A massive terrorism attack on America. Thousands were killed in several hours. Not since Pearl Harbor has the United States been attacked in such a way. How has it changed the country? What effect did September 11 and the resulting war have on the presidency?
We'll talk about these events with three historians, experts on presidents and their lives: Edmund Morris, whose most recent book is "Theodore Rex"; Richard Reeves, who wrote "President Nixon"; and Allan Lichtman, author of "The Keys to the White House."
Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on September 11.
But first, 2001 and the presidency of George W. Bush, on Face the Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.
And now, from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: And good morning again.
Joining us now, three of the best in the business: Richard Reeves, who I've known since back in the Ford administration, who has just written a fascinating book, "President Nixon: Alone in the White House." I want to hold this up so it can be seen.
I thought I knew everything there was to know, or all I needed to know about Richard Nixon, and I've learned stuff from this book. It's really a terrific read.
RICHARD REEVES, Author: Thank you.
SCHIEFFER: Also, Edmund Morris, whose new book, "Theodore Rex," is now out.
And I told you before the broadcast, I believe this gets off--I'm just barely into it--but I believe it gets off to the fastest start of any history that I've ever read. It's just a marvelous read. And I--this is what I'll be spending the Christmas holidays finishing up.
And then Allan Lichtman from American University, who is well-known for a book he wrote about--what?--20 years ago, Allan.
ALAN LICHTMAN, Author, "The Keys to the White House: I first developed the system 20 years ago, when I was nine.
SCHIEFFER: ... called "The Keys to the White House,"...
When you were nine?
... which gives you a good indicator of who's going to win elections. And it's been very good over the years.
But I know Allan most for this. This is "The Great Courses on Tape," which are put out by a company here in Washington called The Teaching Company. And Allan Lichtman did what I think is the best overview of the presidency that I have ever read, a series on who he considers the great presidents. It's great.
Well, gentlemen, thank you all for coming.
Gloria Borger is here of course, also.
I think we have to start any broadcast like this at September 11. And I'm wondering, do you feel that September 11, 20 years or 50 years from now, we'll look back on it and see it as a time r a point in time when the world sort of reordered itself, as it did in the days after World War II, Allan?
LICHTMAN: I think that's right.
Look, Pearl Harbor really shattered the myth of American isolationism, the idea that we couldn't be involved in the world. Arthur Vandenberg, the great isolationist, said, "The scales fell from my eyes after Pearl Harbor."
September 11 shattered the myth of American invincibility, that somehow we could be separate and apart from these terrible conflicts that were going on elsewhere in the world. And it's going to be many years before we adjust to the new world and new era psychologically, and in terms of our policies at home and abroad.
SCHIEFFER: Dick, what's your take on that?
REEVES: Well, I certainly agree. I think it's energized the American people and has united them in a way that shows itself in that they are now interested in what's happening.
I feel we had lived in a 10-year vacuum called, for lack of a better title, "the end of history," the only superpower, and we elected governors with no foreign-policy experience whatever, because we had been burned in foreign policy and wanted to forget all about that for a while. And then we were reminded. And our president said he was surprised to find out people hated us.
Well, they just--people do hate us, but they made him a president.
SCHIEFFER: Edmund Morris, do you think that September 11 gave us a different perspective on the presidency itself?
And I say that because it seems to me that the American view of the presidency changed after the assassination of Jack Kennedy. We, up until that point, in modern times, anyway, saw the president as invincible. We saw it as an office that made the man. And then we went through a Kennedy, and then we went through Nixon. We had been through Johnson. And suddenly people seemed to view it in a different way.
Do you think they view it now in a different way?
EDMUND MORRIS, Author: The American people change their view of the presidency whenever the country changes, and certainly September 11 changed our view of the presidency, but so did September 14, 1901. Almost exactly a century before the catastrophe of September the 11th, there was the assassination of President McKinley, which made Theodore Roosevelt president.
And the national trauma that followed this assassination, the third president to be assassinated in 36 years, was so acute that Theodore Roosevelt's first order of business was to reassure the American people that our institutions are actually indestructible even though they seem to be frail because they're so permeable.
In those days the phenomenon was anarchism, which had its professed intent to destroy our democratic institutions exactly as terrorism does today.
GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Do the circumstances create great presidents, or are great presidents just born to be great presidents? ichard.
