tv Charlie Rose PBS February 21, 2012 12:00am-1:00am PST
>> rose: welcome to our program. on this president's day, in the beginning of a presidential campaign, we talk about the american presidency with five historians and presidential biographers. they are doris kearns goodwin, michael beschloss, jim fallows, jon meacham and robert caro. >> a good president has to have a moral quality to what his politics and what he does. i'm thinking, you know, we all... and it's a cliche and you can hear him on many shows, the times matter. well, what about the presidents who changed the times? obama is the living proof of that. you know, we talk about a narrative. what is obama's place right now in the american narrative? that he's the first african american president. >> he made a lot of talk about theodore roosevelt, he's learned some lessons from f.d.r., he's learned lessons from the do-nothing congress of harry truman that you see flight this
campaign. i think the most important thing jim fallows talked about in the great "atlantic" piece was his ability to learn from mistakes and change as time goes by and if he does gate second term that ability, which made f.d.r. a much better president the second term than the first, made lincoln a better mt. the second than the first, will have a chance to play out. >> rose: the american presidency when we continue.
captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: tonight we celebrate presidents day. it is an official holiday, it is dedicated to those who have held this country's highest office. since 1789, 44 men have served as president. we have witnessed their successes and their failures. but what makes a great president? and what are the defining
principles of leadership? george washington was our nation's first president and the father of our country. abraham lincoln ended slavery and preserved the union. food led the country out of the great depression and to victory in world war ii. ronald reagan was a significant factor in the collapse of communism. presidents' day is a time to appreciate historic periods and presidencies. judgments change as time gives us distance and more perspective. the 2008 election was a year of historic change. barack obama became the first african american president. in the past few years, we have faced a financial crisis. two costly wars, the threat of terrorism and a deeply divided congress. some even wonder if we are losing touch with the values and virtues that made our country great. woodrow wilson once said "a nation which does not remember what it was yesterday does not know what it is today nor what it is trying to do." here with me tonight to assess our country and its future is an
esteemed group of historians and scholars. joining me from boston, doris kearns goodwin. she worked as a white house fellow for lyndon johnson. she's rain number of books including "lyndon johnson: the american dream." and her pulitzer prize winning work on franklin delano roosevelt. joining me in new york, michael beschloss. he is a historian who has written a number of books including "presidential courage." jim fallows. he served as a speech writer for jimmy carter. he wrote a piece on president obama in the "atlantic" magazine called "obama explained." jon meacham, he is the author of "american lion: andrew jackson in the white house." it earned him a pulitzer prize. he's currently writing on george h.w. bush and thomas jefferson. finally, robert caro, he is a two-time pulitzer prize winning author and has dedicated decades to writing about lyndon johnson. his fourth volume "the passage
of power," is set to come out this may. i am pleased to have them here to have this discussion about men and power, the power of the office and how those two things come together. i begin with barack obama. what did you go in search of? >> trying to find out to the extent anyone could what makes obama tick. we know if you support obama or oppose him there's something different about the way he seems as he prepares for his reelection before anybody expected four years ago when he was making his debut on the national scene. so trying to parse out whether the disappointment in him was the i evidentable because the mismatch between what he symbolized in his election and the kind of problems he had to deal with or whether it was something intentional he had done right or wrong and trying to answer the question has he been laying a long-term plan whose subtlety we're seeing only with the passage of time or has he, in fact, been buffeted by his republican opponents, financial pressures and all the rest. >> i think obama is-- like
several of his predecessors-- such an incredibly divisive figure a way that i think his capacity to divide is not quite commensurate with what's there. he's seen as a raving socialist by one side. the left feels he's something of a sellout. and you have a man who i think is safely described as a raging moderate. who still, bizarrely given his self-evident skills as a writer, probably one of the best writers we've ever had in the presidency and as a speaker he has, i think oddly not connected on an emotional level with the country in any kind of ongoing way. i do not think he's as strong a character in the life of the country as his greatest predecessors have been. >> unless, jon, you think that he has such a long view and he's so calm and he knows exactly
where he's going. which i find easy to believe because the one thing we know about president obama without... and michael and i have been at these dinners for historians is he's really... you can fool a writer about almost anything. you can't fool him about whether he's read your books. (laughter) and he's read them. (laughter) so i think he has a long historic view and he might be thinking of this presidency in terms of eight years and he's on the calm, focused course. >> rose: one of the points you make is that how he is viewed in history may very well depend on whether he wins this election or not. >> yes. and one of the reasons we wanted to do this article now is that a year from now we'll know either he's a victorious two-term president or a beaten one-termer and everything about the way we judge his first four years will be colored by that fact if he's reelected we'll say it was part of the artful plan, letting republicans overextend themselves. if he's beaten, oh, he went too far in medical care.
