[LBJ Library photo #C7530-33A by Yoichi Okamoto]

Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses her new book, The Bully Pulpit

Nov 05, 2013

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Roosevelt, Taft and the GOP split
[posted on cbsnews.com on November 3, 2013]

America's past presidents are anything but musty, half-forgotten figures for one distinguished writer. For her, they're a part of living history. Mo Rocca now, and a chat with Doris Kearns Goodwin:

"Do your kids or your husband ever say to you, 'Doris, you've got to stop living in the past'?" asked Mo Rocca.

"Every now and then," laughed Doris Kearns Goodwin," author of ""The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism." "I remember when I was writing 'Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt,' and my kids said they would come by the room. And I was yelling at Franklin, 'Would you please be nicer to Eleanor!' or saying to Eleanor, 'Forget about the fact that he had an affair 20 years ago.' And they're thinking, 'What is going on in that room? She's talking to dead presidents!'"

And dead presidents have been very good to Goodwin.

All of her presidential biographies have been bestsellers. She won a Pulitzer for her book on FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. And her Lincoln biography was the basis of the Steven Spielberg movie.

Her newest book is about the friendship between Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft -- unusual for Goodwin, in that one of them is not a larger-than-life president, although he certainly was large.

"How many people are going to know much about Taft other than that he weighed 350 pounds, and he had a bathtub [that could fit four]?" said Goodwin. "And indeed, there's a picture of the bathtub with the four guys in there."

"That is a White House scandal waiting to happen," said Rocca.

The two men were a study in contrasts: Roosevelt, a contemporary wrote, barreled through life as if launched by a catapult.

"I've never written about anybody who has more energy, accomplished more," said Goodwin.

Conversely, she called Taft "the great procrastinator. He waited 'til the last minute for everything, and it got him in trouble over and over again. So I keep saying to myself when I'm about to put something off, 'I don't want to be Taft in this, I wanna be Teddy!'"

Hearing of Roosevelt's accomplishments, Rocca opined, chipped away at his self-esteem: "I mean, he does more in a page than I get done in a year," he told Goodwin.

"One of my friends thought he drank 40 cups of coffee a day -- I haven't quite confirmed that," she replied. "But he did give the slogan to Maxwell House, 'Good to the very last drop.'"

To push through his progressive agenda, Theodore Roosevelt forged a winning partnership with like-minded reporters, whom he dubbed "muckrakers." It was a time Goodwin describes as the "golden age of journalism."

"He wrote to them all the time," she said. "They were at the White House, they had lunch, they had dinner with him, they had breakfast with him."

To keep them close, Roosevelt even gave them their own White House press room.

"Lyndon Johnson used to say: 'Better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.'"

LBJ would be the first of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "guys," as she calls her presidential subjects. She would get to know him while he was still very much alive. Their relationship began when she met the president at a dance, when she was a 24-year-old White House intern. "It used to be a badge of honor to say you were a 24-year-old White House intern," she said. "It's gotten a little more complicated." You can listen to the full interview and read an excerpt from The Bully Pulpit here.