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tv   Washington Journal Richard Norton Smith Douglas Brinkley Edna Greene...  CSPAN  July 5, 2021 9:02pm-11:00pm EDT

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empowerment. that is why charter has invested billions in infrastructure, upgrading technology, empowering opportunity, in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications supports c-span as a public service along with these other providers. >> each time there has been a change in administration we have asked observers of the presidency to participate in a historian survey of presidential leadership. ians to participate in c-span's historian survey on presidential leadership. we are joined from texas by professor doug brinkley of rice university, from michigan by richard norton smith, via zoom by amity shlaes, and professor edna greene medford of howard
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university. thank you for joining us this morning. doug brinkley, start the conversation by explaining the criteria we use here. how do we compare all the men who have held the office of presidency over more than 230 years? caller: c-span -- guest: c-span has put together a group on how to actually rank these presidents. this is not a scientific ranking, the purpose of it in many ways is to be fun, enlightening, may be to stoke conversation around the nation. what we really did do -- it is not just one ranking. you are breaking them up into categories. i will be judged on his foreign policy ranking or race relations
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or the environment or public persuasion, on media relations, you get the idea. it is broken up into numerous categories. you go on a 1 to 10 scale in each of those categories. in the end we add them up. really, the top biographers, academic historians, journalists, they are all part of this survey. we tried to get around 150 to 140 people answering the surveys. we are proud of the list because we can know whittle over somebody we think should be ranked higher or lower -- all quibble over somebody we think
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should be ranked higher or lower. every year lincoln holds the top spot. then you have presidents influx. the fact that dwight d. eisenhower has been able to corral that fifth spot is interesting. one wonders why. there was not all this talk about in eisenhower memorial on the mall. he had 2 terms. he could have had a third. the only time he used government troops was going into little rock on a civil rights endeavor. created nasa, the st. lawrence seaway, the interstate highway system, he was very moral, not a lot of corruption in eisenhower years. i could go on.
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you are seeing in the polling the rise of dwight d. eisenhower who was ranked in the middle not too long ago. people thought he did not do much as president, but with the archives open we can see he was a hands-on president. the rise of eisenhower i found particularly interesting. he is now one of the american greats! host: round out the top 10, in sixth place truman, jefferson, reagan, the 10th spot this year, barack obama. president trump coming in at 41st overall, the first year he is part of this historian survey of presidential leadership. edna greene medford, why do this? is it helpful historically?
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guest: absolutely. it is always important to talk about what is happening in terms of government aid or ship -- leadership. it is important to look at them over a period of time because historians like to view history from a far. we do not like to look at current events so much. if you look at the rankings of these presidents over a period of time, you get appreciation for how they are doing in terms 'of the country -- terms of the country's memory of them. the changes in ranking because of the passage of time. because each generation comes to its own conclusions about how successful these men hopefully someday women have been in terms
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of their roles as leadership in the country. host: the last two hours of our program today talking about this survey of presidential leadership. you can join the conversation. republicans, (202) 748-8001. democrats, (202) 748-8000. independents, (202) 748-8002. this is not c-span's ranking -- this is the ranking of 142 historians. who gets to be part of this survey? guest: there has been a concerted, and i would argue successful, effort since we began this back in 2000 to enlarge and diversify that academic electorate, if you
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will. there were 141 this time around. that did not just happen. there was a deliberate effort on the part of the survey organizers to specifically -- i say diversify. to find more women, more people of color, more conservatives, because it is no secret, historians, academic historians and particularly political scientists tend to both left. -- bolt left. doug talked about the stability. stability is the first thing that jumps out of you, not only at the top of the list, but at the bottom of the list. the same three post-civil war
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presidents were deemed almost universally to have failed in the job where they were 20 years ago and where they have been in every single one of these surveys. it is fascinating -- if you look at where the movement is it is not at the top or bottom of the list. it is in between. if you look at someone like andrew jackson who in the 20th century in the age of arthur sessions are -- arthur slashing her -- arthur slashing her -- in our ranking he is 28th. you leasees grant -- ulysses grant, the fact that he has surpassed jackson in the overall ranking is really revealing
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about the different criteria that are being applied 20 years on and to some degree of those doing the voting. host: our last survey in 2017, andrew jackson was ranked 13th, 22 this year, ulysses grant up from 33 to 20. this is your first year of the survey you have been on this advisory team. what is your impression of the survey in years past in the previous surveys. what surprised you about being on it this year? guest: i am honored to be here to join the c-span team. the survey always impressed me because we included not only
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star academics, but also historians in the field who might not be phd professors so we are glad of that. there is no snobbery, no guild snobbery at c-span, which has always been one of the strengths. as you look for serious people, at their work first, you get such a sound whole. i am vied to see the new diversity in the poll -- glad to see the new diversity in the poll. host: i want to get your reaction to donald trump's ranking. we do the survey every time there is a change in administration since figure 2000 . donald trump came in at 41st.
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he had his highest rankings in public persuasion. your reaction to that 41st debut. guest: you have to ask where the historians as objective answering whether they would vote for him next time or were they ranking him? it is hard to rank recent people. look at the recent jump up of president george w. bush! that is one of the factors in the poll. you see president bush went up. you have to change lenses fast when someone moves to being history. president trump deserves a higher rank for economics, and i
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think history will bear me out on that. let's look at the other things -- you see jackson going down. president trump -- jackson going down. president trump is more like jackson, an american cowboy. host: on donald trump's debut at 41st, we want to get your reaction. the categories we ask the historians to rank presidents on -- moral authority, international relations, vision setting, pursuing equal justice for all, and their performance within the context of the timess. do we give any further definition of what that should mean as historians make their rankings?