>> sort of like in 1961 someone described the people around kennedy as corps skatingly brilliant and kennedy replied "100,000 vote it is other way and they'll be considered stupid." (laughter) >> rose: when we think about obama, what are you interested in in terms of what makes him tick and how he's perceived by the country? >> well, i think two things. one is what bob carroll said. he is a man who's learned from history. that's great for those of us who spend time with dead presidents to know this president is able to extend his own lack of experience by learning from history. i mean, he's made a lot of talk about theodore roosevelt. he's learned some lessons from f.d.r. he's certainly lessons from the do-nothing congress of harry truman that you see right in this campaign. i think most important thing jim fallows talked about in the great "atlantic" piece was his ability to learn from mistakes and change as time goes by. if he does get a second term,
that ability-- which made f.d.r. a much better president the second term than the first, made lincoln a better president the second than the first-- will have a chance to play out. if you don't learn from your experience you'll just be the same. but he seems to be a man who can and hopefully the things that haven't worked he'll figure out. >> rose: isn't it true a number of presidents who won a second term run into trouble in the second term so applying what they have learned doesn't work out the way you think it night? >> but if they don't have a second term they don't have a chance. (laughter) >> rose: we've already established that, doris. (laughs) go ahead. >> modern presidents... my amateur judgment would be that george w. bush was unusual in being a better second-term president than he was a first-term president. i think reagan was worse in the second term. i think clinton was probably worse in the second term. so the hope is that obama, like george w. bush in this way only would learn and continue this evolution doris was talking about of reflecting upon it. i think the strongest evidence of his learning experience is positioning the economic
argument, which he's done very differently in the last six or eight months in a way that gives him some strength for the election year. >> rose: yet you suggest in this article that the one thing that doesn't seem to come natural to him is to speak about economic issues. to explain them. to identify with people who are suffering because of contemporary economic issues. >> yes. i had really interesting interviews with walter mondale and gary hart and walter mondale... i talked to him soon after the tragic death of his daughter eleanor and he was in a very emotional mood and he said something he'd learn from seeing people on the iron rage is how devastating it was when people lost their jobs, lost their houses and you had to be able to show that. and he felt that vice president mondale had not been able to do it enough and he thought that was a challenge for president obama. gary hart made the point that obama's national register was foreign policy and racial issues and suddenly a month before the election the world changed and economic disaster which he
didn't really know anything about was going to be the defining... >> rose: and he had no experience in foreign policy. >> correct. but he could say against hillary clinton who had so much experience that he made the right call compared with her on iraq. >> rose: the iraq war. bush 41 seems to look better and better with time and appreciation. do you think that's fair? >> absolutely. absolutely. i think it's fair and right. >> rose: and also violates the idea that it's only a second term... if you get a second term will you be seen in a positive light. >> it's the long-term vindication argument and the great example of this is harry truman who left washington a step ahead of the sheriff in 1953 and has... as the years went by people began to rediscover him appreciate him. i think that's happened with george h.w. bush. i think that has to do with his son's performance in the second term. >> rose: does he think so, too? >> no comment. (laughter)
>> as your advisor, i would say yes. >> rose: thank you, doris. my attorney in boston. (laughter) you may want to go back to the well? (laughter) >> but in the club... nancy gibbs and mike duffy are friends. they have a new book coming on the club, the president's club, about the former president and it is quite true when you have the great good fortune to talk to presidents how clear it is who's in the two-term tear of a club and who's in the one-term men's grill. and the other guys can go all the way to the dining room. (laughter) president carter and president bush can only have sandwiches. but i think... of course distance changes things. george w. bush explicitly counts on that. someone else that reads a lot of history. he says "i just read four books last year on george washington's presidency. i think people will be changing their view." michael taught me many this a
long time ago. your rule is what, 25 years to be able to really appreciate what happened. >> rose: so have we changed our opinion of john kennedy 25 years later? >> it's gone through all sorts of oscillations. in the '60s he was a hero. you began to learn things about anymore the 1970s that brought him down. it's gone back and forth. hasn't settled yet but you're right. because george h.w. bush is having a good time with historians now but he went through almost 20 years of almost hell because... >> rose: because of ronald reagan in part. >> and he had done the diplomacy that ended the cold war. no one was interested because the cold war was over and we had an economic crisis. the point is we look differently at presidents, we look for different things 30 years later. truman, for instance, went back to missouri you were saying his approval rating was about 23%. and you look at the numbers, people were angry about the war in korea, there was petty
