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Fareed Zakaria GPS

America Picks a President

Aired November 04, 2012 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

In two days, America will pick its president for the next four years. We'll take two different looks at this moment in time.

First, a global perspective; we've assembled experts from Europe, the Middle East and Asia to tell us how the rest of the world sees this election.

Then, I have a panel of distinguished historians, Walter Isaacson, Edmund Morris and Sean Wilentz to look at our present and our future with an eye to the past. What do past campaigns and past presidents tell us about this nail-biter?

Also, Americans might be anxious to learn Tuesday's results, but the Chinese are even more anxious, perhaps, to learn who their new leaders will be, why they might have more at stake than we do.

But, first, here's my take. Whoever wins the election on Tuesday, on Wednesday either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will have to start worrying about the same urgent challenge: how to stop the U.S. from falling off the fiscal cliff.

This is, of course, the second cliff-hanger that the United States has faced in two years, the first being the debt ceiling debacle. How did the world's greatest democracy start functioning so badly? Maybe the next president can try to fix this broader problem.

But, first, the fiscal cliff. Unless Congress acts, the spending cuts and tax increases that would be triggered automatically next January would take 5.1 percent out of the country's GDP in one year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That would be one of the most severe experiments with austerity in history, larger than anything Greece, Spain, Italy or the United Kingdom has tried. In fact, it is almost three times the size of Britain's austerity program.

Once again, the rest of the world watches to see if the United States, the center of the global economy, will actually commit economic suicide.

The most puzzling aspect of our dilemmas is how manageable they are. Unlike Greece and Spain, or even Britain, the United States has a fundamentally healthy economy.

We have problems, but we have solutions to them. The true virtue of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan is that it illustrates that the United States' debt problem can be readily resolved as long as both parties compromise.

The truth is, most of America's problems could be solved using some version of the Simpson-Bowles approach. Imagine a bipartisan and independent panel that proposed comprehensive immigration reform or Social Security or tax reform. Perhaps we need an independent agency chartered by Congress to generate such plans when asked.

The American political system is simply not working. The parties have become too polarized; institutions and traditions of governance, like the filibuster, have been abused to create permanent gridlock.

And it's tempting to pretend this has always been a part of the country's raucous democracy and that both parties are to blame, but that's just not true.

Consider these facts: Over the past five years, Republicans in the Senate have threatened or used a filibuster 385 times. That is almost double the rate of the preceding five years and much more than the historic average.

Now, would Obama or Romney be better at breaking this deadlock? Each side makes its arguments. Obama has recently said that his re- election would "break the fever" and force Republicans to the bargaining table.

Romney partisans quietly admit that the Republican Party will have to accept higher taxes, but they claim that only one of its own can take them there.

Is either of these scenarios credible? I'm not sure. So far, Obama has clearly been more willing to compromise, though he is not blameless.

Maybe the Republican Party could accept reality and mathematics and recognize that tax revenues will have to go up to get a budget deal.

But one thing I am sure of, unless we fix our utterly dysfunctional political system, it is only a matter of time before we face the next cliff. And that next time, we will fall off and crash.

For more on this, you can read my column in this week's Time Magazine. Let's get started.

In a couple of days, we'll have a verdict from the American people whom we want to run this country, but what about the rest of the world? I have a great global panel.

From Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani, who is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; from Paris, Dominique Moisi, one of France's great public intellectuals and writers. In Tel Aviv, Ari Shavit is a senior correspondent at Haaretz.

And here in New York, we have Rula Jebreal. She has both Israeli and Italian citizenship and she has lived and worked as a writer and journalist in both countries.

Dominique, let me start with you. France had a great love affair with Barack Obama. Has it continued? Do the French -- are the French still overwhelmingly pro-Obama?

DOMINIQUE MOISI, FRENCH POLITICAL SCIENTIST, WRITER: Definitely, but I think for different reasons. In 2008, the French would have voted for Obama out of hope.

In 2012, they would still vote in a huge majority for Obama, but more out of fear of a Romney victory and of a return of an America they used to dislike.

ZAKARIA: Kishore, in the -- in Asia, Republicans have generally been quite popular. They've been regarded as pro-free trade, hard- headed.