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guest: one of the problems is it is always best to have 25 years before you judge a president because that is when international archives release documents through freedom of information act. you can start reconstructing a president. you will tend to see we will have a view of the trump presidency that may be different from what we have now. we have decided to include william henry harrison, who was only president for a month. that creates a line in the sand itself. you want to be below the president who was in the white house for one month and then died of pneumonia. that is where president trump finds himself. that means you did not help the republic forge forward. i thought trump would be fighting for the worst spot
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with james buchanan who was inert, inactive and trying to avoid the civil war, always clinging to that bottom rung. trump has a chance to move upwards. his chances would be reelection. suddenly he is not a two-time impeached one-termer. his future is still wide open, president trump. maybe down the line he will arise for other reasons, when people look at the program forgetting vaccines distributed so quickly during the covid crisis. george w. bush who was very low, people assumed he would stay low because of the
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recession, what some people saw as reckless foreign policy, suddenly is rising. why? people reflect differently. he scores well on moral authority, sort of the decency factor. this past year bill clinton and richard nixon fell some spots. you have to say why? because watergate was in the news so frequently, because the -- was being talked about during the double impeachment of trump. nancy pelosi said during the impeachments, " we are going to take trump in history. we may not remove -- taint trump
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in history." this poll shows that dent. it successful, uniting of the nation,. host: plenty of colors already for our panel. -- callers already for our panel. if you want to follow along with these rankings, i encourage you to break out your laptop, go to your smart device and go to you can call in and ask about what you want to talk about. doug is up first out of wilmington, north carolina caller: happy fourth of july. it is an honor to do it -- talk
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with such a distinguished panel of guests. you talk about donald trump -- i think he is the worst ever! i think it started when he was in helsinki saying he believed put in our own fbi -- putin over our own fbi. the last year alone i think would make him last on the list. he was caught lying to bob woodward when he was saying " this thing was worse than i made it out to be, i just didn't want to panic anybody." are you serious? also the thing with the insurgents. people try to say that was a bunch of tourists? get your head out of you know where! that was an attack on our democracy there.
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here he is in mar-a-lago, saying, " i'm thinking of running in 2024 again." host: edna greene medford, your response? guest: what we need to remember is that surveys are completed by human beings. we may be historians and people who are following presidential leadership, the changes at least -- we still have to remember this is very subjective, and people tend to respond based on their own beliefs and their views. that is why it is important to have a diverse pool of participants. he may have been lower if we had
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a different group of people. you may have been higher if we had someone else. we are pleased that this year's pool is so diverse. we are close to where a lot of folks are at this point in terms of the ranking, but it can change by the next survey. trump could actually advance or decline. a lot depends on what happens in the next few months and years. there is so much going on at the moment. we have to wait for a while, and see what his legacy is going to be and how he does hold up. host: on this idea of presidents moving in subsequent surveys, here is a look at recent presidents and our last four surveys. president obama, his debut
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ranking 12th, his 2021 ranking up to 10. george w. bush debuted at 36. in this latest survey, up to 29. president trump debuting at 41 st. steve, republican. guest: -- caller: i have a question for y'all -- how many showed up in florida last night to see the real president of america? anybody know the numbers? a lot of people showed up. host: where would you put president trump in a ranking of presidents? caller: to me he is the best
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president of my lifetime by far. he got 75 million real votes in real life that actually happened, so i wish the media, you for part -- four media personalities would stop hitting me, my country -- hating me, my country, and my president. guest: i have been called many things but not a media personality. we will get that out of the way first of all. what this call illustrates is that we could spend all morning and the rest of the day and probably until the next fourth of julyre-debating -- july re-debating the issues of the
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last 4 years. i have suggested a 20 year rule, where we probably should not try to assess presidential performance going back 20 years. if you stop to think -- go back to the beginning of the survey. every president since then unintentionally, but nevertheless because of the media climate, they have all been polarizing figures. they have been, in spite of their best efforts, divisive figures. nixon said it would take 50 years before anyone could write about him objectively. i don't think we need to wait 50 years, but i think there is something special about the presidents not only recent in time but also occupy as donald trump does a continuing element
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of polarization on both sides. i think that schemers that natural process. right, as -- right amen at -- dwight eisenhower came in low chester aa -- below chester a. arthur. his papers came out and people found out he was more of an underhanded leader. that process generally tends to apply to presidents. they tend to be at the napier of their reputations when they leave office. it will be fascinating to see if donald trump who is unlike any
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other presidents turns out to be unlike other presidents in that respect as well. host: joe biden is the 46th president of the united states. why is it only 1 through 44? guest: one man served as president twice. grover cleveland is one president. he is consider the 22nd and the 24th president. he is the only president in american history to serve nonconsecutive terms. host: you have karen out of tampa, florida. good morning. caller: my question is, for my statement i guess, is i think crisis management is the most important factor in the ranking of the president. i believeth -- believe if jfk
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was not president during the cuban missile crisis, we would have ended up in a nuclear war with russia. i wonder if there is a weight ing to the other factors in the ranking? are some more important than others? also if you agree with me on kennedy -- the chiefs of staff wanted to go to work! did he actually save the world? host: jfk coming in at seventh in crisis management, eight overall in the rankings. amity shlaes, to karen's question? guest: we all know about kennedy
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and that war, but there are different crises. if you only code crises of foreign policy, you also went to look at domestic crises like covid. there are two philosophies -- not all crises demand activity. some demand restraint. here i will talk about coolidge -- coolidge was a president who held back in a crisis. there was terrible flooding in the south, a terrible flood in his home state of vermont and he held back because he believed the state could handle the crisis. americans both want presidents to jump in during domestic crises and they don't.
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our heart is divided because our history is divided. we have a system of federalism. when people voted on crisis management, it depended on their philosophy. do you always jump in during a crisis? do you always jump in and a certain way or do you hold back -- in a certain way for do you hold back? that is that they question. what is the definition -- that is the big question. host: that was a good transition into calvin coolidge. amity shlaes is on the board of trustees at that calvin coolidge presidential foundation. what should people know about calvin coolidge who do not know much about calvin coolidge? guest: i am broadcasting right from vermont! we have events going on right now at plymouth notch, president
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coolidge's humble village. today is coolidge's birthday!@ he is the only president born on the fourth of july. last night we had a coolidge reenactor, and a coolidge birthday cake. i hope now that the country is opening up they come to the state historic site. coolidge was a specific federalist so he let the state be his government. i hope you come another year to celebrate his birthday with us on the fourth! host: born on the fourth of july! doug brinkley, do went to take the trivia of which president died on the fourth of july? guest: john adams and thomas jefferson. they were adversaries throughout life. they were great founders of our nation.