corruption. a lot of people said he didn't sound like franklin park zoo so they didn't like him. so the story was told he was asked what he thought of richard nixon by reporters, he thought nixon was full of manure and his aides said "couldn't you get the boss to be more elegant?" and she said "you have no idea how long it took me to get him to use the word manure." (laughter) so all these years later... >> and if i could just add about lyndon johnson-- although i will defer to bob carroll-- but the dysfunction of the congress that we've been living with for these last years now points to even greater ability he had in those years to get congress to do his will and make changes for the country that have done... improved us forever. three great civil rights laws, medicare, aid to education. we now see that in a different way than we did when we took it for granted in the '60s. >> when you see lyndon johnson take over after kennedy's assassination. kennedy has two must bills, the
civil rights bill and a tax cut bill that's going to boost the economy. most of them are absolutely stalled in congress and the tax cut bill, he comes in, he knows that kennedy can't get his budget passed by harry byrd, senate finance committee, because byrd wants a budget under $100 million and kennedy's people... >> rose: sounds like a long time ago, doesn't it? (laughter) >> and kennedy's people say to johnson that the day after the assassination saturday night he meets with kennedy's three economic advisors, walter heller kermit gordon and gardner actually and they're talking about going around harry byrd in the finance committee which is what they've been talking about for 11 months and lyndon johnson says "you can't go around harry byrd in the finance committee. he's 17 members, he's got nine votes." they said "how do you know?" he said "because harry byrd always has nine votes." (laughter)
and johnson says "therefore, if you want your tax cut you have to give them what you want on the budget." and all of a sudden i think it's gardner akley says "all of a sudden it became clear. we give harry byrd what he wants and we get everything else." >> rose: how much of it was that he had succeeded and come to power after an assassinated president much beloved by the country at that time? >> he had all the momentum from kennedy. sympathy and grief behind him. what he also had... you forget when we talk about experience, we talk about lyndon johnson being senate majority leader. everyone forgets, he was a young congressman 31 and 32 years old. he was franklin roosevelt's protege. he used to have breakfast with roosevelt in... roosevelt would be sitting up in bed with the cloak around his shoulders. so johnson knew this. then when he was the majority leader he saw it as... from dealing with eisenhower he knew
the presidency and to watch him tick up the reigns after the assassination in many different areas before vietnam is to really see this is what presidential power can be. >> johnson loved to be around people. he couldn't stand to be alone. he loved to have these relationships on the hill, these friendships with people. he also loved to rule people and threaten to investigate their taxes which was both positive and negative but it got wonderful things like civil rights. i was thinking about so much when i was reading jim's excellent piece because barack obama is almost the diemetry cal opposite. he doesn't particularly like to be around crowds of people, he doesn't like to get into fights. it makes you almost wonder that getting things out of congress these days when at least one house is owned by the other party you almost one someone who is so emotionally and psychiatricly needy that they want to be on the hill all the
time and be in their face and using the stick and the carrot. that's the way johnson got it done and i think even barack obama would say that it's not something he doesn't well. it's not something he likes and it... >> rose: doris? >> well, i think one of the things sticking up on jim's piece, he was talking about president obama not using the white house as much as he might for favors, to invite people, supporters, over. what l.b.j. did in those first few months when he became president is to have all the congressmen over in groups. bob will know this better. 40 or 50 and the wives would come and they'd be taken on a tour by lady sbird that he used every resource he had. he would call the congressmen up at 6:00 in the morning, call them at 8:00, 10:00, have them to cocktails. he called a senator at 2:00 a.m. and said "i hope i didn't wake you up." the senator said "no, i was just looking at the ceiling hoping my president would call." (laughter) he just had indefad gabl energy and as michael just said he loved doing this. so that's a certain kind of
inner need that muched the times perfectly. >> rose: >> and even after if you're not as overtly needy as lyndon johnson-- because i think he defines overtly needy-- >> it's a worthy need. (laughter) >> as long as it's oh verdict. >> rose: worthy and overt. we'll take both. >> it has nothing do with his southernness at all. (laughter) but jefferson, whom i've spent a lot of time with, has a great motto here. he would have every night during the congressional session 12 to 14 congressmen in to dinner. there was no precedence, it was a round table. he got that idea from you. >> rose: he did. never thanked me. >> but he would not have republicans and federalists because he didn't want conflict. so this wasn't about some bucolic bipartisan vision, it
was about loyalty to an attachment to him. but he would tell friends "i'll see you in four months. i'm going to be busy dining for the next three or four or five months with the congress." >> rose: one lyndon johnson story that always fascinated me is richard russell and going to baseball games. did johnson not even like baseball? (laughter) but if richard russell wanted to watch a baseball game and he needed somebody to be there with him... >> johnson... >> it used to drive me crazy because i loved baseball and he would be talking through every inning. (laughter) >> but it wasn't just that. johnson comes to the senate and he asks bobby baker, the senate secretary, he doesn't ask about the senate rules. he said everyone else came and asked me about the rules. lyndon johnson asked me one question "who has the power around here?" i told him "there's only one power, richard russell." johnson doesn't ask for the best committee, he asks to get on russell's committee.
