The Surprising Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Norton Smith

The Surprising Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Norton Smith


– Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Andrew Samwick and
I’m a professor of economics and director of the Nelson
A. Rockefeller Center here at Dartmouth. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to third of our centennial lectures. During 2008 we are commemorating
the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson
Rockefeller, a member of the Dartmouth college class of 1930, with a series of lectures and events that showcase his policy legacy
and his political impact. This afternoon I am thrilled
to introduce renowed historian Richard Norton Smith to speak to us about the surprising Nelson Rockefeller. To have Mr. Smith here as
we celebrate the centennial is something for which we
used to thank serendipity. But today I’m gonna thank Google. (audience laughs) In doing my research for the
centennial you can imagine that at some point I would have gone to that little search
box and entered into it the phrase, “Biography
of Nelson Rockefeller.” Somewhere between the
20th and the 30th link, that Google gives you
is a webpage from 2006 announcing Mr. Smith’s arrival
as a scholar and residence in the departments of
history and art history and the school of public policy
at George Mason University, and the very last paragraph statrts out, “While at Mason, Smith
will complete a biography of Nelson Rockefeller.” Mr. Smith is a leading
presidential historian. He has been the director of
several presidential museums and libraries, most recently the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois. He appears regularly on
C-SPAN and The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. His many books include An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert
Hoover, The Harvard Century: The Making of a University
to a Nation, and Patriarch: George Washington and
the New American Nation. His book Thomas E. Dewey and His Times was a finalist for the
1983 Pulitzer Prize. The common thread
connecting all of his work is to make history alive and
relevant for a mass audience. If he holds true to form
on his Rockefeller project, I predict a solid improvement
in his Google page ranking. (audience laughs) In the writing of a biography
sometimes the author finds the subject and sometimes even years after he has passed away,
the subject finds the author and so it has been with Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Norton Smith,
who at the age of 14 earned his way to the
Republican National Convention in Miami Beach where he saw
Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy eclipse Nelson Rockefeller for the parties presidential nomination. Some years later after
graduating from Harvard in 1975, Smith worked as an intern in the White House of President Ford. As Smith describes it,
“Your life is intertwined “with the political figures of your day.” This is the book he was born to write. We are very fortunate to get
a preview this afternoon. On behalf of the Rockefeller Center and the College
Republicans, please join me in welcoming Richard Norton Smith. (audience applause) – Thank you Andrew. That was a very generous introduction. He didn’t tell you the full
story of the ’68 convention, which I’m waiting to write myself but I can tell you this, the fact is I was 14, I was in Miami, I was in
the Ford demonstration for Governor of Rockefeller and I had been doing my
delegate calculations almost every hour and it concluded
we weren’t gonna make it. Mostly because Ronald
Reagan wasn’t holding up his end of the deal with the Southern delegates. So anyway, my contribution to
that year’s political violence took place when we marched right through the Iowa
delegation full of a bunch of Stalin farmers for Nixon and one of them I remember
striking over the head with my sign and it didn’t
get us any extra votes in Iowa but it felt awfully good (audience laughs) at the time. Anyway I can’t tell you how honored I am to be part of this centennial celebration, how flattered I am that
this is Rockefeller and other members of the
Rockefeller family are here. And of course the 25th
anniversary of the Rockefeller… the other Rockefeller Center. I kept looking for Prometheus. Anyway. I don’t know about you but I can’t imagine a
better living memorial to Governor Rockefeller than what you are all doing and I congratulate you on doing it and doing it as well as you are. It’s a wonderful legacy. It is hard to believe that
almost 50 years have passed as the second floor of the New
York state capital in Albany first echoed to the rasping command, “I’m not interested in what I can’t do, “I want to know how I
can do what I want to do “and it’s your job to tell me how.” Or bestowing compliments so lavish as to devalue the vocabulary of praise. Terrific, fantastic and the all-purpose fabulous. For a biographer, Nelson Rockefeller is a fabulous feast of character, a human whirlwind, whose
energy was exceeded only by his curiosity. To his longtime personal aid, Joe Canzeri, he was the force. To just about everyone
whose path he crossed, he was a force to be reckoned with. As with any historian I’m
interested in not only in what Nelson Rockefeller produced but in what produced Nelson Rockefeller. We heard yesterday from Governor Whitman comparing him to Teddy Roosevelt which is a very apt, I think, analogy. I would go further back
in American history. I think Nelson Rockefeller stands squarely in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton, that other quintessential New Yorker, whose financial wizardry
gave life to the New Republic even as it defied the agrarian virtues untried in Jeffersonian dogma. A nation builder rejected by
the very people he capitalized. Hamilton seems a fitting progenitor to the man who called
moral obligation bonding the greatest system ever invented, and whose legacy to New Yorkers included both the largest state
university in America and the taxes to pay for it. (audience laughs) But there is another more poignant reason to link Hamilton and his
20th Century counterpart. Quite simply, in some quarters, Nelson Rockefeller is out of fashion. In this he resembles no
one more than Hamilton. The flying Dutchman of American
politics who is scorned by the weft for his alleged
aristocratic tendencies and abused by the right for his faith in government capitalism. Life is lived forward yet history all too
often is told backwards. That is looking over our shoulders, coward by intervening events, and the all too conventional thinking of subsequent generations. There’s a word for this. The word is hindsight. Nelson Rockefeller ought to be understood within the tradition
of activist government that for most of the 20th Century made New York state a
hothouse of innovation. Instead, he is usually
glimpsed in retrospect through the distorting
lense of the so-called Reagan Revolution. That New York in the mid
1960s should spend more on fighting water pollution
than the Federal Government spent nationwide is viewed by
Robert Taft’s philosophical descendants as overreaching
unless of course you happen to live along the reclaimed Hudson River. That the Empire State,
in those days it still was the Empire State, should lead the way with the first state
Arts Council in America not to mention pioneering programs in mass transit, urban housing, labor law, mental health, aid to private education, nursing homes, consumer protection, even a mandatory seatbelt law and no-fault auto insurance. All this offends readers
of national review or human events but no more so than Nelson Rockefeller did in life. Indeed for most such ideolog,
the seven most dangerous words in the English language
are his 1970 campaign, fourth campaign, reelection
slogan, “He’s done a lot. “He’ll do even more.” (audience laughs) This is ironic given the new found emphasis placed on grassroots activism mandated by Reagan and other recent presidents. Consider the most successful governors of recent times, from Christy Whitman to Arnold Schwarzenegger. They do not hesitate to use market forces or when necessary, direct
