North Carolina People; William Leuchtenburg, Historian Retired Kenan Professor of History, UNCCH
Good evening ladies and gentleman when I'm locked in burgers and internationally not of the authority on the presidency of the United States he's written about a story knows a great deal about it knows about the politics of the presidency and I thought you enjoyed meeting listening to him again as I shared with me to talk with him just a few second funding for North Carolina people is made possible in part by what teaches about everything we can.
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You're no stranger to this program Bill it's good of you to come over and visit with me get a nice to be here again I think we are now first in this one William McKinley was running for president Bill played got some room left yet. I hear that you've been working with a great favorite in public television Ken Barnes what you've been up to.
That's right. September I saw the rushes on his latest PBS documentary on Jack Johnson the first black heavyweight champion model for the play the great white hope and that will be on PBS in January. And I've just come back from New York and for three days with Ken. A documentary that's going to run several nights one but not for like another couple of years on the impact of World War 2 on America. It's taken four American cities. Take a look at what happened to the people in those towns.
Did you enjoy doing the one all baseball most of all.
Oh I think so I did.
We had an early session in Washington for two days where we were locked in a hotel room and we talk nothing but baseball for 48 hours. That was Roger Angell of the New Yorker who was on one side of me Bill James of the encyclopedia on the other side it's a little boy's dream come true and say How happy could you be right.
Well let's get a little more into it now. They bad day here but. Did the fact that the Democrats changed its primary system that it lost us and the political campaigning way ahead of time and the intensity we see. Was that a smart move.
I don't think so. But nobody knows how to get that genie back in the bottle again. I thought a lot of it comes out of the McGovern commission of 1972 and you get a disproportionate impact of the small states with a relatively few numbers of voters. The New Hampshire primary and the eye of the Iowa caucuses which distorts what later is it is going to happen. The Annenberg Foundation which you know well Bill is launching a big study of five American institutions the presidency Congress the Supreme Court education and the media. And they've asked me to write a history of the American presidency and in the final chapter I spoke to say what what we can do to improve things. And that is escaping me at this point I still got a year and a half a four I got to come down with that. But we would certainly like to figure out a way to choose presidents that's more rational than the one we have now.
Last Sunday I happened to come up on John Dean. He was with Bill Moyers talking about his new book on politics. And it was all about deceit and.
Sad and weak dealings have you ever seen a time in your experience where this country is more divided than it is now. I know television puts these issues right a living room every night and keep to the educated in some ways but is this really an uncommon thing and we had it in our history before.
Well we certainly had political campaigns in the past that were extraordinarily nasty. Abraham Lincoln was cold about Boone. It was said that Franklin Roosevelt was paralyzed because of syphilis. Terrible things have been said in the past but I think you're right Bill that this is an uncommonly divided country and I think this is going to be a very bitter campaign over the next several months.
It doesn't do us any good in the ME. What I'm worried about is the anger that's in this is one thing to be debating something but this is this goes a little bit beyond that. What I've seen you running into this.
Oh I think so they met after the 1876 election the only one before 2000 where the Supreme Court intervened the candidate declared the winner Rutherford B Hayes was called his fraudulent C for the next four years could never escape that. And that's the way Democrats feel about George Bush. A lot of the Bush Republicans interm think that Democrats are unpatriotic and. And not being too easy asked about the Patriot Act and not giving full support to the war in Iraq. So this if there's a lot of nastiness on both sides the 9/11 Commission.
All this brouhaha about Miss Rice and the president vice president being private. How do you read that then as a reflection of all this is will they really get of what they need to do you think.
Well part of the problem is that the but the Bush White House is still holding off a sizable number of papers and it's not clear whether they're ever going to release those papers. Tom Kane Incidentally the Republican who is the head of this was a student in my history course that at Columbia many many years ago I remember him as a nice looking young man who later became prominent in the Republican politics of New Jersey. And I have every sense that both he and the Democrat Bob Kerrey of Nebraska are very determined and not going to take no for an answer very very readily.
John Edwards he got to be have a very positive message about himself and what he thought about the country and that impacted a lot of people. What do you think about his future in politics now at the presidential level. He's not going to go away and that I think a lot of people are worried about him but what about him and delivering the South in this campaign as some pundits have said he could do.
Well I guess you're asking a lot of questions there but I don't I can't say often but yeah certainly there are any candidates in the past who have failed and then they look very good. Somewhere down the line Franklin Roosevelt as the vice presidential candidate in one thousand twenty lost in a disastrous race was in the running mate of a James Cox and then 12 years later was elected president of the United States. And Edwards is still very young very very attractive. His difficulty is going to be that if he's not chosen as the running mate for I thought Kerry in this election he's going to be a man without any political position and it's going to be hard for him to scramble into. Some have to establish himself again. It is possible of course that if Kerry does not use him and if Kerry wins that he will find some other places administration for him that seems not at all improbable. The other thing you were asking Bill is about Edwards carrying the south for the Democratic ticket. I'm not sure that any Democratic candidate's going to be able to carry the South. And you and I remember a time when you could chalk up the election results ahead of time that every Southern state was going Democratic. But that hasn't happened since 1900 for the last time that FDR ran in the last election. This was the third or fourth time that a Republican candidate took every Southern state. Florida though of course in dispute. Florida may be still up for grabs in this election. After that the Democrats best hope is probably Arkansas but not an awful lot.
