tv Booknotes CSPAN November 16, 2013 6:00pm-6:16pm EST
12, but three of them never got to the second term. lincoln assassinated. mckinley assassinated, and nixon, forced to resign. obama will be just the 14th 14th president to serve eight years when he gets through his second term. but it's the second term curse. would we be sitting here talking in this way about kennedy if he had had a second term? ... i think kennedy would have
struggled too in a second term. this is all sheer speculation but kennedy of course comes down to us now as it's an open book. you can write anything onto it you want because he was killed at the age of six, only 1000 days in the white house. he had a sense of the ironic. he would have seen the irony in the fact that his early death gave him this enduring hold on the public and it is fascinating to me because when kennedy was assassinated a popular president elected to a second term, 50 years after his death hardly anyone remembered who he was but here we are a couple weeks away from kennedy's 50th anniversary and i'm telling you i am inundated with requests
from poland, from russia, from switzerland, from sweden, from denmark, american journalists and my dear departed mother used to say it's a case of crying with a loaf under either arm. [laughter] but i'm getting tired of it. i vowed after november 21, somebody said you write a book to get a subject so november 22 i don't want to talk about kennedy anymore. people are so eager. i can't imagine any other president about whom there is that sort of feeling. >> we have a few more weeks. i want to play it out and we do have a wonderful event here a few weeks ago sponsored by the open university of kennedy --
what kennedy and lincoln's second term would it look like and you asked would he have persuaded to ask congress to pass legislation involving civil rights? on that count would he have achieved what johnson achieved? >> i don't think he would have had the great society energy and commitment that johnson had because kennedy was essentially a foreign-policy president. that is to say politics can unseat you but foreign politics can kill you. he would have run against barry goldwater and would have won it did victory the way johnson did. he would have carried big democratic majorities into the house and senate with him and i think he would have gotten the big tax cut, the federal aid to education, the medicare and the civil rights bills passed. that would have put him in the lead with the most progressive
20th century presidential reformers alongside t.r. and wilson and even compared somewhat to fdr but i don't think he would have pushed beyond that. i think he would have pushed toward détente. i think we would have seen détente earlier with kennedy then we did with richard nixon because that cuban missile crisis was so sobering and it was so khrushchev and they make the nuclear test ban treaty which eliminated the pollution and radiation in the atmosphere and i think kennedy saw this as an opening towards a push with the soviets and he made the ruling and famous american speech in june of 63 in which he said we should rethink, rethink our relationship with the soviet union.
mainly the russian people and he praised the russian people as a great evil. he was looking toward i think some kind of accommodation, a movement away from the dangers of a nuclear war. and of course vietnam. he was under tremendous pressure from people like walt resto johnson's security adviser from vietnam and put ground forces. he did increase the number of advisers from roughly 600 to over 16,000 but he was so resistant to the idea putting in massive numbers of american ground troops. george ball his undersecretary under secretary of state said to him mr. president, you put two
or 300,000 ground troops into those jungles of vietnam and you will never hear from them again and kennedy said to him george you are as crazy as hell. i'm never going to do that. what would he have done about vietnam? we will never know. he didn't know. he didn't want to lose vietnam but he did to get deeply enmeshed in it. i love that and go to about he and arthur schlesinger. schlesinger help staring the 60 campaign. at the end of it bobby kennedy said to schlesinger arthur how would you like to be an ambassador and schlesinger said i would do anything i would like to come to the white house. a few days later schlesinger saw the president-elect and kennedy said to him so arthur i hear you're coming to the white house and schlesinger said i am? i don't know what i will be doing their you can bet we will
both be there for eight hours a day. these men they run for office and they promise you the moon. they tell you they are going to do this and that or like franklin roosevelt in 1932, the talk out of both sides of their mouths or they don't tell you what they are going to do. then you see governor christie last night on cnn after he was elected. he praised the people who voted for him and all the people of new jersey and he is one of them and they are part of him etc.. not a clue as to what he would do. smart politics because who knows what he will do you see? he just won a big election so kennedy, he didn't know. he wasn't sure but i think it's clear he didn't want to escalate