intervention by government to satisfy voter demands
for better schools, more affordable healthcare and cleaner air and water. This alone suggests to me
why there has never been a better time to revisit
the Rockefeller Era, tapping newly available papers and the recollections
of a fast dwindling band of associates in order to reintroduce this great thundering paradox of a man. I said paradox and this talk is entitled, “The Surprising Nelson Rockefeller.” Most people tend to think
of Governor Rockefeller as a monolithic figure, me. Physically he looked monolithic. He looked like he was carved from granite. He was a one man Mount Rushmore. (audience laughs) But there was nothing really monolithic about Nelson Rockefeller. I’ve never encountered
a historical figure. I’ve never written about anyone who is more merely a composite of his mother and his father first of all. He was an unabashed visionary who was simultaneously the
most contemporary of leaders. It is no accident that his
public career blossomed during the expansive Postwar Era or that his governorship
reached its apogee in the early 1960s when
most New Yorkers shared their governors confident belief that there was no such thing
as an insoluble challenge. “I love people,” he once said. “I love solving problems. “Most people wish they would go away. “Then they would rather go play bridge “or Poker, which is really
creating new problems. (audience laughs) “I’d rather solve real problems.” Left unsaid was the possibility that some solutions could
spawn problems of their own. Immediately after his
first election in 1958, Rockefeller established
over 40 task forces to subject New Yorks shortcomings
to a battery of experts. Now this really was a sequel. He’d been doing this all his life. Just a couple years earlier, of course, he was the spearhead behind
the Speical Studies project funded by the Rockefeller brothers but really very much Nelson’s idea that was created to analyze America and it’s future at midcentury. “We finally had to quite,” one aid to the governor conceded. The Legislature was getting indigestion. As time would demonstrate not
every problem was solvable, at least not through study commissions, bond issues and good will. Irrational, even destructive as it was, some people took drugs while others profited from their weakness. His enthusiasm matched by his impatience, Nelson Rockefeller was undeterred. “I’m optimistic about South
America,” he had remarked to an interviewer during his days as FDR’s Latin American coordinator. “But you’ll have to
qualify that,” he went on by saying, “I’m optimistic
about everything.” (audience laughs) While his optimism might be unlimited, the states resources were not. In a sense, his relative equips, mirrors that of his democratic counterpart and admirer Lyndon Johnson whose great society was equally ambitious and immune to doubt. Yet Johnson at least had the forthsight to bequeath thousands of hours of mostly flattering tape recordings to a test to his mastery
of the political process. Governor Rockefeller left no such legacy. After a frustrating bittersweet turn as Gerald Ford’s vice president, he all but withdrew from the public arena. A generation later the very phrase, “Rockefeller Republican,” strikes many on the right as an oxymoron. Yet, most Americans remain pragmatic problem solvers at heart, suspicious of extremes and
appreciative of diversity. In short, Nelson
Rockefeller’s kind of people. Born of vast wealth, he wanted more than anything else to be in the phrase of his Latin kindred spirits, an authentic representative of the people. In his early campaigns he
effected a battered old hat reminiscent of FDR’s fedora. His baggy pants and unflattering
double-breasted suits, by the way, I have to say
that among the many things that Mrs. Rockefeller was credited with was improving her husbands warddrobe. (audience laughs) They were of a piece with
his cast-iron stomach and indiscriminate
fondness for Ratner’s Deli and Coney Island hot dogs. But at night he went
home to a 32 room triplex on Fifth Avenue with a living
room fireplace decorated by Henri Matisse. And the matradee at the 21
Club had a standing order to notify him whenever the
menu featured whitebait. Perspective is as important to historians as to artists even if
the latter are permitted to be nonobjective and the former are not. With a perspective time
what appears contradictory about Nelson Rockefeller
becomes much less so. If he we see him not as a
politician who collected art, but as a frustrated artist
who turned to public service to gratify his creative instincts. This is how his brother, Laurance, put it on the occasion of Nelson’s 70th birthday. Statesmanship and artistic ability have one important
characteristic in common, the capacity for making
order out of chaos. The principle difference
is that an artist works with paint and canvas and a
statesman works with people in terms of their political,
social and economic problems. Erich Fromm might have
had Nelson Rockefeller in mind when defining
the necessary conditions for human creativity. Quote, “to be puzzled, to concentrate, “to accept conflict and tension, “to be born every day, “to feel a sense of self.” What an artist imagines,
an architect implements. Rockefeller did both. Coveting talent the way
other men crave wealth or status, he collected
paintings and people with equal enthusiasm. Sometimes they overlapped. On learning of a staff member who doubled as an abstract painter, the governor asked how the man came by his ability. Told that it welled up from
inside from a self expression demanding release, a dejected
Rockefeller responded, “That’s how I felt, but I could
never do anything about it.” It would be more accurate to
say that his entire public life was an exercise in doing
something about it. If unable to create art himself, he could patronize the
gifted marshaling brains and unparalleled resources to
transform public environments and public policy. His old friend and
collaborator the architect, Wally Harrison, understood this very well. “He’s like a perfect engine,”
said Harrison of Rockefeller. It starts acting up if
you don’t keep it right in the groove of creating something. Being a Rockefeller he learned early to disarm the other fellow
by playing against type, precisely because his public aspirations were anything but modest. He willingly almost eagerly confided to journalists an allegedly low IQ. This did not prevent him from establishing a national commission on critical choices or installing himself as its chair. From this lofty perch, he spoke casually of polling the world. For good measure he added, “I’d like “to get Malsi Tome “or one of his henchman to prepare a paper “on the nature of man. “If he did someone else would
have to write the invitation “or at least spell Mal’s name.” Once learning of an
impending trip to China by Henry Kissinger, he asked
his friend to take a message to Mr. Joenlie, J-O-E-N-L-I-E. (audience laughs) Now, dyslexia. Nelson Rockefeller was a dyslexic. He never heard the term
until he was 50 years old. He spent most of his life believing that he had a low IQ. Why is that important? It’s important for a number of reasons. First of all, he was convinced, and he demonstrated it every day, that through sheer concentration he could overcome this handicap. I’ve talked to any number of people. It was very characteristic of the governor each night to leave his office with a thick briefcase full of paperwork, and it would all be returned the next day all read with notes. Now and also, another form of discipline, it forced the New York state workforce to write one page memos which is something that
probably should be enforced in every government. But his… I’ve lost my train of thought. Yes, dyslexia was very
important in another way. God, I’m having a senior moment. (audience laughs) I tell ya. No, dyslexia was very
important in another way that I think you can argue both ways. His mother, who was an
enormous influence in his life, a classic life enhancer,
