Beschloss talks about presidents, his career

by Deborah Bernstein | 2/2/99 6:00am

Presidential historian and one of this term's Montgomery Fellows Michael Beschloss described the Clinton presidency as being laced with ironic similarities to those of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy during an interview at the Montgomery House yesterday.

Beschloss, best known for his historical works on the two of the most popular 20th century presidents, said both his subjects, Eisenhower and Kennedy, have striking resembles to Clinton.

Both Eisenhower and Clinton led the nation in economic prosperity and the role they personally played in creating such booms is a puzzle for historians. Meanwhile, Kennedy and Clinton are linked as presidents who led complicated private lives, Beschloss said.

"Clinton was always enchanted by Kennedy and modeled his career after his," Beschloss said.

Historians' judgments of Clinton and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, will depend on how much information is revealed about the Clinton presidency in the ensuing decades, he said.

"If we find out 30 years from now that Clinton was law-abiding, Kenneth Starr will be seen as having been on a vendetta," Beschloss said.

If Clinton's actions in office prove to be illegal, and he is not convicted criminally or thrown out of office, Starr will be faulted for not uncovering enough to get a conviction, but "will be praised for uncovering the tip of the iceberg," Beschloss continued.

Beschloss said he feels Hillary Clinton should prove to be one of the three strongest First Ladies, along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosalyn Carter.

The power and influence a First Lady wields over her husband is difficult to measure because there are rarely written records of First Ladies' views or conversations with their husbands about their opinions, Beschloss said.

Beschloss' examinations of history are often prompted by current events, he said. His research into the Cold War and incidents in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations began during the Cold War controversies in Ronald Reagan's terms of office.

Researching a book takes two years, as does writing it, he said.

He is currently working on the second and third volumes of a three-volume set interpreting the recordings of conversations Lyndon Johnson had during his presidency.

Beschloss, a commentator for PBS "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," "ABC News," and the Don Imus radio show, said he feels new media outlets like MSNBC and the Internet have "completely changed the texture" of politics and how much the public knows about politics.

In contrast to the ignoring by press of rumored affairs of Eisenhower and Kennedy, the private lives of current presidents are scrutinized and covered, he said.

Although the impeachment debate has been covered everyday on cable news outlets, the public is not glued to the coverage like the attention paid to the Watergate hearings because new details of the scandal are not revealed everyday, he said.

"With Clinton most of the facts have been known since last August or suspected since last January," he said. "Now we're just debating whether it's impeachable or not."

Beschloss brought this political and historical perspective to a class yesterday afternoon. His Montgomery Fellowship visit to Dartmouth is his first and he said he has been looking forward to his speech today.

A graduate of Williams College and Harvard University, he said he has always loved Dartmouth, even though the College teams beat his alma mater's teams in many sporting events.

Beschloss, author of "Mayday: Eisenhower, Khruschev, and the U-2 Affair" and "The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khruschev, 1960-1963" will address the Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies in Cook Auditorium today at 4 p.m. as part of the Montgomery Fellowship series on the "Power and the Presidency."