You know, you think of Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Clearly, the Asians, certainly the Asian elites preferred them. What's the mood right now among Asia's elite?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI, DEAN, LEE KUAN YEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY: Well, let me emphasize on point. Both Romney and Obama would be acceptable to the Asians.

At the end of the day, they're both fairly careful, pragmatic souls. And, if you notice, Romney has surged to the center after he got the Republican nomination. And, you're right, in general Republicans have done very well in Asia.

But, at the same time, to be absolutely accurate, there's no doubt there's a clear preference for Obama in the region. I mean how many American presidents you know have spent their childhood in Asia, especially in a country like Indonesia?

How many of them speak an Asian language? How many of them have this sensitivity towards Asia that Obama has? So I guess the clear preference would be for Obama over Romney.

ZAKARIA: Ari Shavit, the one country -- I mean Pew had a survey in which they asked countries whom would you prefer? And I think it was literally all the countries polled except one that preferred Obama.

That one country was Pakistan, which I assume thinks that they will have less drone attacks if Romney is president which may be a mistaken assumption.

The country they didn't poll where I think it would possibly also be true was Israel. Would you say that in Israel Romney would be preferred to Obama?

ARI SHAVIT, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, HAARETZ: It's not that simple. I think Israel is divided just as America is divided.

It's absolutely true that the Israeli right, center-right, and I would say even large chunks of the center fear President Obama and therefore would support Romney not because of enthusiasm, but because of the very bad relationship between the Israeli right and the Israeli right-wing government and the Obama administration.

But I think that the Israeli center-left very much now identifies with Obama and would like to see an Obama victory and actually that will influence the election campaign in Israel. We have several players who are waiting to see the result of the American elections.

And, therefore, the Israeli center-left and definitely left actually support Obama, which was not the case when Obama began his tenure because, at the time, really most of Israelis had reservations about him.

I would say he became much more popular with the left and left- of-center while the right sees him in almost demonic terms.

ZAKARIA: Rula, you have, in a sense, two identities. You have multiple identities, but certainly two. One, you are an Arab-Israeli. The second, you are a news anchor in Italy so steeping in that European culture. How does it strike you?

RULA JEBREAL, ITALO-PALESTINIAN JOURNALIST, WRITER: Well, if you think of Europe, definitely Europe is pro-Obama. I mean they are seeing how pragmatic he was.

I mean we also took out of the way all this right-wing way of speaking, being tough with the world, insulting everybody no matter what, with them or against -- with us, America, or against us.

I mean this is a kind of language that the Arab world and especially Europe did not like, unilateral intervention.

Let's remember, the world also disliked Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the invasion of Iraq. I mean Obama stepped in and actually embraced the Arab Spring. Let's remember that.

ZAKARIA: Ari Shavit, you interviewed Romney and you said you found him to be a man of tremendous warmth. It was a very flattering profile. Do you think that there is a -- is the support that exists within Israel for him because he's a wonderful person or because you just think, at the end of the day, he'd support Israel more strongly?

SHAVIT: Well, first of all, he didn't share your view. The Romney people did not like -- did not think that the interview was flattering at all as they had some reservations of his charisma and the strength of his personality.

It's true that what came across in that interview is something that the Americans saw in the debates which is that the man is no demon and no he's not nothing.

And that was a very interesting experience to see that there was a certain exaggeration in the way he was perceived and the criticism or Romney. And, once meeting him, you could see that.

I think that Romney's failure isn't projecting really a clear message and a real strength. And there was something vague and just like on American policy, there was something vague and not very powerful regarding -- in his statements about the Middle East and the burning issue of Iran and all that.

So what you have in Israel is more -- it's all about Obama actually. It's not about Romney. There are those who really fear Obama and there are those -- and, therefore, they support Romney.

While the others actually fear that a Romney victory will strengthen the Israeli right and will deteriorate things within Israel and in the region.

ZAKARIA: All right, we have to take a break. When we come back, we're going to learn what do the Chinese think of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with our global panel: Kishore Mahbubani from Singapore; Rula Jebreal of Italy, Israel and New York; Dominique Moisi from France and Ari Shavit from Israel.

