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tv   Michael Beschloss Presidents of War  CSPAN  December 1, 2018 9:00am-9:47am EST

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several decades, partly because of falling birthrates among native-born americans, immigration really is a big driver. the comp its of immigration is, thus, important not just as a discreet matter of immigration policy, but in terms of human capital policy; the character of our schools, our future work force and much else. it really is a very important issue touching on many different sectors. >> watch this weekend on c-span2's booktv. .. good morning, miami. it is a pleasure to be here for
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the 35th annual miami book fair. i'm the dean of the honors college and employee of miami-dade college and i join hundreds of volunteers in welcoming you to the book fair. let's give a round of applause to our volunteers. we are very grateful for our sponsors, the night foundation, the bachelor foundation and many others and we would like to give a special shout out to the friends of the fair. please raise your hands so you can be acknowledged. at this time we are going to get ready for our next presenter, michael beschloss. i ask that you please turn off your cell phones. this session will be 45 minutes long. if you're interested in getting signature from the writer the
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signatures will be to the right. i would like to introduce the presenter who will introduce our speaker, man harrison is an award-winning commercial writer and author of three books on language, smart words, words at work, in addition, the founding editor of leverage or press, a specialty publisher of the most famous words of winston churchill, lincoln, and an absolute pleasure to be here with her. >> michael beschloss is the best-selling author of tween 9 books on american presidents. they range from eisenhower, truman, kennedy and johnson. and with his new book,
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"presidents of war," he had more to the pantheon. among them hamilton, jefferson and lincoln and the new book is already a bestseller. the times says michael is our most widely recognized presidential historian. the charlotte observer is more emphatic. they say michael beschloss knows more about america's presidents than anyone on earth. michael is the presidential historian for nbc news and the contributor to the pbs news hour and recipient of 6 honorary degrees and won enemy. also a former historian for the smithsonian, a resident scholar at oxford, the reason one president, bill clinton listens to audiobooks. "presidents of war" has already
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received all kinds of praise. the most compelling given the current state of the country comes from the financial times which calls michael's new book a magisterial study that charts the conflict between oval office power and the u.s. constitution. please welcome michael beschloss. >> thank you so much. i look forward to being back here. lovely introduction. thanks for mentioning the pbs news hour which totally deserves it. it always reminds me, i say this often, it comes in 5 parts
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and the 5 parts were animal talking, english people talking, animal meeting, english people meeting and the newshour with jim lehrer, now called pbs news hour. is everyone able to hear okay in the back? it is hard for you to reply but if i had just said i am the one from pbs category 5, you would not say those really nice things so i really appreciate it. thank you for being here. my views anyone, any author dumb enough to refuse an invitation to the miami book fair especially in november is too stupid to be invited. we can all clap for that. and i thought i would talk about my new book which came out early october, called "presidents of war".
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i wrote the book because i think american presidents have taken us into too many wars. i thought i would try to figure out why, they had taken us into major wars from james madison all the way to lyndon johnson and beyond. the first thing i was interested in biographical he, eight between 9 people, they had an experience no one else had in american history which is they sent many americans off to harm's way to major wars. these are really different people. madison, lincoln, to lbj. a couple things they did have in common. one is every single one -- it is a good thing for presidents to have empathy.
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you really want to see that in wartime. lincoln for instance at the time he was waging civil war he wanted to make sure he did not get different from the result of the decisions he was making. at one point, we need a new national cemetery because put this near my summer home. they see it every night, and i am confronted with the results of terrible decisions i am making. he said to an old friend can you imagine a guy who can watch the slaughter of a chicken responsible for oceans of blood, do you want that kind of connection in a president who is making those decisions? another one is every single one of them became more religious.
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and a young man in illinois, he was thought of as a skeptic or an agnostic or atheist by some people and lincoln and washington in the civil war, finds them of all things reading a bible. never expected to see that and lincoln said i can't imagine how someone can go through this experience and not become more religious. lyndon johnson, had disciples of christ, heavily photograph going to church but not on my list, what it takes of the vietnam war, he was so much in search of something that his daughter lucy became a catholic when she was 16 and she would take her father unnoted by the
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press at a catholic church in southwest dc and lady bird johnson told me later on, at any given time lbj might do that, such comfort from those experiences. religion is another. another thing that unites all 8 or 9 presidents, every single one was married to a strong woman who changed the course of their leadership. someday if god for bid we have more war presidents i hope i can write about a president who was married to a strongman who changed leadership. franklin roosevelt as i write in 1942 was debating just after pearl harbor giving advice to send japanese-americans to internment camps. he was on the fence and delano
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roosevelt said absolutely not, it would be a terrible violation of civil liberties, the horrible things the president might have done and one day fdr assigned the fatal order, executive order february 1942 and friends of eleanor felt the best from that moment on, their measure was never the same. he discovered his relationship with her social secretary in 1918 but stayed with him because she felt they shared political ideals after interning japanese americans and if you look at eleanor roosevelt during world war ii, she spent an awful lot of time away from fdr despite telling her we are at war and wish you would spend more time, that was the difference for him. these are some of the things these people in heaven have in common. i thought i would spend a while.
