TOM PUTNAM: Good afternoon. I’m Tom Putnam, the Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library colleagues, I welcome you to this afternoon’s very special forum. Let me begin by thanking our underwriters, beginning with our lead sponsor, Bank of America, the Lowell Institute, Boston Capital, Corcoran Jennison Companies, the Boston Foundation, and our media sponsors, The Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR, which broadcasts Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings at 8:00 p.m.
We’re here today, in part, to honor two great public intellectuals of our time, Arthur Schlesinger and John Kenneth Galbraith who, among many shared attributes, were both born on the same day, October 15th. Were they still with us, Arthur Schlesinger would be 91 this year. And in just three days, we mark the Centennial of John Kenneth Galbraith’s birth.
We’re fortunate to have members of the Schlesinger and Galbraith family here with us today. Let me pause at this moment to recognize members of the Schlesinger family, including Professor Schlesinger’s wife Alexandra, sons Stephen and Andy, daughter Christina and stepson Peter, and Peter’s sister, Diana. [applause]
We pause to remember John Kenneth Galbraith’s wife Kitty, who passed away just two weeks ago. Our condolences to the Galbraith family. Mrs. Galbraith was a frequent visitor to the Library. And anyone who knew her would recognize her in this lovely description from her husband’s memoir, in which he wrote, “She is a wise and affectionate woman of singular beauty, intensely loyal to family and friends, a superb manager of our personal affairs, a brilliant linguist, and student of comparative literature, with no known enemy anywhere in the world. [laughter] And we lived happily ever after.”
Here with us today are two of the Galbraith’s sons, Jamie and Peter, Jamie’s daughter Eliza, Peter’s wife and children, Tone, Liv and Eric. Jamie has asked to say a few words on behalf of the Galbraith family. [applause]
JAMIE GALBRAITH: Thank you very much. And, of course, this is an occasion of very mixed emotions for my family. We all wish that mother could have been here. She was looking greatly forward to this event. On the other hand, both of my parents are here in spirit. And I know that dad, especially, is delighted that you are here to mark what is a milestone in our family’s history: not only his 100th birthday, but also the opening of his archives here at the Kennedy Library.
The history of dad’s archives and their involvement with the library goes back to 1965 when the first shipments came here. And I believe they first surfaced in the literary record in the New York Review of Books in the 1970s, when my father published a review of R.N., Richard Nixon’s memoir. And in the tumult of the last days, I couldn’t find the exact passage. But I shall tell you by memory that he recounts Nixon, of course, cited him as President for a very large tax deduction that Nixon took on his papers. And dad reported that it was true, when that first shipment went over to the Kennedy Library, there were evacuated, from the basement, all the personal files and a lot of the financial records, including the forms -- copies of what had been sent to the IRS. And he noted that taking a tax deduction for old tax returns would have been an imaginative exercise in tax avoidance. [laughter] But, fortunately, Dave Powers returned all of the treatise. And I have to report, much to my mother’s dismay, most of it is still in the basement of 30 Francis Avenue.
I want to say here that my father passed away two and a half years ago. And at that time, after meetings with Alan Goodrich and with the support of John Shattuck, the Library made a commitment to do the work necessary to bring his archive, which is now about, I’m told, three-quarters of a million pages, into the public domain where it can be accessible to scholars and researchers.
It is one of the last great paper archives: correspondence, drafts of all his manuscripts, his work in government. It’s something which those of us who live in the digital age will not be producing. And it is a remarkable achievement by the Library staff to have done that. And I want to specifically mention the archivists Jamie Quaglino and Jenny Beaton, and thank them and the interns who assisted them for a remarkable job in bringing this to the Library [applause]. But they had help. They had the help of a remarkable team of people who created the archive in the first place. And they, too many of them to mention, but I will name a few of them. They included Hazel Denton, Edith Tucker -- who rumor has it may be here -- Sylvia Baldwin, Mary Jo Hollander, and a number of others, all under the supervision, from the early 1950s to the present day, of the indomitable Andrea Williams, my father’s editorial assistant, first, now, and always, who cannot be here today, but who I spoke to this morning and who I’m sure feels very proud and very happy that this work of preserving my father’s records in good order gave the archivists something that they could, in fact, work with, and in fact achieve what they have achieved in such a short period of time. Thank you all very much. I look forward to the panel. And it’s a great pleasure, on behalf of all the Galbraiths, to be here. [applause]
TOM PUTNAM: Begging the panel’s indulgence, I will give the briefest of introductions in order to show a few film clips at the end of my remarks that help capture the spirit of the towering public intellectuals in whose shadow we meet today. More detailed biographical information about our speakers is in your programs.
Twice this past year, Gloria Steinem has demonstrated her ability to transfix the nation through her words. At the height of the Clinton-Obama standoff, her op-ed in the New York Times in support of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy made partisans, on both sides, reconsider what she describes as the interdependence between the caste system of race and gender which, she argued persuasively, can only be uprooted together. More recently, in the L.A. Times she articulated why the GOP strategy of nominating Sarah Palin would not, in her view, attract female voters to their cause. “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Hillary Clinton,” she wrote. [applause] “For former Clinton supporters to vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying ‘Somebody stole my shoes, so I’ll amputate my legs.’”
Cofounder of New York and Ms. Magazine, Ms. Steinem’s lifelong activism on behalf of women’s rights, civil rights, economic justice and world peace has been an inspiration for countless numbers, “an activism informed,” one biographer writes, “by Ms. Steinem’s own search for a destiny for herself and for all women, unconstrained and unprescribed by others.” “If the shoe doesn’t fit,” she once wrote, “must we change the foot?”
Joining the discussion with Gloria Steinem today are three public intellectuals of our time, a historian, economist and political scientist. Richard Parker is an Oxford-trained economist and senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University, the cofounder of Mother Jones Magazine. He writes extensively on public policy and is the author of the biography John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, which one reviewer described as, “Fittingly capturing the oversized life of the eminent economist, philosopher, writer and diplomat.” Richard has kindly agreed to lead this afternoon’s conversation.
Sean Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton University and received the 2006 Bancroft Prize, the most prestigious award in the field of American history writing, for his book The Rise of American Democracy, Jefferson to Lincoln. Sharing the title Bancroft Prize winner is just one of Professor Wilentz’s connections with his friend, Arthur Schlesinger. Professor Wilentz spoke last at the Library at a tribute to Arthur Schlesinger -- you’ll see a clip from Professor Schlesinger’s remarks soon -- and after his death, took over as the editor of a multi-volume series that Arthur Schlesinger had initiated with volumes dedicated to each American president.