Kishore, China is also on the verge of its own leadership change. Do they have time, in the midst of this very dramatic change, to think about who would be a better president for them?

How do you think the Chinese are looking at this succession because this is going to be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in some ways?

MAHBUBANI: Yes. Well, you're right, by the way. You know there's something very strange happening in China right now in the midst of this transition in China.

People expected it to go to much more smoothly than it has and I'm sure they're very internally preoccupied. But the dust will settle in the new Chinese leadership pretty much.

And the Chinese have a kind of a very strange, paradoxical concern about the United States. On the one hand, they don't want to have an American that's too strong, too aggressive, pushing China in the Pacific region in the way that it could in the South China Sea and other places.

But, at the same time, you know, the Chinese also realize that an America is weakened too much is also bad for them because, I mean, the Chinese, at the end of the day, want a strong global economy.

And they want a leader that will bring America together and strengthen it again so you have a strong American leading a strong global economy.

So no matter who comes in, whether it's Obama or Romney, in the case of Romney, it'll take one or two years to settle down. but the U.S.-China relationship will come back and eventually stabilize because it's the interest of both sides to keep a stable relationship.

ZAKARIA: Dominique, when you look at it from the point of view of the European crisis, what I'm struck by is this maybe the first major international economic crisis where the United States is really something of a bystander.

It's not really being involved very much. It's involved on the margins. Do Europeans -- is this part of the new world? Do Europeans like this?

Do they wish the United States were move involved or do they really think, you know what, we have the mechanisms to handle this and we're glad the Obama administration's staying out?

MOISI: Well, I think the Europeans are witnessing that change. And it's not a question of liking it or disliking it. It's a reality.

And, from that standpoint, I think the Europeans, a bit like the Chinese, would say, well, Obama or Romney, by the end of the day, it might not make such a big difference either in foreign policy or even in economic policy.

But, by the end of the day, the Europeans support Obama, I would say, not because of his performance, not because they think he will do something very different, but because, intuitively, in terms of emotion and values, they feel much closer to him.

ZAKARIA: Rula, if you put your Italian hat on, does it matter so much because what I'm struck by when reading the Italian press or watching the reports from Italy, Mario Monti, the new prime minister, is being much lauded for his very good relationship with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany.

The fact that he has a good relationship with Barack Obama is, at this point, somewhat irrelevant because the crucial figure that Italy has to get on with right now is Germany not the United States. Is that the new Europe?

JEBREAL: That's a little bit, yes. There's a little -- a lot. You know Germany has become a very powerful player. Italy has 2 1/2 trillion actually dollars in debt and they need Angela Merkel to support them.

They can never bail them out, but, in a way, they can actually slow the payment of -- the payment back of the debt or help them in some kind of way.

But I think also they are looking towards the Federal Reserve, what Ben Bernanke has been doing in the last years and how he actually saved the economy in the United States while Europe was still fumbling what to do. And now they're following the same formula, the same recipe that Ben Bernanke set up to bring America back.

ZAKARIA: Finally, Ari Shavit, let me ask you about a potential Romney presidency. Ehud Barak gave an interview. Well, it was a senior policy maker, I think it was called a senior decision maker, but was widely reported to be Barak in which he mused about a Romney presidency.

And he said look, the reality is it may be more difficult for a Romney presidency to attack Iran militarily because any new president is going to have to take some time before he can take such a major decision.

He's going to have to get his new cabinet officials appointed, national security in place, and that, therefore, you know, it may not be such a good thing for Israel if the clock really is ticking. Do you share that view?

SHAVIT: What we had here, I think that, first of all, in the last year, is a completely dysfunctional relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I would say that President Obama looked at Benjamin Netanyahu and saw Newt Gingrich, not the prime minister of a friendly country. And Prime Minister Netanyahu looked at Obama as, I would say, Charles de Gaulle, the great ally of Israel who betrayed it in 1967.

Both men cannot stand each other and they failed. They failed in doing anything on the Palestinian issue and they failed, partially, I would say, on the Iranian issue and working together.

They didn't create the intimacy -- the strategic intimacy needed in such a time between America and Israel.

