Assessing the Presidency with Lesley Stahl, Douglas Brinkley, Jonathan Alter and Ed Rollins – April 11th, 2013

President Obama clearly has a place in history for breaking through the race barrier, but how will the rest of his presidency be remembered?

This April The Common Good hosted a discussion comparing the current President and what may be viewed as his Presidential accomplishments with other Presidents in modern history.

Moderated by the distinguished investigative journalist Lesley Stahl, the panel featured leading GOP campaign strategist Ed Rollins, esteemed historian Douglas Brinkley and award-winning author Jonathan Alter.


Douglas Brinkley

Douglas Brinkley, Presidential HistorianDouglas Brinkley, Ph.D., is the fellow in history at the Baker Institute and a professor of history at Rice University. Brinkley’s most recent publications include “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America” (2009); “The Reagan Diaries” (2007), which he edited; and the New York Times best-seller “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (2006), which was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

He is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times Book Review and American Heritage, as well as a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly.In a recent profile, the Chicago Tribune deemed him “America’s  new past master.”

Before coming to Rice, Brinkley served as professor of history and director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization at Tulane University. From 1994 to 2005 he was the Stephen E. Ambrose Professor of History and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans.

While a professor at Hofstra University, Brinkley spearheaded the American Odyssey course, in which he took students on cross-country treks on which they visited historic sites and met seminal figures in politics and literature. He also spent a year teaching history at the U.S. Naval Academy and Princeton University.

Brinkley completed his bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University and received his doctorate in U.S. diplomatic history from Georgetown University. He has received honorary doctorates from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Ed Rollins

Ed Rollins speaks at The Common Good April 11

Edward Rollins is Chairman of the Rollins Strategy Group, a communications and crisis management firm with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. He has long been considered one of America’s premier political strategists and communication experts, specializing in issue, image and crisis campaigns on behalf of corporations, governments, and political candidates around the world.

Edward Rollins has served four United States Presidents, including two tours of duty at the White House as Assistant to the President. He was in charge of both the White House Office of Political Affairs and the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as well as serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff. In 1984, Edward Rollins managed President Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection campaign. Edward Rollins also directed congressional relations at two cabinet agencies and served as the Chief of Staff for the Republicans in the California State Assembly. Edward Rollins was the first non member of Congress to serve as the Co-Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, of the National Republican Congressional Committee (the political and campaign arm of the House Republicans).

Within the United States, Edward Rollins has managed every type of political, corporate and advertising campaign imaginable, from the most successful presidential campaign in history to the defeat of the first sitting House Speaker (Tom Foley, 1994). During the more than thirty years Edward Rollins has been in politics, he has counseled Cabinet officers, U.S. Senators, governors, members of Congress, state legislators and city officials. In addition to managing President Reagan’s campaign, Edward Rollins has had major roles in six other Presidential campaigns. He has also had involvement in hundreds of campaigns at the state, congressional and local level.

small alter jeadshot

Jonathan Alter

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, reporter, columnist and television analyst. Since 2011, Alter has written a column for Bloomberg View, a worldwide commentary site housed under Bloomberg News. He spent 28 years at Newsweek, where he was a longtime senior editor and columnist and wrote more than 50 cover stories. He has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The New Republic and other publications. Since 1996, Alter has been an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC.His 2010 book, “The Promise: President Obama, Year One,” went to #4 on the New York Times Nonfiction Bestseller List and was one of the Times’ “Notable Books” of the year. “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope,” published in 2006, was also a bestseller.

The 2012 campaign marks the eighth presidential election Alter has covered. He has frequently interviewed American presidents and other world leaders and regularly breaks news. His Newsweek cover stories over the years included everything from Bill Clinton’s first interview after leaving the presidency, to Barack Obama’s first-ever magazine cover, to Alter’s personal story of living with cancer, to the history of assassinations in America. Beyond politics and media, he has written extensively over the years about education, fiscal policy, terrorism, anti-Semitism, at-risk children, national service and a wide variety of other issues.

In his role at NBC News, Alter has appeared on all NBC broadcasts including “TODAY,” “NBC Nightly News,” “Meet the Press,” and NBC News specials. On MSNBC, he is a regular guest on “Hardball,” “Morning Joe,” “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” “The Ed Show” “Martin Bashir” and other programs. One of his best-known scoops came on Election Night, 2000, when Alter went on the air to break the story about confusing “butterfly ballots” in Palm Beach County, Florida that shaped the outcome of the election.

