In the late 1970s I loved watching a television series called Meeting of the Minds. It was the “brain child” of Steve Allen. It was a make believe round table discussion by historical figures. There were no housewives from Atlanta; there were no comic book heroes; there were no viking intrigues. Meeting of the Minds was about ideas.
“The series was filmed at television station KCET in Hollywood, California. As nearly as was possible, the actual words of the historical figures were used. The show was fully scripted, yet the scripts were carefully crafted to give the appearance of spontaneous discussion among historic figures. Guests included: Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Paine, Francis Bacon, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Daniel O’Connell, Catherine II, and Oliver Cromwell.”
The show introduced you to real, historical characters . . . it made you think . . . or let you think. Laying awake watching several episodes of “After Life” with Ricky Gervais on Netflix at three-thirty in the morning, a casual remark sent me wondering about real people and real problems. I thought about Meeting of the Minds and asked myself who would I liked to have a round table discussion with. From there, since politics and our president fills many of the posts on Facebook, I wondered about past presidents and who I would like to sit down with and talk. Well, really ask questions and let them talk.
I came up with two groups. #1 – Presidents I would like to meet and chat with: Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. #2 – Presidents I would not like to chat with: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Warren G. Harding.
The presidents I would not like to sit down with, George Washington because he is almost like a god. He led an army that was always on the brink of vanishing. At times there was little or no help from the government, and much of the population was for staying a colony of Great Britain. Abraham Lincoln? I just thought how sad it would be to talk to a man who had plans to heal our nation’s pain and hatred with me knowing that the battle is still being fought. With Harding, a man who had numerous affairs and did nothing to stop the criminal activities of his cabinet members and other government officials, it just seems tragic to have a man who lost all opportunity to lead America. He died in office.
So, why did I choose Thomas Jefferson? He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and he doubled the nation’s size with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He sent Lewis and Clark on their journey to learn more about the land that would eventually expand us from New Orleans to the Pacific Northwest. A great man and yet, he owned slaves . . . hundreds of them. In 1784, after his wife died, Jefferson took a trip to France. Traveling with him was a sixteen-year-old slave, Sally Hemings, the half-sister of Martha Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s wife. Hemings had children. DNA has proved the relationship. I would like to know how Jefferson, a man who believed in America and freedom, could own slaves. How did he reconcile his beliefs? Over a cup of coffee or two it would be nice just to talk to someone who made our country what it is.
Franklin Roosevelt? My buddy Art Mineo kept a framed picture of him in his studio. I loved morning coffee with Art and his wife Toni and I think I would like to sit and meet Franklin Roosevelt. His efforts and policies brought our country back for the brink of despair and depression. Artie’s family struggled in Brooklyn as he grew up. What I really admire about Art’s hero is not about his presidency, however. I would like to talk to him about his early political campaigns. He didn’t get the big bucks from backers, what he did was barnstorm. He tried to meet everyone in his district. If he saw someone with car trouble he would help them out and then tell them that he wanted their vote. He would ask about issues that mattered the most to them. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for senate reminds me of Roosevelt. Driving from town to town and just talking to the people. I would just like to hear Franklin’s version of his campaign style and how meeting people and listening to their problems energized him.
Lyndon Johnson didn’t start the war in Vietnam, but he escalated it. Anti-war rallies escalated, also. I did not enlist and was not drafted. He drew us into a war that eventually would kill over 58,000 of our people. I do not admire him for the war, but I do admire him for his efforts with civil rights, gun control, wilderness preservation, and protecting Social Security. Lyndon had a knack for choosing people with talent for administration and follow-through. His people would work long hours for him. However, he would also pit them against each other so they worked harder. He was a tireless worker, he worshiped connections. He was quick with decisions. He proposed to his wife shortly after meeting her. It took a little longer for me to propose to my wife Peggy, but not much. Johnson was a loyal American and a loyal Texan. He was born in Stonewall, Texas and died in Stonewall, Texas. I would like to see how Lyndon separates the war from his good work domestically for our country.
Richard Nixon followed Lyndon Johnson. As a young teenager I supported Richard Nixon and thought he should have defeated John Kennedy. I voted for him twice (not in the same election). Nixon ended the war in Vietnam and also ended the military draft. He restored relations with China, which led to official diplomatic relations between the two nations. He brought détente and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. “His administration generally transferred power from Washington D.C. to the states. He imposed wage and price controls for ninety days, enforced desegregation of Southern schools, established the Environmental Protection Agency and began the War on Cancer. Nixon also presided over the Apollo 11 moon landing, which signaled the end of the moon race. He was reelected in one of the largest electoral landslides in U.S. history in 1972 when he defeated George McGovern.” – Wikipedia
This man did so much good for America and yet, he resigned from office for breaking the law. He did the right thing of course. Many people really hate Richard Nixon. I feel sorry for him. I would just like to hear him talk about his life. So much of our history is linked with this president.
Think about it. Which presidents would you like to meet at Starbucks and listen to their insight on who they are, what they did, and why . . . and ask a few questions?