Alan Wolfe is a professor of political science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion in American Public Life at Boston College. A prolific author, his books and articles cover many topics, ranging from whether American democracy still works to the transformation of American religion to how we actually live our faith. Just this week in the New Republic, in a review of the Writings of C. Wright Mills, he writes about the role that intellectuals should play in contemporary society. Mills wrote during the 1950s -- an era that Alan Wolfe describes as years of Eisenhower, Nixon and Joe McCarthy’s ascendancy – quote, “By decade’s end, the country was tiring of Republican rule and its accompanying scandals and foreign policy failures, and was harkening to the appeals of a young, ambitious, brash Catholic politician who called for change.” Sound familiar? [laughter]
Reading the books and essays by today’s panel to write this introduction, I was struck by their unique ability to turn a phrase, and especially appreciated Alan Wolfe’s review of a recent academic conservative critique of U.S. immigration policy, likening it to reading “Patrick Buchanan with footnotes.” [laughter] Discussions such as this afternoon’s reconnect us to an era when individuals like John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger not only wrote about their ideals, but joined the Kennedy administration to put them into practice. Like William F. Buckley, their intellectual sparring partner, they were, as the New York Times described in an article about Buckley’s recent memorial service, “Citizen intellectuals, active participants in the great dramas of their time, and eager to pursue their ideas in democracy’s more bruising arenas.” In keeping with the man we honor, the Library is committed to strengthening our country’s political discourse. And we hope that our forum series provides opportunities for a wide cross-section of the greater Boston community to engage with and debate big ideas with some of the best thinkers of our times. We are fortunate to have the four of you here in our midst this afternoon. You honor us in this enterprise with your presence. And we thank you sincerely for coming.
Before I introduce the concluding film clips, please join me in welcoming Richard Parker, Gloria Steinem, Sean Wilentz and Alan Wolfe to the Kennedy Library. [applause]
To briefly set up the clips: Health concerns kept John Kenneth Galbraith from speaking at the Library when Richard Parker’s biography was first published in 2005, but could not prevent him from sharing via video his prescient concerns for our national economy and our misguided faith in an unfettered free market.
Arthur Schlesinger spoke at the Library in November of 2006, three months before his death, articulating his belief in the study of history as a path to understanding the challenges of our times. Before speaking, he listened to Sean Wilentz, Alan Brinkley and Doris Kearns Goodwin discuss his career, which helps put the opening clip you will hear in context.
We were too late in our invitations to their close friend, the late William F. Buckley. In a gracious decline two years ago, he wrote “Thanks for your very kind invitation. But I have given up public speaking even under such superb auspices.” But you’ll get a sense of the twinkle in his eye and the affection and respect that he and Professors Galbraith and Schlesinger and Gloria Steinem all held for one another in the final two clips from John Kenneth Galbraith’s memorial service at Harvard.
Following these film clips, Richard Parker will open this afternoon’s conversation. Let’s watch together. [video]
RICHARD PARKER: Well, for those of you who read the papers, apparently the Buckleys have been redeemed but by one generation. Christopher Buckley, the day before yesterday, announced that he would be supporting Barack Obama for President. [applause] As Ken liked to say, “Wisdom comes slowly with the conservative mind. But we can hope that it does eventually.”
I’d like to start by asking Sean a question, as the historian on the panel. Where does this idea of the public intellectual come from in America? How did we get to this idea in the first place?
SEAN WILENTZ: Hello? Can you hear me? Let me thank everybody for having us aboard. And it’s really a pleasure to be with you two and you, too, Richard. Well, the word “intellectual,” let’s start with that. I mean, that’s very old. That goes back, at least, to the 1890s and to the Dreyfus Affair in France. And the word “intellectual” was coined to talk about people like Émile Zola, who were thinkers and writers and novelists, etcetera, who got engaged in the public debate.
The term “public intellectual,” I believe, is much more recent. And we have to give the credit, or maybe the blame, to my friend Russell Jacoby, who I think invented that term in a book called The Last Intellectuals. He was writing about an unfortunate disjuncture between the academic intellectual life and the public -- what he called the public intellectual life. He was concerned that academics had become far too narrow and far too arcane in the way that they presented their ideas, of what they claimed were ideas. Intellectuals were of a different sort, and he was -- Russell -- was concerned that intellectual life, as we knew it, was being absorbed by the academy, and that intellectuals of the sort that thrived in America in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s were going the way of the dinosaur. So I think it dates back to that.
It’s a term, I should say, that makes me fairly uncomfortable. I don’t like the term “public intellectual.” In part, as we were saying at lunch, actually, or somebody was saying at lunch, it strikes me as a redundancy. I mean, I don’t know two many private intellectuals. [laughter] The private intellectuals I do know tend to hang around dark corners of taverns and bars. [laughter] And they wish they were in public, but their thoughts are better left in private. [laughter]
I get the point of what Russell’s talking about. Without question, the academy has gotten terribly professional and terribly narrow and does not address a public audience the way that it might have, say, in the days of Charles Beard or Frederick Jackson Turner or Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for that matter. And things have changed. But I’ve never been as discouraged as Russell was on this question -- one example to my right, and one example to my left. I mean, there are plenty of professors who write for public audiences. And there are plenty of writers, intellectuals who write with real scholarly understanding, who really know something about the past, the present and, we hope, the future. So I just prefer the term “intellectuals,” myself, or “writers.” There are various kinds. They come in various flavors. You know, there are political intellectuals; there are other kinds of intellectuals. But I prefer that term, and keep our conversation out of the barrooms.
RICHARD PARKER: Gloria, as someone who has lived the life of an intellectual in public, if not a public intellectual, what is the role of the intellectual in a moment in time when a movement is emerging? Is it to shape the terms of the movement? To lead the movement? To comment on the movement? What are the challenges for an intellectual on that concept?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, it’s interesting. You're uncomfortable with “public,” I’m uncomfortable with “intellectual.” [laughter]
RICHARD PARKER: And Alan? [laughter]
ALAN WOLFE: I love the terms. [laughter]
GLORIA STEINEM: But I do think the term is very useful. Because what it means to me is someone who is a human bridge between the academy or any other center of thinking and expertise, and the public, which also means action. So it seems to me it’s an opportunity to be a human bridge between thought and action. And I really welcome that, because I fear otherwise, just as a writer, that sometimes the will to tenure or other things make the language of the academy not accessible to activists. And I’m always threatening to put a sign on the road to Harvard, Yale and Princeton that says, “Beware: deconstruction ahead.” [laughter]
So I think that that is the role and the movement, as you point out, that to … I mean, if you can't get off the page and into life, it’s a great exercise, but it’s not complete, right? And I think the role of the public intellectual is to be that kind of human bridge. And I would say the most satisfying moment in such an endeavor is when you are able to … when someone is able to name what people are feeling, and it doesn’t yet have a name.
And suddenly, you know, it coalesces. It becomes reality. The origin of all movements, I think, are people telling their own stories -- or at least it should be -- not from the top-down, but the from the bottom-up, people telling their stories. And perhaps feeling that they’re alone, but in listening to or in reading, you know, discovering that they are not indeed alone; that this is a group problem. Therefore, it has to do with power and is political, and you gather together a few people and you can do something about it. And to me, there’s nothing more exciting than that, nothing, nothing on earth more exciting.
RICHARD PARKER: Alan, I want to ask you a question that comes from looking at a recent list of intellectuals that was published by Foreign Policy a couple years ago. And historically, one thinks of intellectuals as broadly coming from the left side of the political spectrum, and broadly -- this is just an over-generalization -- as secular. But there, as I went down the list, number 15 on the list was Pope Benedict. Now, it was a bad list. It was followed by Paul Wolfowitz. So I don’t want to put too much credence in the list. [laughter] But the idea that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church would be among the top 20 intellectuals named strikes me as new. I mean, what’s going on with religion in public life that’s causing this?