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we should be celebrating thomas jefferson today for the declaration of independence. ironically thomas jefferson on his tombstone did not want to be known as the president of the united states. he was more proud of author of the declaration and being a founder of the university of virginia and other aspects of his career. jefferson i think should be higher than he has been coming out recently because of the one big thing he did -- the louisiana purchase when he doubled the size of america in one swoop of diplomacy. it is such a game changer what jefferson did. one thing i want viewers to understand is jefferson does not get credit in the polls for doing the declaration of independence because that was before he became president. on the fourth, john adams and
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jefferson, one of their i call it low simmering intellectual feuds was where did the american revolution start? adams believed it began with the boston tea party and boston massacre, that it began. in massachusetts -- it began in massachusetts. jefferson clung to the idea that it was patrick henry that began it in virginia. their letters together should be mandatory reading. i consider them foundational texts. i would look to see -- at the jefferson-adams letters as a volume that tells us in a democracy you can hammer at each other, in these ugly, difficult
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elections and distill become friends and promote american -- still become friends and promote american democracy. we have seen bill clinton become friends with george walker bush. this magnificent biography of the ford and jimmy carter became incredibly close even though they ran against each other in 1976. this fourth of july we have to celebrate calvin coolidge. i wish i was up there at plymouth notch in vermont. it is important to think that founders for having the ideas of this democracy we love and cherish so much. host: thomas jefferson ranked number seven on this year's
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survey and in every survey. stability at the top of this, abraham lincoln coming in first in every poll we have done. the bottom three, pierce,, johnson, and buchanan. those are always the bottom three. richard norton smith, take larry out of illinois, independent. caller: good morning,, everyone. i wonder -- you were talking earlier about the rankings and how they change. i would like some opinion on whether or not these historians think it is possible that our media is actually part of why we see this fluctuation over time
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in the pulling -- polling? for instance, with the information they are putting out at the current time can affect how people are thinking and even historians who later on when the facts are more available, we get a totally different outlook. host: thank you for the question. guest: that is an excellent question. when i was the ripe old age of 10, there was a book published called " when the cheering stopped." it was a book about the last years of woodrow wilson and his years after his crippling stroke . it was a very sympathetic account. it has been a while since i read
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it, but i do not think there was any reference to the issue of race. and wilson's segregationist abuse -- wilson, very much a southerner of the post-civil war generation. we looked at wilson and the media reflected -- hollywood made a movie in 1944 called " wilson." i can guarantee there was'nothing in there about wilsons racial -- nothing -- was nothing in there about wilson's racial feelings. for the last 100 years american presidents, most of them have been wilsoninas in -- wilsonians in their global policy, believing america to be
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a champion of global democracy. the discrepancy between the democratic vision he pursued on a global scale and the commitment to jim crowism that characterized his presidency. it is certainly true that the media in the broadest sense of the word, they do in many ways provide the context as they affect the priorities that we as historians tend to hold most significant at any given moment in time. host: doug brinkley mentioned your work on that biography of gerald ford. gerald ford came in at 28. when will we be able to get our hands on what you are working on? [laughter] guest: i just wrote page 883
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yesterday! i have 100 pages to go. next june is the anniversary of the original watergate break-in , from which all of our history since stems. that seems to be a good pub, date for a big, new, revisionist biography of gerald ford. host: russell out of south carolina, democrat, good morning. russell, are you with us? charlie, a republican in new york, go ahead. caller: does your survey have barack obama ranked above ronald reagan? guest: no.
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ronald reagan comes in just before obama. your statement is what? caller: my statement is let's look at president trump's accomplishments. his cutting of taxes and regulation had the economy booming, the lowest unemployment rates for black send hispanics in our history -- blacks and hispanics in our history. more women were participating in the workforce than ever before. his as the -- he recognized jerusalem as the capital of israel, he moved the indus -- embassy there, and you have him ranked at 41st?
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that is absurd. guest: these are subjective rankings depending upon the individual philosophy, political and otherwise. it could be very different depending on who is actually voting, and who is actually ranking in this instance. it was a very diverse group, so there would have been both democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives, men and women, racially diverse as well. it is what it is. i will take an opportunity to go back to a question about the media. the media always plays a role in what we are thinking of the people who are our leaders, but we are in a moment -- there is
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an important social movement for social justice. those in the middle who have been gaining over the years, it is occurring because they are getting higher scores, and not the pursuit of justice for all americans. this year's survey shows that especially. whether someone comes in first or 41st or 44th, it has more to do with how they did on the economy, how they did with international relations, but it is also about administrative abilitie whethers they were looking at the country from the perspective of, all of its citizens. host: what are the 10 categories we ask historians to rank our
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presidents on? great, coolidge -- several fell in that category. nixon, munro, jefferson. talk about the president who fell the farthest in that category, woodrow wilson from 20th in that category to 37th in this survey. guest: wilson is the president who made the statement, supposedly, that the birth of nations are very racist depiction -- he was someone who had very negative attitudes about people of color, minorities in general.
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his administration was occurring at a time when there is annan -- an assault on immigrants, especially immigrants from south eastern europe. there is a lot to hold him accountable for. presidents our leaders of the nation politically and socially as well. people pay attention to what their attitudes are and i think we are at a point in history when we understand how race has played a role in this country. when you have presidents who are divisive in that way, they will get lower ratings in that category. host: in the category of pursuing justice for all, coolidge is up. guest: that is interesting.