Should Romney be elected, he will have less experience. We don't know what resolve he will have and he would -- it would take him a long time to create the international legitimacy and the American legitimacy to act forcefully against Iran.

Therefore, should Obama want to act -- again, and I'm talking about the (inaudible) of diplomacy. Should he want to act on Iran decisively, he would be in a much more -- much better position.

But the question is, which is asked in Israel, will really the new Obama administration have that sort of resolve.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, folks. Kishore Mahbubani, Rula Jebreal, Dominique Moisi and Ari Shavit, thank you very much for joining us, fantastic panel.

Up next, What in the World. Why the real story next week isn't in Washington, it's in Beijing. Right back.


ZAKARIA: Now for our What in the World segment. The most intriguing story next week might play out not in Washington, but thousands of miles away in Beijing. Why?

Well, consider this. We don't know who the next occupant of the White House will be, but, whoever it is, we have a pretty good estimate of his policies.

On the other hand, in China, we almost certainly know the identity of the next top leader, Xi Jinping. What we have no clue about is where he wants to take China.

Starting Thursday, Beijing will pick a new generation of rulers, hundreds of new faces. Until a few weeks ago, even the date of this transition was a secret.

But, come November 8th, a new set of leaders will take on a huge backlog of problems. How these issues are dealt with will set the tone not just for China's 1.3 billion people, but for the entire world.

Let's look at those problems under three basic categories: Economics, politics and foreign policy. On the first, we all know that China's growth rate is slowing.

In part, that's because it's now a middle income country and it can't grow at 10 percent forever. It's not just the pace but the nature of the economy that is changing, however.

We tend to think of China's growth as driven entirely by exports and state investments, but look at this data from The Economist. In blue, exports have steadily declined since 2005 as a share of growth in GDP.

On the other hand, domestic consumption, in red, has risen steadily, accounting for more than half of China's overall growth. That means the internal Chinese economy needs to be reformed and opened up to make it more productive. That's political difficult.

One big policy that cries out for reform is the one child rule. China is getting old. In 1980, the median age was 22, now it's 35. By 2050, it will rise to 50.

China's next leader will face not just an aging population, but one that is also completely imbalanced by gender. Among children under 15, there are 117 boys for every 100 girls. That is a social tinderbox.

Another political development that struck me this year is the increasingly public display of anger. It is said that there are more than 100 protests in China every day.

Many of these are demonstrations against the country's environmental pollution, but there is also an undercurrent of anger over what is seen as an increasing corrupt ruling class.

Just look at the two biggest stories out of China this year. Former Chongqing Governor Bo Xilai was a rising star one year ago. Today, he's under criminal investigation for alleged corruption.

And, just a few days ago, the New York Times ran a story detailing how Premier Wen Jiabao's family is worth nearly $3 billion. No matter how the Communist Party tries to hide or spin these stories, there is a palpable sense of public rage and it will need to be addressed.

The irony is that Premier Wen himself had been calling for reform, including political reform, but China has essentially put all big decisions on hold until this transition. Maybe next week it will begin.

Finally, foreign policy challenges. We've witnessed an assertive and sometimes even belligerent China in the last two years. Look at the ongoing territorial dispute not only with Japan, but similar ones throughout the Pacific.

Will that change? How will Beijing control a rise in nationalist pride and power? How will ensure that the United States and China don't drift toward confrontation? That's a challenge for leaders in Beijing and also in Washington.

We'll be right back. Up next, how the past informs the present and the future. A great panel of American historians on the election.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with a check of your headlines. Florida's Democratic Party has filed a federal lawsuit to extend early voting hours. The lawsuit argues that inadequate polling facilities in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties led to lines in some cases between six and seven hours long. Over a million votes have already been cast in the bellwether state of Ohio. Ohio's secretary of state says absentee voting and early in- person voting have gone smoothly so far this year. Absentee voting is on track to surpass 2008.

House Speaker John Boehner is doing his part to get Ohio voters out for the Republican ticket. Boehner has been on a three-day bus tour in his home state. The House speaker says he's relying on long- time Republicans in southwest Ohio where he's from to deliver the state's 18 electoral votes for Mitt Romney.