ALAN WOLFE: Well, like all of you, I have been watching the debates. And one of the things I’ve learned from these debates is that you take any question, and you say what you want. [laughter] So let me just begin my saying that … laughter and applause]
SEAN WILENTZ: No new taxes! [laughter]
ALAN WOLFE: … that in my life, I’ve had an honor to come past me, but no other greater honor have I ever received than the three or four opportunities to speak at the Kennedy Library. And of all of them, this one is the greatest honor, to honor these people. I’m just thrilled to be part of it. So thank you all very much.
Having said that, Pope Benedict, I would certainly call him one of the world’s great intellectuals. He’s a major theologian. He is a lover of ideas. His ecclesiastical and pastoral letters that he’s written since he’s become Pope are extraordinary moving documents. He is anything but a doctrinaire conservative in the way that many of us, including those of us who teach at Catholic universities like I do, believed he would become. And so if voters in Foreign Policy Magazine want to call him an intellectual, I have absolutely no problem with that. In public, he certainly is. He has his own little state to run, [laughter] among everything else.
RICHARD PARKER: Not a university though.
ALAN WOLFE: I’m also very glad that you brought up this issue of Foreign Policy Magazine, published about two years ago, which listed the world’s intellectuals because it enables me to thank Sean Wilentz for saying that the term “public intellectual” was invented by a historian named Russell Jacoby. Because in that issue of Foreign Policy Magazine, the erstwhile Christopher Hitchins claims that the term “public intellectual” was invented by, of all people, me. [laughter] And he’s wrong. I didn’t do it. But even though I don’t own it, in contrast to Sean, I actually love the term. I’m glad that there’s a term. When Galbraith and Schlesinger and Buckley were writing, they were writing long before Russell Jacoby or I invented the term “public intellectual.” So we had public intellectuals before we had the term “public intellectual.”
It does no harm to have the term. And it probably does good to have the term. For those of us who try to do this from within the academy, it gives us at least a label that our colleagues can understand, so that they know where to put us. Without the label, I’m afraid it would be true that John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. would have a much more difficult time these days getting the tenure and the prestigious positions at major world-class universities that they got in their lifetime. The university has turned very, very much against the idea of writing for the general public. It’s considered almost a sin in many academic departments. So the least we can do is that when we’re told this -- what they used to say was, “Wolfe, you're just a journalist.” Now, I can say, “Oh no, I’m a public intellectual.” [laughter] And, you know, maybe in their minds, it’s still the same thing. But for me, it sounds better. No harm, no offense to the journalists, please. [laughter]
SEAN WILENTZ: I’d like to say my objection to the term is primarily grammatical, rather than intellectual. I mean, I just don’t like the fact that it seems to say the same thing twice. Because to me, an intellectual has always been engaged in these things. And I don’t know, I’ve had a different experience than Alan, maybe. I mean, maybe it’s just Princeton or, I don’t know, or history. I don’t know. And it may, in fact, be historians, actually because we have no pretensions to science -- well, some of us do, but, you know, no one takes them that seriously, or their pretensions to science that seriously. But, I mean, historians have cut across, I think, to the wider world and to movements, in particular, of the wider political world, perhaps more than other fields, certainly (inaudible).
One of the rumors up at the Vatican is that it doesn’t practice deconstruction. Can you imagine? And I perfectly agree, it’s a real problem. [simultaneous conversation] Well, that’s another question. That’s a crime. That’s not an intellectual movement. But I do think that there is … the possibility remains open for people to make that, if they just want to do it, you know. And if we don’t really necessarily care as, I believe, both John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. were both dismissed within their own fields as popularists, popularizers, people who were not serious academics, serious economists, serious … And their reaction was, “Huh? So what?” I mean, I’d much rather be at the White House affecting ideas than at any meeting of the American Historical Association. [laughter]
I think it’s an attitude to be emulated, to be respected, and to be “I’m cherished.” And that’s one of the reasons we’re here today. But I think it’s one for the future as well. And, indeed, as Alan says, there’d be no shortage of conservative intellectuals. The tundra does not belong to the left by any means. And we’re paying the price for that, in fact, in many ways in this country right now. But, I mean, I think the world was always open. And what it takes is just a willingness to tell the world, or those people who pretended they are the world, to take a hike and go about your business, and bring your ideas to the world, and the world will be better off.
GLORIA STEINEM: But I think, also, maybe we could contend with the academy’s bias or habit of mind of being a little not understandable, by pointing out that we require, say, of our physicians and all of their great, important expertise that they translate it into words that we, ourselves, can understand, in order to make our health decisions. So I would say that our academic public intellectuals might meet the same requirement.
But when you were talking about the right wing, too, I think we have to acknowledge and contend with the fact that the ultra-right wing has understood how to manufacture public intellectuals, that they have systematized the writing of books, the subsidizing of books, that there is a public or a press, a media institute in Virginia that spends something like a million dollars a month putting people through, you know, creating books, putting people through training, and television studios and radio studios and so on, bringing young people in for a weekend, so that they begin this in the college process or for dormitories.
You know, a lot of the people we see as right wing public intellectuals have been trained in that way. I don’t know of any systematic effort from the center or progressive world that’s quite the same. I mean, there are some efforts -- for instance, the Women’s Media Center now is trying to identify diverse women with great expertise and encourage them to show up on television, and giving them whatever it is, the kind of training or encouragement that they need. But this is a very small effort compared to the many, many years … And I hope there are other such efforts. I’m sure there are. But it’s still a very small effort compared to the more than 20 years, maybe more like 30 years, of very concentrated effort to produce public intellectuals of a particular world view.
ALAN WOLFE: Can I say something? I think Gloria is absolutely right. And as to illustrate, I had a couple of friends who wrote an important book about 20 years ago. It had a big impact on public debate. And the American Enterprise Institute made one of their fellows a full-time tracker of these two people and their book; that is, every time they appeared on television to talk about their book, the American Enterprise Institute had their tracker. It’s like a shadow. It’s like having a shadow. And he had like six talking points, and would respond. And it was just amazing. I was enormously impressed by the diligence of this conservative think tank to do this.
On the other hand, though, I don’t think it’s an advantage in the long term. I think what the policy institutes in Washington, the right wing policy institutes have produced are people who aren’t thinkers. And, ultimately, they have not come up with a group of conservative intellectuals that speak for a larger conservative movement.
There are, though, as your question pointed out, Richard, there are conservative intellectuals. And we welcome them, I’m sure all of us, to the intellectual club. I think they’re playing an enormously important role right now. You mentioned Christopher Buckley.
RICHARD PARKER: Right.
ALAN WOLFE: But he’s only one prominent conservative intellectual that’s endorsed Barack Obama. Doug Kmiec, professor of law at Pepperdine University and a very important Catholic legal thinker, has been a major Obama supporter. David Brooks wrote a recent column highly critical of precisely this, the anti-intellectualism that has taken over the Republican Party these days.
