Category Archives: Domestic Policy

Ira Shapiro, “The Last Great Senate”

The Last Great Senate
May 8, 2012

On May 8, 2012 Ira Shapiro came to the Roosevelt House to discuss his book entitled The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis. In examining the Congresses of the 1960s and 1970s, Shapiro reminds us that the Legislature can be a vehicle for great national reform and leadership. Jonathan Fanton introduced Professor Shapiro and The Last Great Senate. This event was part of Roosevelt House’s “Road to November: Exploring America’s Challenges on the Way to the Election of 2012” series.  

Good Evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the historic home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Tonight’s conversation with Ira Shapiro on his book The Last Great Senate is part of a Roosevelt House series on the Road to the Election of 2012. Please pick up a flier which describes other programs which we hope will be of interest to you. We began the series with a conference on the domestic accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson, a preview of what the Last Great Senate accomplished.

I think FDR would be pleased that we are having this conversation in his home this evening, moderated by Jonathan Alter who gave the very first talk in the Roosevelt House book series on The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.

FDR understood the importance of a great Congress. Hear his words, in a June 1934 Fireside Chat on the record of the Seventy-third Congress: “Congress displayed a greater freedom from mere partisanship than any other peace-time Congress since the Administration of President Washington himself. The session was distinguished by the extent and variety of legislation enacted and by the intelligence and good will of debate upon these measures.”

While FDR would not be happy about our current Congress, which, according to a recent Gallup Poll, has the support of only 10% of all Americans, he would have admired the Last Great Senate. And used it.

Ira Shapiro has written an important book that reminds us there is more at stake in this fall’s election than the Presidency. The Last Great Senate is a call to action. As Ira Shapiro put it so eloquently: “What is most urgently needed is for Senators to act like Senators, not partisan operatives. They should not mirror, and even exacerbate, the nation’s divisions. They were sent to Washington to overcome them.”

It is my pleasure now to introduce Peter Osnos who will open tonight’s program. He is an active member of Roosevelt House’s Board of Advisors, and we benefit enormously from his experience as a journalist, editor and publisher.

Early in his career he was both foreign and national editor of the Washington Post, then a senior editor at Random House until he founded PublicAffairs in 1997. PublicAffairs is the leading publisher of books that advance our understanding of public lives and policies they have shaped including books by or about Robert McNamara, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and Barack Obama.

And about issues important to our democracy including the government response to 9/11 (William Shawcross’ Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11, and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and/or Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach’s Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda), global antipoverty initiatives (Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty) education policy (Wendy Kopp’s A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All), and corporate decision-making (George Soros’ Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States and/or Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele’s The Betrayal of the American Dream). The Last Great Senate deepens the tradition.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the best publisher of our time, Peter Osnos.

Remarks at Presidential Leadership Symposium

On March 14-15, 2012 Roosevelt House organized an academic conference entitled Revisiting the Great Society: The Role of Government from FDR to LBJ to Today. The two-day event featured presentations by scholars, policymakers, and former national political leaders on the foundational initiatives of and ideas behind the Great Society. Four major panels — health care, education, poverty, and civil rights — sparked vigorous discussions about the role of government in American society and popular attitudes towards American political institutions then and now. Jonathan Fanton opened the conference with these remarks. To view the full conference schedule, click here.

Text of the speech:

Good morning. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to these historic homes of Franklin and Eleanor, and Franklin’s mother, Sara. This is an appropriate setting for our conference which bears the subtitle of The Role of Government from FDR and LBJ to Today. Think back to the fall of 1932 as the New Deal took shape in this place, cabinet officers like Frances Perkins recruited here, commitments to programs like Social Security made in the President’s study on the second floor.

Thanks to the vision of President Jennifer Raab, Roosevelt House is now Hunter College’s Public Policy Institute, offering undergraduate programs in public policy and international human rights, sponsoring events for the general public and encouraging policy research across disciplinary lines. This conference is emblematic of Roosevelt House’s mission.

We heard yesterday about how deeply Lyndon Johnson respected Franklin Roosevelt.  Johnson said this at the 20th anniversary of FDR’s death:
“Today’s America is his America more than it is the work of any man… . He had the gardener’s touch. In some mysterious way he could reach out, and where there was fear, came hope; where there was resignation, came excitement; where there was indifference, came compassion. And perhaps we can remember him most, not for what he did, but for what he made us want to do. We are trying to do it still. And I suppose we always will…”

And I suppose this is what we are about today.

The conference planners made a conscious decision to focus on LBJ’s domestic record from which we have much to learn. But we should not shy away from foreign policy and Vietnam as we explore presidential leadership, relations with Congress, public opinion and difficult budgetary trade-offs.

Robert Caro’s moving keynote last evening helped us appreciate the roots of Johnson’s instinctive passion for using the power of the presidency to fight poverty and discrimination .

The lively panel that followed gave us insight into how he did it, his love of the political process and steadfast commitment to making it work to fulfill the values and principles of the charter documents of our country.

Today we will see those skills in action as we take a deep look at four of Johnson’s major accomplishments: reducing poverty and opening opportunity, advancing the quality and availability of health care, expanding federal support for education, and promoting civil rights and confronting discrimination.

Each moderator will pose key questions for a conversation among our distinguished panelists. Then you will be invited to join the discussion. We hope each panel will touch on four themes:

    • presidential leadership;
    • the role and responsibility of government;
    • the challenges of implementing federal programs, including the Great Society’s successes, disappointments and unintended consequences;
    • the role of politics in framing, passing and carrying out programs, both then and now.

