His­to­rian and author Doris Kearns Good­win speaks at The Agnes Ir­win School

Of­fers thoughts on the Trump/Clin­ton race

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Linda Stein lstein@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @lstein­re­porter on Twit­ter

RADNOR » Doris Kearns Good­win is a racon­teur.

And that’s a good thing since she’s the Pulitzer Prize –win­ning author of six best­selling books, in­clud­ing her lat­est, “The Bully Pul­pit: Theodore Roo­sevelt, Wil­liam Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Jour­nal­ism.”

The well-known pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian spoke Wed­nes­day at The Agnes Ir­win School, touch­ing on her life, sto­ries about pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Obama who she re­cently in­ter­viewed for “Van­ity Fair,” and how she got her start at the White House when Lyn­don John­son was com­man­der in chief and the Viet­nam War was rag­ing. She also touched on the cur­rent con­tentious cam­paign

for the White House and took ques­tions from stu­dents at the con­clu­sion of her talk.

Her work with John­son on his mem­oirs “fired within me the drive to find the in­ner per­son be­hind the pub­lic fig­ure,” she said. She’s gone on to write about Lin­coln, Franklin and Eleanor Roo­sevelt and the Kennedys.

Peo­ple keep ask­ing her, “What’s go­ing on in this elec­tion?” she said. “What is go­ing on with Don­ald Trump? Has his­tory ever seen a can­di­date like Mr. Trump, a man who has never held pub­lic of­fice, never been a lead­ing been a lead­ing mil­i­tary fig­ure, a man who has har­nessed pop­u­lar de­sires, anx­i­eties to the point where he now has a shot at be­com­ing pres­i­dent?”

“Not re­ally,” she said, but there are sim­i­lar­i­ties to the turn of the last cen­tury when the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion shook up the econ­omy, and there was in­creas­ing global trade, im­mi­grants were pour­ing in, when cities were re­plac­ing towns and a gap had de­vel­oped be­tween the rich and the poor. Changes in our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and so­cial me­dia have “cre­ated the Trump phe­nom­e­non,” she said.

Pre­vi­ously party lead­ers chose the can­di­dates. Ear­lier in this cam­paign the talk was about Jeb Bush ver­sus Hil­lary Clin­ton, but the Repub­li­cans had changed their rules to move away from party lead­ers choos­ing the can­di­date to­ward pri­maries, while the Democrats kept a sys­tem of su­per del­e­gates in place that

fa­vored Clin­ton over chal­lenger Bernie San­ders. A coali­tion of for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Pres­i­dent Obama sup­port­ers backed Hil­lary Clin­ton, she said, be­cause she had served in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as sec­re­tary of state.

Now, in the gen­eral elec­tion Obama is “tak­ing the most ac­tive role of a pres­i­dent in a cen­tury to en­sure that his choice, Hil­lary Clin­ton, be­comes his suc­ces­sor.” Obama re­cently told a group of African Amer­i­cans that he would con­sider it “a per­sonal in­sult” if they didn’t vote for her, said Good­win.

Good­win said she might have played a small part in Hil­lary Clin­ton’s rise be­cause af­ter her book, “Team of Ri­vals: the Po­lit­i­cal Ge­nius of Abra­ham Lin­coln,” came out, Obama, and then run­ning for pres­i­dent, called her to talk about Lin­coln, who had ap­pointed some of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents to his cab­i­net.

“The night be­fore Obama’s in­au­gu­ra­tion I was down there for NBC and I saw Hil­lary at a party,” said Good­win. “She came over to me and in a teas­ing way said, ‘You are re­spon­si­ble for my being sec­re­tary of state.’ Not me, of course, again, but Abra­ham Lin­coln.”

She re­counted that Teddy Roo­sevelt and his hand­cho­sen suc­ces­sor Wil­liam Taft, bat­tled af­ter Roo­sevelt de­cided to run for a third term against Taft in 1912, who was then the sit­ting pres­i­dent.

Roo­sevelt claimed that Taft had ca­pit­u­lated to busi­ness in­ter­ests, but he also had loved being pres­i­dent and in the lime­light, Good­win said. His daugh­ter, Alice, had said that her fa­ther “‘wanted to be the baby at the bap­tism, the bride at the

wed­ding and the corpse at the fu­neral,’” Good­win said. The con­test be­tween Roo­sevelt and Taft “grew vi­cious,” said Good­win. With Roo­sevelt say­ing Taft had “the brains of a guinea pig” and Taft say­ing that Roo­sevelt would be a dic­ta­tor. While Roo­sevelt won most of the few pri­maries held in about 11 states, Taft had the back­ing of party lead­ers and be­came the GOP can­di­date. Roo­sevelt then ran as a third-party Bull Moose can­di­date and split the Repub­li­can vote, al­low­ing Demo­crat Woodrow Wil­son to win. Pri­maries fell out of use again un­til the 1960s, when more and more del­e­gates in each elec­tion be­gan to be cho­sen in pri­maries and cau­cuses in­stead of by party lead­ers, she said.

An­other change has been what as­pects of a can­di­date’s pri­vate life are made pub­lic, she said. The rule used to be that pri­vate lives of pub­lic fig­ures were rel­e­vant only in re­spect of how those pri­vate is­sues af­fected their abil­ity to per­form their du­ties in of­fice. She won­dered how the coun­try would have fared with­out FDR’s lead­er­ship if his af­fair with Lucy Mercer had been re­ported or if news pho­tog­ra­phers would have pho­tographed him in a wheel­chair.

