Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers From the Experts About Our Presidents


Good afternoon and welcome to the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero the archivist of the United States and it’s a pleasure to have you here. Joining us this afternoon in the William G. McGowan theater and a special welcome to those of you who are joining us remotely via YouTube. Today we look forward to hearing Talmage Boston
tell us about what he’s learned about the US presidents in the course of writing his
new book “Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers from Experts About Our Presidents”
. Talmage will be upstairs after the lecture to sign copies of the book. Before we hear from him I’d like to tell you
about two other programs coming up here in the next couple of weeks. On Wednesday, November 30 at noon will present
the first of three programs commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl
Harbor and the US entry into World War II. Steve Toomey will be here to discuss and sign his recent book Countdown to Pearl Harbor 12 Days to the Attack which unravels the crucial
characters and moments of this critical event in American history. And then the next day on Thursday, December
1 at seven will join the national Constitution Center and the national Constitution accountability
center to present a panel discussion called the 14th amendment’s shield of national protection
a constitutional guarantee of liberty and equality. The panel will discuss how the 14th amendment
enshrined the promise of liberty and equality in our Constitution and its implications for
today’s most important issues. To learn more about these and all of our public
programs and exhibits consult your monthly calendar of events online or in print . There
are copies in the lobby as well as sign-up sheets where you can receive it physically
or virtually. Relatively few people become close to US presidents. You may see their images on screens giving
speeches or toasting foreign heads of state or perhaps be surprised by motorcade. The best chance to get to know a president is probably after his term perhaps once his papers become known to researchers at a presidential library. The National Archives is in the process of
helping set up a new one for Barack Obama three truck-loads of material have already made their way towards Chicago. Today speaker Talmage Boston took a more personal
route preparing his book “Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers from Experts
About Our Presidents” . Some of the experts he interviewed have their own close ties to
the National Archives, David McCullough Ken Burns, H. W. Brands, Taylor Branch, Mark Updegrove, Lynda Johnson Rob and Douglas Brinkley have all appeared on this stage. Historians filmmakers and White House insiders
such as these have strong bonds with this agency and our mission whether it’s for researching
in our records or sharing our knowledge with the public programs we sponsor . I invite
you to come back again and again to take advantage of the variety of talks films and other programs
and topics represented in our records and holdings of records numbering in the billions
of pages. Our scope is wide and varied. Now it’s my pleasure to introduce Talmage
Boston. He has practiced law as a commercial trial
and appellate litigator in Dallas Texas since 1978 in addition to maintaining his full-time
law practice Talmage has written “Raising the Bar: The Crucial Role of the Lawyer in
Society” which includes a forward by Dick Thornburg former Atty. Gen. of the United States under Pres. Reagan
and Bush. He has also written two critically acclaimed
baseball history books “1939 Baseball’s Tipping Point” and “Baseball and the Baby Boomer” and has been inducted into the Texas baseball Hall of Fame. As a media member. As of recent years he has become one of the
best-known public interviewers in Dallas. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Talmage Boston [ Applause ]>>Talmage Boston: Thank you David what a great honor it is to be here at the National
Archives. This is truly a dream come true. Somebody from Dallas Texas speaking at such
an important place in American history and for the preservation of American history . It’s
now been 10 days since election day, and I suspect many here are still processing the
outcome, some of you are probably pleased with the results, some of you are probably
disappointed with the result. And the question is out of curiosity is anybody
ever going to trust the polls again? [ Laughter ]
is anybody ever going to trust the New York Times Washington Post major television networks
again? Okay I’m glad somebody will. Well the choice this year obviously was shall
we say complicated? And as we begin looking to the future, the
good news is for many of you is I’m not going to say anything good or bad about President-elect
Trump that would be very foolish if I did . I will find it I would lose half my book
buying audience. What I’m going to do in the next few minutes
is give you some food for thought from the pages of presidential history may be something
new and different to chew on on the subjects of the key traits of presidential leadership
and then I’m going to close with some thoughts on public expectations for a new presidency
based upon our past. First I’m going to talk about presidential
leadership. I suspect many of you have heard the adage
that most people love history for two reasons number one it shows us how much things
change and number two it shows us how much things stay the same. One of the main ways that history shows us
how much things stay the same is that the traits that make for a great presidential
leader are the same in 2016 as they were in 1789 when George Washington was sworn in. For my new book “Cross-Examining History:
