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tv   Conversations with American Historians Richard Norton Smith - Part 8  CSPAN  February 19, 2022 7:00pm-8:02pm EST

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since c-span was founded in 1979 historian and author richard norton smith has participated in many of the network's programs forums collins and special projects as well as on book tv and american history tv. c-span sat down with him for nearly eight hours to get his insights on american history popular culture good books and more up next the last part of that conversation which focuses on bob dole the catholic church and the abraham lincoln presidential library. how did you? get introduced to bob dole. and how long did you work for him? and what was he doing at the
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time? well, i could tell you exactly i remember vividly. i was working for ed brooke in boston writing speeches former senator, and i knew that i mean you didn't have to be genius. i i knew we were not gonna win and 78 he had been elected originally in 66 overwhelmingly reelected in 72. and then on 78 first of all, the republican party was changing. even in massachusetts you know the conservative. uprising if you will with the grassroots was making itself felt brooke was held to be suspect. i mean, for example, he had a primary calendar. a talk show radio host named avi nelson and the cutting edge issue was the panama canal treaties. and and and in many ways this
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was a of things to come. in the republican party, including republican party of donald trump. well, anyway, i in 1978 the primaries in september. we barely won the primary fifty three percent and i you know, we're gonna lose. because what had happened well. he had gone through a messy divorce. and his daughters sided with their mother and and became sources for the boston globe. i mean it was it was ugly. and in retrospect there was a senate ethics probe. there's a question about medicaid funds, you know pooling. anyway, there are a bunch of sort of. financial issues and the you have to remember the thing about ed brooke was he was not an ordinary politician. you know in 1960 1964.
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when winning johnson carried, massachusetts by over a million votes and had brooke was elected attorney general by like 700,000 votes. i mean the biggest tickets putting in the history of the state ed brooke made people feel good. about the process and about themselves for electing and african-american to the senate the first since reconstruction the first popular elected. african-american in the senate and and yet to me, it was evidence of brooks integrity. he never want to be the black senator. he chose to be in the housing committee. which is not a high visibility, but it's something he really cared about and in fact something called the brook amendment. is historic it it? it imposed a 25% limit.
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on the income of those were living in public housing. they they could not be cash more than 25% of their income, whatever it was. he was a constructive legislator. he understood the also was a symbol. i don't think even he appreciated. the fact that the plane fact is people expected more a brook. and so that the the slightest breath of scandal even if in retrospect for example, the senate ethics committee cleared him. but you know the damage have been done. so i i knew. i remember saying on the primary night. we're going to lose 55-45. to paul tsongas, who was a very decent admirable congressman from lowell um, who won? as it happened about 55-45 in
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november, so i was at without a job or about about to be without a job. that's what you don't want to be when you're young. i mean the irony is only you learn later on. that you have sufficient whatever it is to get through. things like that but you don't know what at the time. oh, you know is my god. i'm gonna be you know without a job. i don't have any money. i mean, what am i gonna do? and you know, we're all gonna be tossed out of this this office in seven weeks. so it's a deal is a test. i do remember vividly saying to my because we had to keep up buck up our spirits, you know, and i was sort of the the jester and i said look we have to go find someone who's more depressed than we are. the idea was to go find murder trials and the nearby courthouse. for what? that's it, you know and and feel
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better, you know that that there are people who are worth soft than us and there are lots of people who were insulted us, but you don't know that at the time. okay. well, i was very lucky and brook. to his eternal credit. i certainly will always be grateful to him. made some calls and one people we call was bob dole. he was very interesting something ed brooke. bob dole. you think well opposite end of the spectrum, you know, kind of stylistically very, what are they having common they both lived at the watergate? but good friends. and that was the first hint to me that bob dole was not necessarily the bob dole of the 76 campaign the kind of the caricature. the democrat was etc. etc. anyway, beggars can't be choosers. i i got a call. coming out of washington and meet with the senator. and i you know, he apparently looking for speech writer. and the aa was made named rich
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armitage who would go on to? bigger and better things in a certain notoriety in this town and department among other things. it's state department exactly. and anyway, i never met bob dole and i didn't know much about it to be honest with you, except the little one, you know. but anyway, i remember i went into his office and we talked i don't know we talked in 20 minutes. i won't say it was perfunctory. i but it was. was not a searching examination on either side, you know. and of course, he was busy. i wouldn't surprise. so anyway, so i i left and i went downstairs. i remember i went down to the cafeteria and 20 minutes after i left. retirement age shut up and says he wants to hire you. and i don't know i typically have no idea.
