tv Morning Joe MSNBC December 25, 2012 5:00am-6:00am PST
>> ask not what your country can do for you. ask what you can do for your country. >> may god's grace be with you in all the days ahead. >> tear down this wall! >> read my lips -- no new taxes. >> he must not be only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. >> all our equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. >> welcome back to "morning joe." this hour we have an all-star panel to look at the most important lasting legacies of the past presidents. joining us at the table, executive editor at random house and pliltser prize-winning historian john meacham, best-selling presidential historian doris kearns goodwin, and ferris professor at
princeton university and author about president eisenhower evan thomas. >> what a great way to start it because dwight eisenhower, you always see presidents rise, you see presidents fall, and over the past four, five, six seven years i have found myself going back and reading ambrose's "eisenhower" over and over again. talk about -- let's start with eisenhower right now, my favorite president. it may change after i read your biography. >> exactly. or after we hear from meacham. >> or hear that he would kick dogs instead of go golf. but talk about eisenhower derided as dull and worthless and now we look back and say, my god, what he did over eight years pretty unbelievable. >> one of the great shots of all time was the kennedys on eisenhower. to make jack kennedy look young and vibrant, you had to make eisenhower look old and dull.
that stuck. but what people didn't realize was that with a hidden hand, as a professor once said, he was doing a lot. what he was really doing was keeping us out of war. and you don't get credit for things that don't happen. but he for eight years, got us out -- we were in korea when we got in, he got us out by bluffing, basically. >> brinksmanship. >> threatening to use the bomb and other things. then he spent the next eight years at a scary, dangerous time. the cold war is getting going, nuclear weapons are new things, communist threats all over the place. he basically bluffed our way through eight years. we didn't lose any soldiers, department get into any wars, stayed out of vietnam. >> the economy exploded, created the interstate system, invested in science. >> and balanced the budget while he was doing it. and there was huge pressure on him to spend more defense, and he was the one guy who understood how to stop that. he used to talk about "those boys at the pentagon," i know
them. >> he knew those boys at the pentagon. doris, here's a great example of lyndon johnson, the man you knew so well. lyndon johnson wouldn't go out holding press conferences talking act eisenhower. this segment is not going to be about ike, but it is -- we're just talking about presidents who rise and presidents who fall. eisenhower's on his way up by now. but you had, of course, lbj constantly drawing on johnson's -- on eisenhower's wisdom. >> and, you know, the great thing about eisenhower, too, was just that he was so popular among the people. that great song "i like ike, because ike is easy to like," no one else had such a good song. but lbj is rising, too, and i think it's about time that he does. he left under such a cloud, the scar in vietnam so, so painful at the time he left, and the combination now of some distance from the war, the recognition that what he accomplished
domestically we cannot take for granted, three great civil rights laws, medicare, just the vibrancy in those tapes, all you have to do is listen and he's back alive again swearing and being the most fascinating person that i've ever met in public life. and the books are helping because they create this giant character. he deserves it. >> and giant situations in front of him the way he came in as well as the way he left. >> a giant character and also -- >> dark clouds. >> you were there closely with him, but also so complicated. our relationships with our presidents are so personal, and the fact is he accomplished remarkable things politically. and yet you never get through a couple of pages of carol's books where you go, ew, this was not a good guy. >> i don't think -- that's not true. i disagree that he's not a good guy. he's a strange guy. >> they're all strange. >> there are not many presidents
that take you into the bathroom and talk to you while they're in the bathroom. >> not enough. >> there's not many presidents that when he talks to you violates the normal human space between people so your head is right up against his chest. but there aren't many who could tell stories like he could, mimic people, and had the use of power and want it to do good for people. >> another president when he died in the early 1970s, other people didn't think much of him. harry truman left with a 21% approval rating. but you look at how he came in in april of '45, the decisions he made in '46, especially in '47, the marshall plan. i mean, my god, what that guy did. even my family, good southern roosevelt democrats were mocking him every step of the way. >> right. >> he created the world. he creaated the world that we
live in, at least the framework of it internationally. >> it's remarkable how many presidents we now look back on as iconic, examples for good who left barely a step ahead of the sheriff. >> just broken. >> washington was -- washington barely ran for a second term because he was so tired of being criticized. adams was defeated. jefferson left under a huge cloud. truman is the modern example of every president who gets in trouble wants to be truman because it means history implicates you, right? one of the things that happened was watergate. and it took 30 years, maybe a little bit less, but truman -- remember that one-man show -- >> the merle miller one? >> the plain speaking -- but there was a one-man show that went on just as watergate was breaking. and truman had the great good
fortune of having disliked richard nixon early and had a lot of quotations about it. and he suddenly, as faith in the public sector is falling in the early '70s, all the examples you're talking about with truman are looking better and better. a president who, as evan wrote about the wise men, he was the popular embodiment of an american willingness to project power and to stand guard over a really complicated dark world. >> by the way, during the mid'70s, also, even chicago, the band chicago had a song, "america's calling harry truman, harry, you know what to do." so it does go back -- >> are you two going to sing together? >> going to have a whole show on songs. >> but let's talk about the presidency of the modern era starting with jfk. jfk, of course, assassinated. that's how he leaves office.