A Lawyer Gets Answers from Experts About Our Presidents” after completing my 31 onstage
interviews with top presidential experts, I synthesized some of what I learned into
what I call the “10 Commandments of presidential leadership”. Now I believe these commandments are worthy
of all leaders attention since they come from the people who faced their eras of greatest
challenges and made decisions that in ways that have set the standard not only for presidential
leadership but for all who were in leadership positions. When I interviewed former White House Chief
of Staff John Sununu for my book, he said something very important. He said “nothing happens in our federal government
these days without presidential leadership”. He said the reason for that is because Congress
is truly a herd of cats. He said the president and only the president
has to manage the process and if he doesn’t then the process does not get managed. It reminded me of something hall of fame or
in baseball Reggie Jackson once said in his glory days with the New York Yankees when he would always describe himself as the “straw who stirred the drink” so Reggie was going to
try to make Johnson into his own words are federal government it’s our president who is the straw that stirs the drink. So keeping that thought in mind on the importance of presidential leadership and our government and in American history let’s now turn to the 10 Commandments
of presidential leadership and the president who epitomized each of them, and to help you
remember the Commandments and the presidents at the end of each I’m going to tie the president
to his namesake landmark here in Washington DC. The first commandment: a great leader shall
be conscience in chief. We always think of the president as Commander-in-Chief, and that of course is in the Constitution. But the great leaders are more than that they are the conscience of chief the highest level of integrity, a moral compass that’s locked on true north so we can count on the president to do the right thing when times get tough
or when they think that no one is looking. And the president who set the standard as
conscience in chief was our first president, George Washington. And understand more and deeper about the life and times of George Washington from my book I interviewed award-winning historians David and Jean Heidler. She is a professor of history at the Air Force
Academy in Colorado Springs. I interviewed them there at the Air Force
Academy and their book Washington’s Circle came out in early 2015 I got a huge review in the
Wall Street Journal. And since Washington is such a standard of
integrity that was a big part of the interview. How did it manifest itself so that he would
appear as conscience in chief. Where did this high level of integrity come
from? Well how he presented himself as conscience
in chief a big part of it was physical. George Washington was a large man pick. He was 6 foot two which was like being 6 foot
eight today given the average height of people then and now . But beyond that he had these penetrating pale blue eyes and this broad lionlike nose. And when ever he would speak publicly he always
spoke very slowly. And he did that to make sure that he never missspoke. So to hear George Washington speak was almost like
listening to the voice of God. But beyond just the physical way he presented
himself where did this integrity come from? The Heidlers said that a big part of it came
early in his life when he was learning how to do cursive handwriting. That is George Washington’s autograph you
can see he had a very strong hand a very flourishing hand. Of course he learned to write in the mid-1700s. In those days the way people learned how to
do cursive handwriting was working off of what were called copy books. These were published books with beautiful
handwriting and you would attempt to copy the beautiful handwriting until your writing
looked just like it . And George Washington’s favorite copybook was one written by Jesuit
priests and it was entitled “rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation”. And Washington seized on this book, there
were 110 rules he copied over and over again until he knew them backwards and forwards. The idea was that as you disciplined your
hand you also disciplined your mind to remember what you were writing. And that certainly was the case with George
Washington. These rules became his code for living for
the rest of his life. To give you an idea of what these rules were
about to give you my two favorites. The first one was every action done in company
ought to be with some sign of respect to all who are present. The second one I particularly like which is
tied to the first commandment is “labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark
of celestial fire called conscience”. Now after mastering these rules of civility
and decent behavior and living all his life during his presidency maintained with daily
vigilance his integrity by reading devotionals every day, going to church every Sunday, and
making sure that every action he took as our first president was in complete compliance
with our new Constitution as well as the Jesuit rules. Now he left the presidency in 1797 and then
died in 1799. Obviously there was a national outpouring
of grief over the loss of our beloved first president. And there was a historian in 1800 named Parson
Weems who decided he wanted to do something special to preserve the legacy of George Washington. He decided he want to write a biography of
Washington. In those days we didn’t have great libraries
or research tools and so obviously there was a lot in the public record about Washington’s
military career. Of course his time in politics, but to understand
his personality and how he operated there wasn’t a whole lot there. So Parson Weems did what historians of his
