected, he knew he was very ill. he asked that all of the grandchildren come and there were pictures of them. he was saying good-bye to them i think. there is a picture of all of them sitting on the floor around him. many marriages. many, many grandchildren. and he looks awful in the picture but also pleased to be there. >> he put swings and slides on the white house lawn, which i guess had never been done before.
he was trying to lure the grandchildren to come and visit. >> let me just say that that's another example of the whole premise of the roosevelt show was that theodore and franklin, you wouldn't have had franklin without theodore and theodore's family, not his grandchildren but his children, were all over the white house. they were trying -- the fact that the press got so interested in those kids was sort of because that had sold so many newspapers during theodore's time. >> so it was deliberate. i see. >> i didn't mean that. >> you didn't? >> you've been at the white house. you know these things. it's complicated. >> a lot of times these children are used to soften the image. >> i don't think it was anything cynical. i didn't mean it that way. >> i'll get back to the book. i want to know about your
relationship with ken burns. you have done several documentaries for television with him. >> 20. >> 20. you were telling me before about the relationship between the fdr documentary and the one that ken did on baseball that you did with him as well. >> i may have told this story here before. i can't remember. when ken wanted to do baseball that is not a subject i know anything about at all. it was going to be nine -- i can't remember two one hour episodes or -- i think it's 18 hours on the history of baseball about which i know nothing and care less. my sort of deal with ken was at some point we would do roosevelts if i did his great enthusiasm, he would do mine, and so we did that. >> and next you're doing another one with him?
>> vietnam, which will be out in the fall of 2017. >> you're working on it right now? >> writing the book. the show is done or mostly done. >> are we going to get a book like this? >> i'm afraid so. >> the reason i'm walking around with this, it's fabulous. filled with pictures. >> we'll publish it with a suitcase. >> make it a rolly. before we take questions from the audience, i have to ask you, the documentary and the book are really about relationships. the relationships that theodore roosevelt had with his family and other people and the same with franklin. and i became very interested reading this book in their extracurricular or other relationships. so let's ask for your take first on franklin's relationships with other women, lucy mercer and dazy suckly. >> he had an affair with lucy
mercer. she was absolutely beautiful and he fell in love with her and she may or may not have really discussed marriage. nobody knows for sure. that's the story in the family. mrs. roosevelt said she would agree and mama said you will be cut off from the family money and louie said you'll never be elected president of the united states if you're divorced so allegedly for those reasons, who knows what the reasons were, did not marry her. later in life she came back to see him at the white house when he was ill, and she was much older, i don't think that was anything more than a friendship that he needed during the war when his wife was away and was
not -- he was a person who needed -- because of his mother, he needed -- he liked women. he needed them to be around him and to admire him. >> he neededage lags. >> that's correct. mrs. roosevelt could do many things, but she couldn't do that. she was a very critical person. he was not always admirable. lucy thought he was just wonderful. >> we do think of mrs. roosevelt as being just the most wonderful, heartfelt, almost delicious person because she took up so many causes. you know, she was cold. she was cold to him. >> she was -- yeah. i'm a great admirer of hers. she was a very damaged person. she's a miracle, i think, of the
human spirit not to have collapsed under the weight of all of the things she had to endure when she was young. but it scarred her. it was very hard for her to have a good time. it was very hard for her to get a joke. >> the opposite of him. >> the opposite, exactly. opposite of him. he loved a good time. he was a good time. >> daisy suckly was the distant cousin. despite the god awful movie someone did with bill murray. i can't remember the name of it. i wouldn't tell you it if i knew it. she was the distant cousin. she got to know him well when he was recovering from polio -- not recovering but trying to build himself up after polio.
and again was worshipful and became his -- as book i did, his closest companion. she was that and great secret of his life. she kept a diary which i was privileged to be the first person to see and i got to edit it and it was one of the joys of my life. nothing like as a historian of being handed a journal and discovering there's this intelligent woman writing about this man in an intimate way that no one else ever did. >> you don't think they had an affair? >> yes. >> weren't they going to live together? >> yes. didn't mean they were going to have an affair. she thought they were going to live together. he had told several other women they might be there to be hope
helpful to him. they were all disappointed. >> let's talk about eleanor and her other friends. there was the bodyguard, earl miller. and there's a picture in this book of her and him and she's got her hand on his thigh. so that suggests something. later with lorraina hickock. >> there are several people with whom she had -- i'm not of the eleanor roosevelt is a lesbian school. nobody ought to put categories like that. secondly, i don't think she had a physical relationship, if that's what we mean, with any of those people. she dearly loved all of them. she was in some ways like a teenager who gets -- again, i think it's part of that childhood. who gets crushes on people.
and they became absolutely wonderful in her mind and they could do no wrong and were enormously helpful and more importantly she could help them do something. then she would become disillusioned with them the way she thought her father was the most wonderful person that ever lived and then realized on some level though never entirely that he was not anything like that. so she had this sort of -- if you graph it. enormous enthusiasm and after a while if people didn't need her anymore, they couldn't love her and therefore she would move onto another one. at the end of her life she had a whole lot of them all sort of clustered around her mutually antagonistic i'm sorry so say. sort of a strange circle. all of them adored her and felt they had not gotten enough of
her somehow. does that make sense? >> she couldn't cross a line. was that because -- >> i can't prove she didn't cross a line. i just don't think so. >> do you think that's because franklin hurt her or because of her childhood? >> i think it's because of her childhood. >> she was really devastated by the lucy mercer discovery? >> it was the same kind of confirmation about her father. here's this golden person and then they turn out not to be golden. and most of us deal with that better than she did. >> they reject her. >> they reject her and of course they reject her because she's rejectable. >> there are pictures in this book when she was young when she was seeing franklin in the beginning. she's beautiful. >> she was. >> she was beautiful. she didn't know it. she didn't think she was and of course pictures we see of her
she's not. she was. that's something that surprised me. we're going to invite you all to come up to the microphones in the aisles and ask questions and while we're setting up for that, let me ask you one final from me. as you delved into the personal relationships of the franklin del nor roosevelt wing, what's the biggest surprise for you? >> when we did this? >> what's the latest surprise you came upon in the relationships? >> i guess my theory was that theodore roosevelt was terribly important in the lives of both eleanor, who was his niece, and franklin. and that was just strengthened. when i thought about it, the shear number of times you could see the connection. you could see fdr trying to be
like t.r., rejecting t.r. he was a huge figure to both of them. she saw herself all her life as a member of that family. when she was very old, she said somebody told her to sit down and relax. she said i don't think i really can. i can't sit and knit in the corner. i'm too much of theodore roosevelt's niece. >> he did love her. he was one of the few, right? am i wrong about that? >> he loved her when he saw her, but he didn't see her very often. his wife actually didn't want her to come to the theodore roosevelt home because they believed that somehow elliott's problems would be visited on her. there's an awful letter in which
she said i don't encourage -- >> elliott being her father. >> pretty grim. that's why she's a wonder. >> you called her a wounded person. >> yes. all right. please. >> good morning. first of all, the book sounds fascinating. i'm going to get copies not only for me but the other grandmothers. i share grandchildren with two other grandmothers. >> the child goes to grandparent day and brings eight people with them. >> we have a handoff system and everything. i was intrigued by what you said about eleanor roosevelt looking back and regretting the way she raised her children to the point where she considered killing herself. i never heard that. so i was hoping you could talk about that a little more. >> when she was an elderly lady