That's looking very probable it doesn't even in North Carolina. Even enough to know that it's an intense issue in the south now. It really is that now we've all heard a lot about self money the use of money. I have read in the paper somewhere this week they've invented another device to get around the law to use but I don't know which party is doing it. That money too big an influence still.
Oh very much so very much so and and disproportionate it makes it hard for a candidate who does not have private funds to emerge as the candidate Kerry is the latest example of someone being able to draw on private funds. And it also gives a disproportionate advantage obviously to the Republicans who are once again rolling up extraordinary sums and does every indication who will continue to do so and the people who give money. One doesn't have to suppose that there's a direct corrupt bargain that is that that is arranged but they expect something back for that money. And when the tariff law comes up when when there's a regulatory issue involved they don't have to introduce themselves to the regulator to the congressman or to the White House and that's not the way they framers originally thought that our democracy was going to be run.
We are the largest most powerful nation in the world now. Our conduct in the Iraq with reference to the United Nations is a subject of widespread the bait. I was just talking to will a man who just back from a sabbatical in Europe and said our posture over there leaves a lot to be desired that and the relationship nation to nation.
Is this going to be a big issue in this campaign as this our struggle moves on trying to make peace in Iraq.
Well I do think so Bill and what you what you've just been saying is is altogether right. I was in Europe on 9/11 I was boarding a steamer on the Danube when I heard the terrible news. And the next day I was reading the Austrian press and translating it to my my my fellow passengers and they were saying America we are we are all Americans now which is the same thing that said in part it was an enormous goodwill. When I was going through Vienna at noontime there was there were two minutes of silence throughout the great city. That's all lost now. And it's lost because of its behavior of the Bush administration and in Iraq the ignoring of the United Nations the ignoring of the French the Germans and others too. I have grave reservations about her.
Is it possible really to make peace without the participation of all these nations. I don't see how that can be achieved. Is watching what we're doing you can't carry this all by yourself.
I don't think so I guy. I quite agree Bill and I. I think that that will be an issue is that the campaign the Democrats are going to be critical of Bush for intervening in Iraq in the first place. They're going to say that there were no weapons of mass destruction nobody's been able to find them and we've diverted our attention from Afghanistan where where we were we should be and where we ought to be acting more effectively. At the same time it's going to be very hard for any Democrat to say that we ought to withdraw right now because this could send the wrong kind of message to the Muslim extremists. So the answer I think is it's going to be that they the Democrats will stress just what you've been been saying that this needs to be a moment a lot of action that we have to bring in the United Nations we have to bring in European powers so that we're not doing that virtually alone.
The casualty rates at least see in that area of the world. Mount up each day two for six. This this week alone you know we've had eight or ten terrible things happen there and it's this is beginning to get to the issue in the minds of the our people. When are we going to bring an end to this some way. You know it's going to be difficult to do it.
And it is and the American people will be willing to sustain a great many casualties if they understand what the purpose of the war is and of hope of winning as they showed in World War Two. The casualties were infinitely greater than we've suffered so far in Iraq dreadful those casualties are. But if you have a war as in Korea or in Vietnam that cost the party and power has as a cost to the Democrats in 1952 and again in 1968. And the more these atrocities mount and the more there is the sense that that the Americans troops are being left there without any clear way out. I think they. Feeling against the war and against the administration which has been mounting is going to mount still further.
Let's look at burdensome domestic questions if you're getting this campaign that. Yeah I guess the most up is when he had driven up to the gas pump this week that if this was going to rise up that that gets to be to 250 a gallon a lot of it certainly.
That kind of issue was you recall was so hurtful to Jimmy Carter and in the 1980 election. I think there are two kinds of economic issues that are going to loom large that's going to be one of them but even larger is going to be the persistence of unemployment and the downturn in the economy. There was some good cheer it appeared this past week about the economy when you look more closely you found that the unemployment rate and actually risen another one tenth of one percent. One of the I'm writing three books at the moment Bill I want to add one of them is a biography of Herbert Hoover four for ocelots and her series on the presidency. And again and again much to the distress of the Hoover library where I'm going to be speaking. President Bush is being compared to the Hoover because this is the greatest loss of jobs in presidential administrations since the Hoover administration. Now that comparison is surely exaggerated. The conditions in the Great Depression were far worse than they are today. Nonetheless that that's the kind of issue that's probably the strongest one the Democrats have got going for them.
