History Buzz February 1, 2010: 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Sit-In in Greensboro

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS:

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY:

  • An act of defiance that changed history: Fifty years ago, African Americans in Greensboro and across the South lived in a separate, but not necessarily equal, society. On Feb. 1, 1960, that started to change. That day, the wall of segregation that divided blacks and whites began to crumble. It happened on South Elm Street in Greensboro…. – News Record, 1-31-10

HISTORY NEWS:

  • FDR Defenders Top List Of Absurd Holocaust Statements: This is one “top ten” list no author wants to find himself on. The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies has just released its annual list of the “ten most absurd statements about the Allies’ response to the Holocaust.” Those who made the 2009 list range from old time Franklin Roosevelt diehards to legitimate historians who should know better. The Wyman Institute publishes the list each year in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz…. – Jewish Press, 1-27-10

OP-EDs:

  • Jonathan Zimmerman: GOP due for another purge With the “birthers” making inroads in Congress, paranoia is back in style: So here’s a question for Scott Brown as he prepares to enter the U.S. Senate: Do you believe President Obama was born in the United States? And here’s why it needs to be asked: Many “Tea Party” activists who backed Brown think Obama was born overseas, which would make him constitutionally ineligible to be president. Somehow, these folks insist, the most closely observed man on the planet managed to keep his origins a secret from everyone – except them. In short, they’re paranoid…. – Philadelphia Inquirer, 2-2-10

REVIEWS & FIRST CHAPTERS:

  • Jeffrey H. Jackson: Après le Déluge: PARIS UNDER WATER How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910: …Jackson, a professor of history at ­Rhodes College in Memphis, explains in an afterword that he discovered the story of the Paris flood not long before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, and parallels between the two catastrophes are apparent throughout the book…. – NYT, 1-29-10
  • Jeffrey H. Jackson: Book review: ‘Paris Under Water’ by Jeffrey Jackson PARIS UNDER WATER How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910WaPo, 1-29-10
  • Christopher Andrew: Smiley’s People: DEFEND THE REALM The Authorized History of MI5 In order to write this compendious but highly readable book, Christopher Andrew, a professor of modern and contemporary history at Cambridge University, and his team of researchers plowed through some 400,000 MI5 files. Marking the 100th anniversary of the service, “Defend the Realm” shines a penetrating light into some of the darkest corners of a secret world. It is not only a work of meticulous scholarship but also a series of riveting and true spy stories…. – NYT, 1-29-10
  • Christopher Andrew: DEFEND THE REALM The Authorized History of MI5 Excerpt – NYT, 1-29-10
  • ANDREW WHEATCROFT on Matthew Carr: Cast Away: BLOOD AND FAITH The Purging of Muslim Spain Who remembers the last survivors of Muslim Spain, whom Spaniards contemptuously called Moriscos (“little Moors”)? Impressive research on them has appeared in the last 30 years, yet until now, none of it has escaped beyond the walls of the academic ghetto. Matthew Carr’s well-balanced and comprehensive book brings the story of their tragic fate to a wider public…. – NYT, 1-29-10
  • Paul Strathern: Book review: ‘The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior’ by Paul Strathern: THE ARTIST, THE PHILOSOPHER, AND THE WARRIOR The Intersecting Lives of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped Five hundred years after his death, Cesare Borgia still ranks as one of history’s most reprehensible figures: ruthless, power-hungry and peacock-vain. But his reputation as a brute obscures the full human dimensions of this duke who sought to reunite Italy and place himself at the head of a new Roman Empire. As Paul Strathern explains in his masterful narrative history, “The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior,” Borgia was also brilliant, handsome, charismatic and well-versed in the classics, “a superb exemplar of the Renaissance man.”… – WaPo, 1-29-10
  • The all-powerful American president Garry Wills, in a new book, says Congress and the courts have become immaterial: It’s time we revised our eighth-grade social studies textbooks. America has no presidency any longer, but a monarchy. Absurd? Historian Garry Wills says it isn’t that far from the truth. So he argues in his new book, Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State. An exquisitely researched, passionately written political history, Bomb Power argues that for the last six decades, an increasingly militarized presidency has usurped power once limited to Congress and the courts…. – Philadelphia Inquirer, 2-1-10
  • McGraw-Hill Contemporizes Classic Text ‘From Slavery to Freedom’ to Bring African American History into the 21st Century: Renowned historian and author John Hope Franklin hands down his work to Harvard’s Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham… – PR Newswire