REEVES: ... in the saddle, that we don't hire presidents for their intellect or their background. We hire them for judgment. And they're there for the one or two or three big things that might happen, and they're judged on how they're handled.
No one remembers whether Lincoln balanced the budget. I'm not sure they'll remember whether George Bush did. And the saddest man in America, as many of us know, today is Bill Clinton because no events happened in his presidency, at least none that could transform the country.
SCHIEFFER: Would there be a different view, do you think, Allan Lichtman, of Bill Clinton had there been a war while he was president?
LICHTMAN: You know, we were talking about Theodore Roosevelt. One of the things Theodore Roosevelt said, not necessarily seriously, "I wish I had a great crisis like Abraham Lincoln so I could have truly become a great president."
You know, and also it was Lyndon Johnson who said, "the key to the presidency is not so much doing right as knowing what is right."
That's what really happened to George Bush and utterly transformed him. He was floundering before September 11. It really wasn't clear what the mission of his presidency was. He found that mission. He found what he needed to do on September 11, and the American people recognized a basic change in this president.
MORRIS: He didn't find it. It found him.
LITCHTMAN: It found him. History found him. Exactly.
SCHIEFFER: Edmund Morris, you recently visited with the president. What did you think of him?
MORRIS: Much bigger and stronger than I expected. The physical impact is great.
He gives off waves of good health and vitality--which is to say, spiritual vitality. I found him to be a much stronger man than his father even though his father is physically larger.
He struck me as strangely devout. He needed to talk about religion.
MORRIS: He needed to talk about his own religious faith.
My wife was complimenting him on the rapport that he seems to have established with President Putin. He said, "Oh, well, you see, we have a lot in common. One of the first things we did when we first met was to show me in his hand this Russian crucifix and he opened out, and I sensed that we had the cross in common." And he talked at length, at length about the cross to such an extent--it was just supposed to be a grip-and-grin; we were stopping by the Oval Office to say hi to the president. But he wanted to go on about it.
There's an urgency there, an almost evangelical quality.
BORGER: Richard Reeves, what about Richard Nixon in those terms? Some presidents have been devout, and we've just heard Mr. Morris say this one may well be. What about a president like Richard Nixon who went through so much? Did he turn to religion?
REEVES: No. He used religion and he did something that was mch more controversial at the time than we remember now; that is, he was the one who first held religious services on a regular basis in the White House, and a lot of people thought that was separation of church and state.
I think that Richard Nixon had a tribal view of the world, which the dark side you would see is his anti-semitism. A brighter side of it was his real attempt to reach out to Christians.
But I think he saw them as political tribes who he could use, who he could use in this case, against each other. And he picked the majority tribe. I don't think he was a spiritual man at heart.
SCHIEFFER: You know, one of the interesting things, to me, about President Nixon is that he was such a loner in such a public kind of job. How did a loner like Richard Nixon get into politics?
REEVES: Well, he got into it to get even.
REEVES: I mean, the thing he most--the man enjoyed sports, getting even and campaign management. Those were his real joys. And he went in there; he had this view of the world that there were people who had it easy--Ivy League people, rich people, Kennedys--and that he was going to get even with all of those folks. And the way to do that was to be president.
And he, by this incredible triumph of will and intelligence, managed to succeed in a business he never should have been in.
SCHIEFFER: Lynn Garment, who was one of his close friends, told me once that he fought loneliness with politics. It was part of his strategy not to be lonely.
REEVES: Well, his very role model in that was Charles de Gaulle and he studied other people very carefully, because he had no social instincts of his own. He did not know how to read social signals, so he had to watch other people and approximate them.
One of the people he watched closest was Charles de Gaulle, who governed by surprise. So we have now forgotten that, when Nixon came on television and said he was going to go to China and make a new world, there had never been any public discussion or debate. Same thing when he took the U.S.--when we took the dollar off the gold standard. He did that.
He managed to skirt all of the institutions of the Constitution and constitutional government and change the world. It was a brilliant--they were brilliant achievements.
MORRIS: It's interesting you should mention de Gaulle, because one of the most interesting anecdotes I came across when I was doing my book on Ronald Reagan, which I really couldn't use, was an extraordinary story about the funeral of President Eisenhower in, what was it, 1974 or whatever.
(UNKNOWN): Earlier, yes.
MORRIS: '60, '69, I think. Whatever.
Ronald Reagan was then governor of California. And he was invited to the funeral service in Washington National Cathedral, and so happened that he was sitting behind General Charles de Gaulle of France, who was just about to leave the presidency.