era did. He made stuff up. And the most famous story he made up was that
age 6 George Washington said “I cannot tell a lie Poppa I cut down the cherry tree with
my hatchet”. Will that was an early 19th century Aesop
fable but it absolutely told the truth about the lifelong integrity of George Washington. So here in DC of course we have the radiant
Washington Monument. Whenever you see it, think of it as a ‘I ‘ in that stands for the integrity George Washington who set the standard as being conscience in
chief. The second commandment: the great leader shall
stay above the partisan fray and shall build consensus with those who are across the aisle. Now building consensus is an essential part
of the American success story . E pluribus unum has been on our money forever out of
many one. The president who set the standard in showing
how to go about building consensus with those across the aisle was Thomas Jefferson. And for my book to understand more and deeper
about Thomas Jefferson I interviewed Peter Onuff Peter was the Thomas Jefferson professor of history
at the University of Virginia for over 20 years and has written six books on Thomas
Jefferson and obviously I interviewed Peter and in 2015 my book came out and in 2016 the world
were living in we don’t have many people who are able to cross the aisle and build consensus so it’s been a big chunk of the interview understanding how did Thomas Jefferson do
it particularly because I knew that in his era society with every bit as polarized, perhaps
more so than our society is now. To the extent that during John Adams presidency
who is number two Jefferson was our third president, during Adams presidency the Federalist
controlled Congress passed the sedition act of 1798 which made it a crime punishable by
incarceration for anyone to criticize Pres. Adams or any Federalist leader or policy. So it was into this fray that Thomas Jefferson
became president in which people were literally in jail because they had exercised their right
of free speech and freedom to speak and freedom of the press and criticized John Adams and
ended up in jail for it . And Thomas Jefferson when he took office in March 1801 in his first
inaugural address set the tone for his administration. And very close to the very beginning he said
” we are all federalists” and We are all Republicans. And he went from there over the next eight
years of his presidency. Now Harold Saunders an American diplomat wrote
a book called politics is about relationships. How do you build consensus with those across
the aisle – you build good relationships with them. Peter Onuff said here’s how Jefferson went about it during his eight-year presidency: he hosted a steady stream of dinner parties, month after
month, year after year, where the only invited guests were the leaders of the Federalist
party. The Federalist party of course had been led
by Adams and Alexander Hamilton the Republican party led by Jefferson and Madison it was
a new country with only been around for a little over a decade and Jefferson said I’m
good to bring this country back together, that’s the only way this is going to work. Is the only way this country is going to survive. So over these dinner parties, great food,
wine and conversation Thomas Jefferson was a very charming human being. He could talk about anything, arts, architecture
music, he was an accomplished violinist, politics history and literature you name it Thomas
Jefferson could talk about it. And over the course month after month year
after year the walls and started going coming down and the polarization started to melt
away and that was his chief priority, to make sure that this country was going to survive. So here you’ve got the Jefferson Memorial. When you look at it think of each of those
columns as a faction, a separate faction. But then think of how these factions become
unified under the perfect Jefferson dome. And remember Thomas Jefferson as a president
who showed us how to build consensus with those across the aisle. The third commandment: a great leader shall
know his limitations and shall know how to supplement his limitations. And the president who set the standard in
the straight was James Madison. This is about self awareness about knowing
your strengths and knowing your weaknesses. And in those areas where your weak being able
to align and partner with those who are strong in the areas where your weak. And a historian who I interviewed on Madison
was award-winning historian David Stewart who is in Maryland nearby. He had a great book that came out in early
2015 Madison’s Gift which was entirely about Madison’s capacity to partner with those who
were strong in the areas where he was weak and that with these partnerships doing more
than either could have done individually. Now Madison knew his strength, he knew he
was brilliant. He was a levelheaded sort of brilliance it
wasn’t a creative brilliance. But he was in the center he was the guy we
call the father of the Constitution in getting our new government he knew he was unbelievably
hard-working. He had a work ethic second to none. Nobody could outwork James Madison. But he also knew his weaknesses. He was a shrimp. He was 5 foot four. He weighed less than 100 pounds. George Washington when he entered a room everybody
took notice, when James Madison entered the room nobody took notice. Madison also knew his weakness in public
speaking. He zero charisma. And as I’ve said in terms of his brilliance
he knew he lacked creativity and if you’re going to form a brand-new government you want
to think you’re considering all the options you’ve got to had creativity. So what did Madison do? To make up for the fact that he was a scrawny
little guy who got lost in every crowd? He partnered with great big George Washington. They locked arms at the Constitutional convention