today she’d be the politician in the family, the office holder. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
told all of her children, “You should always surround
yourselves with people “who are smarter than you.” And that was a family
trait in a lot of ways. In some ways it goes back to Senior. He said when he got into
the philanthropy business, he told Junior, “We have the money. “What we lack are the men.” So Rockefeller’s always
were in the business of seeking out the best talent,
the best minds if you will. The problem with that is, that works. That’s the way to do an organization if what you want to do is
eliminate hookworm in the South or pursue some other medical
or scientific breakthrough. It’s probably not the best
way to run for president. And the fact is, when
Nelson Rockefeller trusted his gut instincts, he tended to do better than when he listened to all of these shiny, expensive, sometimes self important best minds who surrounded him. In that sense, I think dyslexia… But you know, the other thing
is, in a very small way, dyslexia has contributed to the distortion of his historical image. One example, he was in favor of universal healthcare in the 1950s. I mean, talk about
being ahead of the curve and as governor he had
come up with a formula that he was very excited about and he went around the state. He was a great salesman. You know, he invented
the town hall meeting. When you see all these politicians
today running for office or holding office and they
have town hall meetings. That was Nelson Rockefeller’s idea. He absolutely excelled in that format because he loved to talk policy and he was that rare politician who first of all, could take
policy and personalize it. Take it apart, make it
real, make it relevant and connect with people. The problem was his dyslexia. So he’s got this great
new healthcare program and he wants to try to pitch it to his audience and the problem is the
quote has been taken out of context for 40
years and sited endlessly to suggest Rockefeller’s distance from how real people live. Well it’s very simple. He said, “Now imagine
you’re a family of four,” and remember this is in
the late 50s, early 60s. “Imagine you’re a family of four, “and, you know, you’re living
on a typical average income “of a hundred thousand dollars.” (audience laughs) Well first the audience
burst into laughter which he didn’t quite understand. The problem was he transposed the numbers. I’ve seen the text. The text says, “ten thousand dollars,” and he was too what? Proud? Too whatever in effect to correct the record. Very small point but things like that get picked up, they get encrusted like barnacles on the ship of history. I’ve chosen to call my
talk this afternoon, “The Surprising Nelson Rockefeller.” I could just have as easily called it, “Nelson, We Hardly Knew Ye.” Rockefeller is conventionally
portrayed as someone who, if not imprisoned by his wealth, was emotionally stilted by it. The reality is far more complex. If no humanitarian in
the conventional sense, he could be and was deeply moved by the plight of society’s victims. As a young man he had decried
his family’s oil company for distancing itself
from the Latin Americans, both employed and exploited. Flying over the blasted landscape
of the South Bronx one day in a helicopter, he
looked down and muttered, “There’s no excuse for people
to have to live like that.” In 1968, he created something called the Urban Development Corporation, rammed it through the
legislature on the day of Martin Luther King’s funeral. It was a characteristically
sweeping attempt to blend compassion, social engineering, crreative financing and not least of all, eye catching architecture. For many the violent storming
of Attica State Prison in September 1971 confirmed the impression of Rockefeller as a leader
hardened to suffering. In fact, the incident
left him scarred for life. Two days after the assault, which resulted in the deaths
of 43 prisoners and guards, someone complimented
the governor on his tie. “Red,” he mused in response. “The hangmen’s color.” Far more sensitive than his public image, Rockefeller described his
childhood anguish standing before his assembled family each morning clutching one of the Bible
verses scrawled out by his mother and stumbling over the
words, his brain transposed. Like many dyslexics, he developed
a compensating sensitivity to his surroundings and to
those who inhabited them. In the popular mind, Governor Rockefeller is habitually classified
as his mother’s son. Understandably. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s
legacy to her favorite child was an abeyant embrace
of new people, new ideas and new forms of expression,
especially artistic expression. And yet, Abby’s own religion of good works could be every bit as demanding
as the more orthodox piety of her husband. “I am eager that you shall
be much above the ordinary “in character and achievement,” she wrote to Nelson when he was 15. “The world needs fine men.
There is great work to be done. “I want you to train yourself
to meet every opportunity “whatever the future may
hold in store for you.” By the same token, I think at least, the conventional picture does
an injustice to Mr. Junior as Nelson’s father was called
mostly behind his back. For it was the second John D. Rockefeller who initiated the family tradition of studying a problem to death or solution and who’s compulsion to build rivaled that of the ancient pharaohs. Think of the other Rockefeller Center. In contrast to his shy, divided parent, Nelson regarded his name not as a burden but as a benchmark. Not condemned to redeem the family legend, he would create one of his own. His contradictions do not end there. The most tactile politician
of his generation hated to be touched himself and
steadfast would refuse to kiss babies. He also refused to autograph blank checks which were frequently thrust in his face. The quintessential pragmatist proved the most unyielding advocate
of fall out shelters and punitive drug laws. Denounced as a party wrecker, he refused to switch political allegiances
even for the presidency. An extrovert happiest in the world of artistic contemplation,
a pillar of the American establishment who was more
comfortable playing the renegade. All his life Nelson Rockefeller
went against the grain. It was a trait first displayed
at the family dinner table where his controlling
father tied a rubber band to his son’s hand yanking it whenever Nelson
favored his left hand. At Dartmouth the young
man invited cat calls. Imagine, it took guts. First of all, Nelson’s loved Dartmouth. I cannot overstress how
much he loved this place. He loved it when he was here
and he loved it even more after he was here. There was a Dartmouth mafia that he surrounded himself with every bit as much as Kennedy’s Irish mafia or the suntan Californians
around Ronald Reagan. He loved this place. But he did say one thing,
it’s very interesting. Of course there were no women
at Dartmouth in those days and he had come from the Lincoln school, a progressive school
funded and really founded by his father in New
York which had been coed and he said he missed the sensitivity of that environment. The sensitivity that comes
from having both sexes as part of the educational exercise. So anyway, he volunteered to teach little girls Sunday school at the church, the White church here. Now here’s what took guts. By the way, Abby was so happy, she sent him two pounds of kumquats to share with the little girls. (audience laughs) Here’s the walking contradiction, ok? Here’s Nelson, this
exquistely sensitive soul, who courageously is
spending his Sunday mornings teaching little girls the Bible and when that’s over he
takes them by the hand and he walks, you know, past the end. Well, that’s where the guts came in because of course his less devoted or selfless or sensitive classmates found this a great occasion
to hoot and cat call and the like. Well anyway, Nelson is what
I call the sensitive pugilist because one Sunday he was
pushed beyond endurance and he knocked a classmate down in front of these little girls whom
