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Michael Barone
Michael Barone
Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan
ISBN: 0029018625
Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan
Mr. Barone discussed his recent book Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan, published by The Free Press. He talked about America's leadership from the Roosevelt administration through President Reagan with emphasis on the country's political and economic development.
Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan
Program Air Date: April 22, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Barone, author of the new book "Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan." Why call a book "Our Country?"
MICHAEL BARONE, AUTHOR, "OUR COUNTRY: THE SHAPING OF AMERICA FROM ROOSEVELT TO REAGAN": Well, one of the reasons is that I think that one of the things American politics really centers on is the question of whose country it is. Now back in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt was running for re-election. The Chicago Tribune published at the top of its masthead each day -- it said Only 36 Days Left, 36 days Before the Election, or, Only 36 Days Left To Save Your Country. And there was sort of an assumption about whose country it was and whose country it wasn't. And arguments of that kind have been at the center of American politics from the beginning -- the Civil War, the Depression through the election of the first Catholic president -- and they're still with us today.
LAMB: What led to the writing of this particular book?
BARONE: Well, it was really an attempt to try to explain, for myself and others, how the country I grew up in has become the country that we see around us today and try to understand. I started off the book in 1930, before people really knew there was a Depression, which was when my parents were 10 years old, and I ended that up just at the beginning of 1989, when my daughter was 10 years old. So it's an attempt to try to understand our country and how it's changed over those years.
LAMB: It's about, I don't know, give or take, 800 pages. When you started, did you know it was going to be that big?
BARONE: I wasn't sure how long it was going to be. One of the problems that you have when you write a book is you think you can write forever and ever and, of course, you can't. You have to keep it within limits to keep your reader's attention. What I tried to do in this book was to try to provide a political narrative -- a narrative of the country that keeps in mind the real conditions of everyday life in the people of the country -- that the America of 1930 was a very different place from the America of today. People lived in different places; they made their livings in different ways; they were less likely to be homeowners, for example, more likely to be renters; their incomes were different; the ethnic makeup of the country was different. We had not had the big migrations of Southern blacks to the North, for example. And to try and re-create that country.

Most of the history that's been written of the period of the 1930s and '40s, when this book starts, has been written by people who were alive then. They remember it personally and they don't necessarily feel a need to describe it to you because their audience remembers it. And I'm writing today for an audience that includes not only people who remember it but an awful lot of people who don't, so we have to re-create it.
LAMB: One line struck me as something that I wanted to ask you about. "First of all, I have parents who are people of high morality and intellectual integrity." What led to you writing those descriptions of your parents?
BARONE: Well, it's true. But also, they helped provide me, I think, with a way of seeing the country around you and trying to see it clearly and see it whole. My parents were people, for example, who, when they were younger and it was a matter of course to discriminate by race, they didn't want to do that. They resisted that. They said people should just be treated equally. And they tried to look at people as individuals and to make judgments on that basis. When you do that, you not only behave better but you understand the society around you better. And I think they've helped me to do that.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
BARONE: I grew up in Detroit, in the city and then in the suburbs. I grew up on sort of the edge of the urban frontier in the 1950s and '60s as America was expanding outward from its central cities out into what had been farmland and swampland. And shopping centers were going up. Old suburbs were being added on to with new, and the country was growing faster than almost anybody had anticipated it would, so I was part of that America of confidence, as I describe it in the book, at that time and I'm trying to re-create and understand it.
LAMB: What did your parents do for a living when you were growing up?
BARONE: Well, my dad is a doctor and still is -- physician, surgeon. My mother was a teacher and spent most of the growing up years in the home.
LAMB: Did you have brothers and sisters?
BARONE: I have two sisters.
LAMB: Now, do you really remember your parents saying to you at the dinner table or whatever in the home that you're not to discriminate?
BARONE: Oh, yeah. Well, that was obviously a lesson they had and, at the same time, they understood that people that come from different backgrounds behave in different ways. They didn't try to pretend everybody was alike. I can remember once when I was growing up in Detroit as a young kid, my parents said, "Well, you know, the people around you" -- they said -- "This neighborhood will probably vote for the Democrats because most people here are Catholic and the Catholics tend to vote for the Democrats." And I can remember myself saying, "Well, now why should that be so? Why should Catholics vote somewhat differently from Protestants?"

And it was, in a way, to attempt to answer those questions that I got interested in the society around me, what different experiences did different kinds of people have and how does that affect, among other things, how they vote, choices they make in a democracy.
LAMB: You mention about going to an elite school.
BARONE: Well, I went to a private high school called Cramberg School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which is a private school, high tuition school and scholarship students. But it's a school where there's high academic standards. I mean, as I look back on it, an outstanding student body, really smart people. And that helps you understand the world, too. And you see people there.