and in the early days of Washington’s presidency and did more together than either could have
done individually. And Washington was also self-aware, he knew
he was not brilliant, he needed Madison’s power. And that’s why they proved to be such a great
team. What did Madison do to make up for the fact
that he had no charisma? He partnered up with the most dynamic of our
founders Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was also self-aware, he knew that
he needed somebody equally brilliant and equally hard-working if he was going to accomplish
this goal of getting our new constitution ratified by the states. So Hamilton came up with this brilliant idea
to wish the Federalist papers. But he knew he couldn’t do it by himself. So he aligned with Madison and together they
wrote the Federalist papers and led the charge to get the Constitution ratified. John Jay wrote one paper and those two guys
wrote the rest, and that’s the only way the job got done. What did Madison do to compensate for the
fact that he was levelheaded smart but lacked creativity? He partnered with a creative genius Thomas
Jefferson. And Jefferson was also self-aware. He knew that a lot of his creative ideas were
off-the-wall, didn’t make sense. He needed somebody levelheaded to bring him
down to earth and together they had this perfect balance, two brilliant men working side-by-side
to help create a new government. So here in Washington DC at the Library of
Congress we have the James Madison Memorial building . And of course in the Library of
Congress we have the original of the Constitution. Now recognize that the Constitution, the supreme
law of the land, that the words and it only have strength in the way they are partnered
together. The words standing alone have no import. So when you think of that cherished part of
our history, think of James Madison the father of the Constitution and his capacity with
the self-awareness to partner with those who are strong in the areas where he was weak. Our fourth commandment: a great leader shall
be able to persevere over setbacks. Think of boxing the great leader when he gets
knocked flat on the mat has the capacity to get back up and maintain that same pursuit
of whatever his goal is . That’s what great leaders do. And the president who set the standard in
this trait was Franklin Roosevelt. Harper not to go deeper on Franklin Roosevelt
for my book I interviewed Ken Burns, I’m sure many of you saw his documentary The Roosevelts. It was in the fall of 2014. I also interviewed Jeffrey Ward Ken’s collaborator
but who has also written three biographies on FDR one of which was a finalist for the Pulitzer. And James Tobin the national book critics
award winner wrote a great book the man he became how Franklin Roosevelt defied polio
on his rise to the presidency. In all these interviews obviously a big
part of the focus was recognizing that until he was 39 years old, Franklin Roosevelt led
a very active life. He loved golf, he loved outdoor recreational
activities and he loves to dance, he loved to work the crowds as hard as he pursued his
high political ambitions and then all of a sudden in 1921 he was hit with the polio virus
and he lost the use of his legs for the rest of his life. It was a seven-year hiccup. It took seven years for him to come up with
a strategy for resuming his career and not losing his ultimate goal of following in the
footsteps of his cousin Theodor . And all the biographer said he was all about steadfast
resolve. It was all about maintaining a self confidence
that kept a smile on his face even after he had lost the bounce in his step. And by overcoming this major disability that
no one had ever been able to overcome before, Roosevelt proved the wisdom of Joseph Campbell, where you stumble that’s where your treasures lie. “. When you lose the loss of your legs that’s
a stumble, that’s a major setback. But the biographer said it made him a better
man. It made him a much more attractive candidate. For the first time in his life he had empathy,
he had humility, he had patience, he had never had any of those traits before and that allowed
him to connect with a much bigger part of the American populace. So there’s the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial
here in DC. You look at that face, that is one strong
face. That’s a face that can see us through a depression
and a world war. You also see that he is seated and cloaked
so as not to draw attention to his polio ravaged legs. So when you see that image think of the president
who set the standard in this important trait of being able to persevere and overcome obstacles
through steadfast resolve like Franklin Roosevelt. The fifth commandment: the great leader shall
know how to play hardball when necessary. And the president who set the standard in
that trait was Dwight Eisenhower. And for my book to go deeper on Eisenhower
I interviewed Jean Edward Smith a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and in my interview
with him he told this great story that epitomized Eisenhower’s capacity to play hardball when
necessary. It was the fall of 1956. It was one month before the November election. Eisenhower was finishing his first term and
a week later would be elected for his second term. And all of a sudden England France and Israel
joined forces and invaded Egypt and seized the Suez Canal and they knew that that was
against Eisenhower’s wishes but they thought they could get away with it because it was
one week before the election. They thought Eisenhower doesn’t want to lose
the Jewish vote and he won’t do anything because Israel’s involvement is. And they were wrong. As soon as it happened, Eisenhower called
his secretary of the treasury and said I want you to go out and make a run on the British