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he made native americans citizens for example when he signed that into law, the snyder act. he said, " if all men are, that is final -- " if all men are equal, that is final." he signed a restrictive immigration act. it depends how you count equal justice, whether you include new immigrants. coolidge believed we should take care of who is in america first, but he was not a big it. he thought america had -- not a
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bigot. i wanted to make a point about the media. the media are people just like historians are and they are affected by education. the shift in secondary education affects people. the national association of colleges recently published a survey, which i would be -- in which i was honored to participate, of textbooks of american history. when i pounded through them with my research colleague, what we found were the textbooks were rather skewed left. there was a sense of trashing often in the history, which was disappointing. historians are not politicians. there analysts.
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the books -- they are analysts. a second factor, regarding secondary school textbooks is that they are hard to learn from because they slam the student with facts and they favor to multi-media. go online and do this exercise in a portal. you got the feeling that kids memorize facts and got a general left-wing message but did not get a coherent history or even a coherent picture of an individual president performance. if you have your upon year upon year of disappointing secondary school textbooks, you are going to see the results all over the culture.
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host: i come to the rice university professor -- your reaction to that? guest: i agree completely with what she just said. what is changing now is there is an opening up of the narrative that started in schools. for example, when obama was president, we saved monuments. we honored soldiers of black americans who served in the army. we did cesar chavez, and for native americans in utah. that narrative is opening up and we are starting to look now. we are not just a patriarchal, white, male dominated society.
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the number of women and minorities taking part in this survey have a new kind of lens, a new sensitivity. one reason calvin coolidge has risen some is he does not get good numbers overall. race matters right now. one of the reason grant has gone up some is people are looking at his more enlightened you on race band say woodrow wilson -- than say woodrow wilson. wilson tried to disenfranchise or give lower paid to african-americans that worked in the federal government, so he seemed to be bending that arc of justice in the wrong direction. it all works out in the end, but race matters. you see obama coming in at 10.
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he gets the perfect score of dealing with the issues of civil rights, but you are looking at somebody like obama who served two terms, was largely scandal free, got america out of the great recession, was able to kill osama bin laden, bailout general motors, and he is the first nonwhite male president we have had. he is a president of great significance. i think should he be number 10 or lower, he will always be seen as a significant president. i stress the two terms -- we have had good one term president's. george h. w. bush was only one term but he oversaw the goal for, the successful deliberation
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-- oversaw the successful double ration over kuwait -- he oversaw the successful deliberation over kuwait, the gulf war. he got attacked by pat buchanan from the right and a third party . bush did not become a two termer, so he does not rise as much. the first polling moment is did he get reelected or not? if the american people thought you did a good job, you get reelected. polk is a one term president, and he is ranked very high. you have great advantage if you can put together two terms the way eisenhower or reagan did. in the case of kennedy, he was
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an eclipsed president. some of our categories work in kennedy's favor when you are talking about media relations. he was phenomenal! he invented the modern press conference. when you look at things like public persuasion, stunning. he could have 70% approval ratings, support for nasa's moonshot. we talk about crisis management -- not just cuba but berlin's crisis. he created the seals, he created the green berets, he did the nuclear testing tragedy -- treaty. we were blowing up atomic bombs in arizona and people were getting sick downwind. you start seeing really cheaps. what is real 1 -- seeing real achievements.
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james garfield was assassinated, but he didn't get a chance to track as president, so you see him in a low slot, but it is not quite fair. you never had a chance to-- an opportunity to put together a normal term. host: frank in louisville, texas, independent. caller: can you hear me ok? host: go ahead. caller: i think trump should have been a lot higher than number 41, ok. this is for the panel -- i want to know how political this survey was. anybody on the panel, what the percentage of left-wing democratic historian voters was
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compared to the percentage of right-wing republican historian voters? host: did we ask party affiliation when we selected the 142 historians for this? guest: we made a deliberate effort to diversify. implicit in what the caller is saying is historically, just as amity talked about left-leaning textbooks, historians and political scientists have tended to lean in the same way. this did not begin in this survey. if you look at the steady growth in the size and diversity and the representativeness, there
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has been a significant effort and i would argue a successful effort to incorporate more conservative voices but the terminology the caller uses, and i respect his viewpoint, it goes back to what i said earlier. he talked about either left-wing historians or right-wing historians. that reflects a red and blue dividing line in our politics and presumably -- it is presumed -- in our academics. it makes the case for just how provisional rankings are. when you look at a president who is still very much so when the
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headlines -- one thing that separates president trump from most of his predecessors, one reason president's rise in these rankings over time is because they cease to be active political partisans. they become elder statesman, if you will. doug mentioned the friendship that developed between bush and clinton. you could not imagine that happening while they were in office or while they were contending as political adversaries, but they become involved in charitable work and in effect today graduate from the role of day-to-day polarizing partisan figure two this -- to this role of elder statesman. president trump sees himself as a contender in 2024.
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he has no intention of retiring to build a presidential library like most of his predecessors, and therefore, he remains a polarizing figure as the calls this morning suggest./ that may or may not influence how the next pole of historians -- poll of historians rank him. host: that information is available on our website, you can do a deep dive into our methodology. the slides we have been showing you breaking down the scores, all available at
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host: -- we are joined this morning by our panel of advisors. it's douglas brinkley, richard norton smith, amity shlaes, professor edna greene medford for another hour. our first caller comes from the land of lincoln. lincoln placed first in all surveys. good morning. caller: good morning. i would like to say i'm a republican. my family has been republican.
