Thursday, November 16, 2000

Trend is for this president to excel

Scholar: Close races make strong leaders

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Presidential scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin believes that a strong president might emerge from the muddled Bush-Gore election stalemate.

        Ms. Goodwin, who spoke Wednesday to the Montgomery Women's Club at Paramount's Kings Island, said a glance at American history reveals that some presidents who took office under difficult conditions became powerful leaders.

        “No one could have come into office under tougher circumstances than Lyndon Johnson,” she said. “He was afraid he'd be considered a pretender to the throne.”

Powerful men

        Many people believed Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt would be weak presidents, but they were proven wrong, she said. George W. Bush or Al Gore may show unexpected strength once one of them becomes president, she said.

        “There's always reason to hope there will be more to their character when they reach that extraordinary office,” she said.

        Ms. Goodwin, who was an assistant to President Johnson, wrote Mr. Johnson's biography as well as three highly regarded books, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, No Ordinary Time; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in history; and Wait Until Next Year, a memoir of her life.

        She also is a commentator for NBC and a regular panelist on PBS's The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.

        Whoever becomes the next president will have to reach out to the opposite political party in order to be effective, Ms. Goodwin said.

        “They'll need to operate in a bipartisan way,” she said. “That's the only way they'll get something done so they can be remembered for something other than gridlock.”

Electoral College

        Ms. Goodwin said it would be a mistake to abolish or alter the Electoral College before initiating ballot reforms.

        “We ought to figure out a way to have uniform ballots and machinery across the country,” she said, “so that it's no longer more likely for ballots to be invalid in one place than another,” In looking back at history, Ms. Goodwin noted that the controversial presidential elections in 1800 and 1824 resulted in gun duels. After the close 1876 election that was won by Rutherford B. Hayes, the supporters of his opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, organized rifle clubs with the slogan, “Tilden or Blood.”

        At least the bickering over the current election hasn't turned violent, Ms. Goodwin said.

        “So far, we haven't had duels, and no one's been marching around with rifles,” she said. “Maybe we can be calmer.”


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- Trend is for this president to excel
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