pound. Buy up all the pounds you possibly can. And he did. And as soon as that happened Eisenhower called
the British prime minister and said if you don’t get all those troops out of the Suez
right now I will drive your pound down to zero. What was he going to do? All the troops came out of the Suez and that’s
how you play hardball when people get out of line and disrupt your potential for achieving
your goals. Hopefully in the next couple of years
here in Washington DC will have a finished Eisenhower Memorial. It’s been going on too long, they can’t seem
to agree on the design, but in the meantime here to remember Eisenhower think of the Arlington
national cemetery and the tomb of the unknown soldier and remember that before he was president,
Eisenhower was our supreme Allied Cmdr. during World War II. And he served with distinction in that role
and as president for many reasons. But when the main one was he knew how to play
hardball when necessary in order to make sure he achieved his goals. The sixth commandment: the great leader shall
know how to remain calm in a crisis. The great leader never wants to appear that
he’s panicked. He always wants to appear that he’s in a mode
of being able to make good decisions. And the president of the modern era who set
the standard for that was John F. Kennedy. And to go deeper on Pres. Kennedy for my book
I interviewed Sheldon Stern who for over 20 years was a historian in residence at the Kennedy presidential Library in Boston and who was the author of three books on the Cuban missile
crisis. This is the most recent Cuban missile crisis
in American memory. You’ll remember those people my age that in
October 1962 the Russians delivered nuclear missiles into Cuba . Obviously just a few
miles off the coast of Florida, and that sent Pres. Kennedy and everybody into a mode of
for many people was panic. When you’re president you cannot panic. So Kennedy called all his top advisers together,
his cabinet and his other top insiders and they had over the course of 13 days what were
called the X-com, meetings, the executive committee meetings. And over those 13 days they negotiated with
the Russians, they evaluated their options, and ultimately came up with a solution to
end the crisis. And everybody who was in the meeting was unaware
of one thing that only John and Bobby Kennedy knew and that was those meetings were being
taped. John and Bobby Kennedy had decided to secretly
tape these meetings for purposes of preserving history, but they take them on the same basis as Richard Nixon did they always thought they were going to be their personal property,
they never imagined it would go into the public domain. And we didn’t get to hear the recordings of
those 43 hours of tape recorded conversations until the late 1990s and Sheldon Stern was
the first one to listen to all 43 hours. He said in the interview that what stood out
was that with each day that went by all of Kennedy’s advisers got more ramped up, voices louder, blood pressure up, demanded stronger and stronger retaliation. That’s the only way we can ever get Russia
to remove these missiles out of Cuba. And there was one calm voice in the room,
and thank goodness it was the voice of the boss. President Kennedy steady temperament and over 13 days negotiated a resolution that caused missiles to be withdrawn from Cuba. We thereby avoided what surely would have
been World War III. So when you go by the Kennedy Center remember
the calm leadership in a crisis of John F Kennedy and how because of that he helped
us avoid World War III and allowed us to enjoy our American way of life which among other
things includes the ability to enjoy the arts at the Kennedy Center and other centers. The seventh commandment: the great leader
shall be mindful of good timing. When pursuing his initiatives. The great leader knows when to be patient
and wait, and he also knows when to move. The philosopher Carlos Castaneda said warriors/great
leaders recognize the cubic centimeter of chance that can make or break them. When it pops up they move on it with the necessary
speed and prowess to capitalize on the opportunity. And the president who set the standard on
this trade in the modern area was Lyndon Johnson in the way he went about pursuing our most
important civil rights legislation. And to understand more about Pres. Johnson and his civil rights leadership I
interviewed Taylor branch Pulitzer Prize winning civil rights historian, Mark Updegrove the
head of the LBJ Library and up LBJ biographer, Lynda Johnson Rob LBJ’s daughter and Larry Temple LBJ’s White House counsel. And from them I learned the answer to the question that many of you wonder about which is what you take Lyndon Johnson so long to decide
to become a leader in pushing civil rights legislation? He got to Congress in 1937. In between 37 and up to 1957 he voted against
every civil rights bill. Ended in 1957 a Senate majority leader he
took all the teeth out of the bill before it was passed and it had no impact to speak
of. But then all of a sudden when becoming president
he was a grand champion. Why did it take so long? Lyndon Johnson was asked that often and he had the same response with the Texas metaphor he was famous for, he said “you don’t try
to kill the snake until you’ve got the hoe in your hand”. Okay? As president he finally had the hoe in his
hand and the snake was the Jim Crow segregation laws. Now you’ll recall that Pres. Kennedy had served
in Congress before he became president . And even his greatest fans that knowledge that
he was pretty much a playboy during his years in Congress. He had no idea how to get legislation passed. And after he had been president for a little
over two years, he finally gave a strong civil right speech and submitted a strong civil
