DiscoverThe Axe Files with David AxelrodEp. 100 - Doris Kearns Goodwin

Ep. 100 - Doris Kearns Goodwin

Update: 2016-11-28


Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, talks with David Axelrod about her love of baseball, the power of storytelling in politics, why being tested by adversity is an important experience for our leaders, and much more.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

the board for the acts files comes from rockin' mortgage my Quicken loans lift the burden of getting a home loan with rockin' mortgage and get a secure transparent home loan approval in minutes skip the bank of the waiting then go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files This podcast is brought you by sixty DB listen to conversations that go beyond the headlines business sports politics today's news plus all of your favorite podcasts download the free sixty DB at Today the the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the uh so it's hard to believe but the X Files is a hundred episodes old today and there's no one better to mark that occasion with and Doris Kearns Goodwin the wonderful historian board member of the Institute of Politics author of some of the greatest volumes of history you can read and someone who brings particular wisdom to moments like this in our history as you will hear the the the the Doris Kearns Goodwin storyteller but one of my favorite of all of your works and I love them all with your own auto biography wait till next year and you talked about growing up in Brooklyn as a baseball fan and how did your life growing up turn you into the storyteller that you are we know when you think about baseball it is about telling stories because it's a slow moving game so you really can remember certain moments that were important and my father had grown up in Brooklyn then we moved to Long Island so the memories of its field and Brooklyn Dodgers were a part of our link to one another and you are very close I love my father and he was just this war and he walked in a room and everybody liked him and he himself had a tough life he been orphaned when he was ten years old and he still had that extraordinarily positive outlook on life it's the greatest gift I think he gave to me and I'll be forever grateful to him for it but he taught me when I was six years old that mysterious art of keeping score by listening to baseball games so I could record for him the history of that afternoon's Brooklyn Dodger game and think of it when you're only six and father comes home every night from work on the train and you feel like you're entertaining him for two hours as I went to every single play of every inning of the killer just taken place that afternoon but he made me feel I was telling a fabulous story and that makes you think hey this history thing as magic even if the game just a place that afternoon it was history so I think in some ways I learned the narrative art from those nightly sessions with my dad was at first I be so excited I would blurt out the Dodgers won or the Dodgers lost which took much of the drama of this two hour telling way so I finally learned to tell a story from beginning to middles and much later read an essay by my heroine Barbara Tuchman she said even if you're writing about a war as a narrative historian have to imagine to yourself you do not know how that war ended say can carry reader with you every step along my only knowing what the people at the time do I think that's the key to narrative stuff that you can't be looking at it from the back back from Ford back you have to just imagine that you're living at that time and that you're creating the characters alive so that people identify with them and then they'll go with you to arcane stuff of history if they care about the people the guns of August Barbara Tuchman with when did you read that book I read The guns of August and I was in college and it was so incredible I mean first of all the writing is so amazing when she starts out at the Suns fans of all it's fabulous but also for me as a woman to have a female historian who not only was a historian but wrote about military history it was shockingly wonderful and she became my heroine you I'm just back to childhood for a second I thought about you recently because Vin Scully the Dodgers announcer just retired after what sixty seven years he must've been doing games when you are listening to them as a kid oh absolutely and that voice of a Vin Scully will be forever emblazoned in my mind and you know especially finally when the Dodgers did win their World Series as a Brooklyn Dodger and then I was able to meet him once years later when the L A Dodgers came to Fenway Park and just to see em and talk to him and remember that I had known him through his voice for such a pier is elegant and just in person as he is on the radio was fabulous I mean that day I met not only him but Sandy Colfax sow it was a magic day in life you know he didn't inning when the Cubs were in L A this year they asked Vin Scully to do an inning on on Chicago I guess you did on TV and he had no color commentary did all he does it all himself and it was the most engaging inning of a I mean it was just transfixed it was such a treasure to hear this guy do an inning of baseball because he is a great storyteller and he and he would read these stories in the commentary about that particular game of people he had known and he wove in grace gracefully woven stories about Cubs history that he was involved in and so in a sense if you just augment the point you made in the beginning if you think baseball is is about storytelling and recounting a game is about storytelling that guy he was the Doris Kearns Goodwin of of baseball I can't imagine any other honor