So I just had an opportunity as a matter of happenstance, living in different neighborhoods, attending different schools, of seeing people from not quite all but most walks of life, different parts of a diverse metropolitan area, different ethnic backgrounds, different economic status, so that, unlike a lot of people today in America who, I think, grow up in one community, only know one kind of people, I had a chance to see people from wide variety of backgrounds and I hope that's reflected in this book, "Our Country."
LAMB: Then Yale, then Harvard or Harvard then Yale?
BARONE: I went to Harvard College and Yale Law School in the 1960s. In fact, started off before the 1960s became "The '60s" as we call them nowadays, and got a degree in history as an undergraduate and went to law school, got a law degree.
LAMB: Why didn't you practice law?
BARONE: Well, I was law clerk to a federal judge -- the late Judge Wade McCree, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Michigan -- and, after that, I wrote a book called "The Almanac of American Politics," the first edition of which came out in the end of 1971, beginning of 1972. And so I from that into political writing. I became a political consultant in 1974, working with Peter Hart in the public opinion polling business and I continued that through 1981. And then I became a political journalist/writer in the 1980s.
LAMB: I want to go through the things that you've done and ask you to tell us what you remember most from that particular experience. Wade McCree, the judge you just talked about, what did you take from that?
BARONE: Well, Judge McCree was a very talented man, -- had a very subtle understanding of the country. I hope I came away with some of that. He was a black born born in Iowa, I believe, but raised in different parts of the country. He learned Greek and Latin as a child, was a classical scholar. His Latin was way ahead of me and I don't have any Greek, so we did manage to converse a little in the classics. He was interested in politics. He'd been elected a judge when he was only 34 years old in Detroit. He had a quite subtle understanding that I found very fascinating of the country that he grew up in and succeeded in.
LAMB: Was it a year of clerkship?
BARONE: Two years, '69 through '71.
LAMB: And Peter Hart you mentioned -- the pollster.
BARONE: I worked for Peter Hart in the public opinion polling business from '74 to '81. And Peter primarily for Democratic candidates. I worked in campaigns in one way, shape or form for about 100 candidates for senator, governor, statewide offices of different kinds. One of the nice things about the polling business is that you get a chance to really take part in that small part of political campaigns that deals with strategy, thinking, ideas. I mean, most of the campaign is follow-through. And we had a chance to try and see how to mesh what the candidates believed in and what the people believed in -- how could you find a linkage there that would help the candidate to win office, and I think it was important to help them to govern intelligently once they do so, because it doesn't help you in the long run if you make a bunch of promises that you can't deliver on.
LAMB: Did you, in your research, find where the first public polling was ever done?
BARONE: Well, the first published polls of this random, scientific sample polling that we have are in the middle 1930s, actually. George Gallup published his first poll in --I believe it was October 1935. And one of the things I did in "Our Country" was go back and look at public opinion polling throughout the ages, because most of the political journalists and most of the historians who have written on the periods from 1930 up through the '80s have not used public opinion polls very much. They come from a different tradition. They're not familiar with it. They're not comfortable using numbers. And when public opinions started, the polls were not interpreted as well as they are today. People didn't understand them as well. They thought the polls give you a pinpoint precision. They don't give you a pinpoint precision. They didn't understand how opinion could change.

Great anecdote: Governor Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 campaign, who was leading in all the polls -- he went to George Gallup, the pollster, and he said, "Mr. Gallup, you're quitting polling on October 24th. Why don't you continue polling? Maybe opinion will change." And George Gallup said to him -- great man -- said to him, "Governor Dewey, we've learned already from our voluminous experience" -- which was only three presidential elections -- "We've learned already that opinion doesn't change. There's no point in polling after October 24th." Well, of course, you know what happened. Dewey lost the election and, not only that, Gallup and the other pollsters had a lot of explaining to do and they learned from that experience and their polling was better in the future.
LAMB: Besides George Gallup, who were the other pioneers in polling?
BARONE: Well, Elmo Roper, who did some wonderful polls for Fortune magazine in the 1930s and '40s and we have quoted fairly extensively from those, because they give you some texture and understanding of the reactions to Roosevelt and to his policies and other things of that nature. And there's a number of others that did that. As I say, the polling evidence has not been used extensively.

I also wanted to use election returns. I've always been a student of election returns from the 1950s. I love to look at precinct election returns, try and understand how different kinds of people in different places vote in different elections. It tells you something, if you can read it right, about the course of their lives, what they really believe in. And so, again, most of the people that come from a literary tradition of historical writing are uncomfortable with the voting data. They don't use it. Aside from the late Samuel Lebell, who wrote "Political Journalism From the '30s Through he 1960s," who did use precinct by precinct returns very shrewdly and ably, most journalists have not done that. You know, the election returns aren't in until the election is long over and, at that point, you're writing about the next election so you tend to skip it.

I had the opportunity to go back and look at some of these things extensively. I could go in the 1930s and take a look at the shifts in vote for and against Roosevelt, for example, and find out that a change of opinion that many scholars have thought happened in 1935 and '36 as a result of policies that Roosevelt passed in 1935 really happened by the 1934 election. All you have to do is look at the elections for House of Representatives, district by district, in the 435 districts across the country. Most people hadn't done that. I was able to do that and to find out that it was the policies of the first New Deal more than the second New Deal that made big gains for Roosevelt in the central cities and lost him votes out in the rural countryside of the country.
LAMB: How much time did you spend on research for the book?
BARONE: Well, I started researching and writing "Our Country" in 1986--in the summer of 1986. Worked through 1987; in 1988 I was working on it as well -- I'd hoped to be finished by that time -- while working at the Washington Post as an editorial writer and occasional columnist and working on trying to cover the 1988 elections in particular and all the plethora of candidates we had, and then finished the book in early 1989. The last scene in the book is December 1988, Reagan, Bush and Gorbachev in New York harbor, suggesting the end of the Evil Empire, as Reagan is supposed to have called it at one point. And that was, I think, an ending that's held up pretty well through 1989 and early 1990.
LAMB: You mention Meg Greenfield -- who was your boss -- the editorial page editor of the Washington Post. What did you take away from that experience?
BARONE: Well, I worked for Meg Greenfield as an editorial writer on the Washington Post from 1982 through 1989. She's a person with a fabulous mind but, not only that, and a gifted writer, but not only that, she's also a person -- she's a marvelous ... sort of a hatred of bigotry that she has. She's a person who simply won't stomach certain things -- discrimination by race, religion, things like that. That's something she just doesn't compromise with and when she's in an uncompromising mood, she's a terrific fighter. She combines shrewd insight with a really kind of fierce morality on some of these things. And those are things that I think that I can at least learn from and hopefully imitate to some extent.
LAMB: Let me ask you about bigotry. As a country, how are we doing?
BARONE: I think we're doing much better. You know, if you go back to the 1930s and 1940s, you'll find that racial discrimination was the order of the day. The big issue in Congress on civil rights in the 1930s was the anti-lynching law -- a law that was supposed to prohibit blacks from being strung up and killed in the South. And there were often several lynchings a year earlier in the century, dozens of lynchings a year. This was a common occurrence. By 1956, the lynching, as it was, of Emmett Till, a young, really teen-age boy from Chicago in Mississippi, became a media event, a cause celebre. Congressman Charles Diggs of Detroit, a black congressman, went down to Mississippi, attended the trial of people accused of killing him. They were acquitted. But we get a change.