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time for questions and comments. the book opened in august 18, '14. anyone remember what happened in washington in august 18, '14? a little drip in the war of 1812 and burn down the white house, burned down the capital. the scene with which i open the book's james madison and dolly running separately through the wet forest of northern virginia and even though it is dangerous, the british wants to capture him and ssn 8 him, doing well in this war but couldn't help himself from turning around and looking back at this otherworldly scene,
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washington dc disappearing into the hellfire of the planes that came before the soldiers and the thing about 1812, what was the first war in american history we lost, some people would say vietnam. i say the war of 1812. we said we would stop the british from harassing ships at sea and canada -- have you been to canada lately? that one did not work out. the other thing is what was the most unpopular war in american history? it was not vietnam. it was the war of 1812 was almost half of congress was against it in the beginning. a lot of americans didn't understand what the sacrifice was for. a lot of new england states
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almost succeeded that madison dragged us into this war. why do we remember otherwise. james madison and people around him were wonderful at public relations, spinning this is a great victory. the star-spangled banner, don't give up the ship, andrew jackson's new orleans. this was remembered as a glorious moment in american history and one remember in that most of all, in 1840. a fine guy except he was a slaveholder, liar, scoundrel and bully. other than that he was fine. pole, partly because he wanted the glory of being a war president, because he remembered madison in 1812, orchestrated an incident at the texas border, mexicans attacked a small skirmish and said we need a major war against mexico
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all the way to mexico city which they agreed to. he lied to congress, lied to the secretary of state, he had a diary, lying to all these people, i put one over on them. in a bad way he did a good thing. he added 1,000,000 mi. to america so we could become a continental nation all the way to the pacific but the problem was this was maybe 60 years after the constitution, the founders wanted us to be a shining city on the hill. they did not want presidents to lie to congress to get us involved in an unnecessary war based on a fake incident that never happened. the result of all this was it encouraged later presidents to do the same thing except in the wake of the mexican war there was a young congressman on the floor of the house in 1847 and
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elsewhere and he said i don't think this incident on the texas border really happened. show me the spot where the mexicans attacked. i don't think president should get us in a war single-handedly. the founders gave more power to congress. abraham lincoln altogether -- that was good preparation for lincoln who had to wage his own war, 13, 14 years, that is the thing i find about lincoln, two things, one was great politician. at the very beginning of the civil war for sumter fell, confederacy fired on beleaguered federal soldiers and they got into a boat and went to new york and i tried to write about these other things,
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a guy named major robert anderson. lincoln was worried there were rumors anderson had surrendered because he was a secret confederate, lincoln was urged to thank anderson for his service and lincoln didn't do it, thought it might be bad for political for him. anderson in new york, those two, 100,000 people, and his face was on every lamppost and rights to anderson saying i have been meaning to get in touch and anderson comes to the white house, a lovely story and lincoln says do you remember ever seeing me before? anderson said i'm quite sure i never met you before, mister president and lincoln said first time i was ever at war was 1832, the black hawk war, and guess who mustered the end of war service? it was you.
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anderson had not known that. he was a lincoln man from that moment on. unless you are looking for ways we americans are distinctive and not like the other countries on earth, if a president wages a war and does it well the war always has to be waged for a moral reason, not just to fix the balance of power or do something under him. it took lincoln despite his great genius a wild to understand that. anyone else from illinois here? quite a few. when i was a kid, we go to the lincoln sites, for citizenship in illinois and i went and i remember asking when lincoln's
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boys were not he, he said no, lincoln didn't do the discipline, and from that moment on, lincoln was my man. i began reading about lincoln and other presidents but even with that background, lincoln came to understand he had to be not only a great commander in chief but also a moral leader. first year of the civil war he's talking about uniting north and south, taking an oath to defend the constitution. then comes the moment, it goes from black-and-white to color, then lincoln began saying what was in his heart which it is not just a war to litigate the constitution but a war about slavery. that is why we are fighting. once he said that it gave the soldiers additional incentive. this was now a moral crusade. that is one of the things that
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makes america different. william mckinley, the war that began, where we are sitting today, everyone know about the sinking of the main in havana harbor? the spanish? the bad news it wasn't spanish. william mckinley went to congress on this wave of outrage. we have to go to war to avenge the sinking of the main and other things. turns out the main was probably sunk by a boiler accident but you can't go to war against boilers so we want a war against spain. we went to war, an incident that did not happen the way the government said it did. this went from being retaliation against spain, punishing spain for a couple other things.