he’d been teaching all about biblical… (laughs) But that was an important lesson, too. (audience laughs) In the 1930s he displayed
elbows just as sharp in finding tenants for Rockefeller Center. There’s a reason why in the 1930s they called the Empire State Building
the Empty State Building. All of those folks were
at Rockefeller Center and the main reason they were
at Rockefeller Center was because of this young,
extraordinarily aggressive promoter. Competitors accused him
of emulating old John D. at his most piratical. What they meant as an insult,
Nelson took as a compliment. On the other hand, traditionalists
at the standard companies resented his earnest way sermons about justifying wealth
before multiplying wealth. In New Deal Washington the fresh
faced first time bureaucrat managed to outmaneuver
veterans like Cordell Hull and Wild Bill Donovan. Their displeasure was
shared by John Foster Dulles and the tight-fisted managers
of the Eisenhower White House heedless of consequences. No sooner had he been
elected governor in 1958, then he anticipated John Kennedy’s call to get this country moving again by publicly assailing Dwight
Eisenhower’s defense policies. It’s hard to imagine today what a gutsy, or maybe foolhardy thing that was to do. Ike was still an enormously
popular president with total credibility
particularly where the military was concerned and Nelson
Rockefeller coming off of the brother’s funded, the series of Special Studies, believed, as indeed did John F. Kennedy and many others, that
looking down the road and that’s what he did all of his life. You have to remember, Nelson… Most politicians and
incrementalists they live in the here and now. They congratulate themselves
if they prevent things from getting worse. Nelson Rockefeller lived 10,
20, 30 years in the future. I think that’s a key to
understanding the kind of leader he was and why in many ways he’s out of fashion but he’ll come back. Through it all Rockefeller persisted in his headstrong ways and why not? Through rigorous application
he’d overcome dyslexia to earn a Phi Beta Kappa Key here at Dartmouth. At the organizing conference
at the United Nations in San Fransisco, he’d
stared down Douglas, the Soviet delegation and most of his own countries representatives to enact Article 51 and
you probably don’t know but Article 51made it
possible for Nato to exist. That was Nelson Rockefeller’s insistence against great odds. In 1958 his most trusted
advisor Frank Jamieson counseled against running for governor against Averel Hariman in what looked to be a
certain democratic year. As a consolation prize, Tom
Dewey condescendingly offered to make him postmaster of New York City. Rockefeller defied the kingmakers and snatched the crown for himself. In 1966 and again in 1970 he was informed that voters were sick of him, his taxes, his bond issues,
his endless initiatives, even the sight of his face on television. Both times he came from
behind in textbook campaigns that remade the face of
modern American politics. To this day the best political commercials that have ever been created were those that sold Governor Rockefeller in 1966. They included the talking fish, that talked about how he had
cleaned up the Hudson River. There was the wonderful luau music while it was pointed out
that Governor Rockefeller had built enough roads to go all the way to Hawaii and back. (audience laughs) In any event, they are masterpieces of concision and substance and yes, wit. And when is the last
time you could say any of those things about
a political commercial? Finally in the last year of his life the art establishment reacted with horror to his populous notion of
making quality reproductions available to the general public. He plunged ahead earning
almost a million dollars and planning on the day he
died to announce an expansion of the Nelson Rockefeller Collection Inc. Because he told friends
he never looked back, it’s often assumed he never looked within. But listen to the following from a letter he wrote to
his mother in March 1933. He was 24 at the time, a
new husband and father, destined to inherit a great fortune and groping for a purpose
to match his prospects. “Dear Mom, “I find life just as
perplexing and pointless “as Lawrence does, only
as I have a driving force “in me and a happy go lucky
nature, I keep on going. “A great many things that I do, question. “One, I agree with you
that I talk too much “about the family and
that I lack sympathy. “These two points I will try and correct. “Two, I don’t agree with
you that I should talk more “about myself and what I’m doing. “I make a definite effort
not to as it would probably “be exceedingly boring
and talking about oneself “is man’s greatest weakness
and a sign of conceit. “Lord knows I have enough
trouble fighting down conceit. “Three, I think that you give
me too much credit when you “say you don’t think that I
really am heard and unfeeling. “I’m sorry to say that I’m both of these. “Not naturally, but by
schooling myself to be. “That sounds strange
but I think it is true. “It is a result of my
overpowering ambition. “If one is gonna get
very far in this world, “one must be impersonal “and not waste ones emotional
strength on irrelevant things. “Probably if I were a little more humble “it would solve a good many questions. “Anyway, I’ll make an effort “and I do appreciate your letter. “If I saw the point of it all,
it would be somewhat simpler, “but who knows? I may someday. “Don’t worry Mom, we’ll
all stick together anyway. “Your devoted bad boy, Nelson. “P.S. I bought A Swell Blue
Hippopotamus by Carl Walters “from Misses Halpert,
wait until you see it!” There, in that postscript is
the real Nelson Rockefeller. That’s where he lets down his guard. No longer the cooly
analytical bystander taking his own emotional temperature. He gives full reign to
his natural exuberance. His enthusiasms would frequently
supersede his detachment espeecially where art was concerned. “Nelson needs art more
than any man I know,” said his friend, Alfred Burr. “All kinds of art,” Burr might’ve added, “Primitive and modern, Pre-Columbian “and Andy Warhol, Chinese, Japanese, “Indian, Iranian,
European, Mexican pottery “and Eskimo reindeer, totem poles “and Rodin Bronzes, Calder Mobiles “and Tiffany lamps, Japanese
prince and African folk art.” I talked to Mark Hatfield,
his fellow governor, and moderate republican and he told me the wonderful
story about visiting on Fifth Avenue and being given a tour through the triplex and seeing
all of this extraordinary art and when it was over he said,
“Nelson, I’m blown away. “I’ve never seen anything like this, “but I’d be curious, could you tell me, “of all your collections, which is the one “that gives you the most pleasure?” And he said, “Oh, that’s
easy. It’s my China.” He said, “You know,
Mark, sometimes I get up “in the middle of the night
just to set the table.” (audience laughs) In the late 1950s, the
late R.W. Johnny Apple now on the mainstay of the New York Times, but then employed by
the Wall Street Journal, briefly dated the
governors daughter, Mary. He recounted for me his very first visit to the Rockefeller apartment. “I got off the elevator
and the first thing I see “is the Bird in Flight of
Brancusi, right there!” And he says, “How are ya? You like art?” I said, “Oh yeah, yes I do, very much,” without a word to Mary or anything else, he went down and then took a right and there was a full room with the kinds of things they have in study collections. Those big sliding walls on rollers. You pull one out and there were eight or 10 pictures on it and
they were amazing things. I said, “These things just sit in here “unless somebody comes in
and you roll them out?” He said, “Out of walls.” (audience laughs) Apple couldn’t help himself. I said, “Four or five houses
and you’re out of walls?” He said, “I’ve been out
of walls for years.” (audience laughs) No wonder Todd Rockefeller once said of her husband’s proliferating collections which eventually numbered 16,000 objects, “These boxes kept coming in “and I never know what to do about them.” The 1950s were a difficult time for Nelson Rockefeller. In Eisenhower’s Washington he was close to power but he had little of his own. So when depressed he would