he starts saying to late... russell was a bachelor and he was lonely johnson would say "let's get a hamburger." hen-the-he said "why don't you come home for dinner?" russell usually didn't do that. lyndon would say "you've got to eat somewhere." and he started... when you say what are the means by which lyndon johnson rose so fast? a lot of it is just what you're talking about. this interpersonal relationship. >> if i might bring obama in for a second. this is not something alien to him. when he was in the state senate in illinois they was protege of a man named amel jones who was the party leader and he was a profession alison to jones in the way bob has written about l.b.j. being a profession alison to russell and sam rayburn. so he's able to do it but we haven't seen much of in the washington. >> i think one difference is he has a family. he has a young family. l.b.j. could go over to richard russell on sunday morning and read the newspapers with him and he's not with his family. so that's the difference in the
way you spend your time. >> we go through the range of history not from jefferson but the modern era of truman onward is how the demands of the presidency are so enormous nobody can do it. you need to have the neediness of clinton and l.b.j. but the intellectual capacity of obama and the large scale rhetorical power of reagan or kennedy or obama but the person-to-person chattyness he doesn't have. so it's... no wonder we find fault with all of them. >> rose: why is this seeming emotional detachment on the part of president obama? >> i'll draw here on my experience serving the 39th president of the united states, jimmy carter. you could tell that jimmy carter really didn't like the idea that you had to go through all this mess of politics. he liked making the decision and saying yes we should do this about energy and the b-1 bomber. >> rose: who plays tennis on the senate court. >> but this crap about having to have richard russell or his counterparts, he could barely conceal his impatience.
i think there's something similar with obama. >> i think in fact the story is cold that carter late in that term tried to make friends with journalists, hood a number of them to dinner at the white house. and one of them said "mr. president, did you enjoy the dinners?" "anyone there you'd like to see again?" "no." (laughter) >> well, that's journalists! >> rose: talk about these historians coming to the white house with president obama. >> the way he is is fascinating to me because i'm writing about a man, lyndon johnson, that every minute, every gesture had to be "i am the president." and this acknowledgment. with obama you feel when he comes into the room... and at this table he's like one of the guys. he's read history. he's talking about history with historians. there's a wonderful sense-- and it's why i think he's going to win and have a wonderful second term-- there's a wonderful sense
of who he is. and there's a calmness to him, i feel. and i think, you know, you come away from those dinners and your wife says "what was it like?" you say "it was just a great conversation. and... >> rose: >> you're absolutely right. and i think what's so impressive is that he's very warm in those settings, number one. >> you're absolutely right. >> but more importantly, if he notices that somebody hasn't spoken, he asks that person a question. if you've said something, he picks up on what you've said to make you feel like you might have said something important. so in that kind of a setting-- which was why he was so good at that republican summit. remember when he had that? i thought if he could replicate the round table settings more where he's just one of a group of people talking it's much better for him than that teleprompter where he looks so disconnected from us. that's the setting that works for him the best. >> rose: i could help him on that, doris. (laughter) >> i bet you could!
maybe you could! >> rose: that's what... >> that's whether what he did almost the majority of his time as a professor. >> harvard law school. >> running a very good seminar. >> rose: but here's my problem with that in terms of putting too much weight on that. it is that i think he is a man of enormous practicality and pragmatism and that there's a bit of a chicago paw in him and he has captured politics. >> you do not rise in the chicago aegis for 12 years without playing politics. >> rose: he's there for a reason. and he went to that church for a reason. so >> so clearly he does have practical skills. he won... beating hillary clinton was no gimme and is so, too, being prepared for this election. so i guess there's a question of scaling from electoral skills in the campaign to running the white house and dealing with the kind of opposition he's facing in republicans for the first year, year and a half.