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we went on, this has to be a war subdue the philippines, fighting insurgents, change the government of cuba, we took guam and puerto rico but this went beyond the war that mckinley talked about. americans began to say maybe we cannot believe our presidents especially when they are asking us to do the most sacred and dangerous thing a president can ask which is to ask us to put our young people in harm's way. woodrow wilson. are there any wilson defendants here? just want to know. any members of the wilson anti-defamation league? all right. i guess i can go on. wilson is not high on my hit parade. he lied himself into reelection.
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1916 he ran for a second term on a slogan which was he kept us out of war. despite the fact that privately he knew if he got elected there was a chance he would take us into war. what hurts my heart is he was able to grab that second term based on votes in california of women. women could vote in california now and the women of california who voted for wilson voted for him because they loved his slogan, kept us out of war. they idealistically thought they voted for wilson they could pursue peace and their family members would not be enmeshed in a rank
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racists ever to occupy the office, he was not a man of his time, his predecessors, tr and william howard taft were more progressive, the president who had written as a professor for decades about the importance of civil liberties once in office does not practice what he preachedes and another, once he became president he was a big advocate of the espionage act which to this day allows a modern president to rule that out. wilson did not mind being a very strong president. most of all is wilson was for the league of nations which i'm 4 and most of you are, helped us after world war i.
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with huge political incompetence wilson felt he was so much greater than any diplomat he had to personally go to paris to negotiate peace, he was not a moderate person, he goes to paris, up to 6 months with the president gone, arguing against the league of nations. all of his enemies, by the time wilson got to the us the league of nations was toned and much harder to stop the rise of adolf hitler and the advent of world war ii and the next president, franklin roosevelt telling americans we may have to rearm, to defend america in an ugly world against the imperial japanese and against hitler, guess what is his biggest obstacle? all those americans who protested will 0 wilson, thought he never should have taken us into world war i, wasn't truthful, never achieved
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what he was promising americans would get from this war so therefore with woodrow wilson, only in the neck of time, to fight world war ii and make the difference between 2 feet and victory. one thing roosevelt did learn is it is important to have a sense of history. [applause] >> harry truman says not every reader will be a leader but every leader has to be a reader. [applause] and that was true of fdr and great presidents in american history because sometimes i talk to college
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students, if you are not interested in history that is up to you. if that is true your life experience will be limited to what you experienced personally and what friends of people tell you. if you tap into history in some way, look at movies or read books, don't care how you do it, you are tapping into the collective wisdom of billions of people who walk the earth before you. it is your choice. at is the same choice for presidents. harry truman said i don't know how i could have been president without being such a reader of history. he knew more than anyone else. and thick glasses, and can't afford to replace them. i read every book of the independent missouri library which i thought was an exaggeration.
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truman's favorite book was, i apologize, horrible title, called great men and -- the subtitle from nebuchadnezzar, to sarah bernhardt. covered a wide swath of human experience. truman said, whether or not to use atomic weapons. i thought of andrew jackson, and, and hand and some stories we call too good to check.
