MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, all of you. Doris, how do you think today's inauguration, both the speech and the spectacle, stack up against--historically against inaugurations past?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Presidential Historian: Well, you know, sometimes you never know because the drama may lay not simply in the speech in the words but in the surrounding people. I mean, for example, the great drama when Ford took over was that Nixon had resigned that morning and was going off in Air Force One, and you saw the cut of Air Force One and Nixon waving, and then Ford saying, "Our long national nightmare is over." When Roosevelt and Hoover changed hands, you saw Hoover standing there stone-faced, knowing that his whole administration was being repudiated by the new Roosevelt administration. And today you look at Vice President Gore, and you wonder, what's going on in his mind, and you look at Gephardt, and you look at these other people, thinking, maybe we'll be hear four years hence. In fact, my favorite story has to do with Tip O'Neill at J.F.K.'s inauguration. He's sitting there, and the whole time he can't concentrate on the oath of office that J.F.K. is taking because there's this guy in the front row seat named George Carras who has a better seat than he, Tip O'Neill, has, and he keeps thinking how does this guy get everywhere? He's at the symphony. He's at the world series. I don't even know how he gets it. How does he have his access? Later, he says to J.F.K., you were the youngest President being inaugurated. What were you thinking of at that extraordinary moment, and J.F.K. said, I was thinking, how did George Carras get that seat that was so good. So who knows what the drama says.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael, what do you think historians later are going to remember about today?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: I think they're going to remember that Bill Clinton did not do much to take advantage of an opportunity. Occasionally, we mentioned it this morning, you look at a moment like 1937 when Franklin Roosevelt could have been in a situation where the New Deal had pretty much run its course. He made it very clear in that speech by saying, I see 1/3 of a nation ill-housed. And he was going to pursue social reform and also fight a lot of battles. The extent--the result of this was it expanded his power. I think what we heard this morning was much more perhaps along the lines of perhaps Dwight Eisenhower's second inaugural address. And my guess is that even Steve Ambrose, the great biographer of Eisenhower, doesn't remember too much about that. And that was not irrational because Eisenhower did not have huge legislative ambitions for his second term. And that speech was sort of an ode to America's minds and factories and so on, not terribly different from this morning. I think this speech of Bill Clinton's resembled nothing so much as his Democratic Convention acceptance speech full of many lines that had 70 percent or more national support. Perhaps he was market tested by Dick Morris, not a speech that was intended to really launch a new battle, in this case this morning, in a second term.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Roger Wilkins, that it's not--wasn't designed to launch any kind of new effort?
ROGER WILKINS, Historian: It's a speech like the Clinton we have come to know, full of good intentions, full of good impulses, but undisciplined. A great speech is given by a disciplined, focused person, who has about three things on his mind. And he drives them home. This was too diffuse. But there is another thing to be said about this day. I really think it's a great day to be an American, first of all, just the transfer of power and the celebration of our democracy, but infused on this day with the King holiday. And when you have it infused with the King holiday, you can look back and say in this century we, Americans, all of us, black and white, Jewish, everybody did something to transform our country in a very wonderful way. We're not all the way there. The President was right about that. But the holiday does give this transition a greater meaning and some grandeur, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: What did you think the meaning of today was?
STEPHEN AMBROSE, Historian: I found it hard to find much meaning in it. I'm sorry. It was so general and so full of platitudes, it reminded me of what William Gibbs McAdoo once said of Warren Harding's speeches. It's an army of pompous praises marching over the landscape in search of an idea. I think the lines that will be most quoted are we declare government is not the problem, government is not the solution. I don't know what means. The government was surely a solution in the Depression and in World War II and on the civil rights front and in providing a decent life for old folks in this country. I don't know what he's talking about there, except that it sounds to me, as Roger said this morning, it's written by a committee, and they took a poll. And this resonates in the poll. Government is not the problem. Government is not the solution. I don't see any meaning to it, though.
MARGARET WARNER: That's a real departure from Democratic themes of the past, at least in certain ways, wasn't it, Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON, Journalist/Author: Yes, it was, but Clinton's a different kind of President in a different kind of time. There had been only 13 other men who have had the opportunity to give a second inaugural address. This is the first Democrat in 60 years. And I think this day--I echo what Roger said--I think the totality of the day was what will be remembered. It will not be the speech. There will be no phrases in history. Clinton did much better, interesting enough, in Statuary Hall when he got up extemporaneously. If you watched that on television, it was wonderful, easy, relaxed. It was quiet, under-stated, bipartisan, and really it was--you wished he had sort of stepped forward, but he didn't do that. So what? But I think that the day was not marred. The weather was good. The parade was great. I love parades. I really do. I got stirred by it. And I also think that the people seem--you saw those wonderful faces through television. People love this sort of thing. It's a peaceful day. It won't ring in history, I don't think, but it does give a sort of sense of good feeling. The speech will not be remembered.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, do you agree with that about the speech, that--did you see no rhetorical elegance of phrases worth remembering?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think what's missing is that the speeches that we remember have a certain kind of hard edge to them, even though inaugurations are a time of reconciliation and the President is the President of all the people, when you think about Lincoln's words, "With malice toward none, with charity toward all," he was putting himself squarely on the side of a very controversial issue.
