Author and presidential historian Michael Beschloss spoke Thursday night at UNC Charlotte Center City, as part of the second annual Chancellors Speaker Series and the 49er Democracy Experience.
Beschloss a registered independent and nonpartisan has written eight books about U.S. presidents, in addition to hosting the Discovery Channels series Decisions that Shook the World which won an Emmy in 2005.
Thursdays lecture focused on the four qualities historically found in great presidents. In the current election year, Beschloss said, these are qualities to look for in candidates to ask how they measure up.
• Presidential courage: Beschloss gave George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as examples of presidents who were willing to do the right thing, even if its unpopular, it may not get them re-elected, or worse.
• Oratorical skills: Candidates and presidents must be able to tell Americans about what might be unpopular and get them to accept it. Again, Beschloss talked about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. If they dont have that voice, and the ability to persuade people (to do whats needed and unpopular), theyll be limited in their ability to serve.
• Sense of history: Beschloss said every president will face unexpected and tough decisions, while having only fragmented information. History gives context, and is a very useful tool in leadership. Beschloss said the same is true in determining the success or shortcomings of a presidency. These guys look different decades later than they did at the time, he said, noting at least 30 to 40 years must pass to provide retrospect and context on an administrations policies. You have to know how the story ends.
• Ability to work with the other side: I dont just mean a Democratic president whos able to work with Republicans, Beschloss said. A candidate and president must have the imagination to understand why someone with drastically different views believes in them, he said.
Despite a bad month for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Beschloss said, the election isnt over yet.
A person might be a very good president, but as a candidate, they may not have A-plus performance skills. It has happened that a spectacular debate performance can turn things around and that could happen here, he said.
More than most elections in the last 40 years, this really has the promise to be between two philosophies of government.