FEATURES:

  • Vince Leggett: Historian seeks Chesapeake Bay’s hidden past: Looking at blacks in history, including Underground Railroad – Baltimore Sun, 1-31-10

QUOTES:

  • Chester Pach: Obama isn’t alone among presidents with first-year frustrations: “People are starting to blame him for things not getting better,” Chester Pach, a presidential historian and a professor at Ohio University. “My guess is that until the economy improves substantially, his ratings are going to stay somewhere between 45 and 55 percent,” or just south of so-so, historically speaking…. – Kansas City Star, 1-30-10
  • Stephen Hess: Obama isn’t alone among presidents with first-year frustrations: Historians say the economy isn’t all that drives these ratings. “A lot has to do with the type of leader you are,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institute. Contrary to Reagan’s rosy persona in the face of recession, “Obama, he’s kind of a cool cat,” which may not seem so cool to people losing jobs, Hess said. “In the long term, we might all be thankful for having an intellectual, farsighted president,” Hess said. “But in the short term, people trying to feed their families aren’t so generous.” – Kansas City Star, 1-30-10

AWARDS &APPOINTMENTS:

  • ASU prof to co-host PBS series: Eduardo Obregón Pagán, an associate professor of history and American studies, has been signed as a permanent co-host for History Detectives…. – Latino Perspectives, 2-10

SPOTTED:

  • UT professors offer perspective, predictions about the future: Predicting the future has always fascinated mankind. “Among some, it’s known as the world’s second-oldest profession,” said Michael Stoff, a history professor at the University of Texas. Stoff and three other UT professors headlined a program called “Perspectives on the Future” at the Park City Club in Dallas…. – Dallas News, 1-31-10

ANNOUNCEMENTS & EVENTS CALENDAR:

  • Museum Review: International Civil Rights Center and Museum Four Men, a Counter and Soon, Revolution: The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is at 132 South Elm Street, Greensboro, N.C.; (336) 274-9199, sitinmovement.org One of the achievements of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which is opening Monday in that former Woolworth building, is that you begin to understand how such a place became a pivot in the greatest political movement of the 20th century…. – NYT, 1-31-10

ON TV:

BEST SELLERS (NYT):

BOOKS COMING SOON:

  • Andrew Young: The Politician: An Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down (Hardcover) Feb 2, 2010
  • Charles Lachman: The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family (Paperback), February 2, 2010
  • S. M. Plokhy: Yalta: The Price of Peace (Hardcover), February 4, 2010
  • Richard Beeman: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (Paperback), February 9, 2010
  • Philip Dray: Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen (Paperback) February 11, 2010
  • Ken Gormley: The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr (Hardcover), February 16, 2010
  • Susan Wise Bauer: The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, (Hardcover) February 22, 2010
  • Richard J. Evans: The Third Reich at War (Paperback) February 23, 2010
  • Seth G. Jones: In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (Paperback) April 12, 2010

DEPARTED:

  • Louis R. Harlan, Historian of Booker T. Washington, Dies at 87: Louis R. Harlan, whose definitive two-volume biography of Booker T. Washington convincingly embraced its subject’s daunting complexities and ambiguities and won both the Bancroft Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, died on Jan. 22 in Lexington, Va. He was 87. The cause was liver failure, said his wife, Sadie. – NYT, 1-29-10
  • Howard Zinn, Historian, Is Dead at 87: Howard Zinn, historian and shipyard worker, civil rights activist and World War II bombardier, and author of “A People’s History of the United States,” a best seller that inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87 and lived in Auburndale, Mass. The cause was a heart attack he had while swimming, his family said…. – NYT, 1-28-10
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History Buzz August 3, 2009: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. & FDR / Obama Comparisons