Then we have the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, in which Martin Luther King and many other people really, I think, changed the mind of America. Before that we thought racial segregation was something that was a fact of life. Most people in the country thought it was a fact of life, something you could live with, something you didn't think about very much if you didn't live in that part of the country. After the 1960s, most Americans are persuaded that it's something we must do away with, that we must make a major change in our country and we do, in the course of the civil rights revolution, not only by actions of the courts, which people often write about, but even more through politics.

It was politics -- President Truman acting in a presidential campaign who desegregated the armed services, 1948 and in subsequent years. It was politics in the 1964 civil rights acts and the earlier, weaker civil rights acts--the 1965 Voting Rights Act that changed the behavior of Americans in public accommodations, in voting rights and on the workplace, so that black Americans were accepted as Americans, as people who could participate equally in a wide range of activities. I don't think the country's perfect. Now I don't know many people who do on this score. Clearly, it's much better and far improved from what it was when this book starts off -- this narrative.
LAMB: Let me read a little note here. It says, "I am fortunate, second, in having a daughter whose lively friendliness and brilliant insights enrich my life and remind me that, for many Americans in these fortunately rather uninteresting times, politics is, quote, 'boring and dumb.'" All right, start with uninteresting times.
BARONE: Well, the Chinese have an old curse. And the curse is, "May you live in interesting times." The fact is that the first half of the 20th century in most of the world was a much more interesting time than the second half of the 20th century. In the first half of the 20th century, you have World War I that kills 20 million people; you have World War II in which perhaps 30 million people or some very large number are killed; you have a worldwide economic collapse in the 1930s in which all sorts of things that people have worked hard for are lost and which also leads to people behaving in a very nasty way towards each other in many countries.

Those interesting times evoked some great leadership -- Franklin D. Roosevelt in our country, Winston Churchill in Britain, others around the world who helped, I believe, lead us to victory for the sides of decency in that war -- in World War II--and did many things to build a better world. But those are not times that, if you had it to choose, you would want to live your personal life in. Those were times in which many people who were just trying to live their personal lives, to work, make their way ahead with their families, they were killed. They were yanked out of their personal lives. That's been much less common experience in the second half of the 20th century, so this is the kind of uninteresting times we're in now.
LAMB: By the way, you're raising your daughter by yourself?
BARONE: That's right.
LAMB: Lost your wife?
BARONE: She died five years ago, yes.
LAMB: Five years ago. And for our audience's sake, because they see a lot of us from our coverage of Harvard, the Joan Schorenstein Barone Center is named after your wife.
LAMB: The "boring and dumb" -- I want to ask, is that your daughter's characterization of politics?
BARONE: Well, she's not tremendously interested in politics. I have taken her along on some assignments. She has attended the Polk County Democratic steak fry in Des Moines, Iowa, where four Democratic presidential candidates came to speak and shake hands. And after shaking hands with them, she went off with another little girl to paste up signs on the side of the walls and do interesting things like that. And she's been with me in the state Capitol in Texas and a few other places where we've interviewed politicians, but she has opinions on some of the issues of the day. And she understands and knows some of these things, but she has the child's repertoire of Quayle jokes, which seems to be an in thing at some of the playgrounds now. But she's not tremendously interested in it, no.
LAMB: You break down the book, as you say, in the introduction, into three different sections, three different focuses. The first focus, United States politics more often divides Americans along cultural than along economic lines. And the second guiding thesis of this book is that in time of war, America, like other countries, tends to choose bigger government and cultural uniformity while in time of peace we tend to want smaller government and cultural diversity. And it's this third part that I want to ask you directly about and that is the individual. He quotes Tolstoy. Why?
BARONE: Well, Tolstoy writes this end chapter. I really picked this up from the essay which I went back and read on "The Hedgehog and the Fox" by Isaiah Berlin, who's a student of Tolstoy. Tolstoy writes at the end of "War and Peace" a 50-page long essay which I waded through once many years ago, in which he argues that the individual didn't matter, that Napoleon didn't matter, that the czar, Alexander I, did not matter, that the tides of history go on regardless and they are too big for one individual to handle.

Isaiah Berlin, great scholar, British scholar, makes the point that actually, when you read Tolstoy, individuals matter a great deal and he paints his individuals in such bright tones and so specifically and shows how they do matter. I think from -- and more strongly than I did when I started writing this book -- that individuals do matter, that the things that our politicians do sometimes can make a great deal of difference, in what we think, in what happens around the world and in what we think of our country as.

And the chief example is Franklin D. Roosevelt. You had here a president who came to power -- came to office, rather, in 1933 at a time when money had stopped circulating in large parts of the country. The banks had been closed in my home state of Michigan for a month when Roosevelt came to office. People were living off promises, off scrip. They didn't know if the economy was going to come back. And one of the things that Roosevelt did was to assert an absolute confidence that the economy could come back and then he did a whole series of actions -- and I lay them out in the book -- the 100 days, you know, bang, and this day, poom, poom -- a whole series of actions which helped to shake the economy out of this hideous downward spiral that it was involved in. I don't think that was inevitable. It didn't happen under his predecessor. I don't think that anybody could have done that. I think that a specific individual did make a great deal of difference here.

Similarly, when you look at the war -- World War II -- a couple years before World War II this country was something like 14th in military power in the world. We did not have much of an Army. We had not much of a Navy and some of that was sunk at Pearl Harbor. When we started off in the years 1940 and '41 -- until June 1941, Hitler and Stalin were united in control of most of the land mass of Europe and Asia. And nonetheless, we were able to win a total victory in that war.

