By Ben Rodgers
Empathy, collaboration, humility, character: These are the traits historically great leaders have, according to the one of the great profilers of American presidents, Dr. Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning presidential historian graced the stage of the Weidner Center at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Monday, March 9, thanks to the Tommy G. Thompson Center for Public Leadership.
To call Kearns Goodwin an authority on the history of past presidents would be an understatement.
Her works on Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys, Abraham Lincoln, Theordore Roosevelt and William Taft, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt cemented her as the authority on those leaders who piloted the greatest nation on earth through some of the most turbulent times this country has seen.
Kearns Goodwin poured through thousands of documents, read countless diaries, and in her writing strives to let readers live through the individual days these leaders lived.
The empathy Lincoln felt during the Civil War was evident in his second inaugural address.
He said soldiers on both sides read from the same Bible and prayed to the same God, but those prayers have not been answered for either, and neither has been answered fully.
During the Civil War, Lincoln attended the theater more than 100 times, because getting lost in Shakespere was the only thing that could take his mind off the bloodshed that ravaged the country.
Kearns Goodwin said today’s political climate is not as bad as during the Civil War, and during the civil rights movement it was worse than now.
However, both the anti-slavery movement and civil rights started with outside demonstrations and protests.
She said it took the right leaders to make the historical changes, with the help of pressure from the people.
Lyndon Johnson was a man who worked across the aisle during some of the darkest days the nation has known.
He dined with every member of Congress, 30 at a time, with their wives.
After dinner, when the ladies toured the White House with Ladybird, the port and brandy came out and working relationships were formed.
Kearns Goodwin said he would call them at all hours of the day, 6 a.m., 6 p.m., one senator even got a call at 2 a.m.
Something that would only work after you shared a snifter with the commander in chief.
Her husband Richard Goodwin wrote some of the most famous Johnson speeches during the civil rights movement.
She later worked for LBJ and wrote his memoirs, something she called a humbling experience.
Quite possibly, no man in history books was humbled more than FDR, she said.
Imagine walking up the stairs one night to go to bed and waking up the next morning without the use of your legs.
As his doctor prescribed exercise, FDR would spend a few hours of the day crawling around on the floor, a certain way to stay humble.
When it comes to character, Theodore Roosevelt certainly had plenty.
He lost his wife and his mother on the same day, Feb. 14, 1884.
To beat his depression, he went to the Badlands, where he learned to ride, rope and the intangible traits of life on the frontier.
Born with asthma, Roosevelt lived a life of vigorous exercise, to keep his lungs healthy.
He wrestled, boxed, hiked, played grueling tennis matches and loved the outdoors.
Kearns Goodwin said if she could bring any of “her boys” back, Teddy would fare the best in today’s political climate.
She ended with a look to the future, saying these are the historically great traits the president of the United States must possess to get through the partisan politics that bog down our current political climate.
Thank you to UW-Green Bay and the Tommy G. Thompson Center for Public Leadership for bringing Kearns Goodwin to campus and allowing her to shed some light on the makers of history and the traits they shared which helped guide our country to new heights.