HISTORY BUZZ:

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS:

BIGGEST NEWS STORIES:

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY:

IN THE NEWS:

OP-EDs & BLOGS:

REVIEWS & FIRST CHAPTERS:

  • Kevin Mattson: No We Can’t “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU UP TO, MR. PRESIDENT?” Jimmy Carter, America’s “Malaise,” and the Speech That Should Have Changed the Country NYT, 8-2-09
  • Richard Brookhiser: MEMOIR Conservatively Speaking RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement WaPo, 8-2-09
  • Bradley Graham: MILITARY HISTORY A Warrior Fighting the Wrong War BY HIS OWN RULES The Ambitions, Successes and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld WaPo, 8-2-09
  • Tracy E. K’Meyer: Civil-rights history lesson Professor’s book examines Louisville’s experience Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South Louisville Courier-Journal, 7-19-09

PROFILED & FEATURED:

  • King’s tower of ‘bling’ recreated: The opulent interiors of King Henry II’s Dover Castle have been recreated by English Heritage in a £2.45m project lasting two years. – BBC, 7-31-09
  • Douglas Brinkley: Takes a long, fond look at Theodore Roosevelt Times-Picayune (7-29-09)
  • Andrew Roberts: The history man who loves to party – U.tv.news (7-26-09)
  • Civil War Museum sounds alarm on leaving Philadelphia – Philadelphia Inquirer, 7-24-09

QUOTED:

  • Jonathan Alter “‘Nice’ Wasn’t Part of the Deal”: Still, by the mid-1930s, according to the Newsweek columnist (and F.D.R. historian) Jonathan Alter, Roosevelt was openly complaining that the nation’s bankers seemed to have forgotten how much the government had done for them. “In 1936,” Mr. Alter said, “F.D.R. compared them to a drowning man who is saved by a lifeguard and four years later returns to ask the lifeguard angrily: ‘Where’s my silk hat? You lost my silk hat!'” – NYT, 8-1-09

INTERVIEWED:

  • Doris Kearns Goodwin: FDR had people over for drinks, too – Huffington Post (7-27-09)
  • Juan Cole interviewed about Afghanistan, Iran and other hot spots – www.roozonline.com (8-1-09)
  • Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze: Historian discusses new book on an academic exodus that saved lives and changed mathematics Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact Inside Higher Ed, 7-27-09

HONORED, AWARDED &APPOINTED:

SPOTTED:

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

EVENTS CALENDAR:

  • Inaugural Semester-long seminar on Constitutional History offered at N-Y Historical Society this fall: Lincoln’s Constitution will be taught at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, on Thursday afternoons from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The seminar will be held on September 17 and 24 and on October 1, 15, 22, and 29, 2009. NYHS Press Release (7-20-09)

ON TV:

  • BBC to launch new series on history of Christianity – Religious Intelligence, 6-19-09
  • C-SPAN2: BOOK TV Weekend Schedule
  • PBS History Detectives: Mondays at 9pm
  • History Channel: Weekly Schedule
  • History Channel: “Egypt: Engineering an Empire” – Monday, August 3, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “The Dark Ages” – Monday, August 3, 2009 at 4pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Cities Of The Underworld: Underground Apocalypse” – Monday, August 3, 2009 at 6pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “How The Earth Was Made” – Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 2-7pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Life After People & That’s Impossible: Eternal Life” – Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 8pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Ancient Aliens ” – Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “The Hitler Conspiracy” – Thurdsay, August 7, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Nazi America: A Secret History” – Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 4pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Lost Worlds: Secret U.S. Bunkers” – Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 6pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Tora, Tora, Tora: The Real Story of Pearl Harbor” – Friday, August 7, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT

BEST SELLERS (NYT):

    NYT Non-Fiction Best Sellers List – August 9, 2009

  • #5 – C. David Heymann: BOBBY AND JACKIE
  • #11 – Doug Stanton: HORSE SOLDIERS
  • #13 – Craig Nelson: ROCKET MEN
  • #18 – J. Randy Taraborrelli: MICHAEL JACKSON (THE MAGIC, THE MADNESS, THE WHOLE STORY, 1958-2009)
  • #23 – Larry Tye: SATCHEL
  • #32 – Richard Wolffe: RENEGADE