lbj, a completely distraught, broken man, which i still am haunted by the scene that doris paints as he's there begging this young woman to just come work with him. nixon, of course, leaves broken. after that, ford leafs broken, choked up. the morning after his wife has to speak for him. jimmy carter leaves broken. ronald reagan. every single president. george h.w. bush. >> it's a brutal job. >> they all leave broken. >> well, i mean, look at obama, he's not broken but his hair is graying. they visibly age before -- >> joe's not broken. >> but you know what, he refused to leave. remember? bill clinton still in the hanger four months later. >> they're broken when they leave, but then they rehabilitate themselves. i mean, even nixon. you couldn't leave more broken than dicks nixon. he becomes the sage of saddle river, having journalists at the
dinner, rewriting history books. even nixon can come back. there is life after the presidency if you handle yourself. but history is like -- >> another reason this is so much fun and so important ultimately is remember the way the founders described -- i think it was washington described the senate as the saucer in which -- >> where the tea cools. >> right. >> that's what history is. and it takes our friend michael beschloss as a rule, you can't write about a president in full until 25 years after they leave office. >> yeah. >> and again and again that's true. >> let me ask you this. by the way, you talk about a time that richard nixon came over to your house and you were a young man -- young woman. >> mean joe all the time. >> ex-presidents would come over. he came to talk to your dad and you just talked about how broken and how sad -- >> it might have just been the timing but he was on a seat on our porch and it was sunset. and it's just a chair in the middle of the porch and he was
just sitting there. >> slumped over, beaten. >> waiting for my parents to come out. he had a lot of physical challenges, as well, but i just -- i couldn't take my eyes off him. >> i felt the same thing with lbj. he used to walk me down to the place where he was born, the birth house, and look to see how many license plates were there, hoping that people were visiting it. and then at the library he wanted more people to be at his library than jfk's library. get them coffee, get them in there, anything. >> john meacham, doris kearns goodwin, and ef venn thomas, thank you so much. ahead, a question we have for everybody. is there a unifying quality for all war-time presidents? our in-depth look at the american presidency continues. [ male announcer ] it's that time of year again. time for citi price rewind. because your daughter really wants that pink castle thing. and you really don't want to pay more than you have to. only citi price rewind automatically searches for the lowest price.