New Jersey voters displaced by super storm Sandy will be able to cast their votes by email. The state is also allowing residents to vote at their county clerk's office. The deadline for ballots is still 8:00 p.m. Tuesday.

And those are your headlines. "Reliable Sources" is at the top of the hour. Now back to Fareed Zakaria GPS.

ZAKARIA: Sometimes the best way to think about big events, elections, crises, wars, is to step back and learn what we can from the past. That's why I brought together three of my favorite historians to do just that and to help us figure out how the past can inform the present in this election. My guests are Edmund Morris, a Pulitzer Prize winning author of biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. He has a new book out called "This Living Hand." Sean Wilentz, also the author of a book about Ronald Reagan and his times among many others including one on Bob Dylan and his times, and a professor at Princeton University and Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, and the author of biographies of everybody from Henry Kissinger to Steve Jobs to Benjamin Franklin.

After Katrina, you are a native of New Orleans. You were appointed the vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the job was to handle funds that were being dispersed by the federal government. In watching the rebuilding of New Orleans and this whole process, what do you think you learned that applies to what's going on now in New York and New Jersey?

WALTER ISAACSON, CEO, ASPEN INSTITUTE: Three things. First of all, leadership matters. If you look at what's happening in New York and New Jersey now, you have great leaders. Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Bob Steele, Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and President Obama has been very involved. When we went through Katrina, and we were all back down in New Orleans, there wasn't as strong of a leadership. Ray Nagin was the mayor, sometimes not to be found. The head of FEMA, you know, Brown, you're doing a great job, he was nowhere to be found.

So I saw the importance of people who take charge and say I'm going to run into this crisis and I'm going to help solve it.

Secondly, it reminded us that we're all in the same boat together. This election is somewhat about the age-old tension between, all right, we're all individual freedom, you know, have our own liberty and we're responsible for ourselves or we're all in the same boat and we're responsible, too, for each other. And it reminds you when you have a hurricane, that no matter how successful you are, you're also part of a community and you're responsible for the community. Thirdly, it reminded me of the importance of innovation. After the storm in New Orleans, for example, we reinvented the school system instead of just replicating the old school system. And that created the school system that's now had double digits score gains for the past three years. So as I think Rahm Emanuel, to paraphrase him, never let a good hurricane go to waste.


ZAKARIA: Sean, taking up that second point, do you think that the fact of this hurricane will resonate more strongly to help President Obama in the election because it does suggest, you know, suggest that you need government, that is ...


ZAKARIA: That it acts, it protects communities and things like that.

WILENTZ: Well, it helps with the whole way of thinking about government and what it can do for people and FEMA, for example. I mean Republicans have not been in favor of making FEMA robust. The Democrats have. Natural disasters actually hurt two Republican presidents very badly. Both George H.W. Bush with Hurricane Andrew and then, Katrina, of course. So following up on Rahm Emanuel, he might have thought that hurricanes generally play better for Democrats in that they require that kind of federal aid. You cannot -- no state, no city can do this on its own, and that was what was really poignant with Governor Christie, I think, and then President Obama. So, yes, I think that's true.

ZAKARIA: Edmund, this was a case of leadership that is perhaps a little bit more like Theodore Roosevelt than Ronald Reagan in the sense of whether it's Christie or Obama, it seemed a kind of take- charge attitude.

EDMUND MORRIS, AUTHOR "THIS LIVING HAND": Well, appearance is all that really matters. Both Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt were masters of action on camera. And what the American people relate to, particularly during an election season, is the president in action. And here we've -- if I were running for re-election to the presidency, I would pray for an emergency like this, because we look to our presidents to dramatize and to make sense of natural catastrophes. Theodore Roosevelt had the San Francisco earthquake, for example, to deal with which he greatly enjoyed and Reagan had several great theatrical moments, the assassination attempt.


WILENTZ: The Challenger.

MORRIS: Yes. So he was very good at articulating national sorrow. And that's what we want, we want to see and hear our presidents articulating the way we feel. So I should think the president right now is a very happy man.