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well, i you know. but anyway talk about chance. so so i was actually one of the lucky ones i within two weeks of election day. i had a job. so it meant moving there. it walks talking barrel. i didn't have much i mean, but i mean moving to washington dc which i did with the help a you all. and you didn't drop which i did not drive my sister. my older sister was good enough to drive and anyway. so january 1979 and then before the month i had tickets for showed at ford's theater on the 26-27th. the weekend and nelson microphone died. and i remember you know. it was it was it was on it was the juxtaposition. of i'd left, massachusetts.
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which was home and a place that i felt and still feel. attachment to i'm i think of massachusetts is unlike any other place and it's you know, it's home. and i left that for this. kind of i didn't know what and by god, i was so green. you know. and i had so much to learn. i was very lucky because in their own way each both brook and dole were wonderful teachers. and that that's not universal. i have found in political figures. i mean, you know. you're expected to on day one you know to be up to their standards and meet their expectations and it's not up to them to adapt to you. it's quite quite the opposite well, but in fact, you know, it's not that they adapted to me they but they were willing to take for time. they didn't dismiss they didn't
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throw away. they you know it very gently i mean with you know. i i mean the class act two two, i mean very different in many ways, but i i consider myself really incredibly fortunate but teaching you what what works? in a speech um when a speeches too long when a speech is too discursive. what's the optimum length for a speech? oh gosh, you have to remember the two different. they were both as a rule. they were more comfortable speaking off the cuff. but that didn't matter i mean in some cases you wrote a text as a security blanket. and both and they both learn i will say this we we evolved together. they both. as i got better. they got more comfortable. sticking different script and it became almost a even after i left.
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full-time employment of the law office. i would get called back on the emotional speeches the eulogies of the you know, those the sort of where you needed sound like a statesman sort of thing. and 20 minutes is a you know, you don't want to you so don't want to and again remember thanks to television now the internet. the attention span it's the amazing shrinking attention span. so now i mean television covers of extended covers. i mean you look at how the sound bite has shrunk. over the last 20 years or so well speeches and the content of speeches. you know. and of course don't have this marvelous sense of humor. which and it's downside because it could cover if you know if
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you wouldn't prepared. for an audience well, that's all right. he could always get away with. he could entertain them. can make them laugh. i'm from this book, you know. older school, you know, i should have written bradley stevenson, you know, i mean, i think his speech is an educational. opportunity and yes, you you to push the buttons? you want to move people, but you want to move them to some effect. you know, you want you want them to to leave obviously thinking well with the speaker. thinking thinking better the speaker than they went. went in but also hopefully motivated. to do something to support a bill. to vote against the candidate, you know, whatever. it's an exercise and motivational. speaking. and so anyway, but they're all kinds of speeches. let me in interject this you
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talk about the tension span being shorter and shorter. president trump we'll speak for an hour hour and 10 minutes. yeah, but that's entertainment. that's not a speech. that's why do you say that? two different things when the average person rather be entertained. yes, the average person would rather be at a time. i don't even i don't mean no. no, i mean, i would not absolutely i mean, um, i mean i want average is but well no. no, but but there's new about this. um agway stevenson to find the sainted. adway was forever being cut off your sainting him. yes, my say that like was forever being cut off in the middle of a television speech. um, and it wasn't that he was inept or amateurs. it's because he made a mistake. of believing that people who
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were serious about democracy? would want to listen for 30 minutes or 40 minutes to a candidate for president telling them honestly substantively what what he would do. and and that's a long time ago. i mean television from its infancy. but give me has distorted. and redefined american democracy and on balance, i would say not for the better. and what we're living through now. is inevitable donald trump didn't create this situation. he simply exploited it. and and rather skillfully, i must say. but the fact is the oldest now becoming the oldest cliche in town the reality show. that is this presidency.