and when i've talked to people, what they regretted, the lessons they thought they learned in how things went wrong was that everybody, even the fainseers, said they were too easy on the banks and they needed to have concentrated more on accountability. the other is that they hasn't recognized full play the republicans were setting out the do. so i think there was all this missed opportunities in appointments and filibuster and everything else. so... >> rose: clearly what he seems to indicate now that he has realized that there's little to be done in terms of bridging... of building bridges now. and so he's now looking at a kind of populist 99-1 idea in that there are more 99s than 1s. >> when obama became it was it was very different from what he imagined. he had every reason to imagine if he became president in 2009 it might not be 1988, the end of the cold war coming, or 1996 economic boom, but the guy had no reason to think that he's
elected and suddenly everything drops on him like bricks. not only the two wars he knew about but economic crisis, all sorts of other things. so my point is that when all the president is dealing with these emergencies, they're calling for his attention and decisions, can't help it. it's a very different presidency from a president coming in like george bush? 1989 where the biggest problem immediately was dealing with savings and loan companies. is. >> rose: let me talk about ronald reagan and where you think he will be in history if you look at it today. >> i'd argue that if i were writing a big bib gone-esque history of the early 21 century. >> rose: edmond gibbon? >> yes, sorry. are there any others? (laughter) >> rose: too many ways to go with that. (laughter) >> he would say... the terms of the conversation fundamentally changed twice, right? in 1933 when f.d.r. made
government part of... a permanent part of the landscape and the conversation and ratified in '53 when eisenhower didn't push to repeal it but decided we were going to manage this thing, not repeal it back. then 1981 when reagan makes the private... pushes the private sect orbach into a center place in the conversation. and that period ended and was ratified and when president clinton said "the era is a big government is over." i would argue that therefore roosevelt, f.d.r. and reagan were the great term setters of the last 100 years. and we have not had anyone else. no one has changed it again and whether obama does or not it seems unlikely to me at this point. >> one of the obstacles president obama has had to face is that lack of faith in the government which was building ever since reagan changed the terms of the debate. and he came in, we thought, in
an activist era, that government was going to be able to do a lot even before the economic crisis that we hadn't seen it do in recent years and once the consciousness has changed that's how the whole deficit thing became so difficult for him. he was able to do it on health care, he was able to do it on the stimulus, he was able to do it to some extent on dodd-frank but he was fighting against a conservative ideology that's taken hold of people more deeply than i thought it did during reagan and that's why i think he has more of an impact than i thought so at the time. >> there's also a dog that did not bark. if we were talking in 2008 and someone said what are the chances that the next president can get us out of the war in iraq, out of the war in afghanistan without either of those two situations caving in or a domestic controversy in this country where people would go after the president saying you're letting down our defense i think most of us would have thought that was pretty
unlikely. obama has almost finished doing that. >> and two other dogs. we've gone this far in the conversation without mentioning the fact he's the first black president and this would have been six months before his election, many serious people thought it wouldn't be possible for the u.s. to elect a non-white president and the fact that so much of this... the formal discussion about the way he's succeeding and failing is abstracted his race whereas i think that is involved in a lot of his historical importance. the other dog is the people who are opposed to him, many is an alternative world view. many republicans feel we give and we give and we give but he keeps turning his back on us and he listens only to nancy pelosi. so i don't know that any previous president has dealt with this much.
people were saying he was only listening to pelosi and reid and the reason the narrative matters so much is obama's health plan was a republican idea to start with and the idea of these individual mandates and all the rest. and he has been as accommodating as he could have been but it doesn't register >> and i think there are two houses of congress that were democratic and their version of it would be that he ran down this enormous stimulus in health care without consulting them. the other thing is this is the way washington has gotten and it won't change. >> the other thing is the modern opinion machine in the person of roger always, that's completely different. f.d.r. and johnson had their haters but it wasn't established as this. >> rose: f.d.r. loved his. he was brutal of them because he
could use them as a battering rain? >> he said request that "i welcome their hatred." >> it's true constant information of the... not so much a news cycle, just news, it's a treadmill. it's changed. >> and add on top of that the political culture that's changed so fundamentally that these people are not friends across party lines, not staying in washington on the week ends to play poker and drink together as they used to their wives and spouses are not with them and it allows those tribal politics where you see what you want to see about the other side. i think that's as deep a problem for us in this generation as anything else. that that whole political culture has not become a social culture in the way that it once was. >> and the gerrymandered districts in the house and the imbalance in the senate, all these things. >> plus the way that money has taken on this awful role in
american politics >> the fear of... to be primaryed is my favorite new verb. i'm getting primaryed. >> rose: somebody's going to run against me my own party. >> it's this rush limbaugh astroturf all around the country. where every district has their talk show host and if you're an incumbent member of congress and you reach out and you don't stick to the orthodoxy you're going to get killed every afternoon and that's going to encourage somebody to primary you, it becomes expensive and embarrassing. so suddenly you find why the hellestrae from the orthodoxy when i'm going to pay for it. >> rose: is there any perfect training to have when you become president? >> it depends so much on the time. if eisenhower had been president in the 1930s, he would have been a disaster. he was not someone who loved to be hated. he's not someone who would have confronted the forces of grief and selfishness.
he would have been frustrated if roosevelt was president then. >> rose: what's the difference between being a good c.e.o. and a good president? >> a good president has to have a moral quality to what his politics and what he does. i'm thinking, you know, we all... and it's a cliche and you can hear him on many shows, the times matter. well, what about the presidents who change the times? obama is the living roof of that. we talk about a narrative. what is obama's place right now in the american narrative, that he's the first african american president. so 43 years ago blacks still did not vote in substantial numbers in the south. everyone said to lyndon johnson you've got a different kind of civil rights bill passed in '64, you cannot get a voting rights bill passed in '65. lyndon johnson watches the selma march and gives the speech "we shall overcome.
