On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer looks back on past conversations with presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Then, we hear highlights from a Q&A session with Kearns Goodwin at Hancher Auditorium after her Spring 2019 Levitt lecture about leadership in turbulent times.
KIEFFER: What can you tell us about the leadership qualities that Iowans should be looking for during this caucus season?
KEARNS GOODWIN: I think that really is the most important question to look at. I was talking before to some people about Tim Russert and before he died, he and I talked about the fact that the way journalists cover campaigns, especially then and it’s simply true now, is who zings who in a debate, who raises the most money, who’s made a mark at that moment when they’ve all come from somewhere. If you look at all those 18 and maybe it’ll be 21 candidates on the Democratic side, or if we had known perhaps more about candidate Trump, we should have looked at what kind of leadership he had exhibited before. We should look at these characters and figure out what kind of teams have they built, do they have emotional intelligence, when things go wrong do they accept responsibility, do they have integrity, have they been able to show empathy and humility. And it shouldn’t just be a magazine article, it’s what we should really be talking about with each one of these.
I had a mentor at Harvard named Richard Neustadt and he said the best thing to know about a president is what they did right before they got there and what kind of a life they had. They’re not going to change fundamentally. So I think when you look into these candidates and you get a chance to talk to them, you should be talking about their teams, talking about what difficult times they’ve gotten through and how they had resilience to do that… That’s what I would encourage, just to look at those leadership traits and try and figure out what these candidates have done wherever they were before they got to this point and how well they were able to succeed.