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um extends to public appearances where he plays a role. it's the equivalent of i suppose, you know, the old friday night wrestling. well, you know, it was fake, you know, it was phony you know, what you were seeing was not in any way authentic, but that that was part of the that was part of the entertainment. and donald trump is filling the role of the restaurant. who's fixed? the match go back to the dole experience. how many years did you work for him? well, you know, that's there's no there's a beginning but there's no easy end because actually, i only been there year and a half. before i went to rochester to write the dewey book, however i remain very very modestly on the payroll as a consultant. so even why i was in rochester. you know, i would write occasional speeches.
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then i came back and well, see no i got up there and mid 80. yeah, maybe 80 came back mid 81. came back resume writing for him. but also had some other i wrote for olympia snow. congresswoman from maine someone from i hadn't have great admiration. i wrote and that's it for pete wilson. who was a moderate republican from california? before he ran for governor. but all the time i was still on call plus remember, mrs. dole had become a public figure. she worked in the reagan white house. first is a director public liaison, and then the secretary transportation and so throughout the 80s. i was writing for her as well.
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so i was i had no formal contractual attachments, but the fact was i was on call. to to even one of them. and that in turn led to their request that i work with them on. a joint autobiography, but take it in the next step. yeah. how did you get involved in building the dole center? well and what year was that? yeah, let me pause for a minute because giving example of how what i was doing. wait, richard nixon died 1994 in april of 94 mrs. nixon had passed away the previous june bob dole was a eulogist at both services. i was prestitute of service on both speeches so, you know as late as and even even wayne on as long as dole.
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gave speeches actually, and it's not i think one of the cat out of the bag recently. when he received the gold medal from from congress and he asked mrs. dole rita statement. well, i, you know had a hand in that and so you know, so i guess you could say i keep my hand in but but in between i was approached. the dole institute was just in the conceptual stage remember he left the senate 96 to run these campaign for president and afterwards he'd been approached by the university of kansas. about donating his papers. anybody i want one thing going to another. and a very prominent political scientist my name of brunette loomis well known. prolific and a good guy.
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who happened to be democrat, but that was irrelevant. who was the the initial director during this conceptual phase? but i think there was a sense of dole would want. you know his person. to to carry it forward to build a building to begin to you know, program the place and so forth and so on. so anyway, i they asked me. the university asked me he asked me. and i said, yes, and that was 2001 late in 2001. i finished five and a half years at the ford. library and felt, you know pretty much what i'd done what i was at least what was created i could i could never be a caretaker and and i'm putting
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down caretakers, you know, things are very important functions, but one reason people look at the resume and it's you know, i ran six institutions. in 19 years and that's reagan ford hoover eisenhower reagan. forward like a dole lincoln and you know, i look back and i said, you know. i don't walk back a lot. but you know, of course you waited the time go. but i can't believe i i can't believe i ate all the and i want to walk. and i i'm glad i did it. and then certainly no value in even if i had regrets and in pining away for a different course. it's funny. i look back now and it's funny
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how your wife does compartmentalize. i mean there was this. speechwriting phase which kind of morphed into the libraries, libraries, you know, and then. after well, i left the lincoln in 2006. came back here. and as you know sort of cobbled together. teaching it. george mason and some work here she's been on some long form. series and and and work and work and work on the rockefeller. so i can't complain. let me go to a completely different subject because it happens to be. the news as we're talking that when we're recording this, but i've heard you over years talk about. popes oh, yeah.
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i i told you i have catholic friends to tell me a better catholic than they are. i think their mistaking a passionate interest in the history of the church. with that ability to conform to the theological demands of of the faith. but yeah the papacy as well the monarchy in england. and the papacy in rome have fascinated me alike. let me ask you this. yeah, and this may be too personal. how religious are you? um, i would say by most standards not particularly observant. and i'm not going to take refuge in that old why don't go to church, but i'm spiritual routine. i mean fine if that's if that's what you want. yeah fine, by the way, what does that mean? it doesn't mean a -- thing. that's i mean well i'm sure there were people who it does mean something to so i don't
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mean to dismiss but to me, it's it's kind of a you know, what do you think it means when somebody says i'm spiritually what it means is i i don't agree. or i can't accept the discipline. of the institutional i i can't accept institutional religion whatever that is. the dictates of a church but and i and i don't want you know, it's the old notion of smorgasbord catholicism. you know, you take this from plate a and this from plate b and you make up your own. that's what it means. it means i've withdrawn from the institutional church because for whatever reason i find it. but where are you and i'm a religion of one. i am intrinsically and
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intellectually, so that's part of the problem i religion for me is is more intellectual. i'm not my nature. well i the new englander in may you know. is drawn to kind of the emersonian? almost pantheism the religion of the individual if you will unitarianism is appealing. do you expect because it's rational? and i i mean i i have problem with miracles. i must say and and of course, all you need is faith to to accept miracles and so i guess you know, where do you think go when you die? into the ground is it over? i think so.