I think the McCain -- are we allowed to mention? -- the McCain/Palin ticket dooms the efforts on the part of conservatives to come up with a serious intellectual movement. If the people who own your party are running for office by attacking ideas over and over and over again, they are killing the atmosphere that will produce a vibrant conservative intellectual class. [applause] And I kind of regret it. I would love there to be a vibrant conservative intellectual movement in this country. I think it would be great for liberal and leftist intellectuals to have a strong conservative intellectual movement. Now, you know, if that’s the price of the McCain/Palin ticket losing, okay, I’ll pay it. [laughter]
RICHARD PARKER: Sean, I want to ask you a question specifically about Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism. Is it relevant here? I mean, did it breach its own Fukuyama and his The End of History? Not only are we seeing the continuation, Chapter 27, Chapter 30 of anti-intellectualism in America right now …
SEAN WILENTZ: Well, I mean, it’s always around. I mean, there’s always anti-intellectualism in American life. That’s one of Hofstadter’s points. I mean, it’s there to be tapped or not tapped. Sometimes the left taps anti-intellectualism, too. I don’t want to make it sound as if it’s just a right wing thing. It can happen. You get sort of crazy populism, and you're getting nutty stuff.
I think, though, just to think about what Gloria said, I think it’s very important, this manufacturing of ideas and manufacturing of prestige around ideas. It’s not just that they’re out there talking. They seem to have authority, which is usually bogus. I do think, though, that, as Alan says, eventually it shows up. And there is a difference between a publicist and an intellectual, and that these people are producing publicists of ideas, where they’ve increasingly turned to doing that.
Back in the ‘70s when they were starting, they were actually trying to float repackaging of old ideas as new ideas, and they succeeded. Now, it’s gotten to the point where it’s just talking points and little more. I do think, though, that political movements were a rather turbulent (inaudible) in American history. The left and the right do have their moments. And this gets back to my friend Arthur’s idea of cycles in American history, perhaps. I don’t know if it can be best described as cycles, but there are times when political movements or, let alone, political parties go through periods of intellectual exhaustion.
And I think we have seen whatever intellectual vim and vigor the Republican Party and the conservative movement had, have run their course. They have run their course because they have nothing to say about the current economic problem except to cut taxes or to, you know, foul up the usual Reaganite agenda. It has nothing to do with what we’re up against now.
I think that in all of these ways -- and you can see it in Republican debates when they started back a year ago, when every single person on stage said, “I am Ronald Reagan.” “I am Ronald Reagan.” “I am Ronald Reagan.” You’ve got that old TV show, you know. “Who are you, what do you really do, please?” “I am Ronald Reagan.” And, to an extent, each of them is a piece of Ronald Reagan, but the movement has fallen apart. It was exhausted. And I think when movements get exhausted, they turn to anti-intellectual appeals. And that’s what happens.
And when the left gets exhausted, which it has been in American history, it too can turn to anti-intellectual appeals. Right now, though, I think we’re at a moment where the age of Ronald Reagan is over. We just don’t know what’s to come, and it’s important for a vibrant, intellectual life on the left to be kept going if we’re going to get through all of this.
When Franklin Roosevelt was elected President in 1932, he wasn’t Franklin Roosevelt yet. He became Franklin Roosevelt as President of the United States. I think we have a similar kind of problem today. We don’t know what’s going to come. We don’t know quite what to do. So it’s going to take a great deal of energy, but I think that the need energizes people, and we’ll get there. But I do think that we are seeing this anti-intellectualism in part, or in large measure, because we’re seeing an entire political movement that’s dominated American politics for 40 years finally implode.
RICHARD PARKER: I’m not sure which one of you I want to have start with this question, but let me turn to Gloria and see if that’s the way to do it, which is: If we look, now, to the future, and look to a future for intellectuals, public or otherwise, what do you think the two or three most important issues or approaches are that intellectuals should be offering the public right now as we seem to be entering a new era, if Sean’s right?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I think I would talk about approaches, because I think when we come to issues that we kind of know what those issues are. So I would say that, yes, the right has reached some point of exhaustion, mainly because in and of their worldview comes a kind of uniformity. So I would hope that the center-progressive majority of the country would regard it not so much as a uniform world view, as a jazz improvisation [laughter] in which we creatively play off each other, trying to figure out how, actually, to solve problems.
And one of the things that stands in the way of that, I think, is that we have absorbed the media maximum fairness idea, which is that every issue has two sides. And really, that objectivity means being evenhandedly negative, which takes the heart out of [laughter] the public, because -- and all of us, you know -- because we don’t get reporting on solutions. We don’t get diverse reporting. So we get hostility. You know, we get a prize fight in which we may find out who is the better debater, or that it gives more heat than light. I notice that in Japan frequently on television when they are discussing a very important issue, they will, on purpose, have three people not two. And when I say that to people, it’s like a drink of water in the desert, right? You know, instead of this constant just combative, polarized view, you know?
So it seems to me the more that we can say to ourselves there are a full circle of alternatives here, it’s not polarization, it’s certainly not just two views. I mean, there may be seven or … [laughter] You know, we don’t know. And we regard it in that way so that we, for our part, don’t fall into the imitative error of thinking that it’s all about contentiousness; it’s all about polarization; it’s all about winning. Because that makes us come in with a predetermined view that may or may not allow us to be adjustable enough to actually solve the problem at hand. So if I could do away with anything, you know, simply, it would be this polarization.
RICHARD PARKER: Alan?
ALAN WOLFE: Sean mentioned, and of course as we all know Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith both worked in the Kennedy administration. You know, I don’t want to put a curse on anything, but it looks like the chances of our having an Obama administration are pretty good at the moment. From where I sit, I think the most important thing I could do in the next eight years or whatever is never go to work for the Obama administration.
I can understand why Schlesinger and Galbraith did it. Surely, if I had been in their shoes then and I had the opportunity, I would have done it. But I sense that the problems that Barack Obama is going to face, in terms of both the economic problems being caused by the events on Wall Street the last week, eight years of what Sean Wilentz has, I think, called the worst administration in American history, the inevitable consequences of the war in Iraq that are going to come home in one way or another, there isn’t going to be that much opportunity for an Obama administration to move the country, I think, as much as we would all like.
And in that environment the worst thing, it seems to me, that an intellectual like myself could do, would be to offer some broad, ambitious rendering of the nature of the human condition. So let me do it during the Obama administration from my study. Let me think about the big issues about human nature and human purpose, the reason why we’re put on this earth, what we’re here for. Those are the issues that, it seems to me, intellectuals should be addressing, that we need to step back, getting involved, getting … You know, maybe this is the time … Well, I wouldn’t go to the American Historical Association, but maybe this is the time for me to be at meetings of writers and thinkers rather than in Washington. Because I just think we have a huge number of broad and important questions we have to answer.
I’ve gotten myself very engaged, recently, in a period of European history between roughly 1780 and 1810, a period in which all the great political philosophies of the modern era -- liberalism, conservatism, romanticism, nationalism, even in its first form, socialism -- all started being argued about. And I’m just amazed at the depth of the thinkers, the people who are grasping with these huge questions. For me as an intellectual, I want to go back to that era and think about the kinds of questions that Jean-Jacques Rousseau and that the Great Enlightenment thinkers, and that eventually John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, that these people were wrestling with. So that’s, you know …
RICHARD PARKER: You're saying that Hannity and Colmes don’t do it for you?