iraq and the over 1,500 who have done so in afghanistan, men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended. thousands more have been wounded. some have lost limbs on the battlefield. and others still battle the demons that have followed them home. yet tonight we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm's way. we've ended our combat mission in iraq with 100,000 american troops already out of that country. and even as that there will be dark days ahead in afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. these long wars will come to a responsible end. >> that was president obama last year announcing his plan for a troop drawdown in afghanistan. by presiding over the war in afghanistan, president obama adds his name to the list of american war-time presidents. our all-star panel of presidential historians is back
with a look at these war-time presidents and how they responded to times of national security crises. executive editor of random house and pulitzer prize-winning historian john meacham, best-selling presidential historian doris kearns goodwin, and ferris professor of journalism at princeton university and author of an upcoming biography about president eisenhower, evan thomas. thanks for joining us. >> doris, obviously lbj, vietnam, one of the great examples of how a war can shatter a presidency. >> or on the other hand a war provides a president with a chance to summon the nation to a great cause. and a lot of our presidents have felt without a war they'll never be great. so that theodore roosevelt's one of the few that is a near great president. because of his personality, he didn't have a war. when lincoln was a young man, he lamented the fact the rep re public had been formed, all the
great guys were on mountains, rivers, and streams and his generation had no challenge. he's saying what's left for us? maybe a congress, a presidency without purpose. then of course the civil war comes along. i remember jfk saying at one time could i be a great president -- i don't remember but he is said to have said can i be a great president without a war? clinton wondered the same thing. a war can undo you as with lbj or it can offer you that chance to make the country come together. and in a certain sense, bush had that chance at 9/11. could he have summoned the country to greatness at that point, which did not happen. >> and evan, here's another example of dwight eisenhower possibly not getting his due because he avoided war. and one of the most extraordinary moments i think of his presidency was the suez crisis where everybody was ready to go to war and ike said, sit down. you're not going. >> war is a great temptation. >> yeah. >> particularly if you've never
fought one yourself. >> right. >> and we joke about chickenhawks, but actually this is a real problem. men need to show their manhood. and arguably george w. bush had something to prove to the nation and to himself and to his father when he invaded iraq. i mean, you don't have to get too heavy into the psychobabble to see the draw, the lure of war. >> absolutely. >> eisenhower had won world war ii. he had conquered. he liberated europe. he didn't need it. teddy roosevelt's an interesting example. he got war out of his system by charging up san juan hill as a young man. he was the ultimate war lover. nobody loved war more than teddy roosevelt. he was almost completely crazy about it, but he got it out of his system by doing it himself. and when he became president, you know, he talked about speak softly but carry a big stick, the great white fleet and he believed in power, but he was not desperate to rush into a war because he had already proved
himself. >> which then leads us to what we see today and what is coming out of the wars that we're in today. obviously president obama's history, his story is not over yet. evan, you were talking about presidents driven by a high-minded ideology. what is president obama's as he tries to draw down yet goes in with these firm strikes? >> he just wants to get out. all this talk about nation building and helping afghanistan become a real country, they're not talking about that now. they just want out. they don't want to have al qaeda over there but -- >> so these won't be won? >> there's no such thing as -- i mean one of the -- >> i know, but in history you all are talking about how important it is to win. there's no winning. >> politicians believe you can compromise and have half measures. war is often an all-or-nothing proposition. eisenhower understood this. he was an all-or-nothing guy. if you're going in, go in all the way to win. >> right. >> politicians, lbj, maybe
there's a half a war we can have, a limited war we can have. >> different day. >> this is so important. >> could we invade the falklands? that's a nice little war, right? >> we could do that. >> a splendid little war. >> i've been proposing full-scale invasion of canada for some time. >> yes, you have. >> all the oil reserves. it would be wonderful. >> prescription drugs. >> grenada. a knew he knew he was going to win. >> your thought was, meacham? >> my thought was great wartime presidents are ones for whom war is total. and they are able to inspire and move a democracy as doris talks about, lincoln. small wars tend not to work out well for democracies, with one exception. one comes to mind, which is the 1990-91 war in the gulf, which george h.w. bush treated as a
full-scale war. >> but limited all the way, all or nothing, 500,000 men, but then when it was over it was over. no creep. no -- >> it's -- >> eisenhower understood that war is a mutating monster. >> right. >> president who is think they can control it are kidding themselves. >> what you've talking about is what colin powell talked about after that war, and it's the powell doctrine. you go in with everything, you win, and you bring them home. if you don't -- >> or you shouldn't go in in the first place if you're not willing to make that commitment. >> let's talk, doris, also about the dirtier side of war as it comes to presidential legacies. wars have a way of having presidents, even our most revered presidents, stomping on civil liberties. we could start in 1798 with the sedition acts. we can talk about lincoln suspending habeas corpus. we can talk about what woodrow wilson did in world war i toward german americans. of course roosevelt, infamously
