Historian Says Divisive National Political Climate Isn't New
A prominent historian and author who is visiting Ohio thinks there are signs the political divisiveness that has gripped government could relax in the future. Doris Kearns Goodwin discussed her new book at the kickoff of a new lecture series at the Statehouse. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
Doris Kearns Goodwin said the current political climate reminds her of the one former President Teddy Roosevelt faced more than a hundred years ago.
“He was able to take a lot of populist feeling that was in there, people in the country being upset with people in the city, and make what he called a square deal for the rich and the poor, the capitalist and the wage worker. And he went around the country and he went into states he lost as well as states he won and he tried to create a common sense of American identity.”
Kearns Goodwin said she was encouraged by the midterm elections because there was a feeling of wanting to elect people who would work in a bipartisan way on issues affecting the country. And while she said she understood many voters who voted for President Donald Trump were looking to elect a leader who wasn’t the typical politician, she said a leader experienced in politics and leadership is necessary.
“You learn. You grow on a job. None of these people when they came in first….When FDR first ran for the state legislature, he was pretty arrogant and it took time before…and Teddy Roosevelt too….their swelled heads were reduced because they had to deal with people on the other side of the aisle. And they grow in office and each new office teaches you a level of responsibility.”
With the advent of new media, many voters have gravitated toward reading, listening or watching only those they agree with. Kearns Goodwin said the partisan media outlets which are popular among many now remind her of former President Abraham Lincoln’s time.
“You only read your own partisan newspaper. So, if Lincoln was in a debate, for example, and it was being read in a Republican newspaper, ‘He was great,’ they would say. He would be carried out on their arms. He was so triumphant. But in the Democratic newspaper, the same debate, and he’s so embarrassing he falls on the floor, and they’d have to carry him out that way.”
Kearns Goodwin noted the popularity of partisan newspapers waned after the civil war when national newspaper and radio outlets gained in popularity. Still, she thinks it is harder for politicians to get their messages out to voters these days.
“When Lincoln would give a speech, the entire speech would be printed in full in the newspaper so you didn’t get the soundbite or somebody contradicting it right from the start. With the three television networks too, you had agreement on the objective facts even though there might be differences of opinion. And now with social media and FOX, MSNBC and CNN, you don’t even have agreement on the facts.”
That, Kearns Goodwin, said makes it harder to shape public sentiment now. She said she’s still hopeful the nation will have a female president in her lifetime. Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” looks back at the leadership of Presidents Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson and both Teddy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.