"when martin luther king is in the living room of an assistant in selma, alabama and when lyndon johnson says "we shall overcome" martin luther king starts to cry and the assistant said it was the first time i ever saw dr. king cry. johnson ram this is bill through. to watch him do it is just something. he comes down from that speech, he's walking back up the line and the ancient chairman of the judiciary committee says i'm going to start here on these bills tomorrow mr. president and johnson says "start them tonight." (laughter) and 43 years later, if in 2008, 43 years later which is just a blink of history's eye we have an african american president in the white house. you know, when you have a program of presidential leadership, this is presidential leadership. it's president's power. what a president can do despite the times.
>> rose: i thought there were real examples of presidential leadership with what jimmy carter did at camp david. here was a thing nobody thought would work, he persevered. with the possibility that it would have huge electoral consequences for him if he failed. and as y'all recall he was much closer to being reelected if there had been another helicopter or two... >> with that accident he would have been reelected? >> and remember he was challenged by teddy kennedy in the primary. the prime interest rate was 21% in the spring of 1980 when he was running for reelection and so if he had been reelected we'd look back on the first step in carter's architecture of peace. the panama canal treaty, not remembered now.
>> rose: the cuban missile crisis from kennedy handled because he learned from the bay of pigs. so he had a rational intellectual ability to look at himself from the outside in. he also had a sense of humor. he could make self-debra atory marks about himself. that's something missing in our political culture today. where is there anyone like lincoln if someone yelled "you're two faced mr. lincoln." and he yelled back "if i had two faces do you think i'd be wearing this?" so j.f.k. will still billion in our memory because of the youth, because of that period of time, the '60s opening up to great changes in the role of government. the excitement of that time. there's only three years. i remember one time bobby kennedy was lamenting that j.f.k. only had three years and my husband, dick goodwin who worked for j.f.k. said "don't worry, bobby, julius caesar only had three years." and bobby said "yeah, but it's
nice if you have shakespeare to write about you." (laughter) so it will be hard for him. >> this which raises another issue about successful presidencies. it's said bill clinton bemoaned the fact that during his presidency he didn't have a historic event that he could show what he was made out of. >> that gets back to how much a president really does make his times. i think doris is right about how much john kennedy grew throughout most of his firm term. he said to his aides civil rights, i can't do anything about that. too controversy. nuclear test ban treaty, i'll becrucified. but the point is he grew and realized these things could not wait so by the summer of 1963 he was saying if i lose the second term because of civil rights or test ban treaty it will be worth it.
>> i understand president clinton's frustration on this. there is... andrew jackson, u.s. grant, bill clinton, two-term presidents who were peace-time presidents who to some extent it's harder to keep them top of popular mind. >> economic boom for seven years looks good now days. >> that's precisely what we were talking about. how someone looks depends on what's going on right now. >> you know who knows more about 41 than most people is barack obama. who has a great interest, who sees him a good bit, reaches out to him a good bit, gave him the medal of freedom. i think part of that... this is my unpaid proudian view is that he believes if he's a one-term president... the kind of one-term president you want to be-- with due respect-- is george h.w. bush. >> rose: that's been said. that he would prefer to have... he'd wrather be a good one-term
president than a... >> i was introducing in my article to disagree that to say that there are rare examples of the excellent one-term president. it's possible in the long sweep of history bush 41 will be see that way. i want to say something else about bush 43 based on what bob was saying about lyndon johnson responding to the selma march in the way he did. i think the verdict on bush 43 may in the long run become even harsher than it is now because he responded to the 9/11 attacks in a way that amounted to going into iraq and not addressing the economic strategic issues that had a unique chance to be addressed so it was those first order historical moments that were not used. >> when you're talking about presidential leadership, when you're talking about kennedy, it's the ability through speech making to ignite a country's best hopes. when you listen to kennedy's speechs you say this is idealism. i remember someone saying to me i was at harvard business one
day everyone wanted to go to harvard business school. the next day everyone was enlisting in the peace corps. that's a form of presidential leadership. >> rose: i also think that everybody has to find their own form, you know? lyndon johnson would have been really good if he'd had the confidence in himself to go out there and not try to make brilliant speeches but show what it was that was his essential strength. his command of understanding personality and command of the issues and connecting the two. >> it's such a tragedy because you see this in the first couple of years of his presidency, the great society. tor war on poverty. thing he is really believes in. he gets them through congress and then you're reading the notes of these minutes where the vietnam's decisions are made and you see all of the logical arguments... we're going to stand down, deescalate. and at the end he always escalates. >> and that gets into presidential psychiatry.