living alone in new york, she had a very dear friend who was her doctor. sort of the last person to whom -- >> foreign i believe. >> yes. absolutely wonderful doctor and wonderful friend to her. they used to take walks at night. she couldn't sleep. they used to take walks at night and he told her -- i'm sorry, she told him that she just didn't think she could go on. there had been yet another divorce or yet another something in the newspapers about her children and every time that happened, she felt that it was because she hadn't done the job. >> thank you. >> am i correct in this that none of her children could sustain a relationship? is that correct? am i going too far? >> i think the number is 19
marriages. i think that's right. >> among her children. >> yeah. >> that's a perfect lead into my question which is -- i think you mentioned this before, mr. ward, when you were here that they had something like 18 divorces or something. is that a result of eleanor being not the ideal mother? >> i don't know. i don't know how you -- it must have been part of it. >> is there anything about presidents' children that suggest -- >> it's awful. >> something about the children of presidents. >> fdr said it's a god awful thing to be the child of a president. i think that's true. you know better than i. it really is -- especially now but even before. everything they do is news. that has a lot to do with it. also there's the business of you never know whether people are
interested in you because you're you or because your last name is roosevelt. that's very tough. that goes on through the generations. it's very tough. >> you know, you bring to mind in my mind because i covered jimmy carter's white house, amy carter, who they put into public school. it was sort of a spectacle when she started at that school, the press and everything followed her day in and day out. and she became kind of a solemn kid in the white house. they would make her go to the dinner party and she would read her book through the dinner party. i wondered how she would turn out. i met her a couple years ago. she is healthy. she is raising a couple of kids. she's got a strong marriage. she's lovely. so it's not 100% by any stretch. there's a history. >> i would like to ask you about
fdr's father. i believe he was 52 when he remarried and sara i think was 25. i've seen pictures of her. she was gorgeous. >> she was indeed. >> spoke several languages. had grown up in hong kong with her father. what was their marriage like and what kind of a father was james roosevelt? >> as far as i can see, he was a terrific father. he adored hthis kid who i think was a surprise and a delight. he already had married a member of -- a rich family. i can't remember their names. i apologize. and had one son who was a sort of showy. i saw some form he had filled out. i think he was 23. retired capitalist. not a bad thing to be at 23.
james roosevelt, mr. james as everyone called him, was a lovely man with a very good sense of humor and enormously fond of his son. >> franklin's strength of personality came from two loving parents. >> yeah. >> thank you very much for this wonderful discussion. what kind of a grandmother was eleanor because i remember when i was a teenager a couple things about her. one, she took a european tour after the war, and she took one of her grandchildren with her on the plane as i recall. is there anything about eleanor as grandmother considering her background and her rejection? >> i'm constrained in talking about her as a grandmother
because i don't know much about her. i think there are people in the audience that do, but they're not going to speak. >> they seem to have a close relationship. it was a girl that she took. i don't remember who. >> yes. curtis was with her in united nations. i really don't know very much about her as a grandmother. that was not a period i was writing about. >> i write a little bit about it. everything that i came upon was always describing her in relation to sara. sara was doting, loving, generous, and eleanor was distant. it wasn't that she was distant but in relation to sara. the kids talk and have written and have been quoted as saying sara was the one they wanted to go to and they called her granny. they called eleanor grandma as jeff said. that describes the comparison.
obviously she loved her grandchildren. you can't not love your grandchildren. >> something you said about her being beautiful when she was younger. i'll be very brief. i went to hunter college. i was about 17. they had every christmas some famous person would come to speak. that christmas it was eleanor roosevelt. she came down the aisle just like this. she was very tall. she was older. she had white hair. she was beautiful. she had a beautiful profile. all this talk about her not being so and i was a kid looking up at her saying what is this stuff they're saying? she's beautiful. she was marvelous on the stage. >> she didn't photograph well. >> in person she was beautiful. >> lovely. >> part of the problem was that she did have very prominent teeth, which the theodore roosevelt family wrote letters about but never did anything
about. they could perfectly easily have fixed that. >> there was orth donte back then? >> yes. other members of the family had. they would say she had unfortunate teeth and then do nothing about it. >> i'm a big fdr fan number one. read many books. i wasn't going to ask questions today but what came to me while you were speaking about the sons of fdr, they were really used by other people for business purposes. they were exploited for their name. i remember reading that some of his sons would go to him and they would basically talk about business deals and he seemed to be okay with that and would use his power of the presidency to help them along in some of these explo explo exploitative business
relationships. didn't he see the moral difficulty with that? have you dealt with that? >> i think he was very sympathetic to his sons. i think he thought on some level that he had -- he had caused them trouble by becoming president. i think if they could succeed at something, i mean, i don't think he used the power of the presidency in any nefarious way at all. but they were roosevelts. i do think he felt for them. i think he felt that he hadn't been home enough unavoidably, and that they had a tough road to hoe. i had lunch with james roosevelt about a year before he died, maybe a year and a half before he died, and we had lunch on the
upper west side. he couldn't have been nicer and more helpful. at the end of the lunch he had tears in his eyes. he said, mr. ward, i hope you will be able to tell me why my father didn't come to my graduation. i don't know how many years after that that was. it shows you the price families pay for people going into politics. >> you're suggesting that both eleanor and franklin felt guilty about not being more attentive. >> i think so, yeah. >> on the day that the president died in warm springs, lucy mercer was visiting him. do you know if the president requested her to be there or did he have some idea he might be in his last days? >> i don't think he knew it was his last days. he did ask her to come. she came often when she was in warm springs and daisy was there.
another cousin was there. all of whom adored him and all of whom sat around and listened to the stories they heard before. the account of those last days is to me incredibly moving. at the very end they were feeding him some kind of -- daisy calls it gruel. i think it was porridge or something. he would get in bed and she would come in and feed him, and he would pretend to be a baby. this is president of the united states fighting the greatest war in human history. he needed that maternal unqualified adoration. he deserved it at that time. >> he did. you know, you read through this book, and i was really struck by
how indulgent sara was with him. how he could do no wrong. he suffered as a kid because other kids didn't like him very much. she kept him on that pedestal. reading through, i said oh my goodness, he came to need it so desperately. he came to need what his mother had done, which was just tell him he was perfect and fabulous and make him the center. >> that's why i think he ran four times. i think he thought the natural order of the world was with franklin roosevelt in the white house. he had been raised to believe that. >> his father doted too. >> it happened so there you are. >> let me look for this. i pulled out a quote, which i always loved, which i put down here because i wanted to tell you. it's a quote from churchill who we all know kind of moved into
the white house for a while to convince the united states to come into the war. and he said -- winston churchill says franklin roosevelt with hisser descent personality meeting him was like opening your first bottle of champagne, knowing him was like drinking it. so he even strove to get other people to see him as the sun and come around and worship. i forget what side i'm on. go ahead. >> i'm one of those silent grandchildren that you were kind of looking at over here. my name originally was sara delanore roosevelt so i carried that name for quite a while. i want to say it was moving to hear about our father that you had spoken with him.