I don't think that just automatically happened either. I think that part of it was set in motion by President Roosevelt, specifically in his choice of the top leaders of the war, which was very shrewd and very -- we had as good a military leadership in that war -- certainly as we've ever had in any war. And an individual helped to make that happen. You know, we know from history, subsequent to World War II, you can get stalemates in wars. You can fail to win wars against countries that are militarily weaker than you are. We've seen it happen in Korea. We've seen it happen in Vietnam. The difference is in World War II, we won the war and I think that that made a great difference for our country and for the world.
LAMB: I want to come back to President Roosevelt but I want to read you -- on the back of the book are a bunch of endorsements from Senator Moynihan, Senator Bentsen, Larry Sabato, the political science professor at the University of Virginia, Lou Canon, but this one struck me as something I wanted to ask you about. "Our Country" -- the name of your book -- "is the best political book of 1990 and probably the 1990s" -- George Will, ABC News and Newsweek. How did you get George Will to say something like that?
BARONE: Well, I've known George for some years and I sent over a copy of the book. I've talked to him from time to time about this project that I was doing and he indicated some interest and I sent him over a copy of the preliminary version of the book, as you do, that's bound galleys. And he took a look at it and sent me back this very generous comment, for which I'm grateful.
LAMB: What is it about the book, do you think that -- I mean, did he tell you verbally after he read it why he thinks it's one of the best books in the '90s, before we even start the '90s?
BARONE: Well, you'd have to ask George to comment on his view specifically. For myself, I just tried to write a book that would ... let me put it this way -- A lot of the history books, including a lot of the really wonderful history books that have been written about American politics starting in the 1930s and going up to the present date, have been written from a really rather partisan angle. Most of the good New Deal books are written by people who are very strong partisans of Roosevelt and the New Deal. And, in many ways, they're sort of saying to their friends, "You ought to vote for this guy, too." They come from people who grew up at a time when most articulate people voted Republican and it's like they're trying -- a minority trying to convince all their friends and college classmates that they should vote for Roosevelt, not for Willkie or Dewey or the Republicans.

More recently, we've had history that's been written by neo-conservatives -- or commentary -- conservatives of different kinds have been very articulate in their criticisms of the Democrats and boosting of the Republicans. Then you have liberal commentary in the press and otherwise. I wanted to get away from just being partisan. I wanted to try to understand and appreciate the strengths and the weaknesses of all these different people. As I've already indicated, I'm a big admirer of Roosevelt as a leader of the country, but I don't think that his policies were always correct. Some of them seem to me to be positively wacko. Some clearly didn't work. He recognized that himself.

We don't have to decide anymore whether we're going to vote for Roosevelt or not in the 1940 election. That issue is moot. We don't have to decide whether or not we're going to vote for Bush or not in 1988 election. Those things have happened. Our job now is to try and understand them, try to see how the country changed and was built. And that's what I've tried to do in this book. I have people that I admire more and people that I admire less in the course of the book, but I think that that's important to understand the whole period.
LAMB: Do you consider yourself, in your own head, partisan, political at this point? I mean, you worked for Peter Hart, who was a Democrat or is a Democrat. You worked for the Washington Post, which has a more liberal political philosophy. Where are you personally at this point in your life?
BARONE: Oh, sometimes I say I'm a wishy-washy liberal. The fact is I was involved as a Democratic political consultant and some critics of the press say, "Well, if you go into the press and you used to be a Democratic political consultant, obviously you're just trying to spread propaganda for the Democrats in the press." One of the reasons -- the main reason I left this terrific position I had as a political consultant was that I did not entirely believe in what the candidates were selling anymore and I took a somewhat different view and I thought that I could better express that as a member of the press and try and understand things than I could as an advocate for these candidates. So I characterize myself almost as a nationalist. I'm an admirer of both Roosevelt and Reagan and of many people in between -- both in time and in ideology.
LAMB: Other than writing books for -- and you still do the almanac, the...
BARONE: The Almanac of American Politics. Yes, the almanac -- the 1990 edition's on the stands.
LAMB: Do you have a co-writer with that now?
BARONE: Grant Ujifusa is my co-author on the Almanac of American Politics. And in fact, he's the one that thought the idea of it in the first place nearly 20 years ago.
LAMB: And who is he?
BARONE: He's an editor at Reader's Digest.
LAMB: And you currently are doing what other than writing books?
BARONE: I'm now a senior writer at US News & World Report. I write columns most weeks either by myself or with David Gergen, who's one of our editors at US News. I've really had a great time there and opportunities to look at politics in a wide number of places, including the Soviet Union. I went off to the Soviet Union for a couple of weeks last fall and wrote an article "Can Democracy Save Gorbachev" in one of our issues in January of this year.
LAMB: What's the difference between writing editorials for the Post and working at US News as a senior writer?
BARONE: Well, when you're writing editorials, you're trying usually to express an opinion and so, consequently, determining that opinion is ultimately the job of the editorial page editor and that publisher of the paper and so it's not precisely your work. Whereas, with US News, I'm writing more along the lines of my interpretation or description of what's going on in the world.
LAMB: We're talking about Michael Barone's new book called, "Our Country: The Shaping of America." It starts in 1930 and comes up through 1988. Back to FDR. Did you find out anything about FDR in your research that you didn't know?
BARONE: Well ...
LAMB: As a person.
BARONE: What I think I found out about Franklin Roosevelt that impressed me is that he was a much more self-disciplined man than I had believed from my earlier casual reading of many of the Roosevelt books. You know, he was always a man who would joke. He had a smile, good repartee; he was very charming to many people. And the impression many of his critics and some of his admirers had was, here's a guy who's kind of light-hearted, light-headed. What did Walter Lippmann say about him in 1932? "A pleasant man who, without having any important qualifications for the job, would very much like to be president."