COMING SOON BOOKS:

  • Gil Troy: Reagan Revolution : A Very Short Introduction, August 2009
  • William A. DeGregorio: The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, Seventh Edition, August 15, 2009
  • Brooks D. Simpson: The Reconstruction Presidents (Paperback), August 18, 2009
  • Richard C. Hoagland: Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA (Revised), September 1, 2009
  • Douglas Hunter: Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage That Redrew the Map of the New World, September 1, 2009
  • Noah Andre Trudeau: Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership, September 1, 2009
  • Annette Gordon-Reed: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Paperback), September 8, 2009
  • Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, September 15, 2009
  • Dean C. Jessee (Editor): The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books, September 2009
  • James Patterson: The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King – A Nonfiction Thriller, September 28, 2009
  • Timothy Egan: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, October 19, 2009
  • Gil Troy, Vincent J. Cannato, eds.: Living in the Eighties, October 23, 2009
  • L. Fletcher Prouty: JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, (Paperback), November 1, 2009
  • Edward Kritzler: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge, (Paperback), November 3, 2009
  • Anthony Haden-guest: Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night (Paperback), December 8, 2009

DEPARTED:

  • STUART I. ROCHESTER, 63: Co-Wrote Influential Book on POWs – WaPo, 8-1-09
  • Alan C. Hall taught technology and history at Gateway Community and Technical College and pushed for the onetime vocational school to offer more for its students – Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-27-09)

Michael Beschloss & Richard Norton Smith: Their Commentary on the Republican Convention

By Bonnie K. Goodman

History News Network, 9-06-04

As part of PBS’s coverage of the Republican National Convention in New York last week, historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith provided historical perspective. The first day of the convention the discussion focused on war presidents, the second on party perspectives, the third on the effect of outside events on the course of the election, and the fourth on acceptance speeches. The following is a summary of their commentaries.

Day One: War Presidents

The discussion on the first day of the convention focused on war presidents, the advantages and disadvantages of being a war president. In their discussion on Abraham Lincoln’s re-election effort in 1864, Beschloss commented on Lincoln’s fear that he would lose the election because of the lack of decisive victories, but argued that “people were larger-minded enough to see he was doing it the right way.” Smith noted that the Republican Party this year is not attempting to broaden its appeal in the same dramatic ways the party undertook in 1864, when Lincoln insisted on running with a Southern Democrat.

Smith saw parallels between Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election and George W. Bush’s. Smith pointed out the various strategies that Nixon employed to change the subject from Vietnam. He brought hundreds of thousands of troops home, “casting himself as a peacemaker.” He opened up U.S. Soviet relations and U.S.
China relations. He proposed “ending the draft, which of course had been at the heart of much of the intense opposition to the war.”

Beschloss noted that Nixon had additionally distracted the public from the war by having his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, claim that “we believe that peace is at hand.” Beschloss said that this was “cheap politics that presidents should not follow.”

Another parallel the historians discussed was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-election campaign in 1944. Beschloss argued that the parallels were suggestive. Despite tangible successes in the war, Roosevelt was being scrutinized as officials probed the reason the nation had been caught sleeping when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Thomas Dewey in a speech “suggested that Roosevelt was in some way responsible for Pearl Harbor,” which Beschloss pointed out put Roosevelt in a “very risky situation.”

In commenting on the Vietnam War and the 1968 campaign Beschloss claimed that “Nixon was pretending that he was likelier than [Hubert] Humphrey to pull troops out of Vietnam if he was elected. A lot of peaceniks voted for Nixon, bizarrely enough, and Humphrey who would have really done that, was scared into suggesting in public that he followed Johnson on the war because Johnson called him up and said, ‘Hubert, you oppose me on Vietnam, I’m going to dry up every Democratic dollar from Maine to Hawaii.’ Humphrey was already broke, he couldn’t do it.”