ZAKARIA: Do you think Ronald Reagan could get that Republican nomination today? He was, you know, on so many issues he would be considered somewhat moderate. He was in favor of gun control, for example.

MORRIS: Reagan was running for the presidency for the first time in the late '60s. He was hampered by the fact that he was associated with extreme right wing causes. And as he said at the John Birch Society, which was supporting him, he said, well, I welcome their support. Just because they support me, I don't support them necessarily. Reagan had the gift of putting over hard, provocative policy statements with a sweetness and personal presentation and niceness about him that somehow diffused the hardness of these positions. If he had become president when he first ran in 1976, I think the world would have been a very dangerous place, because this nice guy was saying things and intending to do things to the Soviet Union, which would probably have brought on real international stress. History came to our rescue and delayed Reagan's election until the later time when he became more philosophical and more diplomatic.

ZAKARIA: We're going to have to take a break. When we come back, we're going to talk with our panel about what this cliff hanger election remind them of and what the candidates, whom do the candidates remind them of, when we come back.


ZAKARIA: We are back with Walter Isaacson, Sean Wilentz, and Edmund Morris, our superstar historians panel. Sean Wilentz, people look at this -- this election and they say the race is tied. There are some indications that Obama is ahead in the state-by-state polls, so he could win the electoral college, but actually could lose the popular vote. That, of course, happened in 2000. What are the historical parallels you think of when you look at this election?

WILENTZ: Well, in some ways there are no parallels, because of the structure of politics. I mean you got to go back to the 1850s and the Democratic Party to see what's going on inside Republican Party. But we're talking about tight elections, there have been any number of them, 1800, 1824, neither of the presidential candidates -- none of the presidential candidates got in the majority of the electoral college, so it was sent to the House of Representatives. But, you know, 1960, I mean I remember myself, being a little kid staying up very, very late wondering who was going to win the election, Kennedy or Nixon. And, you know, it came down to Illinois in the end, but it was a real cliffhanger.

ZAKARIA: Does it deprive people of legitimacy if they win in close elections?

MORRIS: Sometimes the close election tells you the contrary, the opposite of what an election should tell you. For example, in the year 2000, I think that 50/50 split was exactly 50/50 across the country. Even Supreme Court Justices of Florida and the United States put together, were 50/50 divided between Gore and Bush. And what that election proved was we didn't want either of them. It was a negative election.

ISAACSON: I think one of the interesting things that tends to happen is not just when you get a close electorate, but when you have a split government between, you know, the House, the Senate, and the White House and different parties and in some ways, that's -- what served well over the years, that there has to be a coming to the center and some compromise. I think historically we've done that the past four or five years have not been the best example of people saying, all right, we have a divided government, let's put together coalitions the way Lyndon Johnson could when he had really four parties, sort of the southern Democrats, northern Democrats, the liberal Republicans, conservative Republicans and you could put together coalitions. That's what's serves, I think, the country well is this ability to put together coalitions.

ZAKARIA: Is it fair to they, yes, Johnson was able to wheel and deal massively, but he did have Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate?

ISAACON: Yes, but that was -- I mean every president has different leadership styles. Obviously we've all read Robert Caro's fourth volume now, and the ability of Lyndon Johnson just to keep pulling people together and telling, say, Everett Dirksen, because you did need some Republican support when you were going up against, say, Richard Russell who was your Democratic senator, you know, you know, the Democratic senators from the south to say to Dirksen, I need your help on the bill, and finally Dirksen relents and then say, but I need you to co-sponsor the bill and finally -- and says and your name is going to come first ...


ISAACSON: And, you know, just doing that was a leadership style that Johnson had, but John Kennedy did not have. Every president brings a certain aura to the leadership style, and in any given moment, you know, you say, actually it would be nice if we could pull a little bit of that DNA from that president and ingrain it into the DNAs of our current leaders in both, you know, House and Senate and White House.