The fact is, though, I think this was a guy with much greater self-discipline. One of the things that gave me a hint of this was, you read all these accounts of different people and nobody ever saw this man looking worried. Very few people ever saw him looking angry. Now that's not natural. That's not how anybody behaves naturally, no matter how cheerful a temperament they have. This was the result of very careful discipline. You had a man here who had been crippled by polio in the 1920s, who never fully recovered, although he said that he hoped to do so, and who wanted to be president, who wanted to be the leader of the country, who wanted to be leader of all the people. And he knew that you couldn't do this unless you showed strength at all times and he knew that, particularly as a person with a handicap, you couldn't do it if you appeared to be worried or overcast, as Herbert Hoover did, as many of our leaders have at various times.

You couldn't do it if you were self-pitying, the way Richard Nixon often was, talking about all his torments and everything. You never saw that sort of thing from Roosevelt in public and, apparently, you never really saw it in private, even among his intimates.

This was a guy who was surrounded by people 24 hours a day and never appeared worried. And only such a man, I think, really could have succeeded in leading us out of that downward economic spiral and to complete victory in a wartime period. It's quite an extraordinary record -- and to reshape our politics and, in many ways, the country around us.
LAMB: You mentioned the individual in the beginning and you write about a lot of individuals in this. And I went through and wrote down -- I mean, we're never going to be able to talk about some of these people but in checking the indexes and the people that were mentioned the most ... before I pull some of these out, I want to ask you about Ronald Reagan. Is there any similarity between Ronald Reagan and FDR?
BARONE: Well, there's a great similarity between Ronald Reagan and FDR and, in fact, when William Leuchtenberg, a wonderful New Deal historian, went to interview people for Roosevelt's centennial in 1982, he interviewed all the presidents and ex-presidents living at that time. And the one who was most enthusiastic about President Roosevelt was Ronald Reagan. He was the incumbent president but he took Leuchtenberg aside, as I recall the account, in the office. He talked to him expansively about how wonderful a leader Roosevelt was in the Depression, what a wonderful job he'd done during the war. He went on at great length. And Reagan continues to be a Roosevelt fan to this day.

One of the things I found out in doing this research that I had not found out before, was that some of Reagan's greatest lines he borrowed from Roosevelt. You remember in the 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter -- at the end of the debate, Reagan sums up and he says, "You should ask yourself -- are you better off than you were four years ago? Is your family better off? Is the country better off?" and so forth.

That line is a direct steal from Franklin D. Roosevelt. It comes in a Fireside Chat in June 1934. And Roosevelt says, in slightly different words, the same thing. "Are you and your neighbors better off? Can you feed your family? Are more people working in your community? Is the country better off?" That was 46 years before. Reagan was the only one of those people involved in those debate preparations who was old enough to remember that. That was not something that was fed to him by his advisers. It was something that he remembered, probably consciously, perhaps subliminally, from the president he admired the most.

Much of the strength, I think, of Ronald Reagan as an inspirational leader and as a person who showed confidence and strength in the office of president comes from the fact that he reflected many of the values and experiences of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
LAMB: If you had to pick a couple people that you wrote about in this book to spend an evening with ...
BARONE: Spend an evening with, oh, gosh.
LAMB: Not for their political beliefs, but just people that you would like to spend an evening with -- name a couple ...
BARONE: Name a couple of people. OK. Hubert Humphrey. Who wouldn't like to spend an evening with Hubert Humphrey sitting around and talking about old times and perhaps having a can of beer and talking ebulliently about what he hoped for the future of the country and so forth. Whatever your politics were, it would be a delightful evening.

Senator Robert Wagner, the founder of the Wagner Labor Act and really the man who started, as I point out, in our country many of the New Deal legislations. Some of it initially was opposed by Roosevelt. Wagner had a real view of it. From New York City, immigrant, came over and made a difference. Really a smart guy but also a very shrewd political operator, unlike a lot of later American liberals.

Who else would I like to spend an evening with? Alben Barkley, one of the old raconteurs -- the vice president. Got to throw a few Republicans in here, too.

I'd like to spend some time with President Eisenhower at ease. I'd particularly like to spend some time with him if he'd tell us what was going on up here (points to head) because, as we know now from ... the more people who've studied President Eisenhower, the more they know that his achieving most of the things that he wanted was not just dumb luck or an accident or done by a good smile. This was a very smart man, a man who'd written speeches for Douglas MacArthur, a man who had done planning of war strategy for General George Marshall. This was a very shrewd, sometimes rather ruthless man who accomplished what he wanted to, and if he would share that with you, that would be utterly fascinating, I think.
LAMB: What do you think an evening with Robert A. Taft would be like, former senator from Ohio?
BARONE: Well, Senator Taft had, I think, kind of a sour temperament, and was unpopular for that reason. He was a man of stern principle, but he was a man who would tend even to tell his allies things they didn't want to hear. The story is that, you know, one of his friends in the Senate would come up to him with some idea for an initiative and Senator Taft would say, "No that's stupid. Don't do that. That's awful." Well, he may have been right but that's not a very politician type to do that. And I would like to spend time with him to learn about his intellect and to see his feelings, but I'm not sure it'd be a jovial evening.
LAMB: About a block from us there's a big monument sitting right over here on the Capitol grounds to Robert Taft, the only one of its kind -- a non-leader. How did that happen? What was the source of his popularity?
BARONE: He was a man of strong principle. He advanced his principles when they were politically unpopular as well as popular. He was a man of strong intellect. He clearly cared about the country and he fell short of his goal of the presidency in a rather poignant way and then died very suddenly thereafter. He ran for president in '52 at what was then considered to be the advanced age of 64. They thought, well, that was way too old to run. And then the next year he got cancer and died within a couple of months of that in the summer of 1953. I think the poignancy of that experience is interesting. Chief Justice Howard Taft, William Howard Taft, his father, who'd been president of the United States 1909 through 1913 -- I sort of start this book off because he died in 1930, just before the book starts -- was a much more jovial, good-humored, expansive sort of individual. Him I would love to spend an evening with.
LAMB: There's a lot on my list here I want to ask you about.
LAMB: Joe McCarthy?
BARONE: Joe McCarthy, a fraud through and through and a lightweight, I think. I think that this is one where the liberals had been right all along and the people who stood up to him were right. McCarthy supposedly took on the Communists. This is what he said. The fact is, there were Communists in parts of the American government, people who were loyal to Stalin. There were some in the labor union movement and in certain parts of the Democratic Party -- a few, but they were well-positioned. But they were all gone long before McCarthy spoke up.