we didn't see a whole lot of him when we were children because he did go on and marry other people. i was thinking from the perspective of a grandchild, which you've described fully and well, that one incidence sticks out in my mind. i was a student at boarding school and mrs. roosevelt was coming to give the graduation address to the then graduating seniors and i was a sophomore. she came to our house, the boarding house, and sat in a chair. i had been pulled aside for a moment by the head mistress to say hello to her in a private room, which is basically a kiss on the cheek. and so i came back and i sat on the very outskirts of this group
of adoring girls. kate and i had another grandmother, a maternal grandmother with whom we spent an awful lot of time. we really didn't know eleanor. i think i could say that. she probably knew her better than i did. in any case, in this situation, i'm sitting and i suddenly have this revelation. i said i understand. she's everybody's grandmother but she's not mine grandmother. >> oh boy. that's perfect. >> did you call her grandma? [ applause ] >> no. kate and i called her grandma. i think we were the only grandchildren who called her grandma. >> lovely. thank you so much. [ applause ] that is wonderful. very exciting to hear. thank you. >> a question that's not totally
unrelated to what was said. i was struck by your story on fdr's grandparenting style and then lesley you saying that grandparents are supporting more grandchildren now. i wonder how social privilege and financial privilege shape grandparenting or is there some inherent -- income inequality increases significantly and grandparents serve such more of an active role in sustainians in the family. how does that shape the style of grandparenting? >> let me first say that i found that this deep loving, this unconditional love for a grandchild is universal. it has nothing to do with income, education.
it has nothing to do with what country you live in. it's not 100%. i've been criticized because someone called in on a radio show and said i'm not like that. it's norm that people fall in love with their grandchildren. going back to caveman times, grandmothers raised the grandchildren. so there is something inherent in our bones, in our dna that grandmothers need those grandchildren, we're supposed to be in their lives with be we crave them when we're not, and we -- both grandfathers and grandmothers love them. it turns us silly. really, all of us. in terms of our contributions to their lives, obviously if are still suffering because of the recession, you can't send money because you don't have it. but the baby boomers and generations older, the pre-boomers, as we're called,
are the generations with the money in the country. it's inverted right to you. in all of time, it was that senior citizens -- i hate that, senior citizen -- were the poorer ones and our children helped support us in old age. it's inverted. we're the ones with the money. we're the ones who still have pensions and social security and savings accounts and all of that, and the younger generations need our help to probably -- young parents both working, not earning what one bread earner earned in our generation. so we are -- a great many of us -- sending money, if we have it. and we're forgoing a lot to be able to send the money. there have been surveys taken where grandparents put their grandchildren ahead of everything. ahead of their own financial
well being, put their grandchildren ahead of traveling and seeing the world, and even change their idea of retirement if they realize that their kids in some way need help. so i hope that answered your question. >> yes. thank you. >> my question is about the roosevelts in new york city. i work on east 65th street and i always stop to look at those two town houses where sara had one and eleanor and franklin had another. and i always try to imagine what it must have been like when they were there. i was wondering if you could just share a little bit about what their life was like when they were there in new york. >> sure. when mrs. roosevelt wrote her autobiography, she gives a pretty grim picture of that, of their two houses next to each other, doors open in between, and you never knew when your mother-in-law would suddenly appear.
checking on things. and it's usually made to sound very uncommon. it was not uncommon. there were lots of houses like that in new york. in fact, the roosevelts -- yes, the roosevelts were naemarried one of the parlors of a two-part house. i think it was -- you know, it was a very complicated place. it is a wonderful sight and they've now -- they haven't exactly restored it, but you can see it. you can go through it which you couldn't do in the past. i find it very moving. one of the roosevelt children died there. he was brought back there after he had polio and there is a wonderful picture -- it is one of my favorite pictures -- of him leaving the front steps of that house to go become president of the united states.
and there are railings so that he can go down. he's just about to sort of vault down and his son james is patiently holding his cane at the end so that you can't quite see it but it is going to be handed to him. to me, that's a very emotional picture. that's a terrific place. >> you know, for all of time, until the mid 20th century, families lived in multi-generational houses or compounds. again, this goes back to caveman times when families were structured so that grandmothers were an integral -- and grandfathers were an integral part of families and definitely lived together. and it is only in recent times when mobility and the urbanization really that we have broken that up. one of the things i say in the book is that it's unnatural. and there is a huge trend
today -- enormous trend of grandparents, whether they retire, selling the house they've lived in for 50 years, and moving near their grandchildren. and more and more the children are accepting it because they want the help. they need the help. and the idea that the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law clash is as old as humanity. that's also built in to our bones and our genes because the younger woman wants her husband to turn to her nest and break the connection with the mother. that went on even when they were all living in the same household. >> sure. just because you were the one that brought up that, there is a nice irony. at the end of her life, mrs. roosevelt shared a house with the doctor whom i mentioned before.
and the lady who married the doctor, it was a friend, a lovely lady, recounts being in her bedroom with her new husband and mrs. roosevelt appearing in the doorway to say good morning, which is -- it's sort of irony there somewhere. >> well, i can see that we could go on and on and on asking fabulous questions about franklin delano roosevelt. but i see someone with a hook. >> yes. and i have tons of questions myself. but some day we'll continue this. leslie stahl and jeffrey ward, thank you so much. this was a different morning. >> we're going to do it again. >> they will both be at the book signing table, so stay. pick up a book or two or three
or four. and you can continue the conversation outside. thank you all so much for coming this morning. while congress is on break this month we're showing american history tv programs. normally seen only on the weekend here on c-span3. today, programs from our presidency series which looks at the politics, policies and legacies of america's presidents and first ladies. up next, two historians discuss the process of writing presidential biographies. that's followed by a look at the books collected and read by george washington throughout his life. and later, a discussion about franklin roosevelt's mother, sara, and her relationship with members of her family. american history tv airs on
c-span3 every weekend telling the american story through events, interviews and visits to historic locations. this month american history tv is in prime time to introduce you to programs you could see every weekend on c-span3. our features include lectures in history, visits to college classrooms across the country to hear lectures by top history professors, american artifacts takes a look at treasures at u.s. historic sites, museums and archives. reel america revealing the it 20th century through archival films and news reels. the civil war where you hear about the people who shaped the civil war and reconstruction. and the presidency focuses on u.s. presidents and first ladies to learn about their politics, policies and legacies. all this month in prime time and every weekend on american history tv on c-span3. tonight on american history tv in prime time, programs from our presidency series which looks at the politics, policies and legacies of america's
presidents and first ladies. we'll begin with two historians discussing the process of writing presidential biographies. that's followed by a look at the books collected and read by george washington throughout his life. and we round out the night with a discussion about franklin roosevelt's mother, sara, and her relationship with her family. that's all tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern here on c-span3. up next on the presidency, historians jon meacham, annette gordon reed and rob chernow talk about the process of writing a presidential biography. they've written about presidents george washington, thomas jefferson, andrew jackson, u lis s ulysses s. grant and others. it is just over an hour.it is j.