Recently I was talking with a group of people in the health care field and I kept saying well what are we going to do how when are we going to get to this issue. And they said not until the system collapses. They've taken that point of view meaning that no one is being really very aggressive in focusing on this. Health care is really going to be a big problem in this country in the next election is now back in Seattle it can do otherwise.
It isn't well it's going to be over the next years it's going to be and I know this is an issue you've been concerned about for for a long time.
I think our best chance of doing something significant about it was in the first Clinton administration and they both the opposition of the medical associations and of the Republicans and of conservative Democrats and the blundering of the Clinton administration both of those together killed that. One last Good Hope off. And it's not an issue that you see being raised in any very large way. By the by the candidate me some talk about it in this campaign but not I think to the dimensions of 1903 will people worry about things like the growing deficit.
It's getting to be so huge again. They just dismissed that and that involved with more pressing things like health care or gasoline prices or having a job.
Well I think they want to be worried about the deficit. We we had a situation of a surplus such a short time ago and at the end of the Clinton years and there was happy talk about what we were going to do with this great bonus that we had unexpected of what good things could we could we spend it on. And now the debt deficit is clearly one of the things that's been pulling down the economy and stopping a revival. But I don't know that anybody's ever been elected to any important office in this country let alone president over over the deficit. That's not an issue that viscerally has or has a great deal of impact.
The range of this conversation forces this question Bill how in the world can one person be elected president and be able to not even be aware of all the things we're talking about let alone have a depth of knowledge that gives him a decision based what's happened to the office.
Well it certainly is extraordinarily demanding indeed for the framers thought of a multiple presidency. And I only at the last minute did they decide no a single person a single man that's been up to now I won't always be. Could we. Better to have one person responsible you knew who you knew who it was. The Executive Office itself has expanded multiplied so so many many times even since Franklin Roosevelt's day and yet I don't despair of the right man and the office being being able to cope and bring in good things for us.
Well it's been successful so far. Let's look at the Senate a minute since it influences what the president is able to do. Yes you see quite a few of the Democrats like Fritz Hollings not running again in other states. Is there going to be a shift there. Do you think in this next election you anticipate one.
Well there is a scenario that shows that the Democrats good regain. Control of the Senate. But everything would have to go right for them and probably Kerry would have to win by a more substantial margin than even the most optimistic Democrats.
I think he's going to win. There are certain candidates of the party who can win in a state no matter what the general partisan disposition of that state is. Sam Nunn in Georgia George Mitchell in Maine and the Democrats have been losing too many of those people Fritz Hollings as you mentioned John Breaux and Louisiana. And the if the Democrats break even in the Senate. And in this election they may well be doing as well as they can expect to do.
What's happened to the public's voting record here then is it is the negativism that we've all experienced in local elections as well as national elections. What you anticipate the intensity of this was going to be. You think this turns out more people will be driving people away or and more like with the record shows in the last few years.
Well there's good reason to suppose that people are going to turn away in disgust because I think some of the ads were already seen on television and are revolting and I going to leave people with a feeling of just tossing up their hands over this election. Nonetheless I wouldn't be surprised if the turnout goes up some in this election for the very reason you were saying at the at the outset bill. There is so much anger on both sides of the partisans on both sides that there's there are they're determined to try to win and are going to come to the polls and I don't sense indifference as being one of the key themes of this year.
You're reading three books where you're going to teach this next semester.
Well there's a you know Bill I decided to retire for a universe in North Carolina last year I've been teaching you tell me about it.
I've been teaching college for 55 years.
That seemed long enough but then I got a very nice invitation from Wofford College in South Carolina. Yeah it is a nice school to teach next spring so I'm going to do that so that you have the president say that you know you'll say yes it's going to be a course on the present day best me just to teach a single seminar for the brightest undergraduates and I'm looking forward to get ready to go abroad again you and Jeanie travel all over the world all the time have been de shit and I let you know we were in China last year.
We in May I'm lecturing to a group of high school teachers in Honolulu and a couple of days later we're flying to Scotland so that will take us not exactly halfway around the world but close to it but we are going to London for a few days of theatre and then by train up to Edinburgh and then over to the Hebrides and down the west side. True to Wales and back over to London again.
Looking forward to that. But you are right about China and all of this and the impact it's having on all elections.
It's a it's an emerging power here in the world I take it to a far greater degree than I think people realize. One of the reasons for the rise in gas prices in this country is that the demand for much China has risen so so so greatly. We've had a reduction of supply but an increase in demand and of course that's what sends prices up.
And the Chinese economy has been flourishing so remarkably when we were in Shanghai last year there was a little joke that the symbol of the city is the crane which it is a bird suggesting a long life but also the crane in the sense of all of the buildings that were going up everywhere you looked.
I'm sorry that I have times on that bill had to sit here and talk with you for a good another hour but thank you for joining me once more and thank you for your very insightful comments and I know ladies and gentlemen you've enjoyed this lesson and home all over again. Thank you for letting Professor Luxembourg and me visit with you until next week then that funding for North Carolina people is made possible in part by.
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This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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