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the current state of the party of lincoln seems to be rough around the edges to say the least. something i thought about while listening to your show this morning, the insurrection that occurred january 6. i find what happened affected white american voters. i started to think about this. with all the african of this with all that african-americans have been through -- with all that african-americans have been through, sleight-of-hand from
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the tuskegee to dust tuskegee experiment -- tuskegee experiment and not one damp time did we march up the steps to that capital with -- not one damn time did we march up the steps to that capital. not once did it ever occur to the african-american in this country to walk up those steps and desecrate the capital. that says a lot. that goes unspoken. there's a gentleman with a book out about president jackson and he said well we can't judge. well i can because the bible
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hasn't changed. right is right and right -- and wrong is wrong. host: that's judah and illinois. we will go to edna greene medford for the answer. guest: although there has been oppression throughout the decades and centuries, africans and the dutch african america -- african-americans believed in the promise of the independence. most of us were considered property at that time. we still believe in the promise. we believe that america can do better and will do better because we understand that although people are concerned about the loss of power, they
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still know the difference between right and wrong. they understand that in america, everyone should be entitled to rise. the need to stay in control sometimes is the overarching factor, the thing that motivates people. we are at a very dangerous point in the country. we have to decide whether an hour going to move forward and ensure those promises of the declaration, or if we are going to move backwards. it's upon us. this generation. host: you are heading -- you are nodding your head. >> we very much agree on that. one of my favorite categories in our poll is the last one which is, it's in the context of
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host: performance within the context of times. >> -- caller: we also have to judge people within the context of their time. what they set out to do and said they would do and what were other people around the president doing at that time? what's valuable is the stability of this poll is that it shows americans respect that. people usually judge a man or woman by their own terms. i think that's also what edna is saying. we care more as americans more about civil rights and we judge differently.
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there's still a respect for the efforts. that's very important. host: professor medford, back to you. do you agree? edna greene medford caller: i get that all the time. not everyone was doing that during that. -- during that time. i can look at george washington and say he did a wonderful thing in not trying to secure power onto himself and the presidency. he could have done that or at least he could have tried. i can certainly appreciate all that he meant to the country and all that he gave to the country, but i can still be concerned that this man held over 300
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human beings in slavery while he was president and i can do the same with thomas jefferson. thomas jefferson is writing the declaration of independence. he is talking about the equality of all men, but he is holding people enslaved. it's the hypocrisy. did they really mean what they were saying? i don't think it's possible to separate the man or the woman from their personal actions and what they are doing for the country. host: the declaration of independence signed on this day in 1776. the words written by thomas jefferson.
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among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. doug brinkley? caller: guest: it was like the press release. think about how the original one had two names on it. john hancock and draws thompson. -- charles thompson. a whole new country is being created, the united states. the british laughed at it and said we want to arrest hancock and thompson for treason and hang them. the 13 colonies pulled together and the american revolution gave us our first president.
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the one thing everybody agreed on is george washington did such an amazing job winning the war that the combination of the battle at yorktown, he became the unanimous choice. it was secretary of the continental congress who want to virginia and told washington you are it. you are going to be the first president. washington was reluctant. he wanted to stay and work the land. he got on the horse and did the famous ride from virginia to new york city. if you go there today, i urge everybody that goes to new york city to visit federal hall. it is the birthplace of the bill of rights. washington did one of the
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greatest things as president. spirit of the declaration, spirit of democracy. he was uniting the country and after two terms he said no i'm going to step back. if i stay on it will be more like a monarchy. his quitting of the presidency is one of the great presidential actions in u.s. history and that's why washington, we could spend hours on. he always hangs in there and the number two spot. lincoln, washington and fdr. just so remarkable. when we think about crisis and what fdr did in world war ii and patton and macarthur and the team he assembled. i think it's the high watermark.
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fdr could be number one. some people think he could be above lincoln. when you're dealing with the top presidents, we have a lot to be thankful for. i just came back from north dakota and they are building a theater or at roosevelt presidential library there -- theodore roosevelt presidential library there. all of those people are going camping and exploring wild america over the fourth of july weekend. roosevelt injected conservation as the main premise of his presidency which was from 1901
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to 1909. donald trump was impeached twice, he lost by 2 million votes, he was a disruptor not a new -- not a uniter. his -- it is much more interesting to talk about fdr, ronald reagan reducing nuclear weapons in the world is a way that he was able to do. calvin coolidge that had greatness. when reagan left office, people thought he was a polarizing president that he was a conservative. you've seen in a poll like this one that the scholars recognize that he left america in a better place. so i think there is a lot of fairness in the poll. i don't think this is all right
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left vote thing. i think these scholars have all gone to universities. they went and have studied and written books and they are giving us their honest opinion on these surveys. host: you bring up reagan. it's steve on twitter. we haven't been able to get to many of them this morning, steve wrightson on twitter "-- steve writes on twitter "he had the treaty into terms as a singular achievement. top 15 may be, but not top 10." richard norton smith? guest: it's been 40 years since
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ronald reagan took the oath of office and even people who disagree vehemently with him accord him the status of a consequential president. franklin roosevelt changed the political weather. people fundamentally recognized that there was a fundamental change underway in the relationship between the average american and their government brought about first by the great depression. in much the same way, franklin roosevelt's consensus about the role of government prevailed. ronald reagan's great claim to
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his standing in the top 10 is that he thought about in his own time as a change in the political senses. we were no longer talking as fdr did about centralizing power in washington, personalizing power in the presidency, a proactive approach to the nations problems . ronald reagan was talking about government being the problem itself as often as the solution. the interesting thing is we are at a crossroads. 40 years later, the reagan consensus. bill clinton was an activist by temperament, but he recognized
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that he was operating within the limits set by the reagan era consensus. the assumption was when barack obama came the president, that was the end of the era of reagan. i would argue right now we are at a crossroads. there is a real debate going on. there are clearly different views held by the millennial generation. american history is cyclical. it may be after 40 years reflective distrust of government and its capacity to address problems. the problems -- not surprisingly overtime, public attitudes may evolve along with those problems. host: about 45 minutes left in
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this segment. we have been spending the last few hours of our program talking about the historian survey. letting you call in to ask about those results. out of chico, california is wanda. caller: you guys are long-winded. yesterday, there was supposed to be a rally on youtube. it was supposed to cover the trump rally, but they backed out for political reasons. the rally was shown on tumb --rumble. they had over 400,000 viewers. host: did you have a question about this survey? caller: my comment is about the
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survey. i'm saying that i don't think any of these heroes that you like to put at the top. and i really don't care what a bunch of host: alright that's rhonda in california. next color. caller: thank you so much -- -- host: next caller. caller: presidents that have worked to make great strides for a perfect union. that's who seems to be at the top of your survey. i really hate to get back to this, but this is the times we are living in. unfortunately, i'm wondering.