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one thing about reading about lincoln and the warriors is make sure it is a moral cause and on the eve of world war ii he says this is a crusade for the freedom around the world and made sure world war ii, if we entered, would be for a moral cause. he was, fortunately for us all adept war leader except as a right for the horrible abridgment of civil liberties, what happened to japanese americans. i think roosevelt could have done more than he did to prevent the holocaust. harry truman, i read about north korea, did one thing, i love truman but don't love one thing, and i write about this, which is after he sends macarthur and the armed forces to resist north koreans in korea, his aides say when will you be going to congress for
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your war declaration, that is what the constitution says. truman says i don't have to. i love james polk. he told congress to go to hell and i will do the same. i love truman and his reading of history, he and i do not have the same understanding of james polk. the problem is truman said i'm not going to go to congress for a war declaration because it will be a big debate. it might embarrass me at 5 months from now in june 1950 i have to deal with midterm elections. it was true in 1952. the result was we got into this war which was the right thing to do but truman didn't even bother to go to congress to ask permission as the founders wanted and the founders were terrified from the beginning that presidents would become dictators and one of the ways that would happen more quickly than any other would be presidents could take us
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single-handedly into war without the consent of congress. it is august 1964. anyone remember august 1964? a little thing called the gulf of tonkin? lyndon johnson was running against barry goldwater and said there has been an unprovoked attack on an american vessel in the gulf of tonkin. goes to congress, gets almost unanimous resolution in southeast asia. no more declaration. truman didn't ask for one, you see how this is going. when was the last time the president asked for a war declaration? 1942. it has never happened ever since. have we been involved in any
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major war since 1942? it is unconstitutional. we are violating what the founders want. lbj gets a flimsy resolution and within a couple weeks in private realized never happened because there was not the attack he was talking about. it was a false report. yet he didn't go back to congress and say this was wrong, maybe we should amend the resolution so the next 9 years lbj waged a tragic war, killed 60,000 americans based on a phony flimsy resolution based on an incident that never happened. you wonder why people don't have faith in government, why people are skeptical of presidents when they ask us to go into a war that we don't have to go into for our own national defense? a couple moments with lbj. how are we doing on time? maybe 2 minutes and then come to questions. is that okay?
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a couple of them. 1965 was the first, early in 65, huge numbers of americans were being sent to vietnam saying we are going to win this war. privately he is telling robert mcnamara, one of the great villains in american history, telling lbj -- i would. he was telling lbj you have to get involved in vietnam to win the cold war and later on he says it wasn't me who told johnson to get into the war. it was someone else. in private lbj is saying robert mcnamara, i can't think of anything worse than losing the vietnam war. i do not see any way we can win. this is the beginning of the war. i love what lbj did with civil rights and medicare and a lot
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of things but to ignore his best impulses and take us into a war and ask young people to die at a time when privately he said even at the beginning the war can't be won, it is not a great moment in american history and not a great moment for lbj, flawed as a war president and we found this out decades later when these tapes were open. a final point if anyone has questions, a microphone here. anyone worried about our democracy, we should always sleep with one eye open. benjamin franklin said what kind of government did the founders give us? a republic if you can keep it. we all have to be active. we have to vote. watch presidents and make sure they don't take too much power. if you are worried about a president violating our democracy and taking too much power becoming authoritarian you always have to worry about that. they do it most of all in wartime. that is when wilson did the
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espionage act and roosevelt sent japanese americans, american sometimes will put up with certain things the president does in wartime that we would never permit in peace time. also we have to always be skeptical about the motives of a president who may take us into war for selfish political reasons. presidents in wartime can declare martial law. did anyone get a presidential announcement on your iphone a couple weeks ago? perfectly benign now but might not be so benign someday if the president has us in a war when he is asking us to take certain elements of presidential power that he otherwise would not ask for. all i would finally say is in
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the whole, americans risked the lives of young people have been the most sublimely important moments in american history. fdr called world war ii the survival war and it was absolutely that but after taking 10 years to write this book and go through 200 years, too often we have seen our presidents get us involved in major wars that were not necessary. thank you very much. [applause] >> thank you. keep it brief because i have a number of people in line and with a question mark at the end. apologize for asking. >> is things crumble around trump, do you see him starting something? >> without predicting anything, we have a history of presidents
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who fabricate incidents or exploit incidents to get us into wars we shouldn't have done so that is something we should watch very carefully. yes, sir? >> i think back to the 1980s, the cooperation of tip o'neill and robert -- ronald reagan i'd i wonder why you think over the last 30 years we have become such a partisan nation and what would be required for there to be a successful third-party presidential candidate? >> i think a third-party candidate could get elected. i'm astounded it hasn't happened yet. in the spring of 1992 when ross perot was running for president against bill clinton and george hw bush, there are three months that according to some
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pollsters ross perot was running against clinton and bush so it can happen. it is not hard to get on balance in 50 states or raise the money. we will see that in our lifetime and maybe sooner than that. thank you. >> i want to thank you for being here and i want to tell you the high point of watching rachel maddow is when you are on. so thank you for that too. >> rachel maddow walks on water. that is all i have to say. >> my question is to put into context george bush and barack obama. fdr was the last president to look for a declaration of war. when george bush w went into
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iraqi, he got a vote. >> in modern times they ask for resolutions but here is the problem. the constitution doesn't talk about resolutions. it talks about congress declaring war and they don't do it because they think it will be harder to get members of the house and senate to support a war if asking for a full declaration. the problem with the resolution is a member of the house or senate can vote for resolution to use force and if there is a war they say i had no idea there might be a war. unpopula
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will be there later on. if that means presidents go for a declaration, they can't get congress to give them one, they are not going to be endorsed by a majority of the american people, we should stay out. >> was the same true for barack obama when he tried to get a resolution for syria? >> never went that far. let's leave some time for the others? >> can you think of a way to stop presidents from continuing this pattern of getting us into wars without doing it the proper way? >> we americans have to demand it. that is what being a citizen is. if we do not demand it, you can imagine members of congress are not going to stand up to a president. leaders of a president's own party like to be lapdogs for
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sitting presidents especially when war is in the offing because it is against the intention of the founders. presidents got in the habit of saying when wars involved, you criticize me you are criticizing the soldiers. do i want to look as if i was criticizing the soldiers. lbj made horrible decisions in vietnam, every week telling lbj you are doing it the wrong way. the founders wanted criticism, they did not benefit because there were no critics, they were not allowed. founders felt criticism brings the best policies, benjamin franklin once said your critic is your friend. i am not sure lbj thought his critics were his friends but i do and it is essential to democracy.