with the internment camps. we can take it all the way through george w. bush and gitmo and then barack obama, you know, beating his chest and wearing sack cloth and ashes through 2008 and then as he's sworn in goes, okay, where are all those guys? i need them. there's a very dark side to this warfare, and presidents aren't really good at -- >> and the saddest thing is that the excuse always is that necessity compels somehow the violation of civil liberties. even lincoln would argue, i have to get those troops to washington. if i didn't get them to washington, the union wouldn't have stayed. fdr is told somehow the japanese-americans are going to be coming in from california to detroit to take over the country. but as thurgood marshall, the supreme court justice, once said, those are precisely the moments when civil liberties matter most and when you have to be careful. and all those presidents suffer in history. eleanor roosevelt said about the incarceration of the
japanese-americans, and fdr's failure to bring more jewish refugees into the country before hitler closed the door forever, those were his scars. she knew that. i think lincoln if he came back now would know his scar was that he wished he didn't have to do the habeas corpus. war takes -- it grows on itself and you do everything you need to. it's a sad, dark chapter. >> and the human element, jefferson used this when he talked about buying louisiana, which was unconstitutional, and he was -- >> detail. >> he was for the constitutional amendment before he was against it. he was going to amend the constitution to buy the louisiana purchase. then he got a letter saying napoleon was rethinking this and suddenly, well, we don't need to worry about the constitution. and he used a very interesting metaphor. he said i am acting to the country as a guardian would to a war. and i am doing something for the
goo good of the world that i wanted to do for their long-term future even if in the short term it appears not to have been according to the strict line of the law. and i think all of these men so far, when they get behind the desk, when they get that ultimate responsibility, they take this -- they have this sense that the whole weight of the world is on their shoulders. and the line between executing that responsibility well and falling into self-pity and a kind of -- is a really fine line. >> especially the life of the soldiers. if they're doing something they think helps the soldiers be in less danger, even violating the constitution, that's how they rationalize it. >> that's right. >> thank you so much. ahead, the new mt. rushmore. what faces would our historians add to the mountain if the
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george washington, thomas jefferson, theodore roosevelt, abraham lincoln -- the four presidents who are immortalized on mt. rush shore in south dakota. what faces would be carved into that mountain if the memorial was commissioned today? or all-star panel of presidential historians, john chee mooe cham, doris kearns goodwin, and evan thomas, are back with their picks for a new mt. rushmore. >> let's start with doris because she's actually been there. it's pretty awe inspiring. >> it really is. i saw these pictures and i thought what is this, you see it, carved into the mountain, huge faces. amazing. i was thinking it had to be presidents past these guys' times, but fdr absolutely, truman absolutely, ronald reagan pretty much absolutely, and then half of lbj's face. >> what? >> well you just have a half of
his face because he's brilliant domestically, troubled on foreign policy. but he had a good side image so i think you could have half of him. >> can you do that? >> they can do do anything they want. >> she's the one -- >> half a face. >> so we've already talked about fdr. we've talked about truman. let's talk about reagan, a guy who when many people on the left thought he stumbled into office as an accident of history, few could expect this guy to be as transformative as he was. i would guess most historians 100 years from now will talk about the 20th century, they'll talk about fdr and reagan. >> well, there's no question. having created -- i mean, fdr creating a generation of liberal followers and reagan creating a generation of conservative followers, changing the whole idea of what we thought about government, whether one agrees or not, dealing with the cold war, being able to finally bring about that partnership with
gorbachev, you know, take that wall down, the strength he showed, the communication ability, the fact that people felt optimistic during his time, the fact that the economy got better. i mean, the debt that grew is a problem. everybody has cons. none of these guys get through it without weaknesses that counterbalance their strengths. but i must say the more i look back on reagan, he is a transformative figure. >> isn't it fascinating that you look at the two great presidents of the 20th century -- i remember once reading, we are now all children of fdr. well, 25 years later you've got to say we are all now children of fdr and reagan, as is always the case with america, there's the great synthesis, and it's the great synthesis of these two great leaders. >> that's really important what you said because only recently were people willing to embrace fdr who were conservatives or republicans. when the monument went up there
