Doris Kearns Goodwin on the relevancy of 'Team of Rivals'

Historians in the News

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” (Simon & Schuster, 944 pp.) was a commercial success when it was published in 2005, but starting with the 2008 presidential election cycle, it took on new significance as a touchstone for political debate. Long before either party’s nomination was decided, candidates and commentators were referencing Goodwin’s Lincoln biography as a tale of how one president brought former competitors together in a single government. Today, the idea of building a “team of rivals” in the Obama administration is driving conversation about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s possible appointment as secretary of state.

Politico’s Alexander Burns interviewed Goodwin about her book’s new political relevance, the possibility of bringing Clinton or John McCain into the Obama administration – and the limits on the “team of rivals” concept in the modern presidency. Here are some excerpts of their conversation:

Q: It’s not every day that you see a work of history take on such contemporary political relevance. Why do you think “Team of Rivals” has become so popular with politicians?

A: Number one, what you’ve got is a president-elect who reads history and values it, and that’s just a great thing…He called me after he read the book, way back at the beginning of the primary. My cell phone rang, I picked it up and he just said, ‘Hello, this is Barack Obama.’ He talked to me even then about the book, and then throughout the campaign he kept talking about it, how he would want to put people around him who would argue with him, have a range of opinions.

His first step seems to be totally in step with that concept, both in terms of possibly appointing Hillary to be secretary of state, talking with John McCain.

Q: What is it about this political moment that makes this idea compelling?

A: I think it’s the combination of, you know, what we’ve gone through in the last eight years, and the awareness that we’re at one of those moments in time when we have a series of crises that have to be dealt with.

Even Roosevelt, when WWII was on the horizon, FDR understood that, as he put it, Dr. New Deal had to become Dr. Win-the-War, and he brought in two top Republicans, [former Secretary of State Henry] Stimson and [former vice presidential candidate Frank] Knox, to be in his cabinet. He put out the olive branch to the business community…Not that he gave up his progressive goals, but he reached out more so he could bring them together at a moment of necessity.

Read entire article at Politico.com

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