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Lessons to be Learned

“History never provides direct analogies,” Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, was saying to an audience in Irvine Auditorium last February as part of the Fox Leadership Spring Forum. But, she added, there are “lessons to be learned by looking back to leadership during previous crises.”

Photo by Matthew Sorber
© 2002 Daily Pennsylvanian

Though her talk seldom dealt directly with leadership per se, Goodwin provided a series of anecdotes drawn from some of America’s most influential leaders of the last half-century.

Her fascination with the presidency began during her years spent working with Lyndon Johnson. “I was, I now admit with some trepidation, a 24-year-old White House intern,” she said. But, she continued, laughing off more recent intern scandals, “Our relationship had a much less promising start.” The night Goodwin was selected for the program, she danced with the president at the White House; the following day an anti-Vietnam War article of hers was published. It was titled: “How to Dump Lyndon Johnson.”

“I was certain he would kick me out of the program,” Goodwin said, “but instead, surprisingly, he said, ‘Oh, bring her down here for a year and if I can’t win her over, no one can.’”

Goodwin recalled a history-altering bit of advice Johnson once gave to Allen Kendall, a friend of Richard Nixon. Shortly after Nixon took office, Kendall arrived at Johnson’s ranch and found the former president at work on his memoirs. As Kendall told her, Johnson “looks up promptly and says, ‘How am I supposed to remember what happened 40 years ago, 30 years ago? These chapters are just not coming alive at all. The only ones that are any good at all are when I had this little tape machine in my old office. I pressed it on; I have verbatim conversations—these are great! So you go back and tell your good friend Nixon, as he starts his presidency, that nothing is more important than a taping system.’”

Not mentioned in Goodwin’s lecture were the recent allegations of plagiarism brought against her. Before her appearance on campus, The Daily Pennsylvanian anticipated possible controversy concerning her 1987 work, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, which contains passages borrowed from Lynn McTaggart’s Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times.

—Sarah Blackman C’03

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Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 4/28/02