summon René d’Harnoncourt, whom he had installed as director of the Museum of Modern Art, to fly to the nations
capital with a suitcase full of Peruvian gold objects to cheer him up in d’Harnoncourt’s words. Others found his passion
literally mystifying. One upstate lawmaker invited for drinks and discussion at Albany’s
ramshackle executive mansion planted himself before
an abstract painting more vivid than coherent. Finally, it came to him. “That’s the way the world looked to me “on the day I discovered
sex,” he observed. (audience laughs) Rockefeller’s reaction is
unknown but imaginable. Not long before he died he
confessed disappointment at having to explain his
challenging posessions to the uninitiated. Art didn’t lend itself to explanation. Art was something to be felt and felt differently according
to ones mood or outlook. In other words it wasn’t
ultimately the artist who defined the work, but it’s owner. For Nelson Rockefeller art was simultaneously spiritual and sensual. Above all else, it existed on his terms. More than once I’ve been tempted to call my book “Nothing in Moderation,” another paradox because
after all Nelson Rockefeller is synonymous with moderate republicanism. In candid moments he readily confessed that he did most things to excess. As a protege of George Hinman, familiar name around here, the governors long time
ambassador to the National GOP. Bobby Douglas recalled for me a plane trip during which the governor
showed off his taste for lifes finer things. Nelson’s looking at a bunch
of pictures in a folder. He said, “George what
do you think of this?” Here’s this absolutely beautiful
jet, a Lockheed JetStar or something and George said,
“Well that’s very nice.” The governor would say,
“Look at the design of this,” and toss over another picture. It was a Ferrari and George says, “It’s a beautiful car.” And then he tossed over
another picture of a boat and George says, “Well Nelson,
why don’t you buy the JetStar “and then you get the Ferrari
and then you buy the boat “and then you can decide
it’s time to no longer “be governor of New York State.” And Nelson said, “Well I
could drive the Ferarri “around Cricket.” (audience laughs) In much of the same spirit, his pension for self-medication was
notorious among friends. His osteopath, Ken Riland, once said “It’s a good thing he
never went into medicine.” Press Secretary Hugh Morrow joked, “After we got that drug
law passed the first guy “whose gonna get arrested
is Nelson Rockefeller.” The owner of five homes and all those pieces of art was not generously endowed with irony. Rockefeller instructed Albert Schweitzer on the dysentery fighting
properties of Sofa, with the same brass plated
assurance that prompted him to move furniture in strangers houses and once rearranged a
sound system installed by the shah of Iran. (audience laughs) But again it was the dyslexia and the visual intelligence and the need to control his environment. I talked to people who said literally it was almost impossible
for him, even in Kiket to walk through a room and not adjust a picture
or move an ashtray just a fraction of an inch. He had that kind of eye. This may have been
genetic befitting a family that provided its offspring when young with a five hundred
thousand dollar playhouse in the French Normandy style along with weekly allowances of 50 cents. Having been drilled from an early age in the virtues of self-denial, the adult Rockefeller resolved
when still similar qualities in his young sons Nelson and Mirk. He said as much one
day when he interrupted an environmental briefing in Albany to ask “What are phosphates?” “Governor, that’s something
used in dishwashers.” “Well,” said Rockefeller, “I use one “of these little mops.” “Governor,” asked one brave
staffer, “You wash dishes?” “Sure,” he responded as
they looked on slack jawed. “When the boys and I go to camp, “we each take turns washing dishes. “It’s part of teaching
them self-reliance,” at which point everyone in
the room exploded in laughter. As a small boy attending
the decidedly progressive Lincoln school, to which
his parents sent him in preference to more
traditional establishments, Nelson Rockefeller was
heard to ask one teacher, “What are we gonna
learn today that’s new?” (audience laughs) It was a question he never stopped asking. If he recalls anyone, it is
I think an earlier governor of New York, about whom
we heard yesterday, and about whom revealingly
he chose to reminisce on his very last day as
governor in December 1973, but the most notorious of
all Theodore Roosevelt’s famed malefactors of wealth happened to be John B. Rockefeller, had not prevented Roosevelt
from becoming a family friend or from spellbinding John D.’s grandsons with rousing tales of African safaris. Nelson characteristically
wanted to know more. Specifically how it was a deer had managed to get a longneck giraffe
into a railroad car for the long journey home. Four years after he split
the republican party, opening fissures which
remain unhealed to this day, the roughrider renewed his
interest in the presidency but only, he said, if the American people were in a heroic mood. If for all his noisy
exuberance and progressive aura Theodore Roosevelt, at heart,
was a thoughtful conservative, a pragmatic product of
Manhattan’s brownstones who balanced budgets and
threw open the windows of a musty society to
forestall violent changes. Roosevelt understood
that unregulated monopoly could pose a greater threat
than unrestrained government, not least because it
encouraged radical tendencies among those exploited
by economic predators. He serves his party best,
T.R., who most helps to make it instantly responsive
to every need of the people. Nelson Rockefeller said
much of the same thing in more personal language. “When you stop to think
of it,” he once mused, “who has more to conserve than I do?” Like the first Roosevelt
to go into politics, the first Rockefeller to seek
office invited caricature, yet he was too large to fit any single label. Entrepreneur, philanthropist, statesman, patron of the arts, outdoors men, frustrated architect,
geopolitical strategist, urban planner, and for 15
years the dominant figure on the second most
important political stage in the land. The parallels do not end there. Just as T.R. displayed a reckless courage in challenging the conservative
goals of his party, so Nelson Rockefeller found himself torn between conviction and ambition. More loyal to his party than
many of his fiercest critics on the right, Rockefeller was
nevertheless typecast unfairly as a political spoiled sport. From an early age he had
learned to manipulate people above all his high-minded
father, applying the same charm, persuasion, and occasionally
guile, way to use to cajole tax increases disguised as fees out of the New York State legislature. But charm has its limits especially in the dangerous back
alleys of New York politics. “Had he been poor,” his
aid Jim Cannon told me, “he would have been the
best bar room street fighter “on the lower East side.” As evidence Cannon
described an impending visit to Washington at a critical juncture in Rockefeller’s fight to
secure revenue sharing. The fact of the matter is, he needed half a billion dollars to plug a hole in the
New York state budget in the early 1970s and he came up with the idea of revenue sharing and
then he had to sell it, needless to say. Now, why was there half a billion dollar? Well, the governor liked ideas. He liked big ideas and if the big ideas had a big price tag, that was something he was
perfectly willing to live with. How many times in those 15 years in Albany did this conversation or
some variation of it occur? Occasionally someone on the staff, someone especially new
or particularly brave would pipe up and say,
“Governor, it’s a great idea, “but the problem is money,” to which he would shoot back, “No, “the solution is money, the problem is, “how do we get the money?” (audience laughs) By the early 70s the