because this is a guy who understood this country like almost no one. under it politically. understood even says as you know in private if we get involved in this vietnam war and it goes badly every campus is going to be going up in flames. he knew what was going to happen but for some reason he didn't trust his own instincts >> in fact you see those instincts in the tape. that's what's so interesting. when youç read those early taps every part of him was warring against the desire to get involved in this thing. but he didn't follow those instincts. i think he's been helped hiss storeally by the tapes. when you see the kind of conviction and emotion he had about civil rights and poverty compared to the nixon tape which is make him worse than we thought he was i think it will help l.b.j. in the long run. >> rose: another issue having to do with the president di... doris, you book "team of rivals" is how presidencies may very well be a product in part of how you choose the people around you. >> there's no question that when president obama first came in he
took that whole lincoln lesson to heart. in fact, in a certain point after he beat hillary in the nomination process somebody said "would you be willing to put into your inner circle someone whose spouse were an occasional pain in the butt? and he said absolutely. the country in peril. so he brought hillary clinton, he brought joe biden, he tried to get richardson and senator gregg but, again, to go back to the political culture. i think it's harder today to get real factions that are different. certainly harder to get republicans into your administration. but he does seem to have the temperament that allows arguments, allows people to question his assumptions and then he can make his decisions and that's a strength of the presidency. >> one thing i think i can say about these dinners, even though they are off the record, is one thing i've noticed is... (laughter) and this is rare for presidents. when someone gushes over him, he
obviously doesn't like it and he shrinks back. most presidents are the opposite. >> most human beings. (laughter) >> but you smoke about obama... >> and in the article we're talking about the book "obama explained." >> yes, and one of his greatest successes in temperament and policy has been the incorporation of hillary clinton as secretary of state. he's been brilliantly successful in that job. the foreign policy has been his area of greatest achievement and the fact he seemed so calm and unthreatened by her presence and that she has been so entirely wholehearted about it. >> rose: i had hoped he would use bill clinton more. >> i think all the complexities when his wife is sitting secretary of state it becomes too many people... >> oh, yeah. >> rose:. >> rose: what does "oh, yeah" mean? (laughter) >> he was quoted as saying "you can't have three presidents in the west wing." (laughter) >> but different ways about
obama's temperament about making decisions about osama bin laden, about incorporating hillary clinton having these former rivals, and i think temperament is really the thing we should look for above anything else. >> i agree. >> bush had temperament, did he not? >> 41? absolutely. >> and f.d.r.. that's the great line. go ahead. >> rose: what's the great line? >> it's oliver wendell homes said f.d.r. had a first rate temperament, a third rate intellect. i don't think that's true but the temperament was the character trait that was most important and i think tempt system the way you approach the world and deal with people. your outward sign of the inner emotional intelligence you've got. >> rose: we as voters if you're trying to predict how these people will behave, temperament is one of the few things you can get a fix on. >> rose: in other words, people can get a... voters ought to understand the temperament of the people they're voting for. >> that's why we watch these stupid debates.
>> rose: oh, they sere... >> i love them. >> rose: what was it about lincoln that he called on to have a successful presidency? it was clearly courage, it was clearly intellect, it was clear a sense of mission, the overriding need to save the union. tell me more. >> i think from the time he was young he had this desire to create something that would stand the test of time so that he would be remembered. i mean, from the time his mother died, his first love died, his sister died, he felt that life was just over when you died and bizarrely that became his lode star. the desire that if i can do something that really matters i will then be remembered by people over time. and that brought him into the presidency. that meant he could make decisions that might seem tough in the short term but he knew if they mattered in the long term it would keep him going. he never lost faith that the union would eventually stay together. and then he had these incredible
political skills on top of his statesmanship. that's what i hadn't known until i started living with him during that period of time how incredibly genius he was as a politician and that sense of humor again that allowed him to get through the darkest days by being able to laugh which so few of these characters are able to do. >> rose: and andrew jackson? >> andrew jackson is the only president who tried to attack his own assassin. (laughter) so as a baseline i pit my guy against all of your guys on that point. (laughter) he was always trying to prove himself. he was the first self-made president. the first six presidents of the united states were either virginia aristocrats or named "adams." (laughter) and andrew jackson never knew his father which gives him something in common. unusual percentage of president... >> an unusual percentage of presidents... >> gerald ford, bill clinton, obama, jefferson's father died when he was 14. >> rose: so put on your freud hat for a moment before we move on with jackson. >> i'll quote president obama
who says that a man is always trying to live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes. and sometimes it depends on which hour you're trying to do that. the other side of that equation is you have presidents like the adamss, the bushes, the kennedys where there's a very strong father involved. but i think jackson was trying he believed he was representing a different kind of american at that level and he saw his own success as a test of the common man. it was common white man and land owners and all the caveats there but he believed that h was a test of whether democracy could in fact produce great men. and let me tell you he had no doubt at the end that but it had. >> rose: lyndon johnson? his mother was a more formidable figure than his father?
