Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Surprising Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Norton Smith

Difficulty: 0

- 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.


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?


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.


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,


"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)


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.


- [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.

- 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)

The Description of The Surprising Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Norton Smith