ALAN WOLFE: No, I don’t think Hannity and Colmes … but might get there.
SEAN WILENTZ: I want to register a mild dissent, actually, from my friend Alan’s remark, because I don’t think it’s an either/or; I think it’s a both/and. I mean, when I was reading through Arthur’s papers during the Kennedy administration, you know, they didn’t address big, large issues. They were dealing with things as they happened on the run. And, you know, they thought they were in a world of crises. You know, it’s not the world of crises that we’re facing now, but they thought that they had a real problem on their hands.
And what I think that -- probably more Schlesinger than Galbraith, but I think it’s both -- had to offer was a knowledge of history. I mean, it would be good to have someone in the White House who knows who Jean-Jacques Rousseau is, let alone [laughter] understand what he might have said.
RICHARD PARKER: [simultaneous conversation] saying that he’s French.
SEAN WILENTZ: And I’ll be saying he’s French, exactly.
ALAN WOLFE: He was Swiss.
SEAN WILENTZ: That his name was French. But that you can have those people in the White House without their giving you prescriptions, but simply be there to know, for human reasons. And I think the same thing is true even in economics, the dismal science. You know, one of the reasons why John Kenneth Galbraith stood out was precisely that he understood that economics is more than just number-crunching, that it is about institutions, and about the larger philosophical and ethical and humane questions of our time, the balance between government and the market.
Now, this isn’t a question that could be answered by someone who doesn’t understand these larger philosophical questions. And it ought to inform government policy. And it ought to inform what’s going on in the White House. So I think that there’s room for both of these things, all of these things. You know, it takes a person with a particular temperament to be able to survive in politics in the world of … in party politics, in the world of the intelligentsia at the same time, the world of the intelligentsia being politically much nastier than anything that the politicians could invent. [laughter] For the reasons Gloria is sort of getting at, they have their own language, let alone world platform.
But my point is that it takes that kind of temperament. But I hope that there will be people with that kind of temperament around over the next eight years, that the President will be able to find who he or she or they are, and that they would be there. I hope to high heaven they will be, because I think it would be good for all of us. And I meant no slur with my friends at the American Historical Association. I will be there. I will be arguing with you. I love you, as long as you're not joking about deconstruction. [laughter]
RICHARD PARKER: Gloria, you’ve had an extraordinary career in journalism. But journalism and the whole idea of media and communication have changed, and particularly the rapid growth of the Internet and a new generation that communicates in new ways. And what you and I grew up thinking of as mainstream media now seems to be, if not on the ropes, certainly faltering. And a lot more what I think of as micro and ad hoc journalism by semi-professionals or non-professionals in the eyes of the pros, seem to be much more influential, as are comedians. How does that play into this whole question of intellectuals and impact on the public?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, you know, I don’t know. I mean, like everything, it can go in many directions. I mean, I worry, for instance, that there’s no big fact-checking umbrella in the sky, you know, because you don’t know what you're getting. And is it accurate or not? And the Annenberg School, actually, is trying to be the big fact checker. You know, so we need that more.
I also worry that we are cocooning, you know, that we are sitting there at our computers, and we think we’ve done something because we’ve sent it on, you know. [laughter] I think that happened after 9/11. You know, I think there was a completely different atmosphere. As a resident of New York City, I would say that all over the city, there were handmade signs that said “Our grief is not a cry for war.” And this was, you know, the kind of communication we were getting, a lot of us, from friends in other countries and colleagues in other countries.
But at the same time, Fox News and the sort of mainstream media were saying something else. And we didn’t pay proper attention to that, I don’t think. That is kind of the downside. But I think the upside is the magnification which I’m only getting a grip on, myself, you know, at my age. I’m older than John McCain. How about that? [laughter and applause] But I haven’t had six kinds of skin cancer and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 25 years. But anyway, okay. But I think that there are enormous possibilities. For instance, the second of those two op-eds that I wrote, the one about Sarah Palin was published in the L.A. Times, turned down by the New York Times -- I think because they’d already done Palin. I didn’t take it personally. And, you know, I just did it, because I knew the name of somebody who was an editor there. And that got into 600 syndicated places. And then it got on the Internet. I was stunned, you know. Up until then I thought, “Oh, you write an op-ed, that and a metro card will get you”-- you know. [laughter] But they called me up and they said, “Oh, we had to start a whole other website thing because the response was so huge. And it went all over.” I mean, I was amazed.
Of course, and then they said, “That’s the good news. The bad news is that half of it was hostile because the right wing ...(inaudible) [laughter] But I do think that it provides an opportunity for all of us, with our scribbles, to magnify the impact in all kinds of ways, and, of course, for activists as well. I mean, there’s a 22 year old young woman who’s an activist, who is staying with me now. And the day after Sarah Palin’s selection, she started a FaceBook page.
RICHARD PARKER: Nomination; let’s not say election yet.
GLORIA STEINEM: Oh, no, “selection.”
RICHARD PARKER: Oh, “selection.”
GLORIA STEINEM: And, you know, the next day she had 3,000 people; and the next day she had 5,000; and then she had 20,000. I mean, there are just extraordinary opportunities that I think it’s up to us, who have been using quill pens and sprinkling sand on it, to educate ourselves and to use it.
RICHARD PARKER: In terms of communication, I want to open this up to the audience now. For those of you who have questions -- and I really would like them to be questions -- come forward to the mike. And let’s see if we can engage you with our panel. Yes, sir? Would you say who you are, please?
Q: Yeah, my name is Roy Freed. I live in Canton. I’m retired, a retired lawyer. I was educated during the Great Depression -- you should excuse the expression -- and then we had the fall-back, those of us who are frustrated with the possibility of Marxism, which promised Elysium. Now, I think we really have to question the validity of this free market concept. I think that we just have to find a middle ground. And I wonder what the speakers think of that.
RICHARD PARKER: Since I’m the economist on the panel, did you notice how the other ones pointed at me? [laughter] One of the great mistakes of my colleagues at Mother Jones when we started was one was a history major, and the other was an English major. And because I had a doctorate in economics, they thought I could understand the business side. It just goes to show how little communication there is between the various disciplines.
I try to make the point with my students that we haven’t lived through a period of deregulation; we’ve lived through a period of selective deregulation. People who owed mortgages weren’t deregulated in terms of their responsibility for having to pay those mortgages every month. And banks weren’t deregulated in terms of being able to turn to the courts to collect on default from credit card holders that had overused their credit cards.
And the question of regulation now is going to be one of which set of regulations. And I think it’s going to be an evolving process much as the Depression was. I just finished an essay for the Times Book Review on Adolf Burle and The Modern Corporation and Private Property. And Burle was one of those seminal early Depression figures. And you can see the role he plays in that famous Commonwealth Club speech that Roosevelt gives as a candidate, that crystallizes some of the core ideas of the administration.