was that moment -- newt gingrich and robert dole are all saying yes, this was a great president. i think now, too, we're looking at ronald reagan, those of us who are democrats or liberal, and able to look back at him and say the same thing. so somewhere in the middle come an awareness of what makes a strong president. >> and the first person who unld that was ronald reagan. we talked about a rendezvous with destiny, a time for choosing, his speech in 1964 that launched his national career, was rife with fdr phraseology. >> from his acceptance speech. yeah. and he was for him originally. >> absolutely. >> let's go to john meacham, who's going to select four presidents that he's written about. brought to you by his -- >> i am -- no, no, no. i'm for good hair presidents. >> oh, good. >> andrew jackson. >> big hair. >> i believe -- my test was existential crises. i think andrew jackson was president at a time when popular democracy could have gone one
way or the other and also really good hair. i think president -- fdr is a natural, not such good hair. but i also think that john kennedy, when you save a nation and a world from armageddon, you get to be on the mountain. >> and he looked good up there. >> i think the cuban missile crisis. >> and ronald reagan. >> and president reagan, who i think was a natural step in finding what we've always found in the country, which is a kind of democratic lower-case d synthesis. >> i'm surprised by jfk. obviously a martyred president who really -- whose assassination shaped how a generation of historians and writers have looked towards him as a fallen good-looking president. do you really think that jfk will fare well 50 years from now? >> i -- yes. and i base this on my friend ev evan's treatment of the cuban
missile crisis in his book about bobby kennedy, because when you think about a young president in his 40s, the son of an appeaser, sitting around in a room having his manhood and his courage challenged by generals over nuclear missiles and his having the courage to compromise and to make the deal me made to avoid what could have been a nuclear war in october 1962, yeah, he yao get on the mountain. >> so when is it going to matter how a president treats women? >> soon. >> yeah? >> no. >> that is a weighted question by mika who would put neither jfk or another certain president on. >> because of the personal conduct? >> yes. and treating people who are in
many ways far below him on a level of power and treating them terrib terribly, terribly on a human level. in some ways perhaps even in a violent way. >> you're talking about jfk, right? >> i am. and there are probably others. but when does that matter in the history books, in the way we prop people up and remember them? why do we have to call them heroes or whatever on covers of books that we obsess about them about when they are truly abhorrent human beings on some levels? >> it matters in the biographies. i mean, i think a biographer, when they're writing about these people -- and this will happen with jfk over time -- it's in their heads, because you live with these guys when you're writing about them. you wake up in with them in the morning and go to bed with them at night. if they do things you don't like -- like even franklin and eleanor -- i'm not talking about that but when franklin would be mean to eleanor, i'd say what are you doing, stop, be nice to her. when people think about this whole new business about what we've learned about jfk, it's
going to be in biographers' heads and will affect the way -- but it doesn't affect what they did or do as presidents p. >> why? >> because the cuban missile crisis stands as it is. that still becomes an act that has to be judged. it doesn't mean -- biographers are going to shadow it but -- >> the people on -- the people on that mountain now, should thomas jefferson be there? slave holder? had a longtime sexual relationship with a woman he owned. >> george washington. >> should george washington, a slave owner? should abraham lincoln, who said if i could stave union and preserve slavery i would do it but i can't so i'll free the slaves? >> mm-hmm. >> none of these people is perfect. at all. and, in fact, the point of having these conversations, i think, is to find the presidents or the people who for 15 minutes, when the crisis came, did the right thing and transcended how they treated women and how they treated
minorities and how they treated weaker people. none of these people are perfect. >> as ken burns said, and i think he said it rightly, thomas jefferson was the man of the millennium. thomas jefferson, more than anybody else, was the author of individual rights. and yet he was abhorrent in many ways as a slave owner. but what still shapes the world 300 years later? >> i don't think you can -- >> they really do matter. and i think jfk is going to be hurt by this latest -- >> i do, too. >> i picked two on my list that are not obvious. george bush 41 and eisenhower. they shared something. they had the confidence to be humble. a lot of politicians got to show off all the time. i mean, you know, look at bill clinton. just needing the love all the
time. but these men were willing to have a lot of responsibility but not be showy. george bush suffered from excessive self-effacement. i mean, his mother lecturing him against the great "i am," never say "i am." he didn't use the pronounce "i." that hurt him. so it detracted a little bit from his presidency. but both eisenhower and bush had this quality of not needing to show off, of knowing themselves well enough, to know that they could do the right thing and they didn't have to stand up and wave their arms. the presidency is such a lonely, lonely thing. you have to have enormous reserves of self-confidence to do it right. >> that is so true. >> eisenhower had that. and george bush had that. >> evan, we were just talking about some presidents concerned that they didn't have a war, a glorious war to catapult them to the great list. bill clinton. we heard bill clinton fretting about this at the end of his presidency. it is safe to say that dwight d.