problem and the solution had become one. So that’s the origin of
federal revenue sharing. Well to members of Congress who of course are accustomed to doling out
federal by just themselves, this was a concept both
exotic and menacing. As Cannon explained it to the governor virtually every member of
his states congressional delegation was opposed to revenue sharing. “Great,” replied the
governor, grinning broadly. “Let’s you and I go down
and take them all on.” (audience laughs) Never was this combative
streak more memorably displayed than it is in Priorities 1964 Convention. The book opens with the amazing scene of Tuesday night at the
Republican Convention when those who were in
charge of the convention first of all, doing
everything they can to delay, first of all, letting Nelson
Rockefeller come to the stage. They’d get Ike out of retirement to give a speech. They read the entire 15
thousand word platform, figuring that’ll take 90 minutes and by the time the
governor comes up, you know, at least it won’t be
prime time in the East. No one who saw him commanding the podium in the Cow Palace, his jaw jutting out like the prowl of a dread knot, taunting his enemies while
confirming his harshest allegations about their alleged extremism is ever likely to forget the scene. The next morning the governor
encounter his press secretary, Hugh Morrow, appearing more than slightly the worse for wear. “You look like the wrath
of God,” he told Morrow. “Frankly,” Morrow said,
“I went out last night “and got drunk.” “What for?” asked Rockefeller. “I enjoyed every minute of it.” Though true, this was
hardly the whole truth. Facing down the newly
ascendant Goldwater rights. Rockefeller later confided
to an aid for the first time in his life, he felt like hitting someone. He must have forgot that
incident Sunday morning here at Dartmouth. He very nearly acted on the impulse. When the conventions presiding officer, Senator Thruston Morton,
tried not so gently to usher him off the stage
before his five minutes were up, Rockefeller put his hand
over a live microphone. “If Morton didn’t back
off,” said the speaker, even as the hall resounded
to cries of, “We want Barry!” “I’ll deck you right here “in front of everyone.” He finished his five minutes. Until now the sheer drama
of that confrontation has largely obscured all that
Barry Goldwaters republican party that night was rejecting not only Nelson Rockefeller but the family and the culture which
for most of a century had done battle against fundamentalists of one kind or another. Who was it, after all,
who built Riverside Church as a hymn to modern ecumenism? Replacing the saints of
old with stony images of Darwin and Booker T. Washington. Who had made the help of
Southern sharecroppers part of the national agenda? Who preached global
independence on the gospel of population control long before either one was fashionable? In politics as an art, it
was Nelson Rockefeller’s fate to be surrounded by primitives. Nor was that the worst of it. Even while he lived, some
journalists emphasized the defeats he suffered over
the victories he gained. Bill Ronan, whose title of secretary of the governor only hinted at the pivotal role that he played throughout the govenorship and beyond was once asked to explain
the on again off again pursuit of the White House by his boss. His response was, “The
candle in the mauve.” Others resorted to Freudian theories. Long time personal secretary Anne Whitman believed that Rockefeller
in fact harbored doubts about his capacity for the job. The courtly George Hinman
attributed his patron zigzag course to having been exposed
at an impressionable age to Franklin D. Roosevelt,
a daunting role model whose shadow he never fully escaped. What all this overlooks
of course, the fact is beyond any mans control. Long before Nelson Rockefeller burst on the national political scene, the forces that had
nominated Wilkie, Dewey and Eisenhower were largely spent. They were yield in control to the South and the West in the party. It wasn’t simply that
he was born too late. More than a victim of
timing, he was a victim of his own temperament. Wooing a party distrustful of government, he held that the surest
way to become president was to demonstrate a genius for governing. Having the best ideas, the
most creative programs, the most talent associates might gain him endorsement
from the New York Times and the State Labor Council. It gave him license to
poach on black, Hispanic and other ethnic voters off limits to more conventional republicans yet his very success at home alienated Rockefeller
from the National GOP whose heart as early
as 1968, I would argue, belonged to Ronald Reagan even as it’s head dutifully nodded in the direction of Richard Nixon. Following Nixon’s narrow
first ballet nomination in Miami, a radio reporter
asked the governor, “Why are political
party hungry for victory had never seen fit to anoint one of its biggest vote getters.” Rockefeller arched the
most expresive eyebrows in American politics. “Have you ever been to a
republican convention?” he replied. (audience laughs) Pressed on why he hadn’t simply changed his party registration,
he invariably replied, he would much rather be
pushing the GOP elephant forward than holding the
democratic donkey back. Shrewd, self-knowledge. He pursued power, as most other things, on his own terms all of which led Bob Hartmin who was in the Ford White House. One of his friends and
allies, we just lost him a week ago at the age of 91. He was the man who wrote,
“Our long national nightmare is over,” and he became a great friend and great fan of Nelson
Rockefeller’s in the White House and he said something very, very shrewd. He took the old Henry Clay line and he turned it inside out and he said he would rather be Nelson
Rockefeller than president. To many he seems a quasi-tragic figure, all but consumed by the
pursuit of the presidency. In fact, he was anything
but single-minded. Listen to his campaign
strategist, John Deardorff, recalling the 1964 Oregon primary, primary he won by the way, during which Nelson Rockefeller
juggled his Albany duties with a punishing schedule
of West coast appearances and in those days, going
to Oregon and back… First of all, you had to stop in Nebraska to refuel and it was a major effort. Anyway, returning one night
aboard his F27 Wayfarer, Rockefeller retreated
to the tail of the plane which had been reconfigured
to include a bed for the candidate who preferred
reading art catalogues to briefing books. “So we’re on our way back form
Portland,” says Deardorff. “It’s probably 1am Eastern
time and just about everybody “else is asleep but I’m not. “So I’m sitting with my little
reading light on,” he said, “Johnny!” “I look around “and he’s sitting like a potentate, “with his legs crossed and
he’s got his bathrobe on “and he’s in the back of the plane. “He says, “Come back here.” “He’s got something spread
out in front of him. “I go back and I get
on the bed next to him “and he’s got the plans
for the Albany Mall. “And he proceeds to spend
two hours telling me “about what this is gonna look like “and how important this is gonna be “to the architecture world
and how this gonna give Albany “a kind of class that it’s never had. “It’s gonna be the most
important capital in the world!” “And he goes on and on and on. “I’m 20 to 25 thousand feet in the air, “we’re chugging along in this thing “and here I am at age 31, I’m sitting “with Nelson Rockefeller in
his bathrobe, in his airplane “and he gives me the whole
story of what this Albany mall “is gonna look like when
he gets the legislature “to approve the money and it’s
clearly as important to him “as the trip we were just completing. “And there are two things about
that,” concluded Deardorff. “One is, first of all, it
confirms the love of architecture “and his love of these monumental things “and I don’t know that he even saw it “as a monument to himself. “I don’t think he did.” It was almost like a fallback position. It was something he could