Day 2: Party Perspectives

On the second day of the convention California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Laura Bush spoke. Both historians observed that Governor Schwarzenegger’s views on social issues do not resemble the positions of that other famous Republican actor turned governor of California, Ronald Reagan.
Beschloss said Schwarzenegger’s liberal social views most clearly reminded him of California Governor Earl Warren. Schwarzenegger, according to Smith, is “post ideological” and “transcend[s] party labels in a lot of ways.” But the governor also resembles Reagan in the way he can get away with such comments as “girley men.”

Beschloss argued that that there may be a future for Schwarzenegger in presidential politics “if the Constitution is amended some day and if the Republican Party does feel it wants to move back to the center.” They thought he might be particularly helpful winning the immigrant vote. Schwarzenegger is sponsored by Pete Wilson, who supported propositions in the 1990s that were considered hostile to immigrants. Smith said Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself, could change the perception that party is anti-immigrant.

Also discussed was the issue of first ladies as a political asset in a campaign. Smith mentioned that after Betty Ford’s explosive “60 Minutes” interview, conservatives were concerned that she might cost Ford the presidency. But she may indeed have helped improve Ford’s support among women; “by 1976 there were buttons all over the country that read Betty’s husband for president.” In regard to the present first lady Beschloss commented that “Laura Bush speaks rarely on politics, so when she speaks people listen.” Some of her views differ with the president’s and may be more liberal, helping Bush win over centrists. Smith agreed that “a lot of people find it reassuring to think that someone that close to the president, maybe shares some of the concerns.” Lady Bird Johnson according to Smith also “managed to straddle the divide between a traditionalist and activist.”

Day 3: The Importance of Outside Events on the Course of the Election

On the third night the discussion focused on events outside the candidates’ control that can affect the election, including the possibility of an October Surprise.
According to Smith, Johnson’s 1964 campaign worried about Walter Jenkins, “who was a very close aide to President Johnson, [who] was arrested in a YMCA in Washington under compromising circumstances.” When news leaked out about the arrest the Goldwater conservatives believed they could make a strong case that the country faced moral decay under LBJ. But foreign issues quickly wiped the Jenkins story off the front pages. China, noted Smith, “successfully tested their first nuclear device; and in Moscow the politburo overthrew Nikita Khrushchev.” Beschloss added that the World Series and a change in government in London also helped Johnson.

Beschloss argued that for events like these to influence an election the contest has to be close “in those last weeks in October; and it also has to be an event that’s really at the center of the campaign.” Such was the case in 1968 when on October 31 Johnson halted bombing in the Vietnam with peace a possibility, “so for a couple of days, Humphrey zoomed in the polls, and then the South Vietnamese government said they would not negotiate, and Humphrey plunged,” and he lost the election. Beschloss said it was not clear if a terrorist attack on the United States in October would help or hurt President Bush.

Smith pointed out that events helped Lincoln in 1864. By August Lincoln did not believe he could win. However, when the Democratic Convention met and “they adopted a peace platform, calling for a negotiated end to the war and repeal of the Emancipation Proclamation, that shocked millions of voters. And then, two days after that convention, General Sherman took Atlanta.” Winning the war was possible and Lincoln’s “victory became almost a forgone conclusion.”

Beschloss observed that in 1992 Lawrence Walsh indicted members of the Bush administration in connection with the Iran-contra scandal, and suggested George H.W. Bush was more involved than originally believed. “Bush the elder had been getting traction on the issue of honesty and integrity against Bill Clinton. At that moment his polls began to go down, and there was not much chance that he would win.” In 2000 Bush’s son’s integrity was also cast in doubt at the last moment when it was revealed that he had been arrested for drunk driving in the mid-1970s.

Another case of a revelation in the last week prior to an election that hurt the candidate’s chance for winning according to Smith came in 1976, during the Ford-Carter race. By the last weekend of the campaign Ford had managed to turn a thirty-three point deficit in the polls into a one-point lead. Ford claimed there was an economic recovery, but when unemployment statistics came out that suggested otherwise, this “caused second thoughts in enough voters so that at the very last minute they moved back and Jimmy Carter narrowly won.”