than to be connected and I mean think about it when you started in this stuff on the radio then you're having to create images for people of what's going on they're not seeing it so it's even more appealing to their imagination and almost like a novelist having to create the scene the people and to talk through it all remember you know remember this because it tells me but Abraham Lincoln once said that the reason he told so many stories is because people can remember stories because they have a point and if you can get them to hear the story than the facts can be embedded in the story rather than a series of facts and so he was a great storyteller I mean I think our greatest leaders have been storytellers well Ron Reagan did Cubs games and W H O in God that of course that's Ryan he had and he was reading off what he actually was at the games he was reading off of ticker tape machines and then trying to reenact what was going on on the and I'm sure that that contributed to his ability to be the communicator that he was without a question I mean I think you know if I read stuff about the brain where it says that in the brain of ours is hardwired for storytelling that there's something about it that connects to our emotions as well as as well as our minds so if you can as a leader or as a baseball commentator or as somebody on TV tell a story or as a politician can do it yes then you capture the people yeah yeah actually not to denigrate someone when they're down but that was a bit of the deficit the Hillary Clinton had she's not a great storyteller maybe I think she probably I know she is a good storyteller which is not good public storytelling and was tethered to often to her teleprompter rather than sharing some some of the stories that people should met along probably would've been a more effective way to go you know in a certain sense because she was telling a more complicated story about America and all the various things she wanted us to do it didn't have the simplicity of a story that Donald Trump's dead and don't jump told a story whether true or not that people felt was real you know that he was going to make America great again that something had happened to this country and that the people who have lost their jobs and incomes and their dignity that he would make it better and that kind of story somehow reached out to a certain part of America and even if Hillary's plans and programs might have touched those people more deeply the connection emotionally between her and those people seem to have been lost there were trees without a forest yeah I think it was a really big deficit and I want to get to this election later will say one thing about this which is oh I think that I've been thinking hard about some technology no one taught you better than in the context of one of the books that you wrote in another era but the technology of politics today allows you to slice and dice and target different parts of the electorate and I think that that was that was done by the Clinton campaign but the message that was projected as a result was that other of elements of the country warm part of the story that they were and that actually abetted Trump's message that you've been disrespected you've been discarded so I think as you reflect back on what happened this election that may have been one of the big mistakes but I want to return to your story for second U N to Colby College in Maine had to get to Colby College it seems like a long way from Long Island the Brooklyn Dodgers well it's just crazy story in its own right which is that I was involved with a young man who was my boyfriend who was a year ahead of me a lot of stories that begin like that I It all began with a boy and he was a went to Cornell and it was the only school I wanted to go to xx I went up there my junior to be with him but the problem was that he was Jewish and I was Catholic and his parents were quite worried about this relationship so they made a promise that if I would go to another school they would sanction our being together otherwise I'm going to really find it when I think about this now it's just crazy so just as a lark I applied to Colby College my sister had a friend had gone there and then went up there and I just fell in love with it and somehow decided that maybe I wasn't ready for this serious relationship anyway and was the only other school I applied to besides going now so Colby College at Wise and it turned out had the best teachers better teachers there than I ever had at Harvard one of my teachers was so special I had him in government and history that we thought that if we could understand what he was saying cuz he was so far above us we'd understand truth and justice in everything right was taken just Plato and Aristotle later he said to me when he became my friend maybe you can understand because I wasn't clear are two brilliant you know Peter Hart and did one of these podcasts recently you know he was a classmate was indeed of years Kolb ecology was full of praise for you you said you had the same characteristic vim and vigor then as you do now what was Peter like back then he was a pretty interesting entrepreneur or I mean he brought singing talent to call me har yes Peter and he not his own singing Tell Oh my God this drive reciting numbers and no insights into the American electorate in fact my roommate had a huge crush on him which was unrequited so he was pretty special because of that and you went on to Harvard to study government of them you we think of you as a writer and as a historian and I guess writing partly was we talk to you that we didn't talk about your mom was ill and passed away when you are young but you've said that she was someone valued books and reading did you when you