have loved no matter what and I always thought, and I still do, that for him, unlike a Nixon for example, the presidency was not the ultimate prize. He said this one time, “They’re
gonna take me like a hammer, or they’re not gonna take me.” He was gonna be president
on his own terms. That’s the way he felt about happy and that whole relationship. It was willful. It was a sign of the size of
his ego that he could say it, but he meant it. It wasn’t phony. If they think I got
something to give them, and they like what I’m talking about, if they like the ideas, ok. If not, so what? And that’s something to remember and maybe contrast with a current campaign and I’m not pointing a finger
at any candidate or any party. One major reason why Nelson
Rockefeller, in my opinion, never became president because there’s a fundamental disconnect between what kind of
president he wanted to be and the corresponding naive notion that a campaign for president
was an educational exercise. It wasn’t supposed to be
about trivia and distractions and what ministers say or if you misremembered trips to Bosnia. It was supposed to be
about ideas and programs. In 1964, he had positions on 400 issues and he could tell you all 400 from the space program to
U.S. relations with Thailand. And they were his ideas. And that’s why he ran for president. To get ideas out into the public, to convince the American people
that this was worth doing. Just as in his first year as governor, when he decided in order to have any kind of program, he had to raise taxes. He’d just been elected. He’s a multi-billionaire candidate. You can’t imagine a more
difficult or unpopular or politically challenging
thing to do and yet he did it. And in the end, he got the
taxes, he got the program. That was the origin of the
State University of New York and so much more and he demonstrated a very old fashioned concept which is don’t run for president just because you like to campaign. Don’t be president if you
think you’re never gonna have to make tough, politically,
unpopular decisions, decisions that cost you. He was a fundamentally constructive force in American politics. That’s how he governed in New York, that’s how he campaigned
for the presidency and in my opinion, that’s the kind of president he would have been. There is one final reason
why he was fundamentally out of sync with the Republican party as it was evolving in the 1960s. Stu Spencer who was this wonderful gruff sort of cigar chewing
political consultant from California told me at one real point in
the California primary, and there were many. They sat it out way behind. In any event, at one
point he says, “Governor, I think it’s time to call in
the Eastern establishment.” And Rocky says, “You’re
looking at it buddy, “I’m all that’s left.” (audience laughs) Self-knowledge. But anyway Stu Spencer
also told me a story even more revealing about him and about the party. He was in San Diego which
is Goldwater country, and he was in a room full of
elderly blue haired ladies all of whom were passionately for Barry and who thought he probably had horns and he came into the room
for a breakfast meeting and by sheer charm and charisma he had actually managed to melt the ice. And they were actually warming up to him. They were in danger of maybe
even considering voting for him and then, just when he had
sort of turned the key, out of the corner of an
eye he saw a black waiter who was removing dishes and something clicked. He had been told whatever you do, don’t mention open housing. The referenda on that combustible subject was on the primary ballot and needless to say, endorcing it would not win him any votes in the Republican primary. He saw this waiter and something as I say happened and he started talking about open housing and how important it was for people of all races
and creeds and backgrounds to live as neighbors in
the same neighborhood and on and on and on and you could feel the
temperature falling in the room and as soon as he was done he got onto the plane and Stu Spencer gets on with this look and the governor says, “I
guess I really screwed up, “didn’t I?” And Spencer told me, “But you know what, “he did not sound the least bit contrite.” (audience laughs) Which brings me to a final surprise, maybe the most historically
significant of all hinted at in a casual remark
he made in January 1971. Richard Nixon had just delivered his third State of the Union address a document bearing
unmistakable similarities to Nelson Rockefeller’s
fourth inaugural address. Perhaps Rockefeller told a
friend without bitterness, “Perhaps this my real role in politics. “He might never be president himself “but he were to surely help
to set the nation’s agenda.” Stop and think how he
set the nation’s agenda. The most undiplomatic of diplomats in standing up to the
foreign policy establishment at San Fransisco and elsewhere,
he had layed the groundwork to oppose Soviet expansionism. Through his international
basic economy corporation, he recreated American foreign policy and foreign aid programs including Point Four, which
Harry Truman entrusted to his oversight. Invited by President
Eisenhower to reorganize the Federal establishment, he invented the Department of Health,
Education and Welfare, added 10 million people
to social security, took away the notion that
as soon as those Republicans come back into power, it’s
gonna be back to Herbert Hoover. By the way, he didn’t stop there. It’s extraordinary how the seeds that he planted bore fruit
years and years later. It wasn’t until 1967 that his idea for a Federal Department of Transportation came into existence. It was a gathering of experts assembled under his leadership that
produced Ike’s groundbreaking Open Skies proposal that placed the Soviets on
the propaganda defensive. I’ve already mentioned
the Special Studies. The fact is the Rockefeller
brothers Special Studies supplied a blueprint for
presidents of both parties throughout the 1960s. Guess where the phrase, “the
new frontier,” originated? As governor of New York
Nelson Rockefeller redefines states rights to mean
states responsibilities with profound implications
for 21st Century America. His Pure Waters program, like
the Adirondack State Park, and a host of other
environmental initiatives, stamped him as an unlikely tree hugger. John Kennedy might be line
eyes for the glittering artists who filled his White House
but it was Nelson Rockefeller who insisted against great
odds and occasional ridicule that the state spelled
first with a small ‘s,’ and then with a capital
one, should support the creative impulse. Why do you think we have
a national endowment for the arts or a national
endowment for the humanities? Because Nelson Rockefeller
insisted in 1959 that New York state
would be the first state in the Union to have a
state council on the arts. Call him a fiscal Hamiltonian but in one crucial aspect
he was a Jeffersonian of the purest stripe. “Architecture is my delight,”
vowed the Sage of Monticello, “and putting up and pulling down one “of my favorite amusements.” Which brings me to a final parallel between the artist and the politician. For each creativity comes
the price of criticism. The more audacious the vision, the more predictable the assault. In the words of Robert Browning, “Ah, but a mans reach
should exceed his grasp. “Well what’s a heaven for?” Once I asked one of his oldest friends to describe Governor
Rockefeller’s religious beliefs. And he replied, as others
have, in almost the same words, “He expected to meet
his mother in heaven.” Biographers are not theologians, however, if Nelson
Rockefeller’s spiritual vision has been realized, I
have no doubt that mother and son, accompanied by Michael are striding enthusiastically through some celestial gallery. Their faces wear a look of rapture over the latest exhibition
of the avant-garde mingled with conspiratorial glee as they plan to shield
their newest purchases from a disapproving Junior. (audience laughs) It goes without saying
that the Governor is out of wall space. Meanwhile, the unopened
crates are piling up, enough to occupy the most
acquisitive of collectors for ages to come but