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and i and i you know, i'm i'm sure ever walking to say that. not just because we're having a public conversation, but because you know you that's not an issue that you you like to confront? but if you are honest i mean honesty is hard. you know truth is. and anyone again, i'm not saying i'm monopoly on fruit. everyone has their own truth. pursuit of truth is is hard i mean it's it's clean, but it's it's hard and there are a few things harder. then coming to terms. with one's own mortality and the fact that not only that in a curious way the downside. of being historically minded and even biographically inclined is
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the prospective that you get? and i don't mean a sound. a daughter but when you realize in the largest scheme of things how utterly insignificant most lives are including your own and how short will be the shelf life of memory and and and and that i i suppose to teach you say that if you don't have children to carry on your name, although frankly, you know. i i think and it's a kind of vanity. to believe otherwise to think that to think that people are going to go to the cemetery and visit your grave. i mean this is what you did this. i know but i'm not like most
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people. you know. but but to believe that you have an either an active and after wife as traditional religion defines or the secular replacement which is a kind of fame or celebrity or notoriety or something? that that will draw people to an awareness of your existence after you exist. i find very little evidence. to support either picture all right back to the popes which but by the way, so the closest thing and this is a form of vanity, but i mean the closest thing to um, not immortality
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because that doesn't exist. about a book there are some books that live on. that have a youthful lifespan, which is longer than that of their authors. so the popes yeah, well. i remember pius the 12th. whose autograph i have displayed on my wall. right between douglas macarthur and ralph waldo emerson i remember vividly actually john the 23rd. oh god 1963. i was nine. and i remember the and i remember me caught up in the conclave. not different about romance. i mean the this was this was a
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fascinating process where all of these people gathered in this sealed room and you waited for the smoke? when i didn't know much more than that, but i mean i was handicapping the contenders and then of course in 78. the famous year three popes i actually had guessed on luciani the the cardinal venice albino luciano. the greatest pope we never got to experience beyond 33 days in a lot of ways luke charity was a a foretaste of francis very very much. so in terms of style and temperament and out walking and even smile. it was a smiling boat and and
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then there's the long papacy of john paul ii who was immediately recognized as john paul the great and i understand historically, you know, certainly his role and the geopolitics of the time i do think and now on thin ice. but i do think there may be some at least. who believe that the church was a bit hasty? in canonizing him in declaring him a saint. given what we don't know. at this point about the scandals and the church and and i and let me put that in context. the tragedy i think this is an outside observer. was the the pope john paul said
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was an old man a sick man. during the last years of his pontificate and i think you know. while my theology might differ a bit from benedict. i have great admiration for the courage. that it took for him to in effect buck half a millennium of church history and say in effect that i don't think i am up to this job. me physically up to his job. and turn it over to someone else drop back from this though. and what what has drawn you to even? is a non-catholic being even interested in the church and how far back do you go? well the cure the character just interests me. i mean, i think the medieval church. i mean the you know a saving grace of the middle ages.
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the only claims to organize civilization. really or because of the church. and after all famously, you know, it was monks. and the european abby's preserved civilization by jotting it down. you know we all i mean civilization the white almost went out. during hundreds of years and the effect that it didn't at all it was it was largely due to the church. now on the other hand, you know that came in a price. the church dictated once belief it it dictated the in many ways the shape of one's wife. it stayed in glass is gorgeous to look at but it was designed for an illiterate. laity it told stories.