>> thank you. that's enough. laura and i want to welcome you. ken hershing is the new president of the center. i must confess, i've got mixed emotions. one i'm thrilled to be a part of this. two, i'm very disappointed that you're not here to give me the pulitzer for the book i wrote. by the way, every good organization needs a pulitzer prize recipient on their staff. and here at the bush center we have one in bill mckenzie. we are fortunate that bill is a part of our team. kev and ann, thank you very much for convincing us to join you in hosting this. it is very exciting are not bush center that you're here. and all the members of the pulitzer prize board, as well as representatives from 41's
library. i forgot lbj's number. anyway, looking forward to the performances that will take place here in a little bit and as a history buff, i'm thrilled that annette gordon reed, ron chernow and jon meacham are here to be interviewed. at any rate, in order to get my book reconsidered, i thought i would share an anecdote with you. so i was tasked to -- it didn't require much tasking, by the way, to talk to vladimir putin about the necessities to have a free press in order for the society to be a wholesome and vibrant society. he had just suspended the independent press, and this was in slovakia. i couldn't identify it during the debates.
anyway -- [ laughter ] -- so, i said, vladimir, really important that if you want to join those of us who realize the benefits of a free society that you have a vibrant press. and he looked at me and said, you're a hypocrite. you fired the famous news man. kind of took me back. and i said, what the hell you talking about, man? he said, you know what i'm talking about. you fired the news man. i said you talking about dan rather? he said, yeah. i said, well, you don't understand vladimir is that in our society the press is independent from the politicians, as it should be. the job of the press in a free society is to hold people who's got power to account. and you're going to need that if
you're going to have a vibrant society. i said whatever you do at the press conference, that we're about to have, make sure you don't say that, that i fired the famous news man, because the people in our country are going to think you're ignorant, that you don't know what you're talking about. so sure enough we had the press conference. first question -- moscow times. "mr. president putin, did president bush talk to you about a free press in russia? and if so, did you bring up the fact that he fired the famous news man?" at any rate, i want to thank the press for what you do and my relationship with the press was cordial because i understand the symbiotic relationship. you need me, and i needed you. and it was -- i really don't miss much about washington, but i will tell you that the
intellectual stimulation from dealing with a vibrant and free press was a very important part of the job. at any rate, thank you for coming and i hope you enjoy the evening. [ applause ] now in a moment, i'm going to ask all the pulitzer prize winners with us tonight to stand and be recognized for their great work. but first i'd like to recognize one winner in particular whose work has special relevance to the theme of this two-day marquee -- the people, the presidency and the press. think back to 1963 and the remarkably composed photograph that crystallized a historic moment. actually, there were two remarkable photos. the one by dallas times herald photographer bob jackson was snapped a fraction of a second later than the one by the "dallas morning news" photographer. and as a result, it captured the
grimace on lee harvey oswald's face as the bullet from jack ruby's gun penetrated oswald's gut. to quote the "denver post," in a story about the prize winning photograph, jackson's photo has maintained the command that photo journalism always has, and still does. the capability of telling a full story by freezing time. ladies and gentlemen, please welcome pulitzer prize winning photographer bob jackson who flew in from his home in colorado to be with us here tonight. and now i'd like to ask all the pulitzer prize winners who are with us here tonight to stand and be recognized for their
great work. steve benson, please remain standing for a moment. steve is a prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the "arizona republic" in phoenix and a witty and prolific spot cartoonist who will be covering these events over the next couple of days and some of you, as well. little known fact about steve -- he is a graduate of richardson high school right here in north texas. [ applause ] so please take an opportunity toen introduce yourself to steve during the intermissions tonight and tomorrow and at lunch tomorrow and take a look at the cache of sketches that he will be developing throughout the program.
and now it is my pleasure to invite the president and ceo of the george w. bush presidential centers to the podium to introduce our first panel discussion. mr. ken hirsch. >> thank you very much, kevin. the performance of -- from the dallas theater center, i want to thank joel ferrell hot associate artistic director for that treat. i also have to thank the charming, witty, beautiful, intelligent board chair of the dallas center julie hirsch who had absolutely nothing to do with the performance but we absolutely have to recognize her
for her attendance this evening. i was born at night, but not last night. the bush center is a special place. this is my first week on the job. so it is a little bit humbling to present tonight a very, very humbling panel. but before i do i want to thank even more than the pulitzer prize -- or as much as the pulitzer prize winners who are with us tonight, the absolute remarkable public servants who have helped serve this country in so many capacities. welcome and thank for being here, haley barbour, former governor of mississippi. general michael hayden, former director of the nsa and cia under president bush. secretary leon panetta, former director of the cia and secretary of defense. and ambassador mark langdale, also on the board of the bush presidential center. thank you all are for being here tonight and thank you for yourselves. [ applause ]
through this event the pulitzer prizes mark historical significant work and recognize great contributions that helped tell the past and shape the future. here at the bush center, we think about that every day. the mission of the bush center is to moat va, itivatmotivate, . we understand that what our job here is is to use the power of this platform to convene, to amplify and to make an impact on very, very important issues of the day. it served that purpose and my role is to help build connections between that mission and the broader communities. the communities of dallas, of smu, of texas, of the united states, and the world. it is a humbling task, but in the first week, it is an
absolutely fantastic one. so thank you all for helping me start this journey. of course when we study the past, the presidents have a lot to do with it. and we're honored today to have some of the most esteemed voices join in telling and describing the history of what the presidency and the press are all about. as president bush said, a strong and free press is not something that we talk about only in emerging economies. it is something that's very vital to the foundation of our democracy. to have this panel is a real pleasure and i would invite them on the stage now as i introduce them. ron chernow is one of the most distinguished commentators of history, politics, business and finance in america today. his book "washington a life," wonle pulitzer prize in
biography in 2011. in 2012 the musical "hamilton." annette gordon reed, professor of history at harvard law school and faculty of arts and sciences at harvard university. we won the pulitzer prize in history in 2009 for the hemmings of monticello. we all look forward to "the history of imagination." jon meacham is a presidential historian, contributing editor at "times" and executive vice president and executive editor at random house. his book "american lion, andrew jackson in the white house," won the pulitzer prize in biography in 2009. most significant to this audience may be his just-published book "destiny in power, the american odyssey of george herbert walker bush." our moderator is the director of
the lbj presidential library in u continue and author of four books on the presidency. he is an analyst for abc news on matters relating to our politics and the presidency and he's written for countless publications. thanks to each of you in attendance for making this a very, very special evening and special event today and tomorrow. please welcome our panelists to discuss presidential biographies, the challenges. >> thank you, ken. and congratulations on your appointment. ing it a pleasure to moderate this panel with this illustrious group. we'll start with presidential icons like washington, jefferson and lincoln. that's pretty well-trodden territory for biographers -- for washington alone, there are 900 biographies, full-fledged buy
okay if i biographies. when you're tackling a mammoth subject like a george washington or thomasbiographies. when you're tackling a mammoth subject like a george washington or thomas jefferson or andrew jackson, where do you start? jon, start with you. >> oh, thanks, pick on me. well, first of all, i was misinformed. it was like casablanca. i didn't know there were other books. i called annette, she didn't tell me. that was kind of upsetting. [ laughter ] >> i have two tests. one is do i feel that there is a place in the scholarly and popular conversation for an argument about that person. in fact, this is wonderful that we're here with ron, because one of the reasons i wrote about jefferson was that wrron had ki of surrounded jefferson both from hamilton and from washington's perspective. our friend david mccullough had done john adams, and i think
jefferson was sort of -- had been more of a foil and more of a supporting character this the broader his torigraphy in the last decade or so, so i felt it was important to talk about jefferson on his own terms. then i try to make as much use of archives as you can so you can justify a new look. >> what about you, annette? where do you start? >> every generation of historians asks different questions about the subject, and jefferson i think is the most interesting man in the world. i mean there are so many aspects of his life, and we've learned so much more about him. slavery at monticello. his political life and so forth. so there was a life to be rediscovered from a lot of the information that had always been present, but had never been looked at. so there are always new things about jefferson because there were so many aspects to his life. it's not just the politics.
