tv Face the Nation CBS November 28, 2010 8:30am-9:00am PST
>> schieffer: today on "face the nation," is there anything new under the sun? that's the question on our annual thanksgiving weekend books and authors broadcast. washington is mired in gridlock. the arguments raised over taxes, the size of government and foreign wars. but have we heard it all before? today, we step back from the headlines and offer perspective from four widely acclaimed authors: edmund morris, whose "colonel roosevelt," the third of his books on theodore roosevelt, is just out. ron chernow, author of the massive new biography of george washington; bob woodward, who has yet another best seller with "obama's wars;" and arianna huffington, whose
provocative new book is "third world america." then, i'll have a final thought on thanksgiving and why it is my favorite holiday. but first, four authors talk about then and now on "face the nation." captioning sponsored by cbs "face the nation" with cbs news chief washington correspondent bob schieffer. and now from cbs news in washington, bob schieffer. >> schieffer: and good morning again. edmund morris, ron chernow and bob woodward are in the studio with us. arianna huffington joins us from los angeles. welcome to all of you. bob and arianna write about the present; ron and edmund write about the past. bob, you write these books so full of inside information that the rest of us in journalism stand back in awe. how do you do it? how do you get people to tell you all this stuff?
you talk about, in your new book how the president's afghanistan policy evolved. i want to talk to you first because, last week, after an interview in "the washington post" in which afghan president karzai was highly critical of the united states policy in afghanistan, secretary of state clinton came on this broadcast and said he is now totally on board. do you take her literally? >> well, for the moment it is... i point out karzai is a diagnosed manic depressive, somebody who has mood swings. sometimes it's controlled, sometimes it's not. if you just look at what he has said in public and on the record, you know, one moment he's totally embracing us, the next moment he's denouncing the united states. the problem for the united states is... and this is one of
the legacies of vietnam-- when you're in one of these wars, you have to go with the leader the country gives you. you can't try to manage that because too often that has backfired, so karzai is the elected president of afghanistan. so they have to deal with him. and this is one of the most unreliable, erratic allies we've ever had. >> schieffer: arianna huffington, in your new book "third world america," you're just as... you have dire things to say about where we are domestically as bob woodward has talked about what's going on in afghanistan. when you say the middle class in america is about to become extinct, do you mean that literally, or is that just a book title? >> no, i chose that title deliberately because, although it's very jarring, i wanted to sound the alarm because, as an immigrant to this country, as somebody who has lived the american dream, i see it dying all around me. when we have two-thirds of americans right now who expect their children to be worse off than they are, when we have america ranked number ten in upward mobility behind france
and the scandinavian countries and spain, when we have 25% of young people out of work and 27 million people unemployed or underemployed, we know there is something fundamentally wrong. and people are sensing that. that's why we have that sense of collective anxiety and fear about the future that, in many profound ways, is very unamerican, because we are such a deeply optimistic country at heart. >> schieffer: ron chernow, you wrote this massive book about george washington. it is just a fascinating book. >> thank you, bob. >> schieffer: you heard what arianna said. you heard what bob woodward just said. we're into some tough business here right now. and the country is looked in a gridlock. i have to say, in all the time i've been in washington, i've never seen it this bad. but i know there have been other periods. are we seeing something new here, or is this more normal than we'd like to admit? >> americans like to look back
on the founding era as the golden age. there are good reasons and bad reasons for doing that. indeed, the founding era had these men who were brilliant and erudite and fearless. we had in a country of three million people simultaneously active in american politics a benjamin franklin, a george washington, a thomas jefferson, a james madison, a john adams, and alexander hamilton and a john jay. we would all be hard pressed to think of a single individual of the stature of any of those seven people, even though the population today is 100 times greater. on the other hand, because we look at the pictures and the people who wore wigs and buckle shoes, people imagine it was a quaint and genteel time. it was ever bit as nasty and partisan as things are today. george washington, for instance, was accused of everything as president from plotting to restore the monarchy to having been a british double agent during the revolutionary war. >> schieffer: what would t.r. have thought about what's going