The Democrats -- the Americans for Democratic Action -- ADA liberals, UAW leaders like Walter Reuther and others in the CIO unions cleaned out the Communists in 1947, '48. They won union elections. They cleaned out the Democratic Party of these people who were really loyal to Stalin. And McCarthy was just going after political headlines. In fact, he was not even as popular at the time as his reputation suggests.
LAMB: What years was he the most active?
BARONE: January 1950 through the hearings in the spring of 1954.
LAMB: Today is there anybody that still defends him?
BARONE: You'd have to ask William F. Buckley Jr., a wonderful man, who wrote a book defending, called "McCarthy and his Enemies" some years ago. I have not heard anybody that defends him. And, in fact, you hear people like Dan Quayle, you hear other people on the political right accusing others of McCarthyism. It's become a bad word for all points of political spectrum.
LAMB: Gene McCarthy?
BARONE: Gene McCarthy -- I think to understand Gene McCarthy, you have to take seriously the idea that he really intended to be president. Most of the political observers then and later thought, "Well, this is an intellectual guy, a poet. He just went into it to get rid of Johnson. He didn't really expect to be president himself." My view of him, for the 20 years from 1948, when he entered Congress, till 1968, when he ran for president is this is a serious politician, a sharp operator as well as a committed liberal, a rather shrewd politician -- at some point ruthless -- and he was running to win. And when Robert Kennedy entered the race and then Lyndon Johnson dropped out, he lost his chance to win. I think his scenario was that he wanted to go one on one against Lyndon Johnson. He figured that people didn't want Johnson anymore. He was right. I think he would have won the nomination in that race, if that had been the combination, and, who knows, he might have won it in November.
LAMB: As we go through this list, we're just talking about people that made a difference.
LAMB: Would you agree to that -- and if you look through your list of the people you talk about the most, one of those that gets the most mentions is Richard Nixon. What's your feeling about him?
BARONE: Well, only two people have been nominated by major parties five times for national office, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. And in a way, you can say that the tone of the times has been affected by them both. Nixon is a man who has his talents, he had his achievements, of which he can boast in office, I'm sure, but the fact is I think that he performed very badly for the country on the whole. He was a man who really did not seize leadership. He let others define issues for him, in my view. In the 1960 campaign, for example, he kept saying, "Well, I'm after the same goals that Senator Kennedy's for, but I'd achieve them somewhat differently." Well, when I was in political consulting, you don't let the other side define the campaign. In fact, this was a guy who could have run in 1960 as George Bush did in 1988, as the candidate of a party that had managed the White House well for eight years. That was the opinion of most voters. Eisenhower had a good job rating in 1960, just as Reagan did in '88. Not perfect, but good. Nixon, for whatever reasons, did not choose to run that way and he ended up losing an election, in my judgment, he could easily have won.

And, of course, he was undisciplined. I mean, here is a guy that allowed this Watergate burglary to happen, that covered it up, that hired the kind of people and sent the kind of signals downward in this organization that this kind of conduct would be allowed. He didn't understand that the times no longer allowed people to behave in this way, if they ever had. That Americans had become more procedurally demanding of their politicians. And he ended up taking an election that he was about to win overwhelmingly and getting thrown out of office by the way he won it.
LAMB: Shortly, on another BOOKNOTES program, we'll be talking with Robert Caro ...
LAMB: ... who wrote the series, or is writing the series on Lyndon Johnson. What's your view of Lyndon Johnson?
BARONE: Well, Lyndon Johnson was a man -- he's one of these guys who, if you saw a brick wall in front of him, you would say, "Mr. Johnson, you can't walk through that. That's a brick wall." He would just keep walking and, by God, he'd walk right through it. A man of immense force, there's nobody around like that. I ask a lot of people around town who knew Lyndon Johnson in the '50s and '60s, you know, "Is there anybody around like that kind of force of character?" The answer is, "No, hasn't been for a long time."