it could be music. it could be art. it could be all kinds of things. and because of the declaration of independence, it is a continuing story in the american saga. every generation, every group of people who tries to make their place in the american nation, uses the declaration. people around the world do it. so it is endlessly -- it is a font of information, font of questions. so there is just -- it was no question for me at all about whether or not there is something to say about him. because we ask different questions depending upon the answers that we want to have today. >> rob, what about you? 900 full-scale biographies of george washington. do you read them? where do you start? >> i have to say, a lot of my so-called friends kept asking me why i wanted to perpetrate number 901 on the world and was that really necessary. i think that you do a biography either because you have fnew information or you feel that you can really do a fresh portrait
of the person. i had this eperspectiiphany whe working on hamilton when hamilton who was washington's aid to camp had a feud with washington and hamilton realized that he had to justify this decision to quit washington's staff. really to justify this position to his father-in-law who was a very close friend of washington. so he sat down, wrote a letter to his father-in-law that said the great plan and i have come to an open rupture. he shall, for once at least, repent of his ill humor. i remember that that line, he shall for once at least repent of his ill humor, kept reverberating in my mind because i will this image of the saintly george washington. suddenly here, hamilton is giving me the sense of this volatile powder keg boss. hamilton tended to pen very kind of perceptive portraits of
people. he had been working with washington every day for several years at that time. i felt to myself washington seemingly the most familiar person in our history, could it be that he was the most unfamiliar in some way. and that. kind of -- that was my opening wedge and it kind of pried open for me a whole world in to his inner emotions which were very intense and very volatile because he was always seen as this kind of man of marble, and he wasn't at all. >> we talked part of this conversation, rob, you said something that stuck with me. you said great figures in history can carry the weight of their flaws. so how do you ensure when you are writing about those great figures that you're presenting a balanced portrait? >> well, i find that as i go on with the biography, if i -- particularlify feel that this is going to be an admiring biography, i go out of my way to put every unpleasant fact about
the character in the book. [ laughter ] my greatest fare is reader will say, of course he came up with an admiring hamilhamilton. i didn't mention a, b or c. one very interesting thing that happened with the hamilton show, there were a lot off broadway producers, the protagonist in the broadway musical has to be sympathetic throughout the show. "hamilton," particularly the second act of the show, really tests the sympathy of the audien audience. he is involved in a sex scandal. he encourages his son to go off on a duel in which his son dies. so all sorts of flaws are shown. but what i discovered from watching the audience reaction is that they end it paradoxically having even more admiration for him because we had humanized him.
and i have the same experience when i finished the washington biography. i sent a copy down to jim reese who was then the president of mt. vernon. i said, jim, before you read this, i just want to tell you that 150 pages in to this you may feel this is a very negative portrait of george washington, washington when he was young. he was often rather crass and pushy and money conscious and status conscious. i tried to have all of that in there. jim wrote back a very, very thoughtful letter to me and he said, ron, i'm so glad that you are completely unsparing in this portrait of washington because he said the main problem with have with the million-plus people that come to mt. vernon every year, he seems like a blaster saint, hence unreal and hence boring. i think the greatest thing is to humanize him. when you humanize someone, then their accomplishments actually seem much greater because the
reader can identify with this character as the person who has the same sorts of problems that they did. >> right. and if you care about the person. i mean i became interested in jefferson when i was in the third grade in conroy, texas. i'm a texan, i should say. [ applause ] shameless, shameless. shameless applause. if you really care about the person, there is no reason to write -- for me, to write something that's not real or not realistic. and if you care about the individual and you think that that person's life says something to an audience and it's worth spending your time working on, there's no point in doing an unrealistic picture. you want everything there in order to take the measure of the person. you have to have the necessary sympathy. that doesn't mean that you gloss over anything. but it does mean that you try to see the world through that person's perspective and to bring that perspective to your
reader. so if you really are serious about it and you really care about the person and the readers, and that's the thing that has motivated me to write about jefferson and to study about jefferson, to study jefferson and to put it out there in a realistic way. you have to have warts and all. >> let me just -- >> please. as a jackson biographer, i don't have this problem. [ laughter ] we're just trying to get to the skin next to the wart. my guy's had a tough couple of months. >> tough few years, actually. >> chernow gets the musical and the $10 bill. my guy isn't even on the $20 anymore. the reason i did jackson to some extent, i do think in the popular imagination people tend to go from the founding to lincoln pretty quickly. and there's soy sort of skip a
period there. >> and he did have an age. >> the only president, for better or worse, who has an era named for him. and i think one of the -- watch it. [ laughter ] just because -- just because you are the most honored person in the world. at monticello there is just a whole room devoted to that. it's kind of embarrassing for all of us. but not since annette gordon reed dined alone has there been -- but the jackson embodied, i think, some of our best instincts, and our worst. and if you don't deal with jackson, you can't deal with an antebellum america. he may have been on the two
central sides of life. but he was in the mainstream. nobody ever went back and re-opened the question of native american removal. congress never revisited it. and his devotion, i believe, to the union and putting down john c. calhoun, south carolina, as ever, was causing problems early, in order to keep the union together. he gave us 30 more years to form those mystic cords of memory. so if you don't deal with jackson, i don't think you can deal with the american soul, both in its life and dark elements. the other thing i'll say just in general is my own sense is, we learn more from the past if we look at it in the eye than if we look up at it adoringly or con. >> to quote mark twain, "all day
long the middle of his brain is grinding and his thoughts, not those of other things are his history." when you're tackling a biographic cal subjebio graph graph graphical subjects, how does one transfer psychology into biography?ical subjects, how do one transfer psychology into biograph biograph biography?. >> you're getting into the mind set of the person and trying to -- actually the book "most blessed are the patriarchs" is out there, actually out there in the hallway. what we are trying to do, my co-author and i, is to be responsible in reading jefferson's words. looking at his actions. and as you say, make inferences about that and sort of patterns
that you discern help you see what the person was attempting to do in the world. but you can't -- i don't think it is possible to present a picture of a subject without trying to get into their mind. that's all biographers do, whether they say they're doing psychology or not. they are sipsychoanalyzing peop. >> there is no reason ron had the image of painting a portrait and ron's wonderful book leaders with gilbert stewart's impression of painting washington. but if you don't practice psychiatry without a license, you should find another line of work, i think. >> i think that there has to be psychological understanding at the center of any biographical portrait. i think what we love about
biography, it should cast a spell. there should be an enchantment as we are transported back into the past and recreating this world. i think to introduce a modern psychological jargon has a way of breaking that spell. it is kind of like the president suddenly invades the past.ent suddenly invades the past. i think there is another problem introducing modern psychological terminology which is very often if the word didn't exist, the phenomenon that it is describing may not have existed. so for instance, if sigmond freud wrote about hysteria in victorian women, i don't want to introduce the term hysteria in writing about the 18th century because it may be not only is the term foreign, but it may have been that the phenomenon was foreign. maybe a lot of people said -- maybe it wasn't even happening in freud's vienna. so i think that one has to use