and get involved in that war. he didn't want to lose. maybe he would have bombed but i don't think he would have put 545,000 troops into vietnam. >> johnson of course was one of the most militarists of the cuban missile crisis and never learns the resistance of the bay of pigs. >> i teach my course is the fact that franklin roosevelt was exceptionally shrewd about making foreign-policy. in the run-up to world war ii he operated by the proposition that before you could have a stable consensus or a foreign-policy that might cost you blood and treasure, you needed to work hard to get the public committed to that foreign-policy. roosevelt, pearl harbor was a godsend to him. i'm not suggesting for a second that he in that he and anyway engineered the surprise but it allowed him to unify the country
you see, to fight world war ii. harry truman made the mistake of losing that consensus for the fighting in korea, it destroyed his presidency. johnson lost the consensus for the fighting in vietnam, destroyed his presidency. bush the mistake, weapons of mass destruction that weren't there. it undermines his leadership and left him with a terribly diminished popular support including katrina and the economic downturn, you see. we talked to obama about this and i said to him mr. president if you get into one of these wars without vital public commitments and consensus, it plays havoc with your domestic agenda because you lose your whole -- you lose your credibility. remember johnson's credibility gap? i didn't know when lyndon was
telling the truth greedy people this earlobe and scratched his chin you know he was telling the truth. when he -- you knew he was lying. [laughter] he didn't think it was funny but it was so revealing of the way in which his credibility was destroyed. when nixon said in a press conference i am not a crook, that's when his presidency was over. the president doesn't need to tell the press in the country i am not a crook. you need consensus. you need support from a wide array of people. otherwise we can't govern effectively but roosevelt understood that and he had a public face and he manipulated. the subsequent presidents like truman and johnson and bush,
they faulted on this count and they should have taken that fdr more seriously. >> this is the national constitution center so i have to ask you what was kennedy's constitutional legacy? when you think about that byron white who was deferential to congress the last avatar of bipartisan judicial restraint what was kennedy like on domestic surveillance, the cia and war powers? there was a recently released number justifying the plausible case. can you give us your thoughts on that? >> i think kennedy was one of those presidents early in the cold war who very much believed that what came first was national security and if you had to cross the line, if you had to extend the powers of the executive to a degree that had
been part of the country's history, you have to go ahead and do it and they were frustrated by congress. at one point they were so frustrated by congress bobby said to him come on on jack let's go start our own country. again he would say not start their own country but they were going to do what they had to do to control things and make for a successful foreign policy. during the steel crisis the conflict with the steel executives they turned loose the fbi and the irs and for those steel executives and there was the account of a dinner that jack and bobby were at with some of the people and somebody joked and said well bobby really put the squeeze on these guys with the irs and the fbi and kennedy said, oh bobby would never do that.
so inclined to say of course he did. but again the cold war, life and death. he was determined to do what he needs to do to defend the country. >> we saw the cia excesses and attempted assassinations that led to the church commission as well. >> jeff we will never know, i don't think we will ever know whether bobby and the president knew about castro assassination plots. schlesinger, arthur schlesinger was of course a great defender of kennedy and he said oh he didn't know the cia went wild and i don't know that's true. maybe the president didn't know what did he call the?
deniability, plausible deniability and maybe bobby knew and that i don't know. there are things there that we will never find out and they don't want you to find out. on the other hand, the three presidencies that we studied most avidly and extensively will be kennedy, johnson and nixon because we have all those tapes. fly on the wall. the ability to listen in on them talking. i guess we could take questions in a minute but i can't resist telling my favorite story about lyndon johnson. it's too off-color and funny not to tell. [laughter] there is a tape of lyndon johnson and i can't for the life of me understand why he made it. nixon had voice-activated tapes. kennedy and johnson would turn the machine on or johnson would
get a phonecall and go like this to his secretary. run the tape. there's a tape of johnson talking. talking to the president if hacker slacks. he said are you the fellow that makes hacker slacks? you made five pairs of pants last summer. i need five more pairs of pants. you have to give me more room in the because those pants the president of the united states, a white house tape. these tapes, we love it. >> kennedy comes off better in private than nixon or johnson. he didn't seem to let his guard down and he was this profane. was he just a more buttoned up her snout they. >> i think he was more
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