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you know, it had never been subjected to modern science. but we go to cathedrals and we marvel at the artistry. so i mean to mix back. the thing i find so sympathetic. i mean with the modern pope with with the current pope. it's just willingness to criticize from within. the sin of clericalism which is you know, i think a fancy word for careerism. there's there is. unfortunately, i mean the famous act. action about power corrupting power corrupts in whatever institution but think about adding to the normal temptations the presumption of divinity the presumption that you are god's
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instrument. um, that is a for anyone to handle. it seems to me and this pope is it's not aware of it? but end of the dangers that results. i mean, you know, he appoints cardinals and he tells them you are not princes of the church. you know. that's so seems to me that seems seems to me much closer. to the see the thing i find i find christian science, very attractive intellectually in a lot of ways. in part because it's it's a return to what it called primitive christianity. it's rich it recognizes that when men build institutions. whatever they are with the best of intentions spiritual energy will be squandered.
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it will be squandered in building the institution. it will be squanded in competing with the ones fellows for place and prestige and status in the institution. what mary baker eddie the founder of christian science was very reluctant to establish and a jerk. because of this fear that that spiritual energy would be fritted away in worldly. pursuits that seems to me is what this pope is talking about when he warns us about the danger of clericalism and some in the church have taken his message to heart and some very clearly have not what do you think the impact of this whole? actually can combine the two a sexual harassment. um world going on in this country women men. and the sex scandals going on inside the church. what's the combined impact on
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from a historical standpoint? well, i mean clearly you know, we're at a crossroads. there's no doubt. that for millions of people in quoting nominal catholics the church has lost. it's claim to moral authority. it's forfeited that claim. not only by the original sin. of sexual abuse but by the subsequent cover-up i mean the old cliche in politics holds true and ecclesiastical politics in some ways. that is the crime is and we're not minimizing the crime. but but even worse in some is to cover up. the fact in matter is if you just look at the numbers statistically the church in the
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united states has done an admirable job beginning with reforms and the 2002 and they're about they've certainly diminished. the number of of incidents that are being reported while at the same time they've turned up. the spotlight if you will and and it's and you know, and it's also it's really important that we not single out the church. i mean the fact that matters this is a cancer. that exists in many institutions certainly in many faiths and many cultures. the problem is you know. a movie studio or bank does not purport to issue moral commands
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it does not claim. hey any particular monopoly on on moral? wisdom and well you know where it goes. i don't know. i mean, i think the more media problem is and it's inseparable from a looming schism within the catholic church between those who believe that this pope is in some way abandoning. traditional catholic theology and others who find him the ultimate breath of fresh air. i mean, he's not he paul was six who i'm actually a great admiration for he had an impossible act to follow. and he had almost impossible assignment which was to bring vatican to to a successful
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completion and then implement the reforms it's one thing to stand at a window looking same peter's square and an ounce we're going to open the window to the world. and and in some ways bask in the praise of theoretical reformer it's another. to live with the consequences of a church that many ways divided and and yet and yet, you know. to walk the tightrope between modernists and traditionalists and paul the sixth plus use pope. let's face it during the time time when authority over the world. was breaking down, you know the late sixties early seventies. so anyway, but but i so there has been this thread.
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through the tapestry of the faith. for as long as i've been interested in the church. between for lack of a better word modernists those who would take cognizance of and to some degree adapt to the contemporary culture if only because you don't want to lose. your influence and those who insist? that there can be no compromise with evil. and however, they define it. go back to your 19 years working for those. six different institutions when you look back on the presidential libraries that you've worked for and also the dole center and the lincoln library. which which experience had you were the most difficult time and why? yeah.
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well, i guess you know the obvious answer to that would be the last one in springfield. and their number of reasons for that. some of which by the way i readily own up to is my own shortcomings. i'm talking about the lincoln the lincoln. yeah, the lincoln library museum i was recruited. gosh, and well in 2001. and the real people the real visionaries and they were visionaries. i mean through remarkable. you want evidence of what one person? with an idea can do i've said this before in springfield woman named julie cellini. who dreamed of she had been involved with the illinois state historical library as a trustee
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of sorts on the state historic preservation committee, but her dream was. to create a world class lincoln library slash museum and against all odds she succeeded. now you know. in retrospect there might have been a different ways to to go about it. but that in no way diminishes from you know the extraordinary accomplishment. and she had obviously can't one of help and obviously a lot of people gave on a money and the state gave a lot and the federal government got involved. i mean, you know but if julie so many had not. step forward they would not be. a lincoln library museum, i what? i speak very frankly here.