But, nonetheless, there’s going to be a competition within an administration. We’re going to find beginning in January of next year, assuming that Senator Obama is elected and that a larger Democratic majority is in both Houses, the kind of debates that were taking place in the early 1930s and in the 1960s, in particular, about financial market regulation. And I think the added dimension is that we are going to have to take seriously the Keynesian international concerns. Keynes was the great mind behind the Bretton Woods Agreements. And although the system that produced INF and World Bank weren’t finally the institutions that Keynes wanted, nonetheless, he recognized in the 1940s that to try to act as autonomous nations, in terms of managing one’s finances in a modern world, that it was folly. And we need to better understand how to coordinate between treasuries, between central banks, and, most importantly, between the SECs and other regulatory bodies that cross over borders, to be able to manage successfully what lies ahead.
Q: Hi. My name is Jason Edwards. And I am a young member of the academy who also teaches and writes about communication. So this is obviously near and dear to my heart. But my question for you: you talked about the idea of anti-intellectualism. And one of the things that I have written about and others have written about is how our political discourse over the last -- especially over the last 30 to 40 years -- has become really anti-intellectual, everything from our congressional discourse, particularly our presidential discourse.
Alvin Lim’s [spelling?] recent book about the anti-intellectual presidency is a fascinating account of that. And I’m just wondering what, if you were advising the President as public intellectuals, what … You know we always hear about the hunger for the want and the need for an in-depth public discussion about the solutions that our country faces, whether it be debt, foreign policy, whatever it may be. I’m just wondering what you would say to the next President and to our congressional leaders, and advise them as to how we can get back to a more intellectual form of communication. Because while we seem to all prize it, a number of my students -- and I’m sure a number of your students, as well -- don’t necessarily embrace that intellectual kind of idea. They prefer them …
SEAN WILENTZ: My model for all of this is never being terribly intellectual. But I suppose my model is FDR in some ways. I mean, because (inaudible) … the Fireside Chat. Now, what FDR had was an ability to explain very complicated problems, and explain towards the solution to those problems in very clear ways, in ways that people could understand. He never spoke down to people, and he never assumed that the enemy on the other side were a bunch of elitists -- maybe economic royalists, but not elitists in the sense that I think you mean. But, in a sense, transcended the whole question and simply tried to explain what was going on as best he could. And I think what that gave people a sense of was that the person who was in the White House not only thinks about what they are thinking about, but knows something about what’s going on.
I think one of the problems that we’ve had recently is that that is not the case. [laughter] And I don’t mean that something about George W. Bush, and I’ll put a question mark next to that. In that article I wrote, I said, you know, “Worst President in American history?” That question mark’s been fading and fading and fading. [laughter]
RICHARD PARKER: Right down to a period.
SEAN WILENTZ: Well, deep. But, I mean, I think that’s my answer to your question: is that it’s a matter of having a President who can grasp what’s going on, and then can explain it. And we have had a few that I think were good at it. I think there are plenty of people in public life who are good at it. It’s about time we elected one President of the United States.
RICHARD PARKER: I wouldn’t overestimate the value of intellectuals. After 15 years at Harvard, I understand better Bill Buckley’s remark that he’d rather be governed by a list of names drawn from the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. [laughter] And so I don’t think that the alternative to Congress is a Harvard faculty meeting, believe me. So over here.
Q: I’m Alan Kayman(?) formerly from Arizona, a state from which I’ve run to move to Brookline recently. And I’m very happy that I made the move. I think you’ll be able to tell from the question that I’m asking that I am not a McCain supporter. I’m concerned about the quality of the debate during the campaigns on various kinds of public policy issues.
Let me just give you one, for example, and ask you as “public intellectuals,” how you think we can improve the debate. Let’s just take the issue of taxes. I was having a conversation at brunch with some people. And I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. You’ll notice, whether it’s the Democrat side or Democratic side or the Republican side, no one is willing to take on the issue of raising taxes. They’re afraid of it.
And what you hear from the pragmatists is you mention the words “raising taxes,” and you lose the election. And we have examples of that in the past, whether it’s a tax on carbon, on oil, on gasoline, whether it’s the redistribution of things that can be done through the tax system. What can we do so that the people running for office are not afraid to tell the truth of the solutions that we have to effect to get where we want to go through using the tax system?
ALAN WOLFE: If I may dissent, one candidate explicitly raised the issue of taxes in this campaign, and his name was Joe Biden. And he said that paying taxes was your patriotic duty. He was attacked for it, and he made one of the most brilliant defenses of that idea when he was attacked for it that I’ve ever heard, saying that he’s tired of all this talk that Americans have to put their money where their mouth is. It was very Holmesian, and it was very, very eloquent.
And in an effort to stimulate the role of public intellectuals, Bill Bennett the conservative pundit, recently had a program on CNN with four public intellectuals arguing with each other. I was one of them, and I brought up the Biden thing. And another one of the people on the panel, Steve Waldman, who’s the founder of Beliefnet.com., and we had a terrific interchange with the two conservatives on the panel. But it was as good an intellectual discussion about this very question as you can have. So there’s hope.
SEAN WILENTZ: Yeah, but the question, to me, ought to be posed -- might be posed -- just in terms of taxes or no taxes and progressive taxation and regressive taxation. And that one of the things that the Reagan revolution did was to basically attack the idea of progressive taxation, income taxation. And that, in effect, is really what the Democrats have been coming back to, is getting back to an idea of progressivity. And if we’re going to get somewhere, that it’s about fairness, in the end, as well as about the well being of the nation, of being something that we all have a responsibility to do.
And I think we are actually getting back to that, but not by saying, “I’m going to go raise your taxes.” Maybe it’s going to say “I’m going to cut 95% of your taxes,” or “95% of you are going to get a tax cut.” But what that is about is restoring progressivity to the system. And I think that that really is what the revolution of the Reagan years is all about. And that’s what has to be addressed anew, especially amidst this economic crisis where regressive taxation is a real problem.
GLORIA STEINEM: I agree, but I do think that it might be up to us as citizens to form a movement around the whole idea that, rightly spent, taxes are the best possible use of our dollars that there could ever be. It’s kind of up to us, I think, to push our representatives, to give them the opportunity to show that taxation is a good thing, is something that benefits, you know, that it requires all kinds of reform to do that. But I don’t think that’s out there in the public dialogue, really.
And, you know, I think how we say things is so important. The last two questioners were essentially addressing the same problem. And if you say to people, “Well, we’ve privatized gains and socialized losses.” That is, you know, a … wait a minute, is that right? Yeah, right. Thank you. [laughter] But that is, you know, a way of putting into poetry, not a novel -- [laughter] -- I mean, I would say (inaudible) sound bites, that’s demeaning. Poetry is elevating. So you know, you can come up with phrases that are “Ahas,” that help people understand, that are brief.
And, you know, the anti-intellectualism is … the reason is sometimes us, you know, that we are just saying things, we are obfuscating, we are putting people to sleep, we are using all those words that end in “t-i-o-n.” We are not phrasing policy as it shows up in people’s lives. And if we do that, including on the question of taxation, I think we can have a whole different kind of discussion.