rights bill to Congress. It was absolutely stuck in committee. He had no idea how to get it out at the time
of his assassination. President Johnson seized on the opportunity, the hoe
in his hand as new president, he looked at the country and he knew we had a national
state of deep grieving. And he made the pitch to Republicans in Congress
and some of the southern Democrats and he said look folks, we must make a major remembrance
for the legacy of John F. Kennedy. The nation is grieving, let’s do something
important as a way of showing our appreciation for the job he did. Let’s make him the martyr for the cause of
civil rights. And he used that argument to get the bill
unstuck from the committee onto the floor A few people tried to filibuster any busted
through the filibuster and the civil rights act was signed into law on July 2, 1964. Now Mark Updegrove and Larry Temple said in
an interview that conventional wisdom would have made more sense you would think for LBJ
to have waited until after the November 1964 election to pursue such important legislation,
but LBJ knew the cubic centimeter of chance would last only as long as the country was
in a state of deep grief. He had to move quicker and he couldn’t wait
on the election. This same capacity to pursue perfect timing
came the next year in 1965 on the subject of voting rights. Nothing was happening. Nobody knew how to make it happen to get a
strong voting rights bill. And then all of a sudden we had bloody Sunday
in Selma Alabama March 7, 1965 when armed police troops started beating up unarmed African-Americans
who tried to march from Selma to Montgomery as a protest against the lack of voting rights
in Alabama at the time. LBJ said there’s my cubic centimeter of chance. ABC television was there, they televised it
into most America it looks like Nazis beating up Jews in World War II. There was a national sense of moral outrage
to us we cannot allow this to happen in our country. And LBJ within a few days gave his great we
shall overcome speech to Congress, national television audience the next day submitted
a strong voting rights bill to Congress and shortly it became the voting rights act of
1965. He did the same thing with fair housing. Martin Luther King April 4, 1968 at a time
with the fair housing bill was stuck in the house refused to agree to the Senate version
of the bill. He did with MLK what he did with JFK, a national
state of deep grief, let’s find a way to honor the legacy of this important leader do is
let’s make him a martyr for the cause of fair housing. And he did and within a week the house had
agreed to the Senate version of the bill and we had the fair housing act of 1968. So here in Washington you have the Lyndon
B. Johnson Department of Education building and as you go by it remember that it was only
because Johnson knew how to move with perfect timing and pursuing his civil rights initiative
that we got civil rights legislation passed sooner rather than later. The eighth commandment: a great leader shall
be a great communicator and shall follow through and do what he says. Is not just about making a great speech, you’ve
got to follow through. And the president in the modern area who was
best that this was Ronald Reagan, the person we call the great communicator. And to go deep on Reagan I interviewed his
first term White House Chief of Staff executive secretary of the treasury James Baker and
his biographer a Pulitzer finalist HW brands. Since Reagan had been known as the great communicator
I spent a fair chunk of the interview, how did he do it? The conventional wisdom was of course he was
a great communicator he’d been an actor he knew how to look the camera in the eye and
deliver his lines with full dramatic force. But HW Brand said people forget he wasn’t
a very good actor. What separated Reagan as a great communicator
was this positive outlook, this cheerful countenance, the spirit of optimism that gave Americans
hope and allowed him to channel the voice, the inner voice of the American people. That’s what made Ronald Reagan the great communicator. And James Baker said it was his consistent,
confident steadfast message over time against Soviet communism that was the key to gain
momentum in going toward bringing an end to the Cold War. Now as you know in the modern era president
speeches are written by speechwriters although the boss has the final say in the final draft. And the most important speech of Reagan’s
presidency was when he said “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall”. Now that speech contained those lines went
through many drafts and every time his speechwriters took those words out. They thought they were too inflammatory. And that would alienate the Soviets, and Reagan
kept putting them back in, because he knew that the time June 12, 1987 was right, the
placed West Berlin’s Brandenburg gate was right, and his entire foreign-policy message
that he had been saying since his first political speech in 1964 had finally arrived and to
heck with the speechwriters. He delivered the line that will forever give
him a special place in our history, “tear down this wall” four words each one syllable,
simple and clear and passionate and right on the mark, and then he followed through
and kept that momentum going to bring an end to the Cold War. Of course it ended with his successor George
HW Bush, but everyone remembers who got the momentum going to bring it to the successful
conclusion. So here in DC of course you fly in and out
of Reagan airport. You think about airports in aviation and pilots
things have got to be clear, things have got to be consistent, you’ve got to be optimistic
and you’ve got to have follow-through if you’re going to be a great pilot, and those were
the trades that made Ronald Reagan the great communicator. The 10th commandment “the great leader shall
