Articles

Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam

The New York Times, Feb. 24, 2017

Why did a president who understood the risks nevertheless rush into an unwinnable war?

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15 First Ladies and Their Powerful Legacies

Parade, Feb. 24, 2017

“The Constitution of the United States does not mention the First Lady,” Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president, once wrote. “She is elected by one man only. The statute books assign her no duties; and yet, when she gets the job, a podium is there if she cares to use it. I did.”

Here are 15 first ladies who used the podium to advance the role, pursue special causes and contribute in their own way to the progress of our nation.

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Does History Shine Brightest on Presidents Who Are Kind?

Parade, Jan. 13, 2017

As with so many things presidential, Abraham Lincoln set the standard. During the Civil War he exemplified the balance between strength and compassion, trying to keep the country united while ending slavery. Often he applied his weary signature to pardons for troops who deserted their posts or faced criminal charges that could have meant the gallows, rarely failing to apply moral justice when it was in his power.

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What Nixon Could Teach Trump About Losing

The New York Times, Oct. 22, 2016

Richard M. Nixon, the first president to resign from office, was hardly a beacon of moral integrity. Nor was Nixon above demagogy on the campaign trail, infamously fanning the flames of Communist paranoia during the McCarthy era by unjustly painting his opponent in his 1950 Senate race, the California congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, as the “Pink Lady.”

But the 37th president, as controversial as he was, offers a good example for Donald J. Trump on the importance of putting the country ahead of one’s ego and personal ambition on Election Day.

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Millennials: Saving the World Also Means Running for Office

The Catalyst, Summer 2016

The memory still burns bright. During the spring of 1979, in my junior year of high school, I ventured by bus with a group of my classmates from suburban Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., for a whirlwind three-day visit that included the standard sites and stops reflecting the splendor of the most powerful country in the world. But the highlight of the trip — not just for me, but for many of my peers — was meeting Peter Kostmayer, the dynamic 31-year old freshman congressman from our district, who spoke to us about the pressing issues of the day. “A member of Congress—and he’s meeting with us!”” we thought.

Since that heady occasion, I’ve had the privilege of meeting seven U.S. presidents, five of whom I’ve interviewed on multiple occasions. But I remember distinctly what a big deal it felt like as a 17-year old to meet our congressman in the nation’s capital.

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When LBJ and Goldwater Agreed to Keep Race Out of the Campaign

Politico, Aug. 28, 2016

In retrospect, it’s clear that Barry Goldwater had a lot to gain by cynically playing the race card. It was 1964, and jittery Southern Democrats had fought in vain to prevent the historic Civil Rights Act from being signed into law. The South, solidly Democratic for a generation, was there to be won: Nationwide, a white backlash was already brewing.

Instead, Goldwater lost in one of the most lopsided elections in the history of the presidency. It probably could have been closer, except that he had a conscience.

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When Lame Duck Lyndon Johnson Lost on the Supreme Court

The Daily Beast, Feb. 21, 2016

They say past is prologue, and the waning days of the Johnson presidency are a lesson for President Obama in his upcoming Supreme Court fight.

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The Trump Poll Numbers Lie

Politico, Oct. 20, 2015

Surveying the populous field of GOP candidates this week, it might seem far-fetched to imagine Jeb Bush as the party’s nominee at this time next year. Since throwing his hat in the ring for the presidency in mid-June, the stalwart Bush hasn’t found a footing in the Republican race. He stumbled awkwardly through Sunday’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper and is stuck in fifth place in polls continually dominated by the inexplicable Donald Trump—who on Monday became the longest-lasting “fad” candidate since at least 2004. But before we get too far afield on speculation that Trump will seize the party’s nomination, and before we write off as wishful thinking his super PAC strategist’s argument for why Jeb’s still the one to beat, it’s instructive to remember one key point: Republicans are the conservative party, which is more than just a political affiliation—it’s also a perennial mind-set that applies to whom they choose to top their tickets.

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Bill O’Reilly Is Killing It

Parade, Sept. 4, 2015

Bill O’Reilly, 65, the host of the Fox News Channel’s political talk show that bears his name, sits in his corner New York City office—surrounded by history. Framed photos of presidents, from Chester Arthur, James Buchanan and Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, decorate the walls, along with yellowed newspaper front pages blaring headlines on the assassination of President William McKinley and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Books on history line shelves and are neatly piled as many as a dozen high on a credenza. A plastic figure of famed World War II General George Patton stands watch on O’Reilly’s paper-strewn desk.

Why this obsession with the past? The TV host has a deep conviction that the past is prologue to the future.

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The Week Cynicism Rested

The Daily Beast, June 29, 2015

Cynicism is as much a part of the human condition as the hope that, on balance, overtakes it. Particularly in the Information Age, it’s easy to get swept up in the torrent of news that streams neverendingly, forgetting all that came before. Engagement is the key to success in the fragmented media world of the 21st century—it drives ratings, syndicated research scores and, the payoff, advertising dollars—and part and parcel of engagement is fanning the flames over the most smoldering of stories. Consequently, we inevitably fall into “This used to be a great country” moments, harkening back to a better time that may or may not have ever existed.