He knew the Senate and he knew the South. He did not know the country and the world. And I think that explains a lot of his successes and his failures. As vice president, he advised President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy -- he said, "Go faster and harder on this civil rights bill." He says, "You can get it through the Senate and the South will accept it." He was absolutely right on both counts. He was stronger for it than the Kennedys were by a good long shot. And he gave them advice which they listened to, to give them credit. They respected his judgment. Johnson was not as much of a failure as vice president as people think. They respected his judgment. The country and the world, he ended up with the Democratic Party that lost votes. He ended up with a war that he couldn't win.
LAMB: What is your view of the job that Robert Caro has done on him? I know that -- very controversial -- a lot of people that worked for Lyndon Johnson are very upset about what he's done.
BARONE: I have not read all of Robert Caro's second volume. My sense is that he has elevated the Coke Stevenson and the others to a somewhat higher status of sainthood than perhaps they deserve and lowered Lyndon Johnson to perhaps a lower sort of devilhood than they've concern. My view -- Mr. Caro is a guy that really doesn't like winners. He didn't like Robert Moses, who he wrote about who was successful in most of the things he did. He didn't like Lyndon Johnson, who was successful in most of the things he did. I think, like many intellectuals, he kind of recoils at the price that people men of action, women of action pay in order to succeed. And I think that gives you a little bit one-sided a view.
LAMB: Comes to mind that he spent something like 14 years researching his books, and he spent an awful lot of time in the Lyndon Johnson library. As you went through the research on your book, which figure in history between 1930 and 1988 that you wrote about has the best material available to read and study in their libraries or tucked away in somebody else's libraries?
BARONE: Well, I did not do extensive primary research, as the historians say, reading old documents and things. The best literature available to the public I think is still Roosevelt. The writers on Roosevelt, even when they're wrong, are beautiful, wonderful writers. I mean, Arthur Schlesinger, James McGregor Burns, William Leuchtenberg, Kenneth S. Davis, Frances Perkins, many of the other memoirs. These things are wonderful books to read. I mean, anybody could curl up in front of a fire and have a wonderful evening with any one of these books. They're inspiring.
LAMB: Who's next?
BARONE: Who's next? There are good ... I think the next books that I would recommend on this period to anybody is the Teddy White series, "The Making of A President." One of the things that Teddy White does for us is he not only describes the campaign, he describes the country. He describes for John F. Kennedy's election, he tells you what it was like for the immigrants to grow up and what it meant to be different as a Catholic and then to have a Catholic elected president. For the '64 and '68, he describes the civil rights, the movement of blacks from, you know, South to North. Many of the more recent campaign books tend not to give you the context of the country, or take it for granted that the readers will know it. Theodore White was really a teacher and his books repay re-reading, even if he's gotten some things wrong or he believed Nixon too much in 1972. They are nonetheless well worth re-reading at any point.
LAMB: What's your feeling about historians? Do they write from their point of view -- their political point of view or do they write from a pretty 20/20 hindsight historical point of view?
BARONE: Well, I think academic historians -- I think the major problem or the major gripe I have about academic historians is that they tend to write about too small an area, because they believe that they should do primary research. There's such a plethora of documents and materials that they end up being pointillist and tend to write about small things. I wish they'd get a little broader. I would enjoy reading what they'd have to say. General writers, I think -- writers for a wider audience -- the Arthur Schlesingers, the William Manchesters and the people that write so beautifully for a wider ranging audience about historical subjects, tend to be partisan, I think. But a reader can read through the partisanship, too, I think, when you have a really fine piece of work in front of you.
LAMB: You mentioned Catholics earlier -- two Catholics, Al Smith. Who was he? What part did his religion play in his political life? Mr.
BARONE: Well, Al Smith was governor of New York, elected in 1918, '22, '24 and '26, a big vote-getter. He was a product of the Tammany Hall machine, which mostly Catholics voted for. He was a Roman Catholic himself, of Italian and Irish descent, primarily Irish. And he was the Democratic nominee for president in 1928.

And the Democratic Party in the '20s -- in the years before the Depression -- was terrifically split between Southerners and border states who were against immigrants, who were for prohibition of liquor, and the Catholics of the big cities who were for immigrants and against prohibition and different from them in a whole series of issues. They just had their party label in common. They had terrific fights. Al Smith lost a lot of votes in 1928 from that fundamentalist -- the South and West, the border states. Nonetheless, he picked up votes for the Democrats that they'd never won before, in some of the big cities, where the big city machines had been Republican.
LAMB: Michael Barone is our guest. This is the book, "Our Country: The Shaping of America," writing about the years 1930 to 1988. Speaking of Catholics again, Jack Kennedy.
BARONE: Well, here's another wonderful political story. I believe strongly that the mode of force behind John F. Kennedy's election as president was his father, Joseph P. Kennedy. I mean, he, like Lyndon Johnson, was one of these people, if he saw a brick wall in his way, he'd simply walk through the brick wall. Like Johnson, he was a man from very modest beginnings. They were born at two ragged ends of the Democratic archipelago in east Boston, Massachusetts; Johnson City, Texas. Joe Kennedy started off with nothing. He made $1 million before he was 30 years old, when $1 million was a very substantial money. Very few Irish Catholics made a lot of money. Joe Kennedy did. He married the mayor of Boston's daughter. He went into the movies, in Hollywood in the 1920s. He made money in the liquor business in the 1930s, in real estate, and he was an important political figure. He was one of three men that gave Franklin D. Roosevelt $50,000 in 1932, when $50,000 was a real political contribution. And he got something for it. He got high appointments from Roosevelt, ambassador to England --the first Irish-American. They loved that. He wanted to be president in his time himself. He didn't make it. He pushed his sons to run.

I think that if Joe Kennedy had had a stroke in 1955, let's say, instead of 1961, when he did, I don't think John Kennedy would have run for president in 1960. He was only 43 years old. There were other talented people in the field. He wasn't sure if a Catholic could win. There's a wonderful scene after Thanksgiving dinner in 1956, in Hyannisport, Joe Kennedy takes his son into the library and starts talking about it and John Kennedy, the senator from Massachusetts, said, "Well, you know, Dad, there's a lot of Catholics -- a lot of people don't want a Catholic president out there. It's a problem."