So acording to this guy who was sitting next to Reagan, de Gaulle's aide leaned toward him and scribbled something on a piece of paper, "le governor de California," blah, blah, blah. And de Gaulle turns his massive body around and scrutinizes Ronald Reagan from head to foot.
And after the ceremony, when Nixon assembled all the heads of state to take them off to the White House, de Gaulle detaches himself and goes over to Ronald Reagan, who is leaving the church, takes him by the hand and shakes his hand and looks into his eyes.
And the witness said, "If ever I saw electricity pass between two people, it was at that moment."
LICHTMAN: You know, you talked about the kind of skirting of constitutional restraints. I think that's one of the most interesting issues of the presidency and of the Bush presidency.
You know, our Constitution builds in these elaborate checks and balances. But it's extraordinary how, in a time of crisis, they just melt away. The president establishes a special, mystical bond with the American people, and essentially the president has a free hand.
And it started with Jefferson, the greatest of the strict constructionists, when he waged the war against the Barbary pirates without anything but the vaguest resolution from the Congress, no declaration of war whatever. And since then, presidents have had a largely free hand in such matters.
SCHIEFFER: Very interesting. Let's continue this discussion after we take a quick break.
We'll be back.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back again with our presidential historians Richard Reeves, Edmund Morris and Allan Lichtman.
BORGER: Allan, can you tell me what you think the American people look for in a wartime president?
LICHTMAN: I think two things: vision and pragmatism. The president has to have an understanding of where he wants to take the country in the war, but he has to have the pragmatic skills to get there.
George Bush has demonstrated the pragmatism, and that's why his approval is so high right now. He still has to demonstrate the vision.
You know, we had Woodrow Wilson's 14 points, the vision for the end of World War I, still an icon of American history. Franklin Roosevelt's four freedoms. That's George Bush's next challenge, to articulate what he would like to see the world look like in the next 10, 15 years.
SCHIEFFER: Do you all think that, had this happened on Bill Clinton's watch, that people would have forgotten Monica Lewinsky and rallied behind Bill Clinton in the way that they rallied behind George Bush?
REEVES: Oh, I certainly do. I mean, American history shows that when these things happen, we rally around the president whatever our reservation, and he succeeds or fails along the lines Allan said--that is, does he bring out the best in us, and do we bring out the best in him?
And so far in this war, I think he has brought out the bet in the American people, and the American people certainly brought out the best in him--a man of limited experience, probably not quite sure. He seemed to be floundering the first 48 hours. Rudy Giuliani appeared to be president the first 48 hours. But he got himself together, and I think he was able to draw on the incredible strength of this country.
BORGER: Edmund Morris, what about presidential demeanor? This is a president who may, in fact, be benefiting from low expectations. He was not known as a great orator. His language is very simple, is very direct.
Is this the kind of clarity that Americans want right now, kind of fits the bill?
MORRIS: Absolutely. His simple language and clear thought and simple action is what is really necessary at times like this. We don't want a president to intellectualize our current situation and agonize about it publicly, as somebody like Jimmy Carter was wont to do.
Bush acted exactly as Theodore Roosevelt did 100 years ago. He spoke simple, strong, moralistically driven language, expressing our detestation of these foreign philosophies which want to bring down our institutions, and with a simple moral certainty, self-certainty.
And his basic personal decency which came over very strongly. He, as T.R. did in his time, calmed the country, united us around him, and made the contest one of a simple contest between simple...
REEVES: There is a time for simplicity.
MORRIS: There is indeed.
LICHTMAN: You know, this reminds me of something, which is how badly our adversaries understand us, how badly they have misread--if they understand American history at all. They somehow believe if you inflict pain on the American people they're going to cave in. Yet our history is just the opposite.
You arouse the American people, and they are going to respond to this kind of simple, direct, moralistic crusade. And they're going to persevere over the long run, as the history of the Civil War, World War II and even the sad history of Vietnam proves so decisively. The American people are not going to turn around and run even if casualties begin to mount up.
SCHIEFFER: Edmund, I want to ask you about one thing in your book about Teddy Roosevelt. You said as he came to office he was worried about and wondered what was to be done about the Philippines, which was a United States territory. They didn't even know what to call them, I guess.
MORRIS: Some people thought they were canned fruit.