come to think of yourself as a writer as opposed to a student of government I think it took awhile I mean what what is true is what you're saying which is that both my parents had only an eighth grade education my father went on to become a bank examiner for the state of New York and my mother stayed home with us kids but because she had dramatic fever when she was young she had a damaged heart and so damaged that she couldn't even go out much of the time she was pretty much insulated at home had several heart attacks when I was young so books became her window on to that larger world in those days you can actually borrow books from the drugstore and nice to go with her than an ace to go to the public library to get books out for her I was allowed to go into the adult section instead of the children section I felt so special and we would read aloud she would read aloud to me when I was little and then she had a stroke at a certain point and couldn't speak well so I then read to her and then she would not start speaking again and begin to get her voice back but books meant everything to her so in our small house books were big part of it and I learn to love reading but I never thought to myself as a writer and it did keep a diary when I was in high school but the day that my mother died which is what I was a junior in high school for some reason it was so dramatic and I didn't know that I could live up to writing something about it that I never kept a diary again after that so I'm not been that kind of person has kept journals has kept diaries I never thought to myself as a writer when I went to graduate school it was because I wanted to be a teacher because I talk and I knew I could talk if not necessarily right and you went to Harvard and this was in a very tumultuous era for the country the sixties you went on to Washington as a White House fellow but you must and make it even before that I had gone every summer to Washington there was some part of me that wanted action as well as teaching so I had worked in the State Department one summer I'd worked for my congressman another summer in the h e w another summer and then I got a White House fellows to work for Lyndon Johnson in the spring of sixty seven and like many young people before I got that White House fellowship I've been involved in the antiwar movement and a friend of mine and I had written an article against Lyndon Johnson which we'd sent to The New Republic at some point having heard nothing and suddenly we had this dance at the White House when I was selected as the White House fellow and several days after the dance the article came out and the title was How to remove Lyndon Johnson from her so I was certain I'd be kicked out of the program has said since that time I've talked to Tom Johnson and people were in the White House and there was real discussion what to do about it I think the people around Johnson would not have become absolutely because he would they be scared of his reaction but he's the one who said to them o Letter come down here for a year and if I can win one can which says something about him because he he believed that there was no one he couldn't win overs is not true I think that's absolutely right and a lot of ways he did win me over he never changed my mind about the war in Vietnam but that's not really only what he was after he just made me feel such empathy and affection and respect for him that I think it made me become a store and I mean a presidential historian I'd written my PhD thesis at Harvard on the Supreme Court's I would've been studying those guys and women and their robes and I'm so glad it happened this way so that first book on him I think it taught me to look at a president from the inside out rather than judging them from the outside in and I feel so privileged from having had those hours and hours with Lyndon Johnson I think he was lonely when he talked to me if I had no with him after he left the way correct meanwhile it was in the White House he would often call me into his office late at night just to talk and sometimes went on back to the White House and seeing that little it just brings back such a flood of memories of the Oval Office yes yes and then then I went down to his ranch to help him on his memoirs the last years of his life and I just went back to the ranch for the first time in like thirty five years when I was involved as a consultant to all the way the HBO that prices are as brilliant he was graded and so they had the premier in Austin and I went to the ranch the next day and again it was just overwhelming to see the bedroom where I used to stay and where his bedroom was and where Labor's was in the closets were his clothes were and this chair the nice to sit in whenever he took a nap he wanted me to be right outside the room just in case he needed something the kitchen where we ate it was an extraordinary experience that I value at my age than I did then I probably took it for granted so here I am with the president day by day and it was great you said you never change your view of the Vietnam War did he change his own thing so I mean I think the saddest thing for him was that the beginning when you hear the tapes particularly it's clear that he has no desire and willingness even to get into the war zone what are we doing over there but then I think once he got an and the deeper he got in more lives that were lost there was no way he could easily say he made a mistake how can you acknowledge that fully when fifty thousand lives have been lost so he would argue with me about you think it was just a war of Mama and Papa you know I know that it was more complicated more than that and I know about the dominoes and things that you didn't know and so it was an angry