The last 100 years have seen a remarkable evolution in how we think about the role of government. The progressive era of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the New Deal, the Great Society were three periods of invention and commitment to a more just and humane society. But it is going on 50 years since Lyndon Johnson left office, close to five decades without a sustained focus on reform.

Problems have mounted, inequality has grown, unrest is brewing, and faith in government is at near record lows. The statistics are a powerful reminder of Johnson’s injunction that we have more work to do.

    • 49 million people, or 16% of all Americans, live below the poverty line (Reuters).
    • Only 18% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country (, January 11, 2012).

Lyndon Johnson, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson School in 1966, put a challenge to the young men and women training for careers in public service. Imagine him here today talking to our faculty and students in the home of his mentor.

He said: [You can] “help us answer the question that Franklin Roosevelt… asked more than 30 years ago: Will it be said that ‘Democracy was a great dream, but it could not do the job? President Roosevelt did not doubt the answer.  … With his detractors and his defacers, with his dissenters and his doubters… he began to organize the modern Office of the President and to bring American government into the mid-twentieth century.”

Well we are now in a new century, facing an important election which will be a referendum on how well presidential power is being exercised. Part of the test will be the terms on which the 2012 campaign is waged. This is an inflection point in our history, a measure of how well our democracy mediates sharply divergent views on the role of government and contending interpretations of the values and principles upon which our nation is founded.

Presidential leadership has never been more important. And so, too, is the art of politics. As Johnson said of FDR, “He knew that leadership required not only vision but the skill to move men and to build institutions. And like every one of our great presidents, President Roosevelt was a great politician. He proved again and again that politics, scorned by so many, is an honorable calling.”

We have much to learn from Lyndon Johnson’s leadership as we gather in the home of the man from whom he learned so much. Perhaps we will distill some lessons from their experience which will benefit our current leaders.

To introduce our keynote speaker for today, I am pleased to call on Joe Califano from whom I have learned so much. I had the privilege of working with him at the start of his tenure as HEW Secretary. As the chief domestic advisor to LBJ, Joe was deeply involved in shaping and implementing Great Society programs. He is author of a dozen books including A Presidential Nation and The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson.  A lawyer by training, he is really a student of history but also an activist with a passion to learn from the past.

He wrote a dozen years ago, “What Lyndon Johnson was about during his presidency was social and economic revolution, nothing less. To what extent he succeeded and how beneficial his successes were I leave ….to the judgment of history.”  Well, that is a good challenge for our work today.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Joseph Califano.

John Hamre and Jessica Matthews Introduction

On March 10, 2009 Jonathan Fanton introduced John Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Jessica Matthews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to discuss the foreign policy challenges and priorities facing the then recently-elected President, Barack Obama

Jonathan F. Fanton

Introduction of John Hamre and Jessica Matthews

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I am pleased to welcome John Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Jessica Matthews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thank you for taking the time to meet with the MacArthur Board and senior staff.

We are holding our March Board meeting in Washington so we can talk with senior members of the new Administration about issues of mutual concern.  We are obviously pleased that our friend and Chicago neighbor has become President, and proud that he has recruited so many people with MacArthur ties as Senior Advisors, to his Cabinet and in key positions throughout the executive branch.

As you know, MacArthur supports a variety of initiatives, including research, policy analysis, demonstration projects, and capacity building on issues like affordable housing, education, peace and security, and conservation.  But, in the end, our financial contribution is modest, and it takes government policy and action to move good ideas to scale.  In the U.S. and in 60 countries around the world, we work with government agencies and follow government policies closely.

For the most part, the landscape in the U.S. is changing in ways that create a more favorable context for our work.  We need to understand those changes and then adapt to new opportunities – and perhaps new challenges as well.  We will spend our June Board meeting on that review, so our conversations today and tomorrow are part of the learning process.

On the domestic side, we will be meeting with Valerie Jarrett, Shaun Donovan, and Arne Duncan.  And Bill Burns has organized a conversation at the State Department with Anne Marie Slaughter, the new Director of Policy Planning.  Other senior officials may join, if confirmed and available.

Before embarking on those meetings, we thought it would be useful to get an overview from people we know, trust, and respect with whom we have been working.  Bruce Katz of Brookings and Len Burman of the Urban Institute Tax Policy Center gave us a good hour on domestic policy.

We have been pleased to support CSIS for international security policy studies, workshops in the areas of Russian security, biological threat reduction, and Asia-Pacific issues, among others.

And we have benefited from John’s long experience in government, during which he served as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.  John maintains strong ties to the Department of Defense, serving as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory committee to Secretary Gates.  From 1993-1997, he served as under secretary of defense (comptroller), and for ten years he was a professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

MacArthur has benefited from a long relationship with Jessica, which goes back to the early days of the World Resources Institute.  Currently, we work with the Carnegie Endowment on international migration research, nonproliferation work, and in Russia.  where we enjoy a particularly close relationship with Carnegie’s Moscow office and support its journal, Pro et Contra.

So John and Jessica together touch on every aspect of our international program.

In the opening days of his administration, President Obama set a clear tone for some of the changes he intends for U.S. foreign policy—from closing Guantanamo to the appointment of the high level envoys George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke to manage relations with key countries. John and Jessica, we would like to hear what your thoughts on these steps and what you project to be the defining foreign policy challenges of the new administration.

In particular, we are interested in the future of disarmament talks, prospects for the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, your thoughts on peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery (such as in African or South Asian conflicts), and your thoughts on the roles India and China may play in international institutions and development — what opportunities do their evolving roles in foreign policy afford the new administration?

We would be interested in knowing what your greatest hopes and worries are for the new Administration and how your institutions will adapt to the new context.