Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doris Kerns Goodwin: A Knockout Performance at Roanoke College

DKG: I think I'm in love.
Doris Kerns Goodwin's talk tonight at Roanoke College is--in a nutshell--one of the best I've ever heard. It had everything I want from a talk by a nationally-known figure: a lot of information, plenty of opinion, fall-on-the-floor humor from a woman who can deliver a punch line, and a warmth that filled the room.

She has been a hero of mine for years and I got to tell her that briefly before her talk (and I also got a shot of us together, but I can't find my card reader, so you'll have to wait for that one).

She gave the Constitution Day 2011 Lecture as part of the Henry Fowler Lecture Series and as many of these as I've seen over the years, none came close to this one for sheer enjoyment. The woman's remarkable. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has written about Presidents Lincoln, Johnson (in whose White House she was an intern before Monica Lewinsky tarnished that image), FDR and TR (coming soon).

She has been interviewed on historic and political matters on TV shows for years and to many of us, she is a household name. Her husband, Richard Goodwin, was the New York Times reporter who broke the game show scandals in the 1950s and was a fine journalist in his own right.

But on this night, the crowd was hers as she talked about the presidents, the current political situation and baseball--her first love.

It was when she talked about the current problems in Washington that she was at her best. Here's some of what she said:

  • "The best people aren't willing to go into public life ... it doesn't seem as much fun any more."
  • "The caliber of people [in public office has diminished] ... [We depend on] those who enjoy power and strutting around. We need our best in order for people to believe again."
  • "The fact that people don't believe we can solve those problems is more serious" than most of our other problems.
  • "The media has diminished the presidency ... the respect is gone ... I have a sense that the media has the power to decide what we hear [from presidents]."
  • The government "is as broken now as I've seen it" in her lifetime.
DK was at her best when she was at her funniest, telling salty jokes she'd heard from Lyndon Johnson and that she'd found in her research and recounting her two most significant baseball sins (read her wonderful book Wait Until Next Year for those).

If I adored this tiny redhead with the big, toothy smile before tonight, I think I'm in love with her now. Me and an entire room full of other people.

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