RICHARD PARKER: Ken Galbraith also used to very much like to point out to his conservative critics that America had grown fastest when progressive taxes were highest on the rich. When the marginal tax rate at the top was 90%, we were growing faster than we ever had since those top rates were reduced to 40% or lower. And he thought it was just that the rich, like everyone else, needed the spur to motivate them. Otherwise, they were left to become wealthy and lazy. And he thought that was a terrible waste of the rich. [laughter]
Q: Gloria and Professor Wilentz struck on something from different directions as (inaudible) or whatever you want to call it. And that’s the world of public intellectuals in regard to the rest of us. It’s what you spoke about the isolation of the academy. And we look at the people that are in this room, and we don’t have the credentials as far as the Ph.Ds in economics or philosophy or history. But we all have a liberal education. We’ve been taught critical thinking. And what I wanted to address amongst you is to develop a conduit from the people in the academy, the public intellectuals, and those of us who live in the world and have the wisdom and experience, and to have an exchange between these two parts of our society.
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, it’s interesting, because, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time speaking on campuses, I mean, maybe two or three or four every month. And the most exciting campuses are the community colleges, because there is a diversity of age and experience in the classroom. And so when you hear somebody describing healthcare alternatives, and there is a 35 year old pregnant woman in the room who’s saying “But,” you know, it really helps the educational process. [laughter]
So I just want the conduit to go both ways. I think you do too, right? Right. Because if you talk about issues, I can go to a campus and talk about the Bush economic policy and so on, and everybody will just nod right off, you know. But if I say “Okay, how many of you are graduating in debt?” You know, lots of hands go up. “How many of you know that this tuition has increased 30% while Bush has been in office; and loans have gone down, because he’s given more percentage to the bankers?” And so on. “Really? Where do you find that out?” You know, suddenly that one thing bridges the distance between their lives and policy. And that’s, I think, what is up to us to do, to provide that bridge.
SEAN WILENTZ: Something that Gloria said earlier is also relevant, and I think very important is the numbers of conduits that have expanded, and how any one conduit now reaches many, many more people than we could possibly imagine. We’re even being filmed now. I mean, back in the old days, it would be the wonderful people here and no more.
I mean, I wrote a piece for that distinguished academic journal Rolling Stone Magazine [laughter]. And it was a very … I mean, by Rolling Stone’s standards, extremely dull. But it got out in the world in a way that astonished me. I mean, I had no idea. People were, you know, “So you're the guy who wrote that piece.” Well, that’s only because of the Internet, because it was all over the place, and so forth. And so I think that the possibilities for conduits are there more than us older writers would have imagined. And the point is for us to help younger writers seize it and for us to seize it ourselves. And then we can expand the conversation enormously, because it’s all interactive anyway.
Q: Hi. My name is Ellen Frith(?). And what my concern is is that there has been a real, I think, dummying-down of the public. And we here in Massachusetts right now, they’re trying to vote out taxes here. And we had somebody that was on the ledger that had embezzled money. And he won, even though he’s no longer in service. It doesn’t seem as though, for me, that we really reach out to the disenfranchised communities, and really reach out to people who don’t feel connected, and meet people where they are, and then be able to bring them along.
And I know I am working, obviously, on a particular campaign, if you can see who’s here on my lapel. And I think it’s because there has been a concerted effort to do that. But my concern is there’s still a whole population that may not even be here with us today. And how do we bring this public discourse without losing the intellectual vitality, but be able to meet people where they are and then bring them along?
I mean, going to community colleges is great. I mean, I started at a community college, and then I ended up at Harvard. There are these stories of people who were out there, who just need the opportunity and just need people to shepherd them along. So how could we do this together, as a body of people?
GLORIA STEINEM: I would say number one is: if you want to be listened to, you have to listen. So it’s not so much about bringing this dialogue to the unenlightened as it is listening first, you know, to what the situations in life problems are. And then selecting and making a bridge to the policy or the issue or the -- whatever it is, that could be helpful. It’s like the Gandhian principle of organizing. You know, even though the whole Republican convention booed Gandhi, apparently, as an organizer. But anyway … [laughter] You know, there are rules of organizing. If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you want to change how people live, you have to live the way they live.
There are quite a lot of organizers out there on the road all the time for different reasons. But we’ve somehow got the idea that the abolitionist/suffragist era, when there were, like, 200-300, probably, at any given moment wandering around, that we don’t need that any more because of the mass media, and certainly because of the Internet. And we do. And it’s fun. And it’s interesting, you know.
And when we are in a room together like this, something happens that can’t happen on the Internet, on a screen, or even on the printed page, much as I love the printed page. We have something like reflector cells -- is that what they’re called? -- something in our brains that allow us to empathize, catch meaning, catch emotion. So if we use that, if we make that linkage and take care not to make it a one-way street, we’re going to come and enlighten you, we’re going to first listen to what it is you need to know. It works. It works.
ALAN WOLFE: Well, thanks for the question. I mean, when you hear about how many Americans still to this day think that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, it does get you a little bit depressed about the level of public intelligence. But I really do have to dissent from your question. I think we are an incredibly wise people.
I think over the last year we’ve seen extraordinary things in our public life, things that I never thought we would see: a brilliant man from an impeccable Harvard Law School background, who writes himself and delivers some of the most powerful speeches ever made in this country, appealing to the better parts of our nature, in ways so articulate that it brings us to tears. He’s ten points ahead in the polls over a politician who himself has a somewhat abysmal record at the Naval Academy and picked, perhaps, the most anti-intellectual politician to appear on the national public scene in my lifetime. What more could you want? What more could you want, really? [applause]
RICHARD PARKER: You're speaking unfairly of Spiro Agnew, Alan.
GLORIA STEINEM: You just need to multiply it.
Q: Hi, my name is Sarah Ulman. I’m a junior at Tufts University. And my question is, you know, there was just talk about Sarah Palin’s and the right wing’s appeal to anti-intellectualism. She’s clearly a product of that appeal. But she’s also stated numerous times that she’s a product of Title IX. She’s a product of women: your work, Ms. Steinem, growing up with all the opportunities as myself and many other women in this room can attest to.
I’m interested in her growing up in this atmosphere of opportunity, and yet embracing her power as a sex object, saying, you know, the famous lipstick remark, or seeing at the Republican Convention, you know, someone’s button that says, “Hoosiers for the Hot Girl.” You know, it’s something … I’m just interested in this return to kind of everything that you worked to eliminate. And, I mean, I just … [applause]
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I think if you have a movement that has made a fair amount of change, you create a job for people who look like the movement but are against it. It’s the Clarence Thomas phenomenon, right? And it’s the Sarah Palin phenomenon. I fiercely defend her right to be wrong. And I’m not going to use against her the argument that she has children, because I would not use that against a male human being. And I’m not going to describe her appearance first, because I don’t do that for human beings in general. And I am going to show that she stands against every single issue, with the possible exception of the death penalty -- I’m not sure that the majority of women are yet against the death -- but with that exception, she stands against every single issue that the majority of women care about. And she’s a product of Title IX who didn’t know what Title IX was until she was running for the vice-president. So we need to figure out how she got there. I mean, she may have a change of heart once, years from now, she realizes the way in which she’s been used and really held up to public ridicule. I’m a hope-a-holic, right. [laughter]
ALAN WOLFE: What people don’t understand about Sarah Palin is that during that disastrous Katie Couric interview, that as a Pentecostal she was actually speaking in tongues. [laughter]
Q: Hi, my name is Helene Simmons, and I live in Boston. And a quick comment, first, about that big fact checker in the sky. Because the first email I got about Christopher Buckley endorsing Obama, a few minutes later I got something that said, “Check Snopes.com, because that’s wrong.” And then, a few minutes later, I got something else saying, “No, Snopes is wrong,” right? So I hope one of these days there’ll be something out there that everyone can rely on.