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it seems like everything is coming back to donald trump because he is the 10,000 pounds elephant in the room. i don't see how he even made it to number 41 on your list with an insurrection. he is friends with the worst leaders in our world. he should be dead last on your list and if you make a list of worse presidents, he should be right at the top. he grabs women without their permission. he has no morals, no standards, no ethics, no values. he should be at the bottom of the list that puts good precedents at number one. he was garbage as a president. host: moral authority is one of those categories we asked who
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participated to rank presidents on. let me give you the top 10 in moral authority. it's abraham lincoln and george washington followed by franklin roosevelt, barack obama, jimmy connor -- jimmy carter. the top performers in moral authority. caller: george w. bush used to always say i have finite political capital and i need to be able to spend at all. scandal takes away political capital or moral authority and we have seen that in a few presidents where they got distracted or created distractions and they were not able to get legislation through. think about president clinton who would've gotten health-care legislation through if he had
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not had the scandals. some of that was his fault. americans recognize the discipline it takes to be president. what you have to put away, put down, forgo to be able to max out on your commitment that you've made in your party platform. it's very interesting to see the thinking on that. when you go back, what's surprising is that moral authority is trumped by other concerns. even though he squandered his political capital. most of the time, people respect moral authority. not because they are prissy but because they want historians to
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be able to execute on what they said they would execute on. that's part of being an effective president. host: this is todd in evansville. good morning. caller: good morning. the last time i called and was presidents day a couple years back and doug brinkley was talking about the last survey. there's a discussion at that time and after 25 years, presidential papers are more accessible. i'm thinking mr. brinkley said this morning that he's tired of talking about donald trump. at that time, a lot of the discussion was about obama. a lot of the survey seems to be a discussion of trump politics rather than the historical
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context for presidents. if there is a delay in evaluating current presidents, i wonder if you would have a more valuable discussion. look at the movements of bush 43 to that point. i wonder if i could get some reaction to that. host: doug brinkley? caller: guest: that's a very fair point. do you include all presidents? or do you put it 20 or 25 year rule on it much more we had to make a decision -- rule on it. we had to make a decision. i've been working hard to talk about jefferson and lincoln and some of the others because i find what fun about this is some
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of the president we don't talk about or think about. jimmy carter was mentioned for moral authority. he is not ranked very high. or john quincy adams. both of them had extraordinary x presidencies. carter winning the nobel prize. john quincy adams, an abolitionist. i think it was something like 16 years in congress. huge figures as human beings, but their performance isn't as high as some of the other presidents. the 25 year rule is a good one. i wish it could be 10 years. it's hard to get into papers
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these days. you have to wait in order to be able to resurrect those. sometimes it's fun to watch. why does one president start moving upwards? grant, suddenly everybody started reassessing grant. a new biography on coolidge or gerald ford or jimmy carter can work its way into. it's also books matter. a biography of harry truman and he started moving into one of the top-ranked presidents. his very right for someone to do a book on james madison.
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he's been underestimated as a president. you might start seeing madison rise. do you wait 20 years? it was a decision we made and we did not want to start excluding presidents so we decided to include them all. host: books matter. i think our friends might have their new promotion clip from doug brinkley. edna greene medford joining us. i want to talk to you about that building that's over my shoulder . one of those categories that we ask historians to rate the president on is their relations with congress. one of the slides we have is how recent presidents have moved a bit in that category on
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relations with congress. george w. bush moving from 36 to 21 on this recent survey. somebody like richard nixon down. what do you find interesting? guest: it's a difficult category because we are kind of making the president responsible for how congress responds to what their particular president is attempting to accomplish. in the case of obama, because he had so much trouble with the republican party especially, he was held accountable for that. we have no way of saying that it is the responsibility of congress to try to work with the president whenever possible.
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what we are seeing in terms of those who are making gains, and understanding that a president may have done the best that he could to try to compromise, to try to work with congress and congress was just very resistant. i'm hoping that as, and i'm assuming that it's happening, as the participants in the survey are looking through these categories they are understanding that presidents may be doing the best they can, especially in that particular category. they will never be able to get a very high score if you have a congress or part of congress that has determined that no matter what the president is attempting to put forth for the american people that they are simply not going to participate in that. such political tribalism and it
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has been for a long time. you are going to see those kinds of issues developing. host: is there an inherent handicap in the survey if they had a divided government? guest: i think that's absolutely true. we can't assume because the president belong to the same party as who is in control of the senate and house of representatives that things are going to work out for that president either. generally, it has been more advantageous to have the same party as -- same party in congress. you have a party that is decided no matter what is being put forward, we are not going to dissipate. we are not going to give this
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person a victory. we are not going to ensure the legacy of this person. then what is a president to do? richard norton smith, an interesting question -- then what is a president to do. host: richard norton smith, an interesting question. guest: herbert hoover is in a unique category. they were non-politicians. never ran for anything before he occupied the ultimate political office. taft was someone who said i hate politics and who was obviously much happier on the judicial bench. there is a question that is not measured in our survey and that is the put that's the political
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temperament -- and that is political temperament. he had demonstrated remarkable skills bringing people and outside egos together to win world war ii. it turned out almost perfect preparation. he was dealing with sam rayburn and lyndon johnson. those three men decided to work together. it's one of the reasons why people are nostalgic for the 1950's. you had divided government but effective government. gerald ford issued 66 vetoes.