But you say in there that one thing that made it so difficult was that in the Philippines they contained Islam and Christianity, the two most incompatible religions in the world at that time. Has that changed?
MORRIS: Well, obviously not. We're seeing the conflict between these two faiths right now.
All would I say with regard to the way T.R. looked at the struggle was that he was a man wh read a lot. He was a deeply erudite president. And I'd be a lot more comfortable if our presidents read today.
MORRIS: You say foreign leaders should read the history of the American presidency. I think our presidents should, like Theodore Roosevelt, be versed in the history of Islam.
LICHTMAN: Well, ship them your books immediately.
SCHIEFFER: Well, you know, it's an interesting point, because what I say to you is I would be a lot more comfortable if they would write more than they do.
I think it really focuses one's thoughts to sit down and write a speech. I wish it were a requirement of the presidency that every president had to write at least one speech a year. I just think it would be, not only good for the country, I think it would be good for them.
REEVES: Well, I think that was the something of a strength of Reagan, wasn't it?
MORRIS: Reagan wrote, yes.
REEVES: As it was with Roosevelt, as it was with Wilson.
SCHIEFFER: But more and more we see them handing these things off to others.
BORGER: I would like to ask all of you, as we wind up here, a little bit about the traps that may await this popular president--90 percent popularity, saw it occur with his father, a country united around him. The election is a long time away.
I guess I'll start with Dick.
REEVES: Well, I think the trap is the next step. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden and his people have only one place really they can go in the world, and that's Pakistan.
Pakistan, like Afghanistan--I don't even think Afghanistan is a country. Pakistan is barely a country itself, just lines drawn in London.
If they go there and Pakistan, which is prone to it, is destabilized, has nuclear weapons--and they are not pointed at us, they are pointed at India--I think that the Indians will invade Pakistan. Indians invade Pakistan, China masses on the border.
That's where the real problem is.
I think there is a little too much talk of Somalia, of Iraq. The problem is the fact that for 50 years we have not been able to get a good relationship with India, and we're going to need it, because they are not going to allow Pakistan to threaten them. The last time Pakistan tried it, they lost half their country. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. That's...
SCHIEFFER: And they'll soon be the most populous nation.
REEVES: Yes. And they have a good military that's going to take a very sophisticated America to deal with that.
LICHTMAN: Unfortunately though, I think the field is booby trapped.
Number one, there is the danger that this becomes an interminable war to no end, like a cold war or a twilight war on drugs. That's the one thing the American people don't stand for.
Secondly, there is the trap of ignoring domestic priorities. You've got to deal with the domestic situation.
Thirdly, there is this rap of not having a real vision of where all this is going. If you don't have that, it all fall as part in the end.
SCHIEFFER: Edmund Morris?
MORRIS: I just can only say that, from my readings of American history, the times do tend to precipitate the man. We usually get the president we deserve. The poisonous '60s produced the poisonous Richard Nixon. The self-doubting '70s produced the self-doubting Jimmy Carter. At the end of which we desperately needed the supremely self-confident and patriotic Ronald Reagan. The cyber spacial '90s produced free-floating, reactive Bill Clinton...
MORRIS: ... who lived quite happily in a land without laws and without frontiers.
And the simple realities of our current time are that we need a simple president to deal with the conflict between good and evil across the world, between barbarism and civilization.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I think that would be a good point to end this discussion. I could continue it throughout the afternoon, but we have to go.
Gentlemen, thanks to all of you.
We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, we are coming to the end of a year that none of us who lived through it will ever forget. Not since the assassination of John Kennedy had so much of us sat transfixed in shock before our televisions. Yet, not since World War II had the nation come together as it did in those days after the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
I'm not one of those who believes that such things happen to make us stronger and better. I don't know why they happen. But it is during such times that we see just how strong and good we can be.
And we have seen that over and over, not just from the firemen and the policemen and the rescue workers and our brave young military people still willing to risk their lives for the rest of us, but in so many other ways as well: in the return of civility. Road rage is down, and we seem to be speaking to one another again on the streets. "How are you today?" It made us feel good just to say it.
It was a year we remembered the government wasn't the enemy, as some had been trying to tell us. We realized the government was just us, working together to do what we couldn't do alone. We realized we do need each other.
Yes, it was a year when the sorrow and anger and anxiety seemed almost unbearable. But it was also a year that made us proud to be Americans.
We'll see you next year right here on Face the Nation.
© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved