- 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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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
"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.
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.
I've lost my train of thought.
Yes, dyslexia was very important in another way.
God, I'm having a senior moment.
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.
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."
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?
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
In any event, they are masterpieces
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.
"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."
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."
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."
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.
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
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.
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?"
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?"
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."
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?"
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.
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
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,
"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.
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."
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
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,
And Spencer told me, "But you know what,
"he did not sound the least bit contrite."
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.
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.
- Thank you,
Thank you very much, you're very kind
and we got a few minutes and we can do a few questions.
Okay, just raise a hand.
- [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.
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.
- [Voiceover] What president is Rockefeller most like?
- Without a doubt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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
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.