Lesley Stahl

Lesley Stahl 60 min headshot

One of America’s most recognized and experienced broadcast journalists, Lesley Stahl has been a “60 Minutes” correspondent since March 1991. Prior to joining “60 Minutes,” Stahl served as CBS News White House correspondent during the Carter and Reagan presidencies and part of the term of George H. W. Bush. Her reports appeared frequently on the CBS Evening News, first with Walter Cronkite, then with Dan Rather, and on other CBS News broadcasts.

During much of that time, she also served as moderator of “Face the Nation,” CBS News’ Sunday public-affairs broadcast (September 1983-May 1991). For “Face the Nation,” she interviewed such newsmakers as Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, Yasir Arafat and virtually every top U.S. official, including George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle.

Her experiences covering Washington for more than 20 years became the subject of her book “Reporting Live” (Simon & Schuster, 1999). The stories she has covered since joining CBS News in the Washington bureau in 1972 range from Watergate through the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan to the 1991 Gulf War. She has reported on U.S.-Russian summit meetings and the economic summits of the industrialized countries, and the national political conventions and election nights throughout her career.

Stahl anchored several CBS News documentaries, including “The Politics of Cancer” and “In the Red Blues,” about the budget deficit, both for “CBS Reports.”

Other Emmy winners include a Lifetime Achievement Emmy received in September 2003 and her first Emmy, won for reporting on a bombing in Beirut for the CBS Evening News in 1983. Her “Face the Nation” interview with Sen. John Tower won Stahl her second statuette Her “60 Minutes” reports “How He Won the War,” about former FDA Commissioner David Kessler’s battle with the tobacco industry, and “Punishing Saddam,” which exposed the plight of Iraqi citizens, mostly children, suffering the effects of the United Nations sanctions against Iraq, were both Emmy winners. “Punishing Saddam” also won Stahl an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Journalism Silver Baton. Her profile of search engine giant Google earned her a 2005 Business and Financial Emmy award, and her 2006 interview of ex-Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Patricia Dunn won an Emmy for coverage of a breaking news story.

In 1996, Stahl was awarded the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, given by Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Conn., in recognition of her journalistic achievements. She was also honored that year by the Radio/Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) with an Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence in Television for her reports on the Michigan Militia. In 1993, she received a Matrix Award for Broadcasting, presented by New York Women in Communications Inc., which recognizes and honors women for outstanding career achievement. In 1990, she was honored with the Dennis Kauff Journalism Award for lifetime achievement in the news profession.


Hill holds President Obama’s legacy in its hands

By Jonathan Allen, Politico (4/8/13)— It’s now or never for the White House.

President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda is in doubt as Congress returns to Washington this week for a spring and summer stretch that could go a long way to define the scope of Obama’s legacy.

Obama will unveil what his team is calling a “compromise” budget on Wednesday, but Republicans and Democrats alike are already criticizing elements of the plan.
The president’s effort on gun control might do no better than a watered-down bill destined to fail in the House, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may bring to the floor as early as next week. Gun control advocates who had hoped for an assault weapons ban or other big reforms are bound to be disappointed by a strategy expected to allow for votes on those issues but don’t secure victories.

And Obama’s push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws — the best chance he has to enact a sweeping social policy change in his second term — still faces significant hurdles, even in the Senate, where chief negotiators have fallen behind schedule.

The window for action on these issues will start to close as the 2014 midterm election cycle whips into full swing at the end of the year. After that, the next Congress figures to be colored by partisan posturing for the 2016 presidential election.

Obama running short of time to burnish legacy in second term

By Alexander Bolton, The Hill (04/08/13)— The next 10 weeks are a make-or-break period for President Obama’s second-term agenda.

He needs quick victories in the Senate on gun control and immigration if he is to build momentum for a fight in the Republican-controlled House — the chief obstacle to his agenda.

Obama and his allies are counting on the Senate to deliver strong bipartisan votes for gun violence and immigration bills to build pressure on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring the legislation to the House floor for votes. The House is waiting for the Senate to act first before deciding its course of action.

The stakes are high for Obama; David Axelrod, his former chief political adviser, last week called immigration reform a “legacy item” for the president.

Obama Shows Talent for Arm-Twisting, and Raises Hopes on Peace Effort

By MARK LANDLER, New York Times (March 23, 2013)—There is little doubt that President Obama can deliver a memorable speech, as he did in Jerusalem last week about the need for peace. The big surprise on his trip to Israel and Jordan, which ended here on Saturday, is that he can also twist arms.