psychological insights. but without the whole kind of paraphernalia of modern psychology. >> jargon is typically wrong or problematic. >> define that, ron. define paraphernalia. what do you mean? >> well, if i suddenly start saying george washington had an edifice complex, you know, that that not only immediately shatters the mood but you have to figure out a way to analyze the character that's true to the period. one of the things that is -- i think makes it difficult to write about the 18th century is that people were not introspective in the way that they became particularly i think starting in the mid-19th century. people were not analyzing their own psyches. i mean i found that amazing -- >> john adams did. >> adams was in many ways the most interesting mind in that way. having spent 11 or 12 years with george washington and alexander hamilton, two men who were so extraordinarily bright, never
seemed to kind of turn the search light of their intelligence on themselves. when they revealed themselves they have a way of kind ever inadvertent will i revealing themselves. i'll just give one small example with george washington. washington -- everyone knows washington had this poker face. it was very, very difficult to read his emotions. i found myself wondering, was this accidental or deliberate. and during the second term, as he was approaching the end of his second term, british ambassador said to him, you know, general, i can see in your face your happiness that you are approach the end of your second term. washington shot back and said, sir, my face never reveals my emotions. it was interesting that he corrected someone for suggesting that he had revealed his emotions. and we're so different because we almost pride ourselves now on
showing emotion and i think in the 18th century, we would consider silence, like if you've had a troubled childhood and you never want to talk about it, that's a sign of a lack of mental health. whereas in the 18th century that was considered a sign of strength that you were not constantly stewing about what your mother did to you when you were 5 years old. so it is a very, very different world, and it is not an easy problem to deal with. >> i have a theory which i've never been able to prove, which is the best kind. [ laughter ] that's why it is a theory. but not only on the psychological detail in letters from the 18th and 19th century but the narrative details. you can see a shift from the founding to the jackson era, into the lincoln era. >> absolutely. >> where suddenly people start narrating scenes. the distension between the jefferson era and jackson era in doing this is quite fascinating. i think it is partly
attributable to the rise of the novel. i think people starting reading novels and started seeing themselves in more narrative terms. >> and women began to keep diaries in ways that they had not before. so that is for the female side of it, story telling and narrative becomes much more important. >> i found when i started doing washington, we probably have at least 1,000 descriptions -- firsthand descriptions of washington left by different people. and i found them always very, very frustrating because someone would say, i had dinner with the general last night. i've never felt such awe and veneration in the presence of a man. of course, as a biographer, you're looking for the small change of every day life, kind of looking for details that will make the person come alive. whereas the 18th century -- you can see this if you read alexander pope. it was part of english literature in the 18th century.
the language by our standards is very, very abstract. then as the 19th century goes on, not only is there more of a psychological awareness but there is nmore of a kind of sensory detail, descriptive detail. i've gone from writing hamilton and washington, now i'm doing ulysses s. grant. i feel like i died and went to heaven, because when people describe grant, they describe the way he looked, the way that he moved, the way that he sounded. and i find that compared to writing -- and i did the best i could with washington and hamilton -- but i feel with grant, that i'll be able to evoke this personality in a way that would have been almost impossible with an 18th century figure. the reminisce snces are so much more colorful and detailed and anecdotal. you mentioned that john adams who -- john adams did have kind
of almost novelist's mind and all sorts of things would pop out of his not just conscious on unconscious mind. but the others were very, very -- washington, hamilton, jefferson, madison, very, very controlled. >> well, it's much better -- it's wonderful that jefferson had grandchildren from the 19th century, because then you began to get -- monticello, the payments of thomas jefferson have something called the family letters project. so they're collecting a lot of the letters from his grandchildren. and so many of the things that happened in the 1790s or when he's in france or other places, you get descriptions of him that are from his grandchildren or this one up sewepisode when he popular forest and his manner is cha -- man servant falls ill and he
is frantic about it. his granddaughters are writing to their mother and talking about him just pacing, being frantic, waiting for the doctor. he really didn't like doctors. but if you just read jefferson's letter, you would say this is like a non-episode. but his younger -- his grandchildren writing to their mother sort of depict this person who's completely undone by the possibility. they say, i don't know what's going to happen if beryl dies, we wake up and beryl is dead. but you never get anything from him. that was the presentation he was supposed to have. >> i was talking to doris kearns goodwin, herself a pulitzer prize winning biographer last month. talking about how she selects the subjects she takes on. she said i think about the person i warrant to live with for the next seven years. and you really do. particularly when you are looking back in time. you have to immerse yourself in their times. you really do have to in so many
ways live with them. so is it important that you like the subject that you're tackling? or at least that you relate to them? >> ki think so. i wouldn't want to spend five, six, seven, eight years with someone i disliked. despite several relationships i've had through the years. [ laughter ] it's absolutely nothing but i threw that out there. you know, there are -- there are biographers, particularly multi-volume biographers who i think have an advantage in the multi-volume world where you can disapprove but then redeem the character. i won't mention who that is but you work closely. >> sure. >> just to pick an example at random. but i don't think it's -- i mean the line of biography versus
trying to be honest. what i find that, i have this sort of gut check toward the end of each project where i think, is this as true as i can make it. not that it's totally true. but is it as true as i can do. i believe that -- i feel a moral obligates, not to get too gooey about it, but a moral obligation to say, despite what critics may say, it is too positive, some may say i was too hard or this or that, but do i believe this. i just went through this with president bush senior who i believe honestly -- most political figures are kind of 60%-40% light versus dark. it is kind of the nature of the game. i honestly believe that george h.w. bush is more like 80%-20%. that's my view having spent depending on you count it, 17 years of thinking about doing
the book, six years of reading a diary he kept more than seven times a week as president, he was not perfect. he will admit that. but taken all in all, i think there was more light than dark. significantly more light than dark. and so that was as true as i could make it. i think there is -- i think sometimes if you're writing with the critic on your shoulder, i think that way madness lies. i really do. i think that it is just -- if you're always worried about what the -- what the most -- toughest critic is going to say, i don't know how you finish. >> one of the impulses for doing -- "the hemmings" are different because they are a family biography and there are people in the family you like more than others. at some point there are thing they are doing or not doing that
you can get exasperated. but onniously i had a great amount of sympathy for the totality of the family and the slave family and the circumstances they were in. jefferson, as i said, this has been a big part of my life, looking at jefferson, reading about jefferson and slavery at monticello and his life as a political figure. i like him very much as a subject and i basically -- i don't think that he was a malicious person. i think he was very interesting person. and a life that's worth studying. but i was going to say one of the impulses, impetus for doing "most blessed of the patriarchs" is that we've kind of gotten tired of jefferson writing basically -- the critic, you're saying. yours was not like that. it is basically i'm going to show him how much better i am than he is and i understand this and he doesn't understand all of that. the book is really about what jefferson thought he was doing in the world. not what we thought he should be doing in the world.