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about 1865.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: About 1865. And he was going right in the middle of an issue where he was saying I don't want to treat the South with vindictiveness. There were many other people in the country who wanted the opposite. During Roosevelt's first inaugural in 1933, he said, "The fault of our economic system is not with the people; it's with unscrupulous bankers, with money changers, with selfish businessmen." He put himself on the side of the people against a certain group. So Presidents, even though they are the President of all the people, they really have to take sides And I think what President Clinton tried to do today is to take no sides. As a result, there are not marching orders. There's not activists out there. There aren't people who think, ah, now we know what we have to do to fulfill his hope.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Listening to the speech live and then reading it later, I have a sense that, you know, there were things in it, you could say the themes were unity and reconciliation and put aside the pettiness and bickering and the people like that, but it didn't hold together. I guess we're all kind of saying in a different way there wasn't that one theme that made it--elevated it into something special for this day, at least to me.
ROGER WILKINS: And sometimes it fought against itself. When he says we have a humble government, but then he says in this time of technological change, we want to unleash the limitless potential of all of our people. Well, if all of our people are kids who are being educated badly in Appalachia or in South Texas or in South Central Los Angeles, you're talking about big government. That's what you're talking about. So he said something wonderful about the people are the solution. That is terrific, but the people have to be rallied to something, and this was not a rallying cry.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael. Oh, go ahead.
STEPHEN AMBROSE: There was an absence of a commitment. He was very good, I thought, on talking about what we need to do in education. I was listening for and didn't hear the step beyond that. Look, big government is--it hasn't solved. It's gone a long way towards solving the problem of poverty and old age. Now let's commit to solving the problem of child poverty in this country. Education is a part of it for sure, but we've got problems even lower down that that, just the basic poverty. And I would have liked to have seen a commitment to--the government has done it for the old folks, now let's do it for the kids.
MARGARET WARNER: One of the themes he struck today was to make a parallel, Michael, between this era as we approach this 21st century and the two other turns of the century that we've seen and the two other Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, and then Theodore Roosevelt. Did you find that parallel persuasive?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Not much. And I think this is one more effort to spin historians like us. This administration, I think we may as well say it, Bill Clinton is a wonderful reader of history but one way he uses that is to try to draw parallels that might cause him to be seen in a certain way in the future. He has compared himself to Kennedy. He has compared himself to FDR, to Truman, to Jefferson, as in his middle name, and now Theodore Roosevelt, and now Presidents at the beginning of the last two centuries. There is sort of a torrent of historical context here, and I think sometimes it would be probably a good thing for one of us to mention that it oftentimes really takes a half century to look back on a period and get access to all the information that we didn't have at the time, and also some hindsight, and only then can you draw a parallel like this, and any effort by a President to do it by himself is a little bit premature.
MARGARET WARNER: But Stephen Ambrose, do you think there really--he seems to see a parallel because not only is a new century dawning, but our society is changing, say economically and socially. Is there something to that, or is it--do you agree with Michael?
STEPHEN AMBROSE: He gave the interview in the "Washington Post" in which he compared himself in his situation with Jefferson and with Theodore Roosevelt. I didn't think that the comparison was apt, and I feel like if a President is going to be great, he obviously wants to be a great President. People say he's a lame duck and he's not running for anything. He's running for greatness. It's very hard to get it out of a second term, and it's very hard to get it when you don't have some specifics that you are going after, you campaigned on, and you're willing to talk about in the inaugural address.
ROGER WILKINS: One thing that I think I should say, I welcome his call for racial progress, racial healing to become one community, but on this day when we commemorate Martin King's life, we have to know that race is still a hard problem in this country. When King died, he was working for some of the most despised workers in this country--garbage men in Memphis. And he was planning to bring poor people to Washington to work on the problems of poverty. If the President really wants to do something about race, it can't, as will probably be said here, just be a bully pulpit. The President has to put the coin of politics behind his effort to heal this country. Now, that in--that would bring him into the fight that Doris is talking about. It would require dedication and persistence on his part, but it might give him a measure of greatness that he seeks.
HAYNES JOHNSON: The rhetorical line, the divide of race has been America's constant curse--I believe I quoted accurately in the speech--was terrific. That's a wonderful, really of all of the lines in the speech, that's wonderful. And what you're saying, yes, if you'll take action now. But there was no call for action. It was just a wonderful statement. So I guess the way is open for him to do that.
STEPHEN AMBROSE: The call for action that I saw was a call for inaction. It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time on acrimony and division. And that sounded to me like let's put Newt behind us, let's put Whitewater behind us, let's put the FBI files stories behind us, let's put my wife's legal problems behind us, let's put Paula Jones behind us, and get on to that bridge that's going to the 21st century. And none of that's going to happen. None of those things are going to be forgotten.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we're going to have to put this behind us. Jim, back to you.