And the father says, "Look" -- he says, "There's an awful lot of people out there that feel that they've been overlooked, that they're not real Americans. They're ready to vote for you like crazy. There's enough of them for you to win." And he was a good man with the numbers and he was right.
LAMB: What did you think of his presidency?
BARONE: I think that Kennedy turned out to be a much better president than we had a right to expect on the basis that he was elected as a 43-year-old senator without a whole lot of legislative accomplishments. He was bright intellectually but not experienced in foreign policy. I think that he turned out rather well for that. He had some significant successes in office. He also had a few failures, some of which he confessed himself, like Bay of Pigs. Lloyd Bentsen had this comment in the 1988 debate to Dan Quayle, "You're no Jack Kennedy." Well, in a way, in 1960, Jack Kennedy was no Jack Kennedy either. He only became that later by what he did in office. His credentials were not overwhelmingly strong when he ran in 1960.
LAMB: Your eyes lighted up when we started talking about individuals, when you mentioned Hubert Humphrey. What was it about Hubert Humphrey that was so special to you?
BARONE: Well, here is a man who is an incredible optimist, bubbling over with ideas. He wants to use government to do a variety of things. As a practical politician he was a little sloppy. He was not well organized. He never was able to raise very much money when he needed to. And yet, in many ways, and more perhaps than the presidents who were in office during his career, Humphrey contributed to the tone and a character to the positive achievements of American liberalism. A sort of "Everybody is welcome, let's all move ahead" kind of tone, which is one of the good, positive contributions American liberalism has made over the last 50 or 60 years. And who better personifies this tone in the last 40 years than Hubert Humphrey?
LAMB: You see too often in your book this return to optimism. And I think you even refer to the fact that one of the things that a lot of authors come up with when they look at the last 60 or so years is pessimism. Are you optimistic?
BARONE: I'm very optimistic. You know, a lot of the writing that's been done, particularly in the last 15 years, has been about the decline of America, how we're going downhill, how we're going to be a second-rate country, how our economy is declining and so forth. I think that mostly misses the point. The fact is that we've had an economy in the 1980s that's gained 20 million jobs at a time when economies elsewhere in advanced countries haven't gained any. We've had a foreign policy that is so successful that the Communists have been losing territory every couple of weeks we look up, they've lost another country. Our ideas, our system, the kind of policies that we have stood for or sponsored in countries where we've had influence are having success all over the world. People want to be, in many ways, like America and I think that they've betting their lives on it and I think they're making a good bet.
LAMB: If you're running for office then, is the message "Be optimistic no matter what?"
BARONE: Well, you know, if you're running for office, you're going to be promising people that you can make something better. Otherwise I think the response is going to be, "Why don't you just stay home and write articles or something," criticizing everything if you can't make it better. That means a certain amount of optimism. Now you can't have a sort of giddy optimism when you shouldn't. Sometimes people do that. Roosevelt didn't write a lot of gags in the Pearl Harbor speech. And, when Hubert Humphrey, bless him, made the statement about the politics of joy in 1968, which was not a joyful year, it fell flat because it was the wrong time. Nonetheless, I think that, overall, yes, you want to be optimistic. And we've seen that in the 1980s. I mean, what Ronald Reagan brought to the presidency, among other things, was a sense of optimism, a sense that the country could do better than it was doing, and that it could have greater economic growth, greater foreign policy success than most of the pundits were predicting in 1980. Well, it has. He was right. He was not a great detail man. He was not great on second line issues, but he was right about those big things, or at least most voters believed he was.
LAMB: More names, more individuals. George Wallace and Henry Wallace.
BARONE: George Wallace I think is a man who really didn't believe in anything--a political opportunist who used opposition to integration to try and get himself ahead, to try somehow to make himself president, even though there wasn't a clear flight path to the job. He changed his views on race as the electorate changed and blacks were allowed to vote in Alabama in the 1970s. One must be sympathetic with his physical handicap as a result of being shot while campaigning, but I think on balance, not a positive figure.

Henry Wallace, vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, elected in 1940; dropped from the ticket, tumultuous convention in 1944. Henry Wallace believed that it was more important in the world to have what he called social justice -- economic redistribution -- than it was to have political democracy. He made a statement about that during World War II. Of our two major allies in World War II, he thought Stalin's Russia was really a better sort of system than Churchill's Britain. I think those were fundamentally wrong judgments. He ultimately was dropped from the Truman Cabinet and he ran as a left-wing candidate against Truman in 1948; got 1 percent of the vote. He was against the Cold War. He did not think we should have a quarrel with Stalin. I think that was wrong and Truman was right.
LAMB: Of the 50 or so names that I wrote down that you focused on in the book, no women.
BARONE: Well, Frances Perkins, secretary of labor in the Roosevelt administration would be one exception to that -- a woman who I think played an important part making policy in the New Deal, making an alliance between the big new CIO unions and steel, autos, coal, with the Roosevelt administration and a person who helped to construct his policies from back in their days in New York in 1910. The fact is that women have not been, rightly or wrongly, the major actors in American politics during most of this period.
LAMB: Will that change if you went back 60 years from now and wrote a book, starting in 1988 forward?
BARONE: Well, it is changing now. We had a woman on the Democratic ticket in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro. Her qualifications were thin, although she's a competent, intelligent person, and she made a respectable showing for herself. We'll have others. Right now in California, the candidate leading in the polls -- they could change any day -- but right now leading in the polls for governor of California is Dianne Feinstein. Now if you'd told anybody 30 or 40 years ago that a little girl growing up whose name was Dianne Goldman was going to be governor of the largest state in the nation, they would have said you were full of beans. Today that's a lively possibility. And I think we'll see other careers of this sort happening or they are happening across the country.
LAMB: On the list of 50, there are about -- I probably missed somebody -- there's say three blacks: A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson. Why those three and will that change in the next 60 years?
BARONE: Well, one of the things I enjoyed in writing "Our Country" was reading and learning more about the role that A. Philip Randolph played and others in civil rights in the 1940s, during the war years and just after, pressing for equal treatment of blacks in the armed services and defense industries. One of the things that really helped produce black advances in many ways was the war, because the argument was always there that if they can die for the country, why can't people live in the country like anybody else. Very strong argument. And Randolph was a very strong individual of great force of character.

Martin Luther King, similarly, in the 1960s, he did all sorts of things which wiser, older, grayer hair-heads said you couldn't do. We were impractical. In many ways, Martin Luther King's vision turned out to be more practical and more correct than those of his critics. And again, I think we will see more blacks today in future.

Right now the House majority whip, former chairman of the Budget Committee is a black; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the administrative branch, the executive branch of the government is black. You see the mayors of New York and a number of other cities are black and we'll see the governor of Virginia is black. We're going to see more black Americans making achievements in politics in the years to come just as we're seeing today.
LAMB: Will Jesse Jackson ever be president of the United States?
LAMB: Why?
BARONE: I think because most people don't share his views on issues. He's a guy that really felt that the Third World critics of the United States were the people that had the right ideas and the people running United States policy were the people that had the wrong ideas. And I think that that's a judgment that has not stood up very well in the last couple of years. He's a man that said, "Viva, Castro." I don't think that voters in America are going to elect anybody of any race to be president who believes in "Viva, Castro."
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour, Michael Barone. Here's what the book looks like. Over 800 pages of material to be read. "The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan." Thank you for joining us.
BARONE: Thank you.

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