eisenhower constantly fretted about the possibility of war. >> oh, he had a heart attack, a stroke, i mean, he was a mess. he was addicted to sleeping pills. he couldn't sleep. he was a mess. but he didn't show it. he showed a smiling, confident guy, enormously popular, 65% average popularity. presidents would kill for that. because the public sensed in him a goodness and command. he once said, you know, look, the '50s were boring so he doesn't get credit for much happening. but as eisenhower said, by god, it didn't just happen. >> john meacham, doris kerns good win, evan thomas, thank you so much. coming up, only 43 men have had the honor of calling themselves president of the united states. authors michael duffy and nancy gibbs draw back the curtain on the world's most exclusive fraternity. [ roasting firewood ]
i am pleased that my portrait brings an interesting similar metry to the white house collection. it now starts and ends with a george w. and i'm also pleased, mr. president, that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, "what would george do?"
>> welcome back to "morning joe." presidents bush and obama are the two newest members of the world's most exclusive club, the american presidency. joining us now, "time" magazine's managing editor nancy gibbs and executive editor michael duffy, co-authors of "the presidents club: inside the world's most exclusive fraternity." it's selling off the shelves. >> it's insane. they're rich. >> yeah. i just saw some money fly out of nancy. doris kearns goodwin still with us and john meacham also joining the table from the flash cam. >> you know, nancy -- >> set it up for people who haven't read it. so cool. >> this is a great book. i tweeted a few weeks back that this is like crack for people who love presidential history. and i've had a lot of people follow up with it. there are so many stories. and stories that i had not heard before. been reading presidential biographies since i was 6 or 7.
and the interaction's amazing. but there seems to be a formula and we saw it here, too. president obama and george w. bush would not have been that relaxed two years ago even though president bush did his best to make the new president relax. but there is a learning curve. every president seems to walk in saying i'm the first who did this. i cracked the code. i'm smarter than everybody else. you guys just go home. then they find themselves two years later going i can't call my friends. they don't get it. i can't call my campaign people. they don't get it. then it hits them. they've got to call the guy that they had contempt for two years ago. >> dial the club. it's almost like there's a special number. and usually each president who comes in finds one other president who he can somehow rel to, connect with, trust.
and comes to trust them over and over again. >> you said two years. it can be two months. kennedy calls eisenhower after the bay of pigs and they go off to camp david together to talk about what happened and kennedy says, you know, no one knows how tough it is until you've been in it for a few months. eisenhower sort of shakes his head and said, forgive me, mr. president, i tried to warn you about that a couple monthst ago. >> of course sometimes it takes much longer, sometimes eight years, sometimes the assassination of another member of the club to get eisenhower and truman talking. >> they meet again, having -- truman did not step foot in the white house. he and eisenhower had such a feud after the 1952 election. until the kennedy assassination. they find themselves sharing a ride together back from the funeral. in that atmosphere, that's when you bury the hatchet. truman said, you want to come up for a drink? and the two end up spending the afternoon and evening drinking
together and reuniting. >> and in this what do i do now moment as presidents explains after they leave they're so much more forgiving of those who come after them. like he said, i don't believe our country should undermine our president. that's an astonishing thing in our day and age for a republican president to say about a democratic president, yet he said that. it's very much similar to to what ike said about kennedy. in some ways what reagan even said about carter. so -- at moments. so that's really astonishing understanding, sympathy. >> so let's talk about some of the things that this book uncovers. i can't wait to get doris' take on this. we have to start with the lbj/nixon interaction. and it's sort of like two people holding guns at each other's face. i mean -- >> double blackmail. >> it was double blackmail.
