Kathy Roth-Douquet and Evan Thomas are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: December 8, 2012 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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As I write this post, we hear news that President Obama and Speaker Boehner will finally meet, mano-a-mano, to try to steer the country clear of going over the fiscal cliff. But where to meet? After a week in which political theater has dominated, with each side offering visual catnip to reporters to adorn their stories, the venue means a lot, with significant polioptic advantage afforded to one team hosting the other on their home turf.
So how about neutral territory? It’s about 1.7 miles along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, and right in the middle stands the U.S. National Archives. Steeped in history, surrounded by the documents that have made this country the envy of the world, might be a perfect place for the President and the Speaker of the House to craft the grand bargain that will maintain America’s strength and indispensable status for the remainder of our third century.
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This week’s show found me in our New York studio with Kathy Roth-Douquet and Adam in our Washington studio with Evan Thomas.
Evan has been on our show before, appearing on Episode 37 to talk about is eBook with Mike Allen on the presidential campaign. This was Kathy’s first visit, but she and I go back a way, to 1988 and the presidential campaign of the late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois.
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Kathy, like me, cut her teeth doing advance work, but she’s gone on to much greater things. She’s the author of two books — AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service and How Free People Move Mountains: A Male Christian Conservative and a Female Jewish Liberal on a Quest for Common Purpose and Meaning.
Kathy is currently the CEO of Blue Star Families, a national network of military families from all ranks and services. And yet, at this holiday time, she might be most proud of her primary role as a Marine Corps wife, a position of domestic authority that’s taken her around the world many times over, watching the home front in duty that stands alongside what our soldiers in uniform do every day on the front lines.
Kathy met her husband, Col. Greg Douquet, when we both worked at the White House. Greg was then a pilot with the HMX-1 squadron which, when Kathy and Greg met, was supporting a Presidential Visit to the Philippines. We were staying at the famous Manila Hotel,which was home to General Douglas MacArthur from 1935 to 1941 during his tenure as the Military Adviser to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines. An interesting historical fact of the dual role he played during that deployment, courtesy of the hotel’s website:
To handle the cost of MacArthur’s suite, he was given the honorary title of “General Manager”. He attended the monthly meetings. He, however, ignored the figurehead status and instead took control of hotel management. MacArthur’s favorite food at the hotel was lapu-lapu, a grouper fish native to the Philippines, wrapped in banana leaves.
Our visit to the Philippines was one of the most interesting of my White House years. We brought President Clinton, via Marine One, to the island of Corregidor, known by its stalwart inhabitants during World War II as “The Rock.” When Japan invaded the Philippines, Corregidor became the headquarters of the Allied forces and also the seat of the Philippine Commonwealth government. General Jonathan Wainwright and his force held out as long as they could, but eventually surrendered to General Masaharu Homma on May 6, 1942. Corregidor would eventually be recaptured in March, 1945, with MacArthur making good on his famous vow, “I shall return.”
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Then, it’s Evan Thomas and Ike’s Bluff.
While MacArthur was leading the Allied Forces in the Pacific, of course, General Dwight Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. As the man who bore responsibility for giving the command to go on D-Day, June 6, 1944, he held in has hands the fate of tens of thousands of soldiers he was sending into harm’s way. Ike was witness to war at its most savage, up to that point.
But in a post-war world in which the U.S. military resources that built the first atomic bombs continued their advancements in megatonnage and delivery systems, few knew better than Ike what might result if these weapons were ever unleashed on either military or civilian targets. But by 1953, he was no longer in uniform, he was the 34th President of the United States, and had to position himself between his generals at the Pentagon and his spies at the CIA who, during any part of Ike’s eight years in office, might have opted to press the button for a quick win on the battlefield. Out of uniform, Ike had a higher responsibility, and Evan Thomas argues forcefully that he used his power shrewdly, even as he seemed to willingly accept an image of being aloof in an otherwise prosperous age.
Ike’s Bluff is a fascinating book in that it allowed a historian like Thomas to dive deep into records and journals that have previously received little notice. Maybe that’s what happens only after presidents are out of office for 50 years and long dead, but still with living witnesses to their leadership. Maybe, long after we’re in assisted living facilities, aides to Barack Obama will give us much better context than we have now of how a similarly distant man dealt with the competing forces that shaped world events from 2009 to 2017.
For Evan Thomas, the records of Ike’s doctor, Howard McCrum Snyder, and the reflections of Ike’s son John and granddaughter, Susan, provide a revealing portrait of a man who loved bridge and golf and employed the strategic techniques of those games to keep his allies and opponents guessing about his next move. They also reveal a tortured soul, a man who dedicated his life to service to his country even as his body failed him in severely debilitating ways, forcing him to turn to powerful sleeping aids and ward off the pressures of office in pulpy western novels and a few too many drinks before bedtime.
I turned to Ike’s Bluff on the weekend of November 9, a few days after Election Day. The campaign was over and there was little new to read about Obama’s victory and Romney’s defeat and, frankly, I was bored by it all. I also had a long tick list of tasks to compete at our retreat in the Catskills and only 24 hours to finish the work at hand. So, as I had with Thomas’s prior book, The War Lovers, I downloaded the new book from iTunes onto my iPhone and got to work at about 6:00 a.m. The following morning, at about 3:00 a.m., I had finished both the book and my long list of tasks, and both were extremely satisfying. If you’re looking to pass a long day over the Christmas break with a very human journey back to the 1950’s, I enthusiastically recommend Even Thomas as your guide.