on today, because in his own way, edmund morris, was something of a revolutionary. i wouldn't say revolutionary is the word for him, but he left the republican party after it renominated taft which led, of course, to the election of woodrow wilson, a democrat. what would he think about all this today? is there any correlation that you see between what he thought about and his vision for the country and, say, the rise of the tea party movement? >> well, i'm not going to pluck him out of the past because you can't do that. he lived in his time and he represented his time. but i think one can see the present in the past. for example, this middle-class tea party movement-- i guess it's lower middle class, but it is sort of middle class-- echoes the progressive middle class movement which volcanically erupted in 1910, exactly 100 years ago. and reached its peak in 1912. the campaign where theodore roosevelt became the almost
third party candidate for the presidency. and humiliated the sitting republican president, william howard taft. and split the republican vote and elected woodrow wilson. but that movement was white, middle class, extremely fervent. and the passion that drew them together was rather similar to the passion that links the tea party people now. and that is this feeling of exclusion-- exclusion from the privileged interplay of a conservative congress, financial institutions, the corporate elite. the middle class feels disenfranchised, angry, overtaxed and perplexed. this anger is something quite formidable. i would not be surprised if it doesn't crudess over the next two years and give us real trouble in 2012. >> schieffer: arianna, do you see any benjamin franklins or george washingtons or people of
that caliber out there in this kind of unrest that we see going on in the country right now? >> no, but first of all let me completely agree with edmund. that anger that edmund described so eloquently is exactly what i see around the country. it's beyond left and right anger. no party can claim that it really is going to ultimately benefit them, because it's very unpredictable and potentially very dangerous for our political stability. also, i don't see any political giants out there. i see an incredible outpouring of compassion and creativity all around the country. it's using social media to do an enormous amount of good. what has been missing is the kind of magnifying glass that we in the media can put on all the creative stuff happening out in the country. and also on politicians, especially our president, using the bully pulpit to at least put the spotlight on what is working in the country. there was a very wonderful open letter to the president that ron wrote recently that i was
reading, in which ron asked the president to bring an element of surprise to what he is doing, to go beyond the dogmas of left and right. both domestically and internationally. >> schieffer: bob, do you think the same kind of people are being attracted to public service today as they were, say, during washington's time? >> i think so. i think the common thread here is with washington, roosevelt and obama-- there's such a concentration of power in the presidency, and there always has been in this country. who the president is is going to answer questions, whether we address the tea party movement, whether we address the anger that we're talking about. so what you scratch for as we try to write about presidents is, "who is barack obama? who is george washington? who is teddy roosevelt?"
and what i've done or tried to do is an 18-month snapshot on obama. it's a confusing picture. i thought of calling the book "the divided man," because you look at, particularly, the war in afghanistan. he knows he has to lead, he's the commander in chief. but at the same time, you see in the thousands of words i quote these secret meeting, he realizes intellectually it is a very hard war to win and come out on top. so there is that division and inconsistency in him which we haven't quite nailed, where in the past, you know, you would know. >> schieffer: what do you think about that, ron? do you think the same people are going into public service as did in that time? there were only three million people in the united states in those days. >> i think what happened during the founding era, you know, we had a war to fight. we had a constitution to write. we had a federal government to forge.