>> well, his mother was a more formidable figure but his father's failure was a turning point in lyndon johnson's life. for one thing they looked so much alike. they were both well over six feet, they both had huge ears. and the father you know had the same gesture. i mean, i've spoken to wright patton and he says "when sam johnson was in the legislature he used to come up to people, put his arm around you and grab your lapel." so lyndon really felt close to him. and as doris knows-- because she's written about it-- he said "the happiest days of my boyhood was when i would go with my father on the campaign trail." he said "christ, i wish those days would never end." and then his father when he's 13 fails. fails miserably. loses the family ranch. lyndon johnson says we went from the "a" to the "fs." and they became a figure really of ridicule where the merchants
wouldn't give the johnson family credit. so lyndon when he went to junior high school would go into the drugstore and the other kids could buy candy and he couldn't buy candy. that marked him for his entire life, i feel. >> rose: wanted to do something about the poor? >> well i hasn't thought... yes, exactly. but his brother once said to me... i'll never forget it. his brother was quite a character and a lot of what he said we can't believe. >> rose: like jimmy carter, like bill clinton. (laughter) >> he said the most important thing for lyndon was not to be like daddy. and i think basically that's the big part... >> rose: but bush 43, any of that there, not be like daddy? >> oh, i think so. early on he talked about reagan more than his father. >> rose: yeah, absolutely. and i go back to this. in the club, in the culture of being president there's that
bright line between men who were reelected and men who weren't and i think to some extent if there was a restoration, vindication drama unfolding in the bush family it happened not in 2000 but in 2004. >> it's the only thing he had done that his father hadn't. his father had been excellent in these intellectual and athletic ways. >> rose: remember jimmy carter how when he was in the navy, on the submarines, nuclear submarines he came back home and lived with his father as his father was dying and he understood how people came to pay respects to his father and he knew that was something that he had not seen and it moved him to leave the navy and come back home. >> and also in jimmy carter's credit, he's written a number of books... in the post-presidency it's not just nobel prize and the good works he's done, he's become an inciteful writer.
he's written memoirs in time of his first campaign trails and others. as a post-presidency he's been good in that way. >> i also want to bring up because everybody thinks about him because of his contribution to the founding of the country you're living with tom jefferson as we say. what about him? >> he doubled the size of the country and he expanded the powers of the office in a way that jackson was able to pick up one of the things i'm writing about is i think he's an underrates president baud he was the first great party leader and understood all of the issues we're talking about, that you had to have a mandate, that you had to have the legislature with you. and ultimately he went out on a low note because of the embargo but there are worse things than wanting to avoid war. >> but before we talk about fathers, like abigail adams said
let us not forget the women and mothers in f.d.r.'s case, his mother was the primary figure in his life. his father was ill, much older than the mother. but she was the one whose approval he wanted, she was the one who gave him that incredible serene confidence he was able to carry through by making him feel he was the center of her life. so mothers are in there as well. >> and barack obama's mother and grandparents, too. >> rose: the grandfather really was an influence. >> it's also true that one of the things that always happened in the roosevelt white house was f.d.r. would have tea with his mother, invite his wife and then suddenly is a matter of state business that he had to attend to. >> rose: when i hear these stories, i think of douglas macarthur. his mother moved to west point. (laughter) >> one thing you do see through a lot of these presidents is the tough harsh punishing father and
the mother who made up for that by making the father the center of her life. >> bill clinton. >> rose: so as you look through and wrote about barack obama, what was the surprising thing? here's where... obama explained chess master or pawn. you came to the conclusion he was a chess master. >> i came to the conclusion that he was learning from mistakes and becoming more of a master. in foreign policy i think he's had a fairly masterful strategy which i give some details about with china but the world in general he's care lead the well from the bin laden... there's been problems. problems with israel and pakistan but on the whole it's been successful. i think in domestic policies and politics he's shown what we most look for which is an ability to change course. that's to his credit. >> rose: this has been an extraordinary hour. thank you very much. each of you. i mean, we have come away from this with some understanding of the different personalities and different shaping influences, the power of history to tell us who we are as a country, to tell us how people who come to that office and they find that it
never is as expected, it's never, they discover, a perfect training to be president but being president gives them opportunity to fail, to succeed, an opportunity to change history and that's why we're fascinated by it. i thank all of you and thank you at home for joining us on this president's day. good night. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org