put the nation’s welfare above his own personal political interests. The president who set the standard in this
trait was George HW Bush in the modern era. And to go deeper into President Bush I interviewed
his biographer Pulitzer prize-winning historian John Meacham his Secretary of State James
Baker his White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, and we always remember the 1988 Republican
convention when he told the convention on national TV audience, Read my lips no new taxes. Six words he came to regret. The tax issue was huge, but they were a two-edged sword, the Reagan tax cuts for eight years have been very popular and had grown the economy but they had also
taken our national debt to record highs. And when Bush became president he got so bad the rest of the world he started to reduce the amount of T-bills buying over fear of
America losing strength because it had this record level of debt. And it came to a head in 1990 with the budget
negotiations in both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party at the
time and they refused to cut spending so if we were going to have any money available
to bring down the debt there was only one source and that would be with new taxes. And so President Bush went back on his convention
pledge and it immediately caused a Newt Gingrich lead revolt in the Republican Party and was
certainly a factor in his losing the 1992 election. Now could he have kept that pledge? Of course he could. But it would have meant a stalemate in the
budget talks which would have shut down the government with no money available to bring
the deficit down necessary to let the world know that in fact we could take care of our
business and bring down this debt. So here in DC you have the George Bush Ctr.
for the intelligence. That’s the headquarters for the CIA. When you think of George Bush remember him
not only as an intelligent but also a courageous president. He knew the political consequences of breaking
his convention pledge, but he did what was right for the country to start dealing with
the deficit. The 10th and final commandment “the great
leader shall stay abreast of public sentiment and find ways to shape it. And the president who set the standard with
this commandment was Abraham Lincoln. I saved the best for last. Our greatest president. Lincoln had once said “public sentiment is
everything”. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than
he who enacts statutes or he who pronounces judicial decisions. And I interviewed Harold Holzer winner of the Lincoln Prize and and Ron White the New York Times best-selling Lincoln biographer, and they talked about
how on the very controversial issue of slavery during the Civil War Lincoln knew the public
sentiment and knew how to shape it to align with his vision. When he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln didn’t want slavery anymore but in
that proclamation he didn’t say I’m emancipating the slaves on moral grounds, I’m emancipating
them as a matter of military necessity. And he did that because he knew that many
in the country in the North and the border states didn’t know exactly what they thought
about when to end slavery how to end slavery but everybody in the country do we need the
Civil War to end ASAP and if you think as a matter of national security that when these
emancipation slaves join the northern war effort then do it and there was very little
pushback on the Emancipation Proclamation. So when you see the Lincoln Memorial and you
look at the statue of the great emancipator remember look in his eyes he is looking beyond
you because he had this big vision and he knew how to bring the public to understand
and appreciate and buy into it. Now I’m going to close talking about where
we are now. We certainly hope that Pres. Trump, President-elect
Trump is going to be able to embrace these 10 Commandments of presidential leadership. Many of you are worried that perhaps he won’t,
and I’m going to close with trying to give you a little piece recognizing that many of
our greatest presidents entered the office with people very fearful about whether or
not they would be able to do the job. HW brands had a article in the Wall Street
Journal in early October identifying Jefferson, Jackson, Roosevelt, and Reagan, who came in
and people were scared to death of what they’d be like and then I did one of the Dallas morning
news that ran the Sunday before the election day, when Thomas Jefferson came and people
thought he was going to be a mad Jack Abu because he had supported the French Revolution
they thought his election would place the country in grave peril. When Andrew Jackson came in people at the
statue of Thomas Jefferson said he was unfit for presidency with very little respect for
the laws of the Constitution, a dangerous man. When Theodore Roosevelt came in Mark Hanna the senator from Ohio the chairman of the Republican national committee said.. Don’t any
of you realize there’s only one life between that madman and the presidency? When Woodrow Wilson came in there were big
reservations. He had been governor of New Jersey for little
over a year when he was elected president. All he’d been was the president of Princeton
how could he possibly know how to do the job? Dwight Eisenhower, people weren’t convinced that he was really smart enough to do the job and he’d spent his whole career in the
military they thought he was going to be much too focused on the military. Instead he’s the one who brought the military
down and warned us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. When Ronald Reagan came in many people said he was an extremist and mocked as a lightweight actor. And when George HW Bush you remember cover
of Newsweek the wimp factor people thought he was a wimp and there was also the vision