argument at the time it was sadder argument but I'm so happy that atleast now fifty years later he's getting his righteous do for civil rights and for Medicare and AIDS education nobody dealt with Congress as Lyndon Johnson dead and it's because of what you said earlier he could charm anybody when he's in their presence not just charmed them but motivate them to do something we could call up those congressmen at six in the morning he'd call them at two am in the afternoon to call them at two pm and and just never let go and they couldn't give up on him because he wanted this so much I think the domestic stuff was in his his his lexicon when almost anything else that he wanted to do that's what made it so sad if there hadn't and this is the biggest organ question he would have been one of the great presidents and even now he's one of the really good presidents you know David Marin is a great storyteller and historian in his own right was here sometime ago after I publish this wonderful book I just wrote about Detroit during the sixties and he talked about the war on poverty speech that President Johnson made at the University of Michigan and the sense of that speech was that there was no problem that could yield to the efforts and the attention of particularly American people act acting with the through their government and it struck me in reading that that this generation to come through depression world and there was this sense that any problem could be overcome with enough effort and commitment you know John F Kennedy said will Lyndon Johnson saying that we can eradicate poverty there was a confidence that we don't feel today and of was that misplaced when we were we the victims of our own ambitions and I don't think so I mean I think that mood of the sixties which really did characterize the sixties until the war deepened until Martin Luther King was killed until Bobby Kennedy was killed and it turned dark and shadowed but before that you have to believe in America that men create problems are man creates problems and man can overcome them not necessary male female but just human man and that speech at the Great Society speech at the University of Michigan which my husband worked on actually my husband Richard Goode when the young speech writer for Geoffrey historic figure in his own without a question any work for out for LBJ in that speech meant a lot because it was it was outlining not simply poverty it was outlining what to do about education was outlining what to do about the countryside in the environment what to do about the cities and civil rights and so everything that eventually happened in the Great Society Medicare aid to education student loans three civil rights bills and even public broadcasting immigration reform all of that was part of that idea that he had that I've got power and I want to use it I never thought I'd have it and here I am and from that moment on from that speech on he said a whole bunch of task forces in the legislation they came out in the next eighteen months has never been equaled seven hundred days and FDR obviously the problems of today are different and we've got fifty years of history including a determined effort to undermine a lot of government got the image of government and the functions of government but it seems to me ever given the complexity the problems we have it's going to take a determined organized effort with government at least as a catalyst to deal with some of these things I mean without questioning when you think about government we've made it seem like a foreign entity when government is the collective action of the people to deal with problems that people face and that's what we've lost our faith then I think you said that early on that that loss of faith in institutions in the nineteen sixties people believe government would do right most of the time and now that figure is so low as to the detriment of us all because it means we can work together to solve the things that are telling us then this very little chance it's going to get done so until some leader or until some movement is able to restore that faith in collective action that's what was so exciting about being young in the sixties in our private lives were cut across public lives people were part of the civil rights movement the women's movement the environmental movement you really felt that what you were doing would make a difference in other people's lives and you felt larger as a result you want leading only your own life you're leading this larger life and that's why people go into politics and if we don't get that group of people continuing to feel that going into public life if we denigrate our politicians and put them at the bottom of the ladder of political careers in a democracy I don't know what that's going to mean that it's a troubling thing well and it's not just politicians but all are institutions are under assault now and there are lots of reasons for will get into that little bit later got to take a small short break here and will be back with Doris Kearns Goodwin rocket mortgage by Quicken loans proudly supports the X Files when it comes to the big decision of choosing a mortgage lender is important to work with someone you can trust leisure best interests in mind with rockin' mortgage you'll get a transparent online process that gives you the confidence you need to make an informed decision to give the bank of the waiting and go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files equal Housing lender license in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty you also wrote a book about the Kennedy family but you've obviously obviously a student of John F Kennedy as well just talking about the family for second and the relationship