Doris Kearns Goodwin: Lincoln was sexy

tags: Lincoln, doris kearns goodwin, Obama



Doris Kearns Goodwin is a petite person who writes about towering figures: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, the Kennedys.

She sat in a hushed meeting room Monday at the University of Chicago’s hushed Alumni House, where David Axelrod asked her unhushed questions. “People ask why can’t Obama be more like Lyndon Johnson?” said Axelrod, director of the Institute of Politics at the university. “Why can’t he command the bully pulpit the way Teddy Roosevelt did?”

“The bully pulpit, the platform a politician has to mobilize citizens, has changed,” Goodwin replied. “Lincoln would write a letter to a newspaper and it would be reprinted word for word and then pamphletized. Things changed at the turn of the 20th century.”

Presidents could be heard on phonograph records — quite good copies exist of Teddy Roosevelt speaking in a clear and precise voice — and then came radio.

Listening to Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats — he made only 30 in 12 years — became a national pastime. “Saul Bellow used to tell the story of walking down the streets of Chicago and hearing Roosevelt speak from radio after radio, in house after house, all tuned to the same station,” Goodwin said.

But today? Today you see moments, glimpses, summaries, roundups and, of course, the talking heads. “Now you just see parts of speeches,” Goodwin said and added ruefully: “And then you see commentators like David and me.”...

Whenever Goodwin speaks, the issue of whether Abraham Lincoln could get elected today comes up. Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie “Lincoln” was based in part on Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” and it made Lincoln hot once again.

“If I didn’t believe Abraham Lincoln could win today, I might as well give up,” Goodwin said and then added: “OK, shave the beard and get rid of the stovepipe hat. But I think he was actually sexy.”



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