thing people thought he didn’t have any vision. Look at the results of the Gulf War. Talk about vision talk about bringing the
work together after the end of the Cold War. So I hope that gives you something new and
different to think about as we look to the future with the new regime. Many are fearful, many are angry, and just
remember that we’re not always right and that don’t we all think we should give the president
elect a chance. Maybe he’ll surprise us. It certainly in the country’s best interest
if he does. Thank you very much. Applause, applause,>>Speaker: You have any questions?>>Audience member: First of all the Constitution
is upstairs. All of the 10 that you mentioned, nine of
them have some form of military experience . I’m counting FDR secretary of Navy. And all of them had legislative experience. How vital is that to them being truly important
as president? Military as well as legislative?>>Talmage Boston: It is important but I don’t
know it’s essential. Our greatest president I think the contrast
between James Buchanan our 15th president and Abraham Lincoln our 16th president best
helps to answer your question. Nobody had a better resume or political experience
that James Buchanan before he became president. He’d been in Congress, he’d been in the cabinets,
he was eminently qualified and he is always on the list of among our five worst presidents. Lincoln had legislative experience in Illinois,
but he had only had a single two-year term in Congress before he became president and
in terms of his military experience he had volunteered during the Black Hawk war but
had never seen actual combat. Of course it didn’t last very long. So what we learned from studying presidential
history is that the people who emerge as the great ones are the self-taught . The people
who may not have had the full experience to enter into the minds but because they are
being leaders and students of history on the order of Harry Truman, on the order of Abe
Lincoln, that’s what can sometimes more than compensate for a shortage of experience. So do I think that because President-elect
Trump has never served in the military and never served in politics there’s no way in
the world he can possibly handle the job? No. Woodrow Wilson had almost no political experience whatsoever and in many ways he’s always rated at the top 20 president. He did a great job in getting the country
going know when went to enter World War I and minimizing American involvement and despite
never having served in Congress getting much important progressive legislation passed as
president? So of course it’s concerning when somebody
really doesn’t have the kind of experience that we’re accustomed to with our previous
presidents, but there are examples in history of people who were able to overcome that lack
of experience through hard work, through hard study, and through having emotional intelligence.>>Audience member: Just a couple of questions
. The second tenant that you said rising above
the partisan fray I’m just curious why you didn’t put Lyndon Johnson in that category
because to pass the legislation that he passed, the civil rights and in some extent the interventionist.>>Talmage Boston: For those of you who are
smart enough to buy my book at the end of this program I have my closing thoughts where
I have these 10 Commandments and for each each of them I mention two, three, four or five different presidents who epitomize them but I wanted a different president for each of the 10 and since I committed
the commandment on perfect timing and the cubic centimeter of chance to Lyndon Johnson
that’s why he’s that and of course although Johnson obviously was president at a very
challenging time in our history for purposes of building consensus at a time of the highest
polarization when people being thrown in jail for criticizing those on the other side I
thought the Jefferson example so I’m putting the speech together I knew I had limited time
and I wanted to devote one president to each trait so that’s why I made that decision.>>Audience member: My second question with
the emergence of the press. The press basically influencing the presidency
your 10th tenant would you at some point is it possible at some point that could
be expanded to address the roles of the press in basically framing the role of the presidency
as well as the individual who occupied it.>>Talmage Boston: That’s a great point and
because I was running short on time I actually cut a few sentences. But actually Lincoln was key as president
as all successful communication presidents are in knowing how to work within the confines
of the media to get his message across and Lincoln was right would write editorials that
would carry nationwide, he would occasionally leak strategically leak information to the
press. He would also write a letter to the editor
of one paper that he would circulate nationwide and go viral. These were ways Lincoln used the media of
his day to get his point across knowing where the public sentiment was and trying to persuade
the public sentiment to understand his point of view and why they might and should move
their thinking to align with his vision. So it was absolutely in the context of obviously
in those days there wasn’t television, radio, it was all about the newspapers, and Lincoln
was the master of the media of his era. In getting his views spread throughout the
country. Because the newspapers were the only way you
could do that at that time any other questions? Comments? Okay. I would love to meet all of you out stairs,
outside of the gift shop where the Library of Congress I mean the National Archives has been nice enough to have copies of my books available for sale and what a great opportunity
it’s been to be with you this afternoon applause, applause,

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