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what i was naive about when i when i said, yes, i'll do this. i did not realize. that i was stepping into of a hot bed springfield is a all places that unique it gets in the wrong way. but springfield is and particularly then. was a place ribbon by different camps all enmities individual feuds capital of illinois capital of illinois it's a very political town. and for example, i did not know. that i was inheriting along with what we're seeing is the sweeney support you know, they had their critics. there were folks at the
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university of springfield our university of illinois at springfield who had their own view of what this project should be. perfectly you know entitled to that. and there had been some bad blood over the years. and i was naive enough. to think that it wouldn't spill off on me. all that, you know i could avoid. the institutional and individual disagreements that had taking place over time anyway. i've said you know, it's funny. i've said about every every job of you know, even difficult ones they all and they all presented challenges, you know, i am i was seen as an agent of change. which means you know from day
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one that to some people you your perceived as a threat. you know without any way intending to be such that you are cast as a polarizing figure. you know that. there are people. who want to impute? bad motives or just quite frankly the more successful you are. the more visible you become. the oldest lesson in the world the more likely there are people who resent you. either because your pictures in the paper and there's isn't. or your vision of an institution which is different from the status quo that that they are accustomed to i mean all that people, you know people encounter this every day in their work in their business etc.
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and i you know over time became west naive. i don't think i ever became cynical or expected it. but i was i was prepared for it. but i i was not fully prepared. springfield's not a big town. but it has big emotions and big resentments. and big rivalries and at that stage in the what? you know i said and other forums there's no job with less job security than to be the first director of a presidential library. and their exceptions to the rule but not many. and you're something about it, and then it's really not hard to figure out why. because there are so many constituents. constituencies if you have a
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living president family, they certainly understandably feel they have a claim on the institution. or the foundation that built it paid for it. they certainly feel. but at the same time you're working for the government. it has its own standards its own expectations. you have the press. frankly that wants instant access and researchers who would like i mean there, you know, there are a lot people perfectly understandable. expectations and they can't all be accommodated. and plus, you know, just the wear and tear woodrow wilson. famously said if you want to make enemies change something. well, you know i spent most of those 19 years. changing things. i don't think i made enemies. but i probably made fewer
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friends then i might have if i had been another line of work. you actually haven't said what went wrong if anything went wrong in springfield. that's because i'm being discreet. it was a combination of a no one thing went wrong, i think and in fact, i don't mean to leave the impression. i don't look up on that as a failure, and i don't think people in springfield look on it as a failure and i'm outside. that sounds defensive. i don't look upon i don't harbor, you know regrets about that i think i was probably. you don't want i i wasn't conscious of it. i wasn't burned out. but you know, i've done five. institutions and i just left a
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startup. the door institute in a difficult environment a university for political scientists who i think in some cases resented? my vision of the doorway institute, i mean there are a lot of sparks struck in lawrence now, there are also wonderful friendships made every i go back to lawrence, you know every year and speak at the institute and we have a full house and and you know, it's it's a very happy experience. but but again you're swimming upstream. you're challenging the status quo. i've never found. and institutional environment more resistant to change than than a university. and so i had all of that and the scars that went with it, and i don't think i was really you
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know what? i should have done if i'd had the luxury was sort of taking a year off. you know, but it's i plunge right into. the lincoln and i mean practically this was a project behind schedule. over budget the only thing most people knew. was you know, john simon? down in carbondale who was firing volleys of ridicule at rubber lincoln's you know and the media beating, you know path to his door. um, you know, the place was being branded. as a kind of disney-esque treatment devoid of and i and i thought you know, i was naive i didn't think hard enough about i was inheriting this i was hearing all of this. and quite frankly and there are
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people there who would subsequently told me this. you know, i was more than willing. to put whatever credibility i had. academic and otherwise behind this project and it wasn't just because i was drawing a paycheck i believed in it. i mean and i think by the way, i think time has proven. not me, but the people who really conceived of the place. i think it's proven that their vision. prevailed it's the example i've often used is the world war two memorial out here on the mall, you know, as long as it was an abstraction as long as something on a drawing board. it was a real target. for criticism and they're all sorts of reasons that you could find to criticize it. once it was built. whatever make people think of the architecture. i mean it it surprising how quickly it came to be accepted
