FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)- If you think historians only look backward, Doris Kearns Goodwin disproves that theory. She’s very interested to find out who will next occupy the Oval Office.
Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize recipient and bestselling presidential historian, was at IPFW Tuesday to kick off the school’s Omnibus Lecture Series. Her evening lecture focused on lessons learned from observing presidential leadership, but earlier in the day she sat down to talk with NewsChannel 15 about a wide range of topics.
She’s written about both Roosevelts (most recently Teddy), worked for LBJ, and seen her groundbreaking work on Lincoln (the book Team of Rivals) influence our current president.
“He did feel a kinship with Lincoln,” said Goodwin. “I know because I talked with him about it. He called me on my cell phone one day after reading Team of Rivals and said ‘I just finished reading Team of Rivals. We have to talk.'”
That was well before Obama chose his 2008 primary rival, Hillary Clinton, to be secretary of state, Goodwin noted, seeming to intimate that reading about Lincoln’s enlisting the help of political rivals may have swayed Obama’s thinking.
So yes, it’s fair to say Goodwin may have more insight into what the presidency’s all about than anyone alive except for those who’ve actually held the office. So much so that when asked to name the country’s all-time top five presidents, she decided that list is actually more like four and a half.
“George Washington has to be in there because he created the whole idea of leaving after two terms. Otherwise, we might’ve had lifetime presidents,” said Goodwin. “Abraham Lincoln would be -yes- in there. Franklin Roosevelt. I think Teddy Roosevelt, now that I have lived with him over a period of time. And maybe half of LBJ.” (Goodwin thinks highly of Lyndon Johnson’s domestic accomplishments, but considers his handling of Vietnam a permanent scar.)
So who are the most compelling choices for 2016; people with the potential to become the next elite president? For the Democrats, Goodwin says Hillary Clinton.
“What would make her a compelling candidate and potentially a compelling president is the range of experience she’s had,” said Goodwin. From first lady to senator to secretary of state, Goodwin said a long track record like Clinton’s is valuable. It gives people time to develop as leaders; to make mistakes and learn from them, she said. Goodwin also sees Clinton as compelling for the obvious reason that she would be the country’s first female president.
As for the other side of the aisle?
“I don’t know where it’ll come from on the Republican side. I mean, someone was saying to me the other day ‘Chris Christie reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt.’ You know, that blustering, bigger personality. Kind of can be blunt, can be tough,” said Goodwin. “There’s the [Marco] Rubios of the world that are young and well-spoken and well-seen on television.”
So what about Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who’s also considering a presidential run? Goodwin said being from the Midwest might be an advantage for Pence, but also said we don’t really know what first-time presidential candidates (which Pence would be) are made of -how they respond to challenges and whether they can overcome adversity- until they’ve been through the first few primaries.
In terms of essential personality traits presidents must nearly always possess in order to be effective, Goodwin said there are two: physical and mental vitality (because the presidency is a draining job), and a general curiosity about or interest in all kinds of people.
The essential skill set a successful president must possess -in Goodwin’s view- includes the ability to triumph over adversity, learn from mistakes, stay connected to the moods and attitudes of the country, communicate well, and build a team that will question his or her assumptions.
Goodwin said it’s too early to determine where recent presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama will ultimately stand in history, saying that determination usually has to wait until 20 or 30 years after a president has left office. She did, however, say the ultimate test of whether a president ranks among the best is whether he moves the country forward economically during his term and whether he moves it toward greater social and economic justice aligning with the country’s ideals in the long run.