intellectual and creative people who are narrowly considered very marginal and subversive and disruptive forces in politics were suddenly drawn into the center of the political arena, because we had new doctrines and new institutions to create. so it's very, very hard to replicate that situation. what worries me today is that there's such a reflexive denigration of washington and of politicians. in the 18th century, politics was still an honorable profession. it's become a self fulfilliing prophecy-- the more you run down politicians, the more likely you are to get mediocre politicians. then, that further reinforces the disenchantment and we're stuck in that kind of vicious spiral. >> schieffer: what would teddy roosevelt think of today's politics, edmund? >> you keep asking these president questions, bob. as the immortal maria said in "my cousin vinny," that's a
( bleep ) question. because you cannot pluck people out of the past. and expect them to comment on what's happening today. i can only say that what he represented in his time was what we look for in our presidents now. what we hope for in our presidents now, and we're increasingly disappointed. he was somebody who understood foreign cultures. he represented the dignity of the united states. he was forceful, but at the same time, civilized. and what i really feel these days is we've become such an insular people. i'm particularly sensitive to this, as i suppose arianna is as an immigrant, because i represent... i come from another culture. i can call myself legitimately an african american. i'm aware of the fact that people elsewhere in the world think differently from us. i can sort of see "us"-- us americans-- with their eyes. not all that i see is attractive. i see an insular people who are insensitive to foreign sensibilities, who are lazy,
obese, complacent, and increasingly perplexed as to why we are losing our place in the world to people who are more dynamic than us and more disciplined. >> schieffer: that's a good place to take a break. >> i can defend my fellow americans after the break. >> schieffer: all right. we'll be back and you can do just that, arianna. when we come back. [ male announcer ] opportunity
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a... in the 1930s who could actually run an investigation on what happened. how we got to be where we are, how we got to be in a place where millions of homes are being foreclosed and millions of people are losing their jobs without any real sense of recovery around the corner. and that lack of accountability, that lack of identifying what needs to fundamentally change and how we're going to go about turning our lives and our communities around is, i think, what is perpetuating that anger and putting us in that state. that edmund described, which is a very unamerican state in very profound ways. >> schieffer: bob woodward. >> yes. american politics has always had an anger element in it. if you look at it, two thirds of the declaration of independence
is angry grievances against king george iii. i think it's a matter of political leaders finding a way to use this in a constructive way. i think that's quite possible. i think the leaders are out there. i wouldn't give up on them just because there are divisions. you and i remember the nixon era when the piston driving the nixon presidency was hate. i think now we have a lot of conflict, a lot of disagreement. i don't see hate in our politics. in a sense, there's been an improvement. >> schieffer: ron, you want to ask you about one of the most fascinating parts of your book. i mean, you make the point that while most of our founders didn't hire... didn't hide under a bushel, i mean, they let everybody know that they thought they were pretty smart. george washington, though, had just the opposite tact. he thought he was more powerful if people knew less about him, so he tended not to speak unless he just sort of absolutely had to. >> that's right. i mean, in terms of the other founders-- if alexander hamilton was sitting at this table or
john adams, both of them would be able to let us know within seconds that they were the smartest people at the table. adams in fact attributed washington's power to what he called "the gift of silence." a british diplomat who met washington once said that washington was the type of person who, at the end of the evening, washington would know everything about you and you would know nothing about george washington. i think washington is different from the other founders because washington is impressive when you watch what he does over long periods of time. he's not somebody who sparkles or twinkles in the moment, but he's somebody, when he pursued a goal-- in the case of the revolutionary war for eight-and- a-half years, he manages to hold his ragged army together in the face of shortages, of money, men, clothing, shoes, blankets, muskets, gun powder. it was a phenomenal achievement. >> schieffer: there's one little anecdote i can't let you get away without telling us. it may have been another reason you told us that he was silent a lot of the times. >> it was because of his dentures.