then Nelson Rockefeller always took the long view. Thank you very much. (audience applause) – Thank you, Thank you. Thank you very much, you’re very kind and we got a few minutes and
we can do a few questions. Comments, observations? Constructive criticism? (audience laughs) It’s all… Okay, just raise a hand. Yep. – [Voiceover] Hi, you talked about his concern about being touched and how does that explain the big bear hug and the, “Hi ya fella”? – [Voiceover] Oh I know,
but it was on his terms. No, and the great Latin
American abrazo, he loved… He was a Latin. He loved South America. He was in his element in South America. He loved going out in the fields and talking to campesinos, I mean, he really, really emotionally connected with Latin Americans and
there were lots of hugs, but you know, he initiated them. And again, I’ll tell you my source. It’s from a secret service agent who had two former campaign aids both of whom, one of their
function was basically to kind of hang back, and you know, make sure that people
didn’t get too close. Yep. Oh okay, over there. Yeah. – I’m a little curious about the… Rockefeller was extremely
hawkish when it came to foreign policy. – [Voiceover] I’m sorry? – Rockefeller was extremely
hawkish when it came to foreign policy. You mentioned his displeasure with the parsimonious
budget, the defense budgets of the Eisenhower administration Most of his, the Munich Agreement, the
Fifth Avenue Compromise with Nixon in 1960 was getting Nixon to agree to bigger defense budgets– – [Voiceover] and Civil rights. – And Civil Rights but was that the kicker in the Republican dismay with Rockefeller? – [Voiceover] Well that’s a good question. The fact is, in the
Eisenhower White House, for example, he was all set
to become secretary of defense in the later part of the administration. It was all set. And then the budget hawks and the people around Dulles, the real fiscal conservatives, basically revolted and said, you know, he spends money like a Democrat. And the nomination was withdrawn. The fact is he was Franklin Roosevelt’s, you know, protege. And he was a New York Republican which meant very much in the
tradition of Theodore Roosevelt or Tom Dewey, who in fact was, you know, very much someone who
accommodated the new deal, so he was seen as maybe
the word accomodationist. Now the great irony is throughout his public career,
he was very frustrated. He would go to meetings
of Republican delegates, true believers, conservatives,
and he’d say, you know, “I don’t understand what the
problem is you have with me. “You know, because, I’m strong on defense, “I’m militant anticommunist, “no one believes stronger than I do “in a robust private sector, so you know, “why can’t you give me
the domestic programs?” If Nelson Rockefeller had not existed, he would had to of been invented. Those people needed a lightning rod. You know and in many ways
he fulfilled that role. But you are right. Even there, there are gradations. In 1968 for example, he understood that Vietnam was going nowhere and he and Henry Kissinger, who was more hawkish than he was, but he understood the need to find a way to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. He also, interestingly
enough, because Richard Nixon, quite understandably gets the
credit for going to China, but even before Nixon’s 1967 article in foreign affairs in which
he sort of talked about China, Nelson Rockefeller was privately talking about an openator China. And again, some of that
may have been Kissinger, but also remember the
Rockefeller families ties to China were very longstanding. The college, the medical
school that they’d opened in Bejing, you know,
early in the 20th Century. I mean they had, you know… He understood the world. I think that what we really lost when Nelson Rockefeller
didn’t become president was someone who was cosmopolitan enough to understand other people on their terms without, in any way,
conceding our interests and I think that’s a
pretty attractive model for an American president
in very complicated times. – [Voiceover] But his
1969 to South America was a catastrophe. – It was a catastrophe. It was also in many
ways a personal tragedy. He was told he couldn’t go to Venezuela. And of course he had
the ranch in Venezuela and he had invested hugely in Venezuela not to make a profit but I mean, during the water and after the war to demonstrate the capitalism cared about people who had basically been neglected
by their own government. So I mean there is great irony and there’s no doubt, I mean, that trip was, it was a
terribly painful trip. He never whined, he never complained. I think he was more frustrated that Richard Nixon put
the report on the shelf when he came back and I think, to be hones with you, I think it’s entirely possible
Richard Nixon sent him in the first place to sort of keep him out of his hair during the first year of his presidency. – [Voiceover] We’re gonna
take one last question. – Yeah. Yeah? – [Voiceover] What president
is Rockefeller most like? – Without a doubt,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Buoyant, optimistic, loving every day of life and of the job. FDR, I think, was more unknowable. FDR spoke to millions as my friends and had almost no real friends. I think he was more distant in that sense but I think, there’s
no doubt that FDR took to Nelson Rockefeller. I mean, I think almost
the first time they met, he saw in him something… Even the flattery, the shameless flattery. If you look at young Roosevelt in his sort of callow days, you could see the makings
of the mature Roosevelt but he’s a pretty bumptious character and I think he looked
at Nelson Rockefeller, and he saw, in many ways a
younger version of himself. Nelson Rockefeller loved ideas and you know, if he had 100 ideas a day, that was wonderful. You know, if one of them turned out to be really valid and that sense of intellectual exuberance I think reflected very much the way FDR approached governing. And I also think Nelson
himself said he learned a lot about administration
from Franklin Roosevelt, that, you know, conservatives
and republican businessmen always excoriate FDR then and now for not doing things
in a businesslike way. You know, the old line was
he’d appoint three people to do one job or one person to do the job of three people. Rockefeller was very observant and he spent a lot of time
in the Roosevelt White House and he watched, he saw,
as a student of power, he watched what the president did and he understood. He understood that, first
of all, FDR didn’t like personal confrontations. He understood how government operated. If you were going to be quote rational and businesslike you had no place in the Federal government. If you had someone who was well meaning but not up to the job, you had two choices. You could get rid of him
with all the hurt feelings and consequences or you could ignore him and have someone else do the job and the fact of the matter
is, it worked pretty well. I guess we won World War II and ended the Depression and transformed the presidency and I think it’s very interesting, in 1970 when the Eleanor Roosevelt wing was added and dedicated at the Hyde Park at the Roosevelt Library, Governor Rockefeller who, by the way, was physically fearless, he walked away. I documented at least three plane crashes that he walked away from in his life and he was in a helicopter and thunderstorms, very menacing weather. Everyone said, “You can’t go,” and he said, “I’m going,” and he got there 15 minutes
before the ceremony ended because he wanted to pay tribute to the man who was in
many ways his patron. He had an autographed picture… He had a picture of his son Michael on his desk and nearby he had an
autographed photo of FDR. And anyone who saw it, he
said, “Oh, he was a great man. “He was a great man.” And you could hear in his voice all the years rolled away and those very eventful
coming of age experience under the master. Imagine being tutored in politics by Franklin D. Roosevelt. So that’s his mentor. Thank you again everyone. (audience applause)

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