“That un­writ­ten rule that pro­tected the pri­vate lives of our pub­lic fig­ures lasted through JFK’s term, when as we know he en­ter­tained a lot of young women in the White House,” she said. “It lasted through the the 1970s. It lasted un­til 1988, when ru­mors be­gan to spread about Gary Hart’s wom­an­iz­ing.” Hart chal­lenged the re­porters to fol­low him and the re­sult was a photo of the mar­ried Hart with a young wo­man, Donna Rice, in a boat aptly

named “Mon­key Busi­ness.”

Later, Bill Clin­ton ben­e­fit­ted from the ear­lier Hart scan­dal when his af­fair with Gen­nifer Flow­ers be­came known. The press was con­cerned about being crit­i­cized for “triv­i­al­iz­ing” the cam­paign and the pub­lic wanted is­sues about the econ­omy to be ad­dressed, she said.

“So Clin­ton got a free pass from the press but as we well know he didn’t learn from this,” said Good­win. But the ques­tion re­mains, whether this sort of scru­tiny keeps the “best peo­ple” from go­ing into pol­i­tics, she said.

“The pic­ture of Hil­lary Clin­ton leav­ing the 9/11 cer­e­mony then stum­bling as she got into her car, im­ages from cell phones, raised crit­i­cisms of a lack of trans­parency,” said Good­win. “Shortly af­ter­wards both can­di­dates re­leased their med­i­cal records.”

This wasn’t al­ways the case. When Grover Cleve­land was in his sec­ond term a can­cer­ous growth was dis­cov­ered on the roof of his mouth, she said. He had a se­cret surgery on a yacht and re­cov­ered and the pub­lic at that time never knew. When Woodrow Wil­son had a stroke and was par­a­lyzed on his left side, his condition was kept from the pub­lic by his wife and the White House staff. While peo­ple knew FDR had po­lio, they did not know that he could not walk on his own and re­porters had “a code of honor” not to re­port it, she said. When Roo­sevelt fell at the 1936 Demo­cratic Con­ven­tion, what was re­ported was his ac­cep­tance speech not the in­ci­dent, said Good­win.

An­other change has been “the in­creas­ing im­por­tance of tele­vised de­bates.” When then Vice Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy ran against each other in 1960, tele­vi­sion au­di­ences thought that the pho­to­genic Kennedy won the de­bate while ra­dio au­di­ences be­lieved the de­bate was a tie, she said.

Af­ter that de­bate cheer­ing mobs be­gan to greet Kennedy’s mo­tor­cades in the streets and he be­came a celebrity can­di­date, she said.

This phe­nom­e­non “has been re­peated to­day with the frenzy sur­round­ing Don­ald Trump’s ap­pear­ances,” she said.

Af­ter the Nixon/Kennedy de­bate no can­di­date was will­ing to de­bate un­til Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford agreed to de­bate Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Now the de­bates were the cen­ter­piece of this year’s pri­mary that led to the nom­i­na­tion of Trump, she said. And gaffes, which used to sink can­di­dates, did not ap­ply and “some­how he moved steadily for­ward.” Good­win cred­ited so­cial me­dia and Trump’s use of Twit­ter for this.

“Never be­fore had a can­di­date been able to call into a tele­vi­sion show and have his lit­tle pic­ture on the show with­out ac­tu­ally being on the screen but the tele­vi­sion peo­ple knew that they would get big­ger au­di­ences, bet­ter rat­ings so there he was,” said Good­win. “The more the pun­dits cri­tiqued his state­ments, the more his sup­port seemed to grow.”

What the ef­fect of the first Trump/Clin­ton de­bate will be re­mains to be seen, she said.

“Can he keep his mojo?” she asked. “Or will he re­treat to a de­fen­sive mood? And sim­i­larly, for Hil­lary the over­whelm­ing

ma­jor­ity of pun­dits say that she was bet­ter pre­pared, that her an­swers were broader she was bet­ter able to con­nect but even more im­por­tant than her de­bate per­for­mance is that she may get her mojo back.” In the last months, the email con­tro­versy has not gone away and there have been con­cerns about her health, said Good­win. Af­ter her de­bate suc­cess, Clin­ton may be­come less “de­fen­sive” with the press and “the tone of her cam­paign may change, she said.

The fifth change, Good­win said, has been the in­creas­ing use by politi­cians of “neg­a­tive at­tacks and per­sonal in­vec­tive.” She listed the taunts and jabs that Trump made against his op­po­nents dur­ing the pri­mary.

Good­win wished for the days of kinder and gen­tler dis­course, when songs were writ­ten about can­di­dates, such as, “Get on a raft with Taft” and “I like Ike” that was writ­ten by Irv­ing Ber­lin.

Good­win also cited the in­creas­ing im­por­tance of pub­lic opin­ion polls, which have greatly im­proved since the days when polls pre­dicted that Thomas Dewey would beat Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man.

In an­swer­ing ques­tions from stu­dents, Good­win said, that in the 1960s it was ex­cit­ing for young peo­ple to get in­volved in pol­i­tics. The first time they go into the vot­ing booth they will re­al­ize it’s “still pretty spe­cial” and they will know their vote counts, she told the kids. Also, in­volv­ing young peo­ple is “im­por­tant for the fu­ture of the coun­try,” she said.

PHOTO BY DOUGLAS BENE­DICT — SUB­MIT­TED

Author and his­to­rian Doris Kearns Good­win speaks at The Agnes Ir­win School.

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