MORRIS: You know, Howard Baker told me a great story about LBJ and Dirksen. He said when he was young intern in Dirksen's office, he heard Dirksen at the end of one business day shouting into the phone, no, God damn it, Mr. President, we're not getting -- you are not getting those judges. And he slammed the phone on. So Howard Baker said, well, I'm leaving now, senator. And Dirksen said stick around, you're going to see something. And half an hour later, the door of Dirksen's office flew open and in came two beagle hounds followed by the president of the United States with a bottle of bourbon and he slammed the bottle down on Dirksen's desk and said, listen, you son of a bitch, we're going to drink this bourbon and we are going to get those judgeship settled tonight. That's how he did business.

ZAKARIA: All right. Now, you were not a supporter of Barack Obama, famously, during the primaries.

WILENTZ: During the primaries.

ZAKARIA: You are -- you were passionately for Hillary Clinton. What do you think of him now as a historian?

WILENTZ: Barack Obama, he's done a pretty good job as president, I think. I mean he got a historic health care bill through. No Democratic president since FDR or Senator Bob Wagner right through Truman, right through Clinton put it back on the agenda. Obama got it done. That's historic, it's extraordinary thing, it's important. I think he -- politically he's run into problems and I'm not sure that he handled the job as a politician as well as others might have, as Lyndon Johnson certainly would have, but I give him good grades. Yes, I'm not surprised. I think that Hillary Clinton would have done an even better job, but I think that he's done fine.

ZAKARIA: What about you?

ISAACSON: Yes, I think history will be far kinder to the first term of President Obama than a political divisive discussion we're having right now, you'll look back and you say, OK, we got health care, we got out of the financial cliff we're about to go over, and in, you know, a horrible financial situation, the economy is now growing again, we handled difficult foreign policy situations with a bit of sagacity and wisdom. You know, Osama bin Laden, various things happen. And so I think history will look back on a pretty successful -- a very successful first term and it's somewhat surprising that our political system right now sort of doesn't allow that narrative to emerge because we're so contentious these days.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of that, Edmund? MORRIS: I've been disappointed since the cathartic marvelous night he was elected. The most exciting moment I as an immigrant experienced in America since the House impeachment of Richard Nixon. But since then I've found him to become less magical, progressively less interesting. He hasn't made a speech in all his presidency to compare with the ones he unleashed as candidate, and I would have been happier if he'd spent less time playing golf with bankers.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, Edmund. Who do you think of Mitt Romney? Who does he remind you of?

MORRIS: He seems to be an e-novel, which is periodically rewritten. I think behind the synthetic image which keeps changing I suspect there's a really formidable and interesting man with a big heart, but it keeps being hidden by these images that his team wants him to protect. Where the real man is, I don't now.


WILENTZ: Big heart, no backbone. He's moved way -- way to the right to get the nomination. He'll have a lot of problems governing if he gets elected. Because if he governs the way that he's talking now, he'll have the right wing of his party really angry. He'll have hell to pay within his own party, as George H.W. Bush found out. If he governs the way that the party wants him to, he'll have problems with the country, because the country does not want a Tea Party government. That's pretty clear.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Walter Isaacson, Sean Wilentz and Edmund Morris. When we come back, what happens if you give a tablet to an illiterate child? The results are incredible.


ZAKARIA: As we look ahead to Tuesday's election, here's our question of the week. There have been 18 Republican presidents of the United States. How many Democratic presidents have there been? Is it A, 12, B, 15, C, 18, or D, 26? Stay tuned, and we'll tell you the correct answer.

Also, if you ever miss a show, go to You can get the audio podcast for free or you can buy the video version.

This week's book of the week is "Iron Curtain" by past GPS guest Ann Applebaum. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her last book on the Soviet Gulag. This book looks at how communism swept across Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II.

We tend to study how countries become democratic. This brilliant book is about the opposite, how Eastern Europe became totalitarian. And now for the last look.

Ethiopia has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. The village of Wonchi is no exception. Nobody there can read or write. That's why I was astonished when I saw what Nicholas Negroponte's one laptop per child organization did there. They dropped 20 Motorola tablets preloaded with mostly literacy apps in the village, with no instructions. Within four minutes, one boy had found the on/off switch, an unknown entity in these parts. He then taught the others. Within a few days, they were each using about 50 apps each per day. They were learning to write letters. And within a month, they were learning to speak them too. Not just the big ones.




ZAKARIA: But the little ones