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he made them stand despite the numbers in congress. was he a success because of that? or what he's -- or was he a failure because he had to resort to a veto strategy? host: exactly why this survey is so interesting. about a half hour left with our discussion. you've got bill from florida. caller: good morning. can you hear me ok? thank you very much for taking my call. what a wonderful conversation we are having with such learned people. the reason i'm calling is i
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wanted to ask about president grant. i just completed reading a couple of biographies and of also been reading biographies of lincoln and fdr. i feel that grant was overlooked for his great accomplishments, especially their performance during the civil war. i was wondering if i could get some comments from you about his presidency and the fact that he was hailed as a great man during his lifetime. thank you very much for taking my call. host: i would note that grant is up 13 places from 33 to 20. >> guest: there's definitely a concern about civil-rights,
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citizens rights and the culture and that would be the biggest factor in the rise. we forgive other things because he was a strong general, genius and because of civil rights after the civil war. that's the short answer. host: doug brinkley, do you want to expand? guest: grant, the name is golden. anyone in new york city knows about him. one of the great documents in history. grant wrote great battlefield reports. i grew up in ohio so i'm always proud to claim grant coming from my home state. they have opened a ulysses s grant presidential library in
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mississippi. i think the library is one of the reasons for grants rise because they are not only getting visitors, but they are starting to digital ties -- digitalize his writings. people don't realize that in many ways, african-americans were being elected to office in the south during this. -- during this period. people would visit him that were confederates to meet the great man as well as people that were so proud to have served under grant in the union army. it's just a matter of time that he would get this resurrection.
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cronyism and corruption in the administration has hurt him up to the previous books that the caller has read. i just read a book will be coming out on grant and i have a feeling that grant is going to be talked about more. that's the life of these presidents. stocks go up, they go down. bill clinton, two-term president. one could argue that bill clinton was the most effective president of our time. we had a balanced budget and a surplus. we had the nato expansion. democracy was on a roll. but nobody has done a big book
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on bill clinton because hillary clinton got into the mix and she did not win and now the #metoo movement hertz clinton --hurts clinton. he's really, after hillary clinton lost retired from that. host: i appreciate you getting through the grant commentary. edna green medford, 8 -- caller: good morning. thank you for taking my call. this is a great survey is always . the panel is exceptional. my question is in regard to the
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categories, which categories, if there's any particular one that you find more important for looking at presidents. i want to say today is fourth of july. i have two kids that share birthdays with presidents. calvin coolidge and john quincy adams and we always tell them they have presidential birthday buddies and that's how we are learning, teaching the kids about the presidents and stuff. host: sounds like you are teaching the children right. public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic leadership, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with congress, vision setting, equal justice
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for all and performance within the context of the times. is there one that is more important to you than the others? guest: i would have to say there are two. moral authority and pursuit of equal justice for all. if i had to choose one of those, it would be the pursuit of equal justice for all because as americans we are a very diverse nation. we have to be more inclusive that we have been. our political leaders have to understand that and have to move forward to try to make that happen. especially on this day. he gives us the opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we need to go. i think we've done a lot. we've accomplished quite a bit. we are not there yet.
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we have talked about lincoln's unfinished work. we are definitely trying to finish that work. lincoln was so much enamored with the declaration of independence because what it suggested was that all men and women, we are including more people now, that all americans have the right to do the very best they can to have opportunities to improve their lives. if a political leader is not doing that, if a political leader is divisive or only looking at one segment of the american population then he and hopefully she's someday, we can suggest that person is doing their job. the most important thing that a political leader can do is to ensure inclusiveness. host: i want to quickly get an
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answer to sean's question and the rest of the panel? richard norton smith? guest: i would agree with edna about the importance of pursuing equal justice. when we were creating all of this and trying to decide among ourselves which would be the appropriate cut -- appropriate criteria. that was added. it was taken into consideration by the traditional polls before 2000. the last category, performance within the context of their times, that matters. the presidency in the 19th century is a very different office than the 20th century. the age of radio, different from
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the presidency in the age of television. herbert hoover is stigmatized and personally linked to the great depression that began during his presidency. expectations of presidents change and definitions of presidential performance must also evolve. host: you bring up the idea of presidency in the age of twitter. amity shlaes, is there one category more important? guest: i don't think it's more important, but i think it will go unmentioned so i will mention it which is economic management. presidents look good when the times are good. do they make the times good? do they inherit the times? that is always question.
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i'm always glad to see that category in there. expansion and discussion, franklin roosevelt not bring unemployment below 10%. so was he a good economic manager or not? he was an inspiring economic manager and a good war leader. you could raise the question about his economic management. the gap between the inspiration and the reality. was it so bad that roosevelt did pretty well? or was it so bad because that administration contributed to the great depression? that question needs discussion without politics.
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am very glad that we are looking at history. there's a joke about history that we don't skate to where the puck is going to be. we skate to where the puck was in the past. this endeavor can enrich our political conversation if we allow it. history is on the defensive now. what's glorious about this poll is it looks at history. we did not cancel any presidents. we consider them thoughtfully. host: doug brinkley on the category that's more important than the others. guest: crisis leadership.
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abraham lincoln is utterly remarkable. the way that he pulled our country together when we were divided after fort sumner. imagine being president of the united states. lincoln wasn't even on the ballot in southern states. now he is in washington. the battle of bull run is where dulles airport is today. it was the utter unraveling of america and in the end, 600 thousand americans died. hundreds of thousands wounded. it was our crucible. lincoln pulled our country together and gave us a foundational text. the gettysburg address and the emancipation proclamation.
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crisis management, lincoln number one. as number two, franklin d roosevelt. the genius that he was of creating industrial mobilization , recognizing that world war ii was not going to be one --won in europe but it was going to take place in detroit, newark, san diego and seattle. that homefront organizing to win the war to pull the country together, so i put lincoln and fdr in that particular category of crisis management very high and important. host: good discussion this morning.
