On Thursday September 22, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pam Evans Smith Arena in the HPER Center, nationally best-selling author and historian H.W. Brands spoke to a fairly large crowd of students, faculty, alumni, and community members. Brands came to Wittenberg as part of The Fred R. Leventhal Family Endowed Lecture and spoke about “From FDR to Obama: The Challenge and Promise of a Crisis Presidency.”
Brands spoke of how history can and does have something to do with the present and the future. “The fundamental fact of the study of the past and/or the future,” Brands stated, “is that everything that happens today is like something that happened in the past and unlike something that happened in the past. The hard part is figuring out whether the similarities or the differences are more important and we never know that until after the fact.” Brands went on to illustrate this point, mainly using events surrounding FDR’s presidency and Obama’s presidency. According to Brands, two of the main reasons that FDR was re-elected were that employment had gone down a bit and his fireside chats. FDR was only elected in the first place because he was not Herbert Hoover. “The president gets the credit when it’s sunny. He also gets the blame when it rains,” Brands commented, which means that the President is the ultimate scapegoat. Brands said that he would be surprised if Obama wins re-election because that would make Obama the first president to ever win re-election after the unemployment rate rose while he was in office. The unemployment rate when Obama took office in 2008 was about 6%; today the unemployment rate is about 9%.
Brands is not only an author and a historian; he is also a Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of more than 25 books, two of which have been Pulitzer Prize finalists. The fundamental question that he asks himself, in order to begin his writing, of history is “What were they thinking?” For instance, when he was writing his book about FDR, he tried to recreate the moment of the first fireside chat. Brands waited until a very cold winter night and the he turned off the heat in the house. He got under his covers, in the dark, and played the first fireside chat that FDR had with the depressed Americans of the 1930’s. Brands said, “it was like listening to the voice of my father or grandfather as they tucked me into bed.” It was this interest in history that spurred Brands to investigate the links between Obama and FDR.
Brands also held a question and answer session at 4:00 pm in the Ness Auditorium. Following the actual lecture, there was once again a Q&A session. After this Q&A session, Brands was selling and signing a selection of his books in Legends Lobby.
(Kayla Murphy, email@example.com)