and i think if you do that, if it's all this sort of -- as you say, a running catalog of i know this and you don't, i know this and you don't, and i'm better than you are in this. instead of what did you think you were doing? there is this person that sort of injected himself on to the public stage and had the confidence, arrogance, whatever you want to call it, to think that he could be a leader and had some conflicts about that. didn't like controversy. did not like conflict. but nevertheless entered a very confrontational and conflict-ridden profession. what was this about? who was this person? and so if you keep that in mind, instead of the hammer -- the vengeance that you're going to wreak havoc on this person because you think you're better than he or she is, then that's a problem. i did do a tiny biography of andrew johnson which -- i didn't like him. [ laughter ]
it was one of -- arthur schlessinger jr. asked me to do the president, the american president series. 40,000 words. it is a short thing. i thought, you know, i can venture into that. it's okay. but i didn't like him. i would not want to spend seven minutes with him. more or less seven years. >> thankfully it was a short book. >> it was a short book. >> short presidency. >> but he was an enormously important person. i mean he was a pivotal president. so it is not -- so you have to get -- there you have to step back from the like and dislike and think about why every american should know about him because this was an era of missed opportunities. a lot of the things that we're dealing with now we might not have been dealing with if he had been a different man. and so it's not about who your best bff, your bestest friend. it's who and how did they affect
the progress of the american nation. there is no question he did. so he is worth knowing about, whether he is a pleasant person or not. >> i find that i spend more time thinking about who will be the subject of a book than any other question -- i spend months agonizing over that. because whenever i speak to writing students about this, i always say that writing a biography is a lot like marriage. if you pick the right person, nothing can go wrong. if you pick the wrong person, nothing can go right. you are trapped with this person for many years. i think that if someone writes a biography -- and this often happens, because they've always loved this person -- you run the risk of it being a valentine. which is not good. also if someone writes a biography because they want to get someone they don't like, very often it can end up with an ugly tone. so i think that one should start
out with the presumption that this will be favorable book. i think it is very, very unfair to start out with the presumption that this is going to be a hostile portrait of the person. but you know, it is interesting, i think that -- i'm sure that jon and annette have the identical experience -- the single most frequently asked question by readers is, like i'm doing grant now. "so, do you like grant, ron?" i can honestly say i'm not sitting there day or day thinking, would i like to have a beer with u.s. grant. >> he would have liked to have a beer. >> well, that could have been an interesting experience. would have told me a lot. thank you, jon. but for me, i always loved the portraits of the old masters and when i look at a portrait by a rembrandt or velasquez of a king or queen, a great merchant or a
pope, they were sitting there thinking do i like this person. they were, one, trying to capture this person as vividly as they can. and kind of bring this person so vividly to life that the viewer would -- that all sorts of feelings would be evoked in the viewer in the same way that in real life we don't have one view of a friend or a family member. you have kind of many different views of them. i think that if the portrait of the person, biography, is really not, i think the reader should have a rather complicated feeling about the person. >> could i ask a question? had. >> please. >> because you two are different in the sense of -- play the role of -- well, i wrote a biography of johnson, as i said, as sort of a one-off. but i'm not really interested in writing about anybody else other than jefferson or monticello
related things. what is it like writing about wildly different people in different eras? i mean i don't -- i'm fairly sure i'll never write a biography of anybody else that's not related to jefferson or hemmings and which the biography of hemmings which is in a way almost a biography of jefferson. you guys play around. you're promiscuous biographers. >> i protest. i protest. >> ron may not protest. well, that's what's fun. i'm sure monogamonogamy's great. [ laughter ] is this taped? jesus. no. to me, it's what's fascinating. what draws me to subjects is their complexity.
i'm not trying to -- again, i'm not trying to write books so people will build statues of people. most of the people i write books about, they're taking them out, for christ sake. so obviously i'm not very successful if that's my goal. it o to me the perennial human drama is the people i write about are flawed human beings who have soft power over the lives of others. and to what extent -- what drove them to seek that power, and then how did they wield it and to what effect. >> let me follow up on that. >> whoa, whoa, whoa. i got a monogamy question. >> i think it is an excellent question. i think the most difficult aspect of jumping around, i think it is more difficult to jump around in different periods than just different personalities. because now doing u.s. grant and so i've had to master the mexican war, civil war,
reconstruction, civil war and reconstruction, literature is so vast, i feel like i'm out on the north atlantic on a stormy day in a very tiny row boat some time. so that's the difficulty that you are kind of creating the foundation of knowledge from the ground-up, indescribably difficult. what is fun, in a way is easier, you know the way that you're in a new country, your senses come alive? in a way, suddenly being in a new period with new characters that you're very, very responsive. so i think that maybe if i had spent my entire career not just with grant but sherman, sheridan, andrew johnson, abraham lincoln, robert e. lee, all of these different characters, i think that my reactions would not be as strong as they are because -- not that i was unfamiliar with these people before, but i'm learning them on an entirely different level writing a biography about grant. i sometimes feel -- because very
often people will say, how many years are you spending on the book? and i often say that i find that a lot of my best insights into the character come in the first year or two of writing because that's when my senses are most alive. then there is a certain familiarity that comes into play. so there is a point of diminishing return. so i never -- the longest i've spent i guess was washington, six years, because i feel that you do reach this point of diminishing returns where the person -- >> is that because you're in an exploratory phase where you're open to new interpretations about the individual? is that the reason those first two years are so critical? >> yeah. it is kind of like meeting a new friend. you have a strong reaction. samuel beckett said "habit is is a great deadener." that's something you've obviously found ways to counter that, that you've managed to come up over a sustained period of time with fresh insights
about jefferson. but i don't know that i could do that. so there's -- something -- playing the field has its advantages. >> so you've played the field with -- >> i think we can drop the metaphor. [ laughter ] >> i said promiscuous. >> you've covered president whose have passed on to the ages. ken mentioned your biography of president bush. so covered dead figures and a living figure, one very much alive, not only somebody who is alive but you've come to know. i've worked with jon very briefly at "newsweek" and he had a bust of george h.w. bush in his office. >> it was the only bust of george h.w. bush. >> then you came to know him. >> yeah. >> so what are the challenges in
doing a portrait of a living person? >> well, distance obviously. the kind of critical distance we are talking about. to me, the most fascinating overall lesson of doing it was i wondered how much i missed in books where i've written where i haven't known the person, because i've never had dinner with thomas jefferson, i've never had dinner with andrew jackson. having had dinner with george bush, i would try to write what he was like as a literary matter and i would know what i was missing. and that raised the literary bar rather higher than i would have expected. so if you -- seems to me if you spent time with someone, you are able to judge what you've written and your conclusions by different standard than what you've gotten out of the papers or you've gotten o you the of