by the time that washington became president, he had only one tooth in his mouth. it was a very brave lower left bicuspid. he had upper and lower dentures anchored on that one tooth. and the upper and lower dentures were connected in the back by curved metal springs. the only way this he could keep the dentures in his mouth was by keeping his lips firmly compressed. every time he opened his mouth to speak, there was the possibility that the dentures would come flying out of his mouth. it may or may not be coincidental that washington gave many speeches at president that lasted 1, 2 or 3 paragraphs. >> schieffer: arianna, how long do you think a politician would last today if they tried to remain silent instead of trying to speak at every opportunity? >> ( laughs ) well, don't forget that now politicians have a lot of other ways to communicate beyond speaking and going on television. look at sarah palin-- her use of facebook and twitter and all
this social media, which have made it possible for her to communicate without the filters of the mainstream media. so, there's a whole new world out there. many politicians are able to use it much more powerfully than others. >> schieffer: edmund, what do you think was the secret of theodore roosevelt's success? why was he a good leader? >> he certainly had no problem in the teeth department. >> schieffer: good teeth. strong teeth. >> he had plenty of them. he had more teeth than seemed necessary for any practical purpose. his mouth was never still. he loved to talk. in fact, he was obsessively garrulous, but he was so articulate, such a bright man and his vocabulary was so good and his speaking style so forceful that, in those days, you prevailed over audience after audience after audience. i think if he was on television now he would terrify the cameras because he was just so explosively articulate. >> schieffer: bob woodward, let me ask you this. what happened to barack obama
after the campaign? it was one of the most effective campaigns i've ever seen. somehow, after that, it seems like he can't catch a break, whether it's his fault or not. somehow, he seems to have lost his groove. >> that's true. i think it's this ambivalence that he has. he understands things intellectually, but there is not that slogan from the campaign "yes, we can." he seems to be holding back. i mean, you're talking about silence and the power of silence. in the c.i.a., they often talk about "let the silence suck out the truth." you know as a journalist, if you just sit there sometimes and let there become silence, people will fill it up with answers, and in many ways, you get some of your best answers in that silence. i think obama, there is an uncertain compass in him that he
is communicating to people, and the political opposition is taking advantage of it, and the general populous senses it. so he's going to have to come out... and come out with a clear program and statements on all the pressing issues that are on his plate, which are many. >> plus, he's not writing his own speeches anymore, which i think he did in the campaign. he doesn't sound like barack obama anymore. whereas when he was campaigning he sounded really authentic, passionate and extremely articulate. >> i think he gets involved in the speeches, but if you look at his day, the day is crazy. there are so many meetings, there are so many outings, there are so many handshakes. there are so many trips to ohio and here, you know, the... as roosevelt, you always point out would read a book or two a day, right?
>> yeah, but presidents have plenty of spare time. they waste a lot of time grinning. i know when i was in the white house with ronald reagan, he said to me, i meet 80 new people every day. but he still had plenty of time to write his letters by hand and to compose some of his strongest speeches. >> they have been more fundamental. >> schieffer: ten seconds. >> very quickly. barack obama has demonstrated whether it's larry summers on the economy or the generals, when it comes to military policy and that reverence for establishments has made it very hard for him to really lead. >> schieffer: all right. i'm very sorry. our clock has struck. thank you all so much. be back with some final thoughts in a second. across the country when the economy tumbled, jpmorgan chase set up new offices to work one-on-one with homeowners. since 2009, we've helped over 200,000 americans
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>> schieffer: finally today, so another thanksgiving has come and gone. five years ago, i wrote a little essay on why thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. and the other day, a viewer said, "i wish you would do that one again." so, if not by popular demand, at least by special request, here it is. and here's why thanksgiving is my favorite. christmas has its music, the fourth has fireworks. but we celebrate thanksgiving by doing what we should not-- eating too much. maybe that's why it is so much fun. thanksgiving is the one holiday that is not about someone or something else-- it's just about us, our families. and if they include grandchildren, god's preview to heaven, it's all the better. so we gather with no purpose but to be together, say thanks, and dive into a great meal. like an aircraft carrier that
leaves port only when surrounded by smaller ships, thanksgiving arrives surrounded by a flotilla of smaller holidays that are observed with the same discipline and ritual. wednesday has become get-away day, the busiest travel day of the year. friday is leftover day for the stay at homes, and black friday for the shoppers. and then there is today, sunday. when millions sigh and say of their recent visitors, we love 'em but thank heaven they're finally out of here. now we can get back to normal. how to celebrate that? go to the fridge right now. there should be a little something left to nibble on. back in a minute. a minute. princess of the powerpoint. your core competency... is competency. and you rent from national. because only national lets you choose any car in the aisle. and go. you can even take a full-size or above.
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