published Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Chattanooga: Crises for president

by Elizabeth Ryan

A crisis allows a president to have a moment of greatness, presidential scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin told a packed audience on the UTC campus Tuesday night. Abraham Lincoln wrote his place in history during the Civil War; Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his mark with the New Deal, and next week the world will look to President-elect Barack Obama to see if he will rise to the opportunity history has presented, she said.

“You’ve got crises that are larger than anything we’ve probably seen for a long period of time,” she said in an earlier interview. “It means that he’s coming in at a time that’s fraught with great danger, but also with great possibility to move the country through collective enterprise, which you can’t always do in ordinary times.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and cable news commentator shared her insights about the qualities of great leadership during a speech that kicked off the 2009 George C. Hunter Lecture Series at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Mr. Obama has said that if he could bring one book into the White House besides the Bible, it would be Ms. Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” about the Lincoln presidency.

By welcoming his rivals into the White House, President Lincoln reportedly encouraged a climate of vigorous debate, a culture Mr. Obama has said he hopes to cultivate with his cabinet nominations of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and Robert Gates as secretary of defense.

Mrs. Clinton, who fought Mr. Obama for the Democratic nomination, testified in her confirmation hearings Tuesday vowing to usher in a new era in which diplomacy — with friends as well as foes — would prevail as the dominant foreign policy.

For Nancy and Henry Crais of Monteagle, Tenn., Ms. Goodwin’s talk about the past seemed more relevant that ever.

“It was very, very engaging because it’s so current,” Ms. Crais said. “We’re a week away from Obama’s inauguration, and I think that makes us kind of tune in more to what’s going on in presidential politics, and then she made some references toward the end particularly about the challenges Obama faces and how similar challenges faced Lincoln. So that made it, it made it really current to me.”

“She said so much about his character,” Mr. Crais said. “And that’s what we’re sort of expecting in Obama, a person who has the values and honesty.”

Beyond his political savvy, Ms. Goodwin said President Lincoln exhibited other qualities common in great leaders. She said a willingness to learn on the job, an ability to connect with everyday citizens and to inspire others to action all are qualities that could help Mr. Obama or any other president govern effectively.

“It’s not surprising that some of our great presidents have also been good speakers, able to mobilize the people, inspire morale and make them feel they want to follow in a certain sense,” she said. “And it’s also probably not a surprise that those activist times when citizens get involved in their country as the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the New Society are the times that get remembered by history.”

Ms. Goodwin said one of the cardinal disappointments of the Bush administration was the failure to maintain the momentum of patriotism created by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She said the country lost an opportunity to boost military enlistment, to encourage people to reduce their energy consumption or to kick off a “Manhattan project” to develop long-term energy solutions.

Without the events that occurred during the Bush administration, however, Ms. Goodwin said Mr. Obama may not have been elected. For while certain leadership qualities are transcendent across time and culture, she said history often paves the way for certain leaders to emerge.

“It is true that what we look for in a leader, which of those qualities matter more, depends on the situation and what you’ve just been through,” she said. “The desire to have an inclusiveness that (Mr.) Obama’s talking about fits the need of the time. The desire to have someone who can speak well to the country and communicate in a literary fashion after you’ve had a president who has not had as easy a time talking to the country becomes even more important.”

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rolando said...


Another member of academia reportedly lauds, even gushes over, a totally unknown zero-experienced president-to-be, equates him with President Lincoln [who repeatedly violated the US Constitution during his tenure], puts him in the same class as FDR [more appropriate in re failed attempts to cure a depression], and bashes his predecessor all in one breath [figuratively].

While blaming Bush for his "failure" to keep the people's interest following 9/11, she fails to mention FDR's failure to help end HIS depression -- matter of fact, he made it deeper and longer. Hopefully Obama will not repeat that act...although it doesn't look good for us.

Bush might have been more successful had the cable news networks such as CNN and its ilk rallied around him, or at least reported the news truthfully and factually without bias. Instead, they -- and its employees such as Ms Goodwin -- chose to attack our elected leader in time of war. [CNN lost their #1 cable news position to FoxNews shortly after and never regained it.]

So let us wait and see what Obama brings to the table before falling all over ourselves; hopefully it will be something other than charred, down-to-the-bones leftovers from another era. Lest we forget, 48% of Americans voted against him...and we will be watching.

January 14, 2009 at 7:38 a.m.
GreenKepi said...

Amen, Rolando, Amen....

January 14, 2009 at 7:50 a.m.
libover30 said...

Ms. Kearns, we shouldn't forget that when President Bush took office, for the first time in history the US was hit. There is no other president that had this happen while taking office. And we have not had it happen again. But if we remember, this happened because Clinton didn't do what he should have! He had eight years to try and stop this, and he did nothing. Of course we will read that this isn't true, but we all know that things don't just happen over night! It takes years of doing nothing or turning your head away from the facts!

As for Obama, well I think I have listened to what my parents had to say and I think what we are seeing is another great depression, something that has happened before. So at least he has some history to go by when trying not to make mistakes.

Bush had NONE to look back at.

We will have to wait and see what Obama does, I mean everything that he first promised is now in the trash can, so what does he have up his sleeves now! We will be watching!

January 14, 2009 at 7:56 a.m.
rdecredico said...

The US has been "hit" before.

Remember Pearl Harbor? During the War of 1812 the British burned down the Capitol.

January 14, 2009 at 8:30 a.m.
rolando said...

Sometimes I wonder if FDR did know in advance of the Jap attack; after all, that war ended the depression -- a known FDR goal.

In any case, it was a different time -- there was certainly no nationwide rush to enlist following 9/11...far from it.

The English attack on DC doesn't count -- it wasn't a sneak attack...

January 14, 2009 at 3:07 p.m.
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