the archives.of the archives.ut of the archives. so to me that was a surprise. i expected to be frankly somewhat easier as a literary matter. go have lunch, write it up. how hard can it be? well, turns out it is pretty hard. because if your literary skills aren't firing on all piston at that particular moment then you are not capturing what he was like. he was a particular challenge, as some people in the audience know well. he is a man, i believe, who became president of the united states because of a quiet persistent charisma. but charisma is not a word often associated with the 41st president. and so trying to explain how this man, through a very unconventional path, came to hold ultimate authority in a nuclear age was tricky. the other tricky thing was, he is so encrusted with all the popular cultural images about
him. sometimes this was like writing a biography of dana carvey. "not gonna do it." i asked dana actually, i said how did you do the he said the key was mr. rogers trying to be john wayne. absolutely right. so you had to get past that. you had to get past the super market scanner. you had to get past the wimp factor and all this stuff. i was out talking about it for three or four months, and it is interesting. people are at once very nostalgic. we have, if i may just quickly, we have in 25 years moved from a republican president who could not talk about himself to a republican -- so it's sort of like what henry adams said about the movement from washington to
grant. it disproved darwin. so that's kind of a critical thing. people have lived through it. people think they know what they think about it. i've had to fight against that and make a historical case for him. the rule is 25 years in my mind between journalism and history. it took that long to get a view of him, which i happen to think is the truest view i could write. i think he's an underrated president who did remarkable things and had enormous political faults. failed in the fundamental political test of a presidency, which is being re-elected, but i do believe and this is an interesting lesson it seems to me for this era is that he did a lot of things wrong on the way to power, but once he had power, he did the right thing at his own political cost, whether it was being opposed in the 1964 civil rights act.
he ran for the senate down here in '64. in '68 he votes for open housing. he runs a not so gentle campaign in 1988, but became the last kind of compromise president and read my lips for which he paid enormously. we're still living with much of the impact of that split in the republican party at that time. >> is it more difficult to critically assess somebody you know, somebody whose family you know, somebody you've come to call a friend? >> sure, it's harder. absolutely, but in my view, you call them as you see them. he made that possible in many ways. this doesn't really -- i mean, you all will appreciate this. this doesn't happen much. i can't think of another
presidential family that would hand over the presidential diary, the vice presidential diaries and mrs. bush's diary. mrs. bush kept a diary, still does, from 1948 forward. when -- is he gone? yes. we are being taped, just so you know. >> i know he's not going to watch it so that's okay. when president bush 43 found out his mother had given me her diary, he went, she gave you what? that's not good for me. he was totally fine. and so they gave -- and it was -- it was a great deal of trust and i tried to be worthy of it, you know, i think he lied about contra. i think he was wrong on some of the tactics in 1988.
i think his fundamental political failure was that he drew a bright line between what you say on the campaign trail and what you do in government. that was a mistake. he picked up a phrase in china about emptying the firing cannons of rhetoric. he would fire the cannon full of power, but expected the noise to carry it. didn't expect it to carry over. am i in the tank for him for that, didn't seem like that to me, but readers have to judge. >> hemmings i obviously didn't have the original members of the family around, but he had descendents of the family, and it's -- you have to, many of who i'm friendly with and so forth. you really do have to call it as you see it and families have their understandings about their family's motivations, their ancestors have an interest in all of that, but as a historian,
you have to keep your distance in that way and call it as you see it. >> let me ask, you have voluminous letters from thomas jefferson, which give you a glimpse into his mind. you have no letters from hemmings. where do you start there? >> you start -- you have to write around it. we have letters from her brothers. we have the memory of her son. we have statements from other people so you have to -- figures -- when piecing together the life of somebody who didn't write anything, you have to go around it. what other people said about it and have to be transparent with the audience. as long as you can clear with the audience, the readers, about what you have and don't have. people come along with you in that way, but you can't make stuff up. it's much harder. that's why it was easier to do the hemmings of monticello,
rather than sally hemmings. there were enough family members, enough things pulled together you could create a portrait of the family, but not any individual could withstand an entire biography. >> the power of annette's work is with the pulsety of sources, you feel as though you are right there. it's an amazing achievement. >> thank you, but it's really around it. all right around it. the era, the time period. and try to evoke as much of it as you can. you use the little bits you have. there's some things we know about her, but no letters. if you remember or recall that letters are not always right. so if you think that you have this voluminous amount of material about jefferson, but he still to many people mysterious because there is still a job to be done in interpretation, even when you have things on paper, but it is much better to have it than not.
>> it's a really problem because i think any biographer would say there's a tyranny of words when you're writing a history. you tend to follow the paper trail. where the paper trail is richest, you devote the most space. particularly for me the greatest frustration writing about the 18th century. in the 19th century if there are holes in the story, usually you can fill them. in the 18th century there are black holes of hamilton's boyhood, even washington's boyhood. george washington's father died when he was 11. one sentence referring to his father. hamilton first third of his life is played out in the caribbean where there is scarcely any paper trail at all. had a tremendous impact on him so there's a temptation to do
less about those places because as you found with hemmings, the paper trail is so thin. that becomes especially incumbent on you to do whatever you can with whatever sources you can to at least build the context from the circumstances for what happened so it's a lit little bit of smoke of mirrors because you're doing a particular period in the life without the person being in the foreground of it, but otherwise you get this situation where particularly -- and this is a big problem with presidential, all of us when we hit the presidency, we hit the mother load of all times in terms of paperwork. mark was telling me, i was asking how many documents there were in the lbj library, how many pieces of paper. he wrote, i think he said 45 million. even going back with george
washington, in the most recent -- give you some sense of just how abundantly documented presidential lives are. with george washington, we now have 135,000 documents. every year they accomplish a lot publish another volume or two. they published 70 volumes, projected 90 plus volumes. grant presidential library, there are a quarter of a million documents. even with 135,000 with washington or 250,000 with grant, i feel like i'm swimming in material, but i really don't know what i would do if i had the resources of one of the modern presidential libraries. you know, i'm friends with bob karen. bob, when he was working as a
news paper editor always told him to turn the next page. he's been turning the next page for 40 years. it's kind of never ending. i think that's a real problem. we have done such an extraordinary job of preserving the presidencies that we threaten to overwhelm rather than inspire our future biographers. it becomes more difficult. it sort of makes sense -- i'll say one last thing. i think what happened because of in the earlier period, in the founding time, you had these gigantic additions of paper. then with modern presidential library, starting -- who was the first? hoover or fdr? hoover. you get millions or tens of millions of documents. i think what has happened is it