Last Friday was a momentous day in American history as the Supreme Court of the United States upheld gay marriage as a constitutional right. It’s easy to lose sight of it before being dragged headlong into the next news cycle.

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What 'Selma' Gets Wrong

Politico, Dec. 22, 2014

For historians, watching a movie “based on” historical events often is an exercise in restraint. While the historian and filmmaker are both, by nature, storytellers, the former builds a narrative based on fact while the latter often bends truth for the sake of a story’s arc or tempo. Historians are wise to resist their pedantic urges and yield to a film’s creative license—as long as it doesn’t compromise the essence of the subject at hand.

To that end, Paramount Pictures’ ambitious “Selma,” depicting the bloody civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, gets much right. The film humanizes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the colossal burden he faced in 1965 leading a fractious movement that was so perilous for his flock. But “Selma” misses mightily in faithfully capturing the pivotal relationship—contentious, the film would have you believe—between King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

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Bryan Cranston on His Life-Changing Role in Breaking Bad and the Politics of LBJ

Parade, April 26, 2014

Everywhere one looks in Bryan Cranston’s dressing room at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway, there are images and reminders of Lyndon Baines Johnson. A Lone Star flag from the 36th president’s native Texas decorates one wall; photos are taped to the mirror; books about him sit on a coffee table. Cranston, 58, is thoroughly immersed in his acclaimed performance as LBJ in Robert Syhenkkan’s play All the Way, which opened in New York in March and will run through June 29. But when his cell phone rings, it’s the familiar strains of the theme music to Breaking Bad that fill the air.

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The Lyndon B. Johnson Renaissance

The Daily Beast, Feb. 17, 2014

Despite his titanic role in America’s quest for civil rights, the greatest domestic movement of the Twentieth Century, LBJ has been largely underappreciated—even ignored—until recently.

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An Intimate Chat with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

Parade, Nov. 2, 2013

Nearly 33 years after leaving the White House, the former president and first lady reflect on the work they are most proud of, how Washington politics have changed, and the secret to their 67-year marriage.

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Interview Extras: Jimmy Carter on Race and the Middle East

Parade, Oct. 31, 2013

For Parade’s cover story this Sunday, presidential historian Mark K. Updegrove visited former first couple Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter on a Saturday afternoon at their ranch home in Plains, Ga. In these exclusive extras from their conversation, the ex-president discusses race in America and his thoughts on the Middle East.

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The Twilight Vindication of George H.W. Bush

The Daily Beast, Oct. 20, 2013

The legacy of the 41st president is looking better than ever in an age when passion is trumping reason in politics.

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Inside the Presidential Reunion at the Bush Library Dedication

Parade, April 26, 2013

There have only been three occasions when five U.S. presidents have stood shoulder to shoulder: in 1991, at the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library; at the 1994 funeral of Richard Nixon; and yesterday, when President Barack Obama and three former Presidents—George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter—helped the forty-third president dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University.

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A Conversation with President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush

Parade, April 20, 2013

As they prepare for the opening of his presidential library, the president and former first lady discuss retirement, the state of the Republican Party, and their joy at becoming grandparents.

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President George W. and Laura Bush Reflect on the Twins, Bush's Newfound Passion for Painting, and More

Parade, April 19, 2013

In this Sunday’s issue of PARADE, the former first couple, George W. and Laura Bush, discuss life after the White House, the state of the Republican Party, and their joy at becoming grandparents. Historian Mark K. Updegrove caught up with them as they prepared for the April 25 dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, which includes a library, museum, and policy institute.

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An Exclusive Conversation with President and Mrs. Bush

Parade, July 15, 2012

Nineteen years after leaving the White House, George H. W. Bush is seeing his legacy burnished. Here, the former president and his wife, Barbara, talk about their proudest accomplishments, how Washington has changed, and the joys of all those grandkids.

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George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview

National Geographic, Aug. 25, 2011

How would Abraham Lincoln have recalled April 12, 1861, the day the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, igniting the Civil War? Or, what would Franklin Roosevelt have said about his experience on December 7, 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? As the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11 nears, the National Geographic Channel’s George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview, offers the 43rd president’s personal reflections on what he aptly calls a “monumental day,” and the immediate days afterward. While Bush covered much of the same ground in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points, the interview provides a rare chance to hear a former president’s comprehensive oral history on his defining moment—and a turning point in American life.

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Bush 2.0

Texas Monthly, December 2010

With the publication of his memoir and the groundbreaking of his library, George W. Bush is poised to get to work on his post-presidency. What comes next?

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Get Me Rewrite

The Nation, Sept. 26, 2006

Bill Clinton maintains that the mainstream media has misrepresented his record on fighting terror. But it will take a generation to meaningfully assess his effectiveness.

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