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and indeed became for many people a place of pilgrimage. well, it's interesting the day we opened and you were there he's been cameras were there for that very? complicated logistical program that we did once people there was all there was always a line. between frankly john wise simon and a few people who thought like him and frankly some reporters who were looking for a story. and the general public and i knew that the first thing i did when i got to springfield. this was a great big empty construction site. no one should have been allowed in. and i decided no, you know, we're opening in whatever eight months. i said right now this is just an abstractant. these people are paying for this. so we're going to take one day
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we're gonna open up and everyone who wants to go through i will give them a tour. we had over 4,000 people show up. the first from chicago was there like at six in the morning. and and we took them through. and people actually the locals. who i think in retrospect had some doubts about whether this was a good idea. came to see the value of doing it. but 4,000 people went away that day. as evangelists for the to be opened abraham lincoln presidential library that was the best response to the rubber lincolns that i you know could come up with. so there was a i spent a lot of my time there. trying to wiggle away. at this i think kind of cynical
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kind of superficial, you know. attempt to throw cold water are a pretty remarkable? project but then once it opened it was pretty clear to me. i i decided a year before i left. that i would that i had an obligation to get both the library and the museum built. opened programmed staff we hired over 100 people. without politicians being involved um, and i had to say i said the government i'll do this, but on one condition that is you keep the politicians at bay. and whatever else you say about the governor, and there's a lot that can be said. he kept his word.
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and but it became clear to me once the place opened. and once the politicians got their pictures taken and got whatever they were going to get out of the creation establishment of this institution. that logic told me since the state was broke also that the level of support would be very difficult to sustain and that and that proved the case. at the probably halfway point where is the gerald r ford? biography you know, i mean i suppose they say, it's bad what could talk about a project and gestation? i am pleasantly surprised. california turns out to be much more interesting that i thought and i thought i knew him pretty well. i think i knew him pretty well. one things i've learned is and i
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don't mean that i don't mean to make this out sensational or a tease. there are things we didn't know. things that he i think probably didn't want us to know and i don't mean that at a negative sense. he was much more ambitious. and he coked that image. we hamilton said something really interesting to me that congressman from indiana who served as a democrat with ford for many years. he said ford. quote this ambition pleasingly which is a nice way of i'm it i mean and i also there are parallels. with ronald reagan, you know. there are worse things in politics than being underestimated. if you if you're secure enough about yourself. not not to make an issue out of that. good old jerry. was in some quarters i put down.
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turned out good old jerry. got himself into the vice president see and and i'm not suggesting. our aspired to to to the to higher office he didn't. but he was ready. when it came and the interesting thing. i mean one of the interesting thing about ford is and and this what a biographer sort of dreams of is that there are rooms in that mansion rooms in that house that we haven't. visited yet. and it's made for much more interesting. process except process of discovery at this point the expected date of publishing. yeah. we really want to get it out in
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2020. just before the election. and i think i don't have to say to draw a contrast. i mean adult president but a competent one. may have all sorts of. unexpected appeal and in certain circumstances and i say dull i mean that the caricature afford again, good old jerry turns out he was a lot more. i think myself i for example i wrote a chapter about the warren commission which upends. most of what we thought we knew at least about ford's the fact of the matter is ford very late in the in the game was the member of the commission most inclined to believe that there could be a foreign conspiracy?
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and that of course runs counter to what we know. in his later years when he was the the last surviving member and and therefore the defender of the commission. but i found his questions. page after page after page of questions that he directed to witnesses to the staff to other investigators, and i thought to myself, you know, this guy would have been a really good courtroom warrior. and of course and there's it turns that's why when he was a very young like third term congressman. the old bulls asked him. to sit on the cia oversight committee. because a they trusted him. he wouldn't shoot off his mouth. no staff no notes. but most important they take it as measure this was this was a workhorse. now that's your horse.
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and that was the eighth and last part of our eight-hour conversation with historian and author richard norton smith. you can watch the entire conversaregister african americs
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in mississ.


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