But my question goes to, in terms of the book that Doris Kerns Goodwin wrote about Lincoln and the people that he had around him who had divergent views, and he was able to take these views and synthesize them and then become “the decider” or whatever. But to what extent -- I haven’t read the book myself -- did the public play a role in getting this information to these people, who then got it to Lincoln?
And perhaps because it was so far back then, you know, public didn’t have access to people as they do now, perhaps it didn’t happen then. But do you think it could happen now? Because hopefully, I’m sure that Barack Obama -- and I don’t know about John McCain -- is probably reading Goodwin’s book, because it just shows the way that, I think, that someone has to govern and to make a decision.
SEAN WILENTZ: Well, if I get the thrust of your question right -- and it’s a good one, a really important one -- I think, actually, given the crisis … What Abraham Lincoln managed to do, figure out in 1861 or 1860-61, was that he had won, but he had won because of a coalition. That the Republican party that had elected him with only 39% of the total vote, I should add, all from the north, there weren’t enough electable votes to win, but there were lots of people, individuals and persons with different positions inside the party, that had to be represented if they were going to unite to fight a Civil War, basically. I mean, he understood that.
He also understood that it’s better to have your rivals inside the tent rather than outside the tent. There’s a very good way of putting it that President Johnson once -- I won't go into that right now -- he was actually referring to J. Edgar Hoover. But I think that there’s a wisdom in this, especially when you have to … And it’s a piece of wisdom, actually, that President Bush, the incumbent, did not heed at all. When he declared a war on terror, a war on terrorism, he then proceeded to politicize the entire issue so that the Republicans were on the good side and Democrats were on the bad side, essentially. And they won the election of 2002 on that basis. In other words, at precisely the moment when you're declaring the war by fiat, you're supposed to bring in people from outside your own party, let alone outside your own faction. He did quite the opposite.
Lincoln had the brilliance to understand that you have to do it differently. Now, I would hope that the next President of the United States will understand that as well, and will embrace all of those people, inside and outside of his party, but inside his party as well, to provide, not simply the kind of what give-and-take that you need … I mean, let’s face it. The White House is not a seminar room. It’s a little more complicated than that. But also, politically, to bring the country together as we face the crisis we’re facing now, because it’s a big one.
There will be an opposition party. I’m not saying everybody is going to agree. We oughtn’t to agree. I actually believe in political parties. But we need a government, we need an administration that will bring together the various factions that actually, until fairly recently, were actually battling it out for the nomination. They all ought to be in this government. And I think that that would be the best for the country.
RICHARD PARKER: I think the other thing that I’d add is that this was also a characteristic of Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy, as well, too. It was, also, with Richard Nixon, but his choice was John Connelly. And I think we could talk about how successful bipartisanship was in that case.
Q: What was refreshing about the clips are two things that have happened in the last three weeks that really bother me about modern communication on the campaign trail at the national level. I was bothered in the vice-presidential debate that Joe Biden was so clearly articulate about his single fatherhood in that one response. And the camera really showed how cold and calculating Sarah Palin was in that moment. She couldn’t even respond or acknowledge that statement. That’s one observation that bothered me.
The second thing about observation (inaudible) communication that’s happened in the last seven days that really made me think about being grateful that I corresponded with Professor Galbraith and that I was trained as an economist is the fact that when Barney Frank, after being so diligent through when the bailout actually passed in the House, applied his intelligence and leadership to solving this problem, that Bill O’Reilly had the guts to create that fight on television where Barney had the absolute ability to go back in his face about it. I actually was proud of Barney for that moment, because I don’t think enough of our leaders on our side have the ability to take it to people like that. And I really think we need to learn it.
RICHARD PARKER: So this is a public intellectual lesson you're trying to point out?
Q: It’s an important point of the fact that we need to learn how to argue with people who really don’t want to communicate. Barney is a real leader on this issue. And the fact that he was able to tolerate that verbal abuse on the national stage to get his point across, I think, is a skill we all need to observe and learn from.
RICHARD PARKER: Thank you very much.
Q: Hi. My name is Cathy. I am a student, a sophomore at Wellesley College. And much of the American population seems to have this very tribal American, kind of like instinctive feeling and distrust of elitism and intellectualism and harking back to Andrew Jackson, and just being very much against any non-common people. And despite the advances that Obama has made in this campaign, on the campaign trail and while canvassing, I still meet many people that distrust his Harvard education and that he isn’t in touch with the common people. And I wonder if our population will ever redefine this term of “elitism,” so that it isn’t such a negative term. Or if we’re doomed to elect inarticulate C-students to very high government positions and distrust people who are smarter than we are and may actually make a difference?
RICHARD PARKER: Is it elitism or is it the schools they went to? Because the predecessor, of course, is a Harvard Business School graduate and a Yale graduate. Now, at Harvard we see the fault line lying in the undergraduate experience. [laughter] But that’s part of …
SEAN WILENTZ: [inaudible] … on behalf of Andrew Jackson before I turn this over, because one of the things that Barack Obama has in common with Andrew Jackson, they both have Harvard degrees. It’s true that Andrew Jackson’s was honorary, but nevertheless, he has a Harvard degree. [laughter] And Andrew Jackson helped support the formation of the first intelligent journal of opinion and literary opinion in the United States, called the Democratic Review, in which people such as lightweights as Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was a great Jacksonian, Walt Whitman, who was sexy as well as a Jacksonian. And, you know, I could go on with the list.
So one wouldn’t necessarily see even that as the measure whereby a person’s openness to high ideas is concerned. And Andrew Jackson wasn’t so bad, that’s really what I’m saying. He knew smart people when he had to, and he brought them in. And maybe that’s the gift we should be looking to, which is openness to ideas and its listening rather than necessarily talking. It was said of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that he had a second rate intellect and a first rate temperament. We could use a President like that.
ALAN WOLFE: That’s the second quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes tonight. Elite is a French word. So, obviously, in our culture it’s not going to go over too well. [laughter] How about leadership? I think we need leadership. This is an event in honor of Schlesinger and Galbraith. And they were people who represented the best instincts of the Kennedy administration.
There were also people who represented some of the worst instincts of the Kennedy administration, the people that David Halberstam wrote about in The Best and the Brightest, an elite or a leadership class that became arrogant, that became so convinced of its own brilliance that it developed a contempt for the American people. It seems to me if we get a chance to do it again under the Obama administration, we need more Schlesingers and Galbraiths and fewer Bundy brothers and Walt Whitman and (inaudible). I’ll mention that. [laughter and applause] and people like that.
RICHARD PARKER: Listen, I want to thank the three of you, Gloria, Sean, Alan. I think if the four of us knew that Ken and Arthur were here tonight, we’d be glad to be sitting in the audience as well, learning from them. But I hope that the audience recognizes how faithfully we’ve tried to represent the courage and the conscience that those two men represented for us and for the world. So thank you, all three of you. And thank you. [applause]
END OF FORUM