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[applause] >> i have a longer question about the war on terrorism. >> apologize for asking but can we make it brief? >> the war on terrorism involved -- [inaudible conversations] >> the war on terrorism was launched after 9/11 and the president took the money that was to be used for fema like disaster relief from fema and put it into homeland security. my name is christina easley and i'm an author. my book is about how disaster survivors survive various fema disasters. do you think the president should have taken money from the disaster relief people and given it to homeland security? >> i am from washington dc though i really from illinois.
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no one wants to be from washington dc. i am about to do something you are not supposed to do if you live in washington dc which is to say i don't know. i wish i did but i will be interested in reading perhaps your book and learn more. thank you very much. >> good afternoon. i want to say first as a comment, a personal point privilege to meet you, i have seen you on rachel maddow several times and you are kind of my historian right now. >> the fact that you are here. >> my question was when you decided yes, i am going to put together this book, did you think it would take a decade to finish? >> the publisher told you to ask that, right? 10 or 11 years, no. great question.
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i thought it would take four. once i got into this dealing with eight between 9 guys, i couldn't give free manuscript collections. i researched each one is writing a book on each so the result was it took a really long time and in retrospect i wish it could have been faster and it has been in my mind because you took a risk having me here today because if i talk this morning in direct proportion to the length of time this book took to write you would still be sitting there petrified as i am droning on three weeks from now so thank you for being here. [applause] >> my question do you think the volunteer army has made it easier for presidents to go to war? >> great question. the moment that made a big
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difference, lyndon johnson of all people in 1967 as one of his good deeds realized the vietnam war was being waged by soldiers who were poor and african-american latino. and college students, especially white college students would get away with not going because they had deferments. no names mentioned. johnson took those deferments away. he knew what the cost would be. the second those deferments went, the protest on campuses really became much louder and more fevered. it was much harder for him to maintain that. i honor johnson for feeling if you are waging a war sacrifice must be borne by all-americans is equally as possible. that was something he preached and practiced and something that doesn't happen enough in
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our own time. not just conscription but other ways. we had been in a war in afghanistan for 17 years. if you were a martian who arrived here and walked down the street there would not be much sign that we are a nation at war and that says to me we are not bearing the sacrifice equally. the founders would issue a grant. thank you so much. >> i would like to think about the path that wasn't chosen. if bobby kennedy had become president. do you have a favorite almost president or person you thought would make a big difference in the course of history? >> bobby kennedy would have been a great president. [applause] >> lyndon johnson would not agree with me. one scene i have in my book is
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the third book is 3 april of 1968, lbj pooled out of the race three days earlier, rfk went to see him at the white house, he knew lbj was important but to opposes energetically as he might. kennedy goes to the cabinet room and says to johnson mister president, you are a brave and dedicated man and he says i didn't quite hear that. brave and dedicated man. johnson was taping the conversation secretly which indeed he was. kennedy goes out of the room and i tell this story and johnson says get that tape transcribed as quickly as possible. i want to leak the part about brave and dedicated man, that kennedy said that to me. johnson's aid, mary temple, who told the story, said mister president, the tape recorder didn't work. we think rfk came into the room
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carrying a scrambler. so we have got nothing. johnson was serious. thank you for asking. [applause] >> that is all the time we have. thank you. >> thank you so much for being here. [inaudible conversations] >> thanks for your time. if you hear anyone complaining about the miami book fair -- >> it is not that


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