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mike and the buckeye state. you are next. caller: good morning. happy independence day to my fellow americans. what a great panel. what a great channel. i would like to quickly dispute very respectfully mr. brinkley. i think the end of world war ii, his failing health. fdr gave eastern europe away to stall. --a way to stall. i recently finished reading forgotten man. according to your book, he was going after chicken butchers in new york city. he spent years going after
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andrew mellon. i wondered personally what -- where you believe fdr should be on the list. i would also like to thank mr. norton spirit -- norton smith. let me thank the panel and i will take the answer off the air. thank you so much and happy independence day to all of you. host: amity shlaes on the forgotten man. guest: franklin roosevelt. host: republicans 202-748-8001.
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democrats, 202-748-8000. independence, 202-748-8002. -- independents, 202-748-8002. guest: vr all mid-19th century presidents. -- these are all mid-19th century president. pierce stands by as the country is unraveling. he could have done something. he did not. he was the person that was there in the middle of this debate over the expansion of slavery.
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pierce doesn't really attempt to challenge. you've got buchanan who is sitting by as the country gets closer to war. he doesn't do anything to stop it. you have lincoln coming in. he can either allow the confederacy to go its merry way or he could try to keep the country together and he decides to go for broke. he decides that it's important enough for the nation to be performed -- to be preserved to go to war. over 700,000 people died as a consequence, but he also opens the door to ending say it -- ending slavery. that is revolutionary. he is succeeded by andrew
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johnson who is not in any way fit to be president at that time. it makes perfect sense that lincoln is elevated the number one because the country could not have survived without his leadership. with help from the military and the american people, but it was lincoln's leadership that made the difference. host: not to beat up too much on johnson, but why expand on that? why unfit? guest: andrew johnson was a southerner from tennessee, a democrat, but someone who remained loyal to the union. he did not have the administrative ability that lincoln did. he did not have the vision that lincoln did. he did not have the moral authority. it certainly was not any consideration, a percent of
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people justice for all people. -- a pursuit of justice for all people. he simply could not deliver. host: do you ever engage in what if lincoln had survived? guest: of course. were not supposed to, but we do. i'm probably a little bit different in terms of, historians believe that if lincoln had survived there would not have been the kind of tragedies and reconstruction that occurred. i beg to differ. i think lincoln was so tired that he might have been willing to compromise with the south in a way that may not have extended rights to african-americans that
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were extended because johnson was so incompetent and congress was able to have their way. i suspect that the 14th amendment would not have been ratified as early. i don't think the 15th amendment would have been ratified as early. i think lincoln would have tried to find a way to compromise with the south because he had already indicated before his assassination that there should be a more conciliatory toward these people who had removed themselves from the government. host: charity towards all was compromised? guest: it would have included former confederates. he would not have, he was not pushing them to the side. he would've wanted them to be a part of the government.
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he would have wanted african-americans to be a part of the government as well. he was the lead -- he was the leader of the republican party. what better leader to give republicans power in the south? i think it would have taken longer. host: i feel like we could do what if history all day. gail, new jersey. you are next. caller: good morning. thank you c-span for allowing me to speak. my favorite all-time president was president john f. kennedy. in my book, he did the most to help people of color. i wish we could do something as far as to see where this world would have been if john f. kennedy would have been allowed to live. where would black people, where
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would -- what would our existence be like? president trump was the president of the confederacy. i think his main objective was to bring the confederacy back into power. thank goodness people are waking up and realizing that it is better for our nation as a whole for blacks to be treated equally and receive the same rights and privileges that we've earned and deserved in this country. host: gail in new jersey talking about where jfk ranks in her book. doug brinkley? guest: john f. kennedy ranks very high among the public. he is a loved person, loved
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thinker. this assassination in dallas, so much was lost. the truth that this poll shows is that we've had a golden age of presidents. fdr, truman, eisenhower and kennedy. it seemed things went bad after kennedy's death. medicaid and medicare and created the department of transportation. ladybird with beautification. we could go on and on. the war of johnson's devastated america. when we think of kennedy, we realize the promise of america.
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one of the great bits of oratory of all times. as i mentioned before this banning of testing of nuclear weapons and stopping the underwater testing of nuclear weapons. kennedy has got so much to offer and being the first catholic president, i think there is a feeling that he shattered that glass ceiling. protestant american figures and suddenly, there's john f. kennedy. he lives large and on -- he lives large. some people upset in the press, why is kennedy so high. when you break it down, you see that he was very good and all of those.
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he is positioned about right. we can always quibble over who should be eight or nine or 10. the bottom line is kennedy is one of the greatest presidents for the ages. host: quibbling is our favorite part. time for one more call. a call from the land of lincoln. a call from massachusetts. go ahead with your question or comment. caller: i want to thank this incredible panel, each and everyone of you are extraordinary americans. it makes me proud to watch you on the fourth of july. i could say so many things. i could give a shout out to. i'm overwhelmed. i can't wait to read about gerald ford. that will be a thrill for me. i have great admiration for him. i would like to talk, and i
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agree that clinton deserves, despite his personal failures and being overshadowed by the hillary loss. i would like to say, i would like to focus on george w. bush. he was such a great administrator and moral person and ran a tight ship. i think he was very charismatic. he was a skilled logician and could, but the -- he was a skilled politician. host: let's take that because we have just about a minute left. i will let richard norton smith take that minute. guest: the caller raises a very important point. one reason i think the second president bush has risen in the
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rankings is applicable to this whole process. when we reassess presidents, one of the factors that we take into account is how did his for 40 years, every resident had to deal -- every president had to deal with the cold war. presidents and their attitude toward israel and the middle east. we have 70 to 80 years in which to compare. the fact that there is a lot of criticism to george w. bush for the original decision to go into iraq, we also looked at how his successors have had their own difficulties in dealing with the consequences of that decision. that is factored into our
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assessment of bush and you can factor that into president after president. host: i would like to thank our guest, richard norton, and professor edna announcer: washington journal. every day we take your calls live on the air on the news of the day and discuss policy issues that impact you. tuesday morning we look at the future of the workplace after the covid-19 pandemic ends with the ford foundation. plus the annual report on the wildfire season with holly fretwell, research fellow for the property and environment
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