Mr. Obama’s success in persuading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to apologize to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, healing a rift between the countries, is the kind of person-to-person deal-making that has eluded him with Republicans in Congress.

But Mr. Obama kept prodding Mr. Netanyahu, senior advisers said, raising the importance of a makeup phone call every day he was in Jerusalem. He also worked on Mr. Erdogan, a prickly politician with whom Mr. Obama has cultivated a relationship since entering office.

By the time they agreed to talk, Mr. Obama had fully embraced the role of Middle East mediator, warming up Mr. Erdogan before handing the phone to Mr. Netanyahu, who expressed regret for the deadly actions by Israeli commandos during a 2010 raid on a Turkish ship that was trying to breach a blockade of Gaza.

Did Obama Win Because He Addressed White Americans as Individuals?

GARANCE FRANKE-RUTA, The Atlantic (March 21, 2013)— Appeals to the common good don’t mobilize European-Americans as well as ones that ask them to do something themselves, a study finds.

It may not have set out to study this, but a National Science Foundation-funded study published in the journal Psychological Science earlier this year—now making the rounds again online, in that way that things sometimes randomly do—appears to have elucidated a reason the Obama message worked so well in 2008, and especially why it resonated with white voters.

President Obama’s Sequester Stumble

Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan, Washington Post (March 13, 2013)— His approval rating now sits at 50 percent with 46 percent disapproving, a far cry from the 55 percent approve/41 percent disapprove score he enjoyed in a mid-January Post-ABC poll.

Obama Engages Republicans: Will it Work?

By John Dickerson, CBS News (March 8, 2013)— President Obama is reaching out to Republicans. He had dinner with GOP senators Wednesday night and he had lunch with his former rival House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Thursday afternoon. For the moment, today’s breakfast is open, but perhaps Dick Cheney is free. Next week he will visit Republicans in the House and Senate.

Killing Americans on U.S. Soil: Eric Holder’s Evasive, Manipulative Letter

By Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic (March 6, 2013)— On December 7, 1941, Japanese war planes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Six decades later, Al Qaeda terrorists flew hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Neither President Franklin Roosevelt nor President George W. Bush targeted and killed Americans on U.S. soil in the aftermath of those attacks. Doing so wouldn’t have made any sense.

Our Transformational President: A Mixed Legacy Thus Far

By Glen Browder, Huffington Post (March 4, 2013)— Regardless of how he originally defined his mission as a transformational leader, President Obama has yet to transform America, and there are serious questions about how he will be remembered in history.

Wilson to Obama: March Forth!

By A Scott Berg, NY Times (March 3, 2013)— THERE has been a change of government,” declared Woodrow Wilson in his first sentence as president of the United States, one hundred years ago this Monday. Until 1937, when the 20th Amendment moved Inauguration Day to late January, chief executives took their oaths of office on March Fourth, a date that sounds like a command.

Stymied by a GOP House, Obama Looks Ahead to 2014 to Cement his Legacy

By Scott Wilson and Philip Rucker, Washington Post (March 02, 2013)— President Obama, now facing the consequences of automatic spending cuts and the complications they raise for his broader domestic agenda, is taking the most specific steps of his administration in an attempt to ensure the election of a Democratic­-controlled Congress in two years.

Follow the Leader

By Peter Beinart, (Feb 25, 2013)—The late American historian John Morton Blum begins his book The Progressive Presidents by describing a political gathering on a hilltop in Ascutney, Vermont, in 1967. The people assembled there are not radicals, but liberals: “good burghers … respectable suburbanites.” And they have come to oppose not merely the Vietnam War, but the toxin that lies beneath it: excessive presidential power.

Obama’s Legacy Likely To Be Determined By Upcoming Battles

By Chris Cillizza, Washington Post (February 24, 2013)—President Obama’s legacy ultimately could be determined over the next few months by a series of showdowns — both with Republicans and, potentially, with fellow Democrats.

America’s Future: What If ‘Obama Nation’ turns into ‘Obamanation’?

By Glen Browder,  Huffington Post (February 23, 2013)— In the previous post, I speculated about the coming of “Obama Nation”—if President Barack Obama’s transformational, liberal dream comes true during his years in the White House.

The Presidential Balancing Act

By John Dickerson, Slate (February 22, 2013)—President Obama made two phone calls to Republicans in Congress this week. One was phony and one was real. The difference between the two calls underscores the challenge for his second term: How do you work with Republicans while you are simultaneously making yourself more loathsome to them? The preliminary answer seems to be by modulating your aggression.