between fathers and sons in politics which is kind of fascination of mine that the dynamic in the Kennedy family and how that helped formulate who he wasn't who he was a present what interested me in the years and I spent studying the Kennedy family was how much all the living members of the family cared about their father Joe Kennedy I mean he's the one that when you look at him as a public figure has a much more complicated reputation obviously then Rose Kennedy you think of what he did as an ambassador to the Court of St James you think of some anti Semitism seemingly surrounding him but as a father this man according to his children over and over again all they ask me when I was writing the book was what he think about Daddy interestingly not many think about a mother because she'd been lying eyes and sanctified but somehow he gave them confidence he gave them especially after his public life was over during World War Two he gave them all the energy the vitality needed to go forward as we all know Joe Junior was the one that everybody thought including the son of the older son would be carrying the banner of being the first Irish politician to possibly reach the presidency but he was killed in World War two and then John Kennedy took up that mantle somewhat awkwardly at first but then obviously grew into it but even so the family a huge part of the image of Kennedy so it wasn't just this man running he was running with his whole family around him and I think that was part of our interest in him and continuing interest in the family when you think about Bobby Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy in the next generation I think was Lord Beaver Brook in nineteen forty six when John Kennedy won said something to the Father about your family may go down in history like the Addams family that was so little he could have known then as he resists one kid doing this and yet it turns out that they will have been one of the more important families in our history you point out that Jack Kennedy started off awkwardly what was there to think an ambivalence about the role he was an interesting guy because he was incredibly charming and inspiring especially as you say as he matured as a politician but also of He was a little removed a little aloof and you get the sense of maybe just a touch of ambivalence that he was carrying out his birthright or his responsibility but that he had other other things other interests that perhaps he might pursue I think that's right I think he had a writer's sensibility he could look at himself from the outside in and probably might have become a journalist or writer had he not gone into politics I remember just given the father's influence one of the times when he made a bad speech and he thought it was not so great and the father told him it was good and so he said you know if I went up on the stage and I fell before I gave my speech my father would say you fell more extraordinarily than so I think the Father's desire and in them and just sort of the family hope for the future rested in Him but then obviously once he got out on the campaign trail once he became a congressman and senator William James says is always a certain point when that voice inside speaks to you and says This is what I was meant to do and I think after awhile he certainly felt comfortable in the role you know your point about the writer's sensibility reminds me of my friend the president absolutely President Obama who I think people ask me what present you think he most reminds you of an eye I always said JFK because he brought that same sense of inspiration and possibility the same sort of elegance to the role of president but he also has that sense of irony sense of humor about about it he has the ability to step back and act and witness the scenes in which his action is also participating in the characters involved because he has a story tellers instinct as well and I think neither JFK nor President Obama had that intense need to be loved by the public I mean that's the that's what the writer's sensibility means I mean they very glad to win these elections they're incredibly charming when you meet with them and they want over as Anderson but it's not like Clinton or even FDR who for some reason especially I think Bill Clinton you could feel almost that that his LBJ Lyndon Johnson that it was a hole in them that have to be filled by the peoples of probation and I don't think either JFK or Pres Obama had that whole you know you in your wonderful interview with him in vanity Fair you guys talked about that little and I'm in all the years I've known him I haven't really had this conversation had with his sister but not with I find it interesting that he is a guy whose father abandoned him whose mother was in constant presence in his life because there were years when she wasn't living with him and yet he didn't have this needy ness of minutes it's an interesting question as to why that is why isn't he more like a Bill Clinton who has a safe and if a need for the drive for the app probation it's and you know the the each each model has its pluses and minuses the thing about it about the having the need for a probation is losing becomes a much more emotionally wrenching possibility and it makes you a little risk averse in terms of the choices that you make at least public choices at night use Bill Clinton being risk averse but in public in public choices more than once Obama said I love my job will be debris from polling he would dismiss the polling and he would say Yeah but that's not what we're going to do are going to do this thing
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Ep. 100 - Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Axe Files with David Axelrod