talk about it. >> it was astonishing. it was, you know, these two men have known each other for a long time but during the 1968 election nixon -- johnson's not running again, but nixon was able to convince johnson that he probably agreed with his vietnam policy more than hubert humphry did. and he sort of took johnson off the table in that election so he wouldn't be helping humphrey succeed. in the very last days johnson discovers that nixon was secretly sabotaging the vietnam peace talks in order to avoid a breakthrough that would have tipped the election to humphrey. and johnson has to decide whether he's going to call him out on this, and it's 1968. the country's been in flames for most of the year. he decides not to. but of course nixon comes into office knowing that johnson has incredible dirt on him and really needs to keep johnson happy. don't let him go off the reservation, don't get him talking about what he knew. >> my favorite thing is that
this man named don kendall told me a story -- he was the head of pepsi cola -- when nixon first came into office he needed to have somebody talk to johnson about some sensitive mat sore he sends kendall down there as his friend. johnson's working on his memoirs and hating it and says i don't remember anything that happened in these days and these days. the only chapter are any good at all is went wh i had a tape machine, pressed a button, verbatim conversations. you go back and tell your good friend nixon as he starts his presidency there's nothing more important than a taping system so that johnson could torpedo nixon in the end. >> john meacham, to follow up on something we've talked about before, i had no idea until i read this book how harry truman used herbert hoover to do some of the most important things hoover did in his entire life. his post presidency. he saved -- my god, he saved countless millions of europeans
from starvation, then he completely reorganized the federal government. >> yeah. nancy and mike have written a terrific book from beginning to end. but i found that to be the most compelling and newest material. i didn't know it. i knew hoover had lived forever with -- downstairs from mrs. douglas macarthur in the waldorf and had his vision of that without much else. and it's -- i think one of the general principles it goes to is, you know, if you're the president of the united states, by and large you get your phone calls returned. and if you're there, you have any resource you want to presumably, at least -- you make a case to somebody to have them do something. and i think the greatest presidents have been ones who have done two things, one is they've loved the job and they've loved the politics of it, which doris can tell us more about johnson and that than
anybody, but also people who have felt that the sands are running through the hourglass all the time and they want to mobilize any resource they can find to accomplish what they want to accomplish. and i think what mike and nancy had done is they've shown how presidents have found -- the only other human beings in the world who can answer the phone. by and large -- i mean, sometimes they've said no when a successor has asked for something, but it's really tough to tell the president of the united states, whoever that is, no. >> mike, do you think bill clinton is a sympathetic, helpful member of the president's club? just asking. >> hard to tell lately but i think he takes his role as a member of the club really seriously. sometimes two steps outside the line. i think he studied bush one to know how to be a member of that club. it was clinton who reached out to bush and said you're going to be emeritus soon. join us.
be part of our group. and started talking to him before the bush presidency was even over. kind of became phone pals. i think he takes the club's rituals and responsibilities really seriously. >> how amaze, nancy, that you have in bill clinton a man whose politics were shaped by the anti-war activism of the 1960s, who was there in washington as his wife was on the ways and means committee and they were going after richard nixon. their lives were defined by bringing them and destroying what they considered to be a corrupt presidency. and yet bill clinton said that the passing of richard nixon was like the passing of his own mother, that he grew to love and depend on richard nixon's advice more than anybody else. >> they became late-night phone pals. he would call him and sometimes it was as other presidents had to talk to nixon and china and russia and the leadership and their motives, but sometimes it
was just to talk about how to organize his day. clinton would run through his way dey with nixon, this is when i'm waking up, eating, organizi organizing, is this how you did it? who else can you talk to about that? >> the book is "the presidents club." >> a great, great club. >> thank you to doris and john as well. [ male announcer ] it's that time of year again.