Beschloss discussed the origin of the term October Surprise. He traced it back to the 1980 campaign and the Iran hostage crisis. “The Reagan people were worried that Jimmy Carter would commit some kind of October surprise, meaning something that would suddenly cause the hostages to be released and Carter to win the election against Ronald Reagan.” There was also suspicion that vice presidential candidate George Bush “flew to Paris in an SR-1 spy plane to have a secret meeting with some French people and some Iranians to try to foil this.”

Day 4: Acceptance Speeches

In anticipation of the President’s acceptance speech the discussion focused on “what makes a great re-nominating acceptance speech, or one a president or his campaign may come to regret.” In the last century the acceptance speech that has perhaps made the most lasting impression was Roosevelt’s in 1936, though Smith added that “that year FDR could have read the phone book and he would have carried every state but Maine and Vermont.” According to Smith “the incumbent has one advantage–they always go second. And the other advantage is, they’re an incumbent. Truman was able to use this advantage as to not run against “Tom Dewey, his nominal opponent, he ran against the so-called do-nothing 80th Congress. He said he was going to call them into session on what they called Turnip Day back in Missouri. He put the ball in their court knowing Congress would not adopt the liberal platform and then driving a wedge right down the middle between Dewey and his allies.”

Beschloss noted that Clinton’s 1996 speech, which “was 66 minutes, [was] one of the most boring speeches I have ever heard.” It was “this laundry list of proposals like cleaning up toxic waste dumps, it wasn’t very interesting.” But the purpose of the speech was to get the voters who would watch the speech for a couple of minutes to tune in, and hear a few proposals that would prompt them to vote for Clinton, and “the speech worked in that sense.” On the other hand Smith pointed out that Bush the elder failed to do the job in 1992. He had given his speech at a negative kind of convention, where “the economy was in the doldrums” and because of his foreign policy strengths he appeared disengaged on domestic policy. Smith commented that “he got up there and he had a speech that frankly was a bit of a mishmash, not very thematically coherent.”

Beschloss said that in Nixon’s speech in 1972 “the language was not memorable, but what he was conveying was with the I’m the guy who made the opening to China, who was doing diplomacy with Russia, on the verge of ending the Vietnam War. If you all want to throw that away, fine with me but I don’t think you should.” Smith brought up FDR’s speech in 1944. “FDR gave a war speech. He didn’t speak at the convention hall. It was announced he was speaking from an undisclosed location. A military installation on the West Coast.” In Beschloss’s opinion, “the one thing is that if a wartime president makes himself seem indispensable he can get Americans to vote for him even if they may not like his domestic policies.”

Wrap-up

In his reaction to President Bush’s acceptance speech, Smith said it was “sort of a state of the union address, plus an inaugural address, it had a lot of policy but it was also very personal.” Bush’s speech focused on policy primarily, and was a “Reaganesque speech in the optimism, in looking to the future.” Smith “thought it was a very powerful speech. We won’t know for two months whether it worked or not, but it certainly worked tonight.”

Beschloss said it helped establish Bush’s position on issues: “there’s no chance that he’s going to be accused of having failed to present an agenda for the second term, a very long list of domestic proposals.” As for foreign policy, what Bush’s speech communicated was that “We’re staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home.” The tone reminded Beschloss of offensive military policy harking back to the Cold War era Republican campaigns from 1972 to 1988, when the Republicans would stress that their party was tougher on communism and more trustworthy on defense than the Democrats. “We are in a war, a fight for our lives; I, George W. Bush, I’m the one who can keep you safe, John Kerry can’t for all sorts of reasons. And if people believe that they are likely to forgive a lot of things they don’t like about George Bush, even domestically. If people see it that way he’s going to win the election.”

Smith said that “much of that week you had a feeling that there was an attempt to blur” the differences with the Democrats by trotting out moderates. But Bush’s speech was “actually very ambitious, an attempt to recast the Republican Party and conservatism generally, almost along Thatcherite lines. You know, I think of Margaret Thatcher when you hear about the ‘ownership society.’ That’s more than a slogan, potentially. That’s a fairly radical redefinition of conservatism.”

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