January 11, 2013

The Discussion of Presidential Leadership

By Elizabeth Burke
On Tuesday December 11th Michael Beschloss made an appearance in Schneider auditorium as the second of five cultural life presentations. Beschloss is a White House Historical Association member, National Archives Foundation trustee, and has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution. He has written multiple books about presidents such as Truman and Roosevelt, as well as novels on Jackie Kennedy and the Cold war. Currently he works for NBC news and PBS.

His lecture on “Presidential Leadership” was open to the public, and attracted a variety of people. The auditorium was filled with local historians from Brown, URI, and other local influential institutions, Johnson and Wales faculty, and a plethora of students.

While some people found his hour long speech to be rambled, confusing, and filled with examples that went right over their heads, most intently listened to every word Beschloss had to say.

The lecture had three main points:

  1. How to study a president.
  2. What makes a good president?
  3. Is the system to choose our president a good one?

Beschloss explained, “To study a president correctly you need to look into how he was out of the office,” In other words, how the president thought and what actions he took when nobody was watching. Also, examiners should take a look at decisions they've made years after they made them, as new discoveries are more likely to be released.

He also informed the audience on his 4 points to being a good president:

  1. Guts: to make a decision no matter what consequence it may have on your campaign.
  2. Persuasion: to have faith that you can convince America what is right and wrong for the country.
  3. A Sense of History: looking back to similar crisis in the past to search for ways to solve today’s crises.
  4. Acceptance: “can they deal with other opinions” For example, if the president is democratic, will they be able to compromise with republicans?

Lastly he shared his opinion on our current election process. Beschloss believes that our current system “is less likely to choose great presidents.” He believes that way too much money goes into a campaign and instead of a battle between minds, it becomes a competition to see who can spend the most money.

He presented many examples, and showed off his historical knowledge during the entire hour. After his lecture, there was a question and answer segment. Many people, content on what they just heard, left, leaving many historians, ready for some historical debate.

The questions varied. Some were simple, such as “What got you started in history?” While others contained points such as Iran and US controversy, differences in presidents from first to second term, and if presidents are natural born leaders or not. But possibly the best question, based on the fact that this lecture was on a college campus, was simply “Why are voters today less informed?” Beschloss explained that back in the day there were only three television channels, and if the president was speaking, he was on every channel, the same goes for times when the radio was the best way to communicate to the masses. Today, people who do not wish to listen to the speech can simply change the channel or read an different article on the internet. As the question and answer section concluded, Beschloss informed us on his upcoming projects.

The lecture was a huge success and a positive experience to those who went. After the interesting presentation that Beschloss made, students and staff are now looking forward to going to the other three speakers coming up in the cultural life series. We thank Michael Beschloss for coming to Johnson and Wales and sharing his historical incite with us.