'Power and the Presidency' concludes

by Mike A. Hamilton | 2/25/00 6:00am

Last night concluded the Montgomery Fellowship Endowment series "Power and the Presidency," a set of lectures by prominent presidential historians, as four of the six Montgomery Fellows recounted their experiences with past United States presidents and gave their insight into the politics of the Oval Office.

Speaking to a near-capacity crowd in Cook Auditorium were Ben Bradlee, David Maraniss, and Edmund Morris in a discussion moderated by Michael Beschloss. All four men gave lectures at the College last spring as part of that term's Montgomery Fellowship series.

Discussion at the event focused on the characteristics of presidents and the position itself, with many humorous personal anecdotes thrown in.

Bradlee, a renowned journalist and former executive editor of The Washington Post, talked about Presidents Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

Bradlee was largely responsible for the Post's intensive coverage of the Watergate scandal during Nixon's presidency, overseeing the work of famous reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

He is also the author of "That Special Grace," a tribute to President Kennedy, and "Conversations with Kennedy."

Speaking on his personal interaction with Kennedy, Bradlee said, "I can't say I saw greatness in him. He was too young to have greatness written across him."

Bradlee first became acquainted with Kennedy in 1958 when they lived just a few houses apart and both men used to walk outside with their babies in carriages.

Bradlee recalled Kennedy as, "not one who took himself too seriously. He dressed in blue jeans."

Bradlee said that although he has changed his judgment of Kennedy over the years since information of the former president's extramarital affairs have surfaced, he has never lost his admiration for the man.

"[President Kennedy] had exceptional promise," Bradlee said, adding that his war record was very similar to that of presidential hopeful John McCain.

Speaking of former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Bradlee said, "He never really liked me. He thought I was in the Kennedy thrall."

Johnson was also a "regional snob," according to Bradlee. "He hated people from the Northeast and he hated people that went to Harvard."

Pulitzer Prize winner Maraniss, who currently works for the Post, answered questions about President Bill Clinton and various aspects of his presidency.

Maraniss has written a biography of Clinton called "First in His Class," and is considered one of the nation's premier Clinton scholars.

Maraniss, when asked about his experience with Clinton, described him as "interesting" and "very intelligent."

Maraniss added that there was "a lot to Clinton," and he didn't necessarily know how to correlate it all.

Morris, the author of "Dutch," a controversial biography of President Ronald Reagan, spent several years observing the President in office every day.

When the extramarital affairs of several presidents were mentioned, including Kennedy and Clinton, Morris joked that the topic on which they spoke could be renamed "Potency and the Presidency."

When Morris was asked about Reagan, he said that what intrigued him most about the president was his knack for politics and his charismatic personality, saying, "He has to charm everyone."

Beschloss, an expert on Kennedy and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is a commentator for the PBS show "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," ABC News and the Don Imus radio show.

At one point in the discussion, Beschloss asked Maraniss about Clinton's relation to the high levels of economic prosperity in the country.

"Clinton wasn't responsible for changes in the economy, but he did foresee them in a way others, like George Bush Sr., didn't," Maraniss said, adding that Clinton, "did play an important role."

It will be his impeachment, not economic prosperity, that will be written about Clinton in the history books, Maraniss said.

Bradlee added that he had never known Clinton to say, "I don't know."

"Ask him about his personal life," Maraniss said, drawing much laughter from the audience.

When Beschloss asked Morris what would have happened if Reagan had won the presidency in 1976 instead of Carter, Morris illustrated his theory that democracy "throws up" leaders when they are required.

Time and culture precipitate the type of leaders of the time, Morris said, calling Clinton a "spirit of the 1980s," and a "cyberspatial president."

When asked about which candidate in the 2000 Presidential race they would like to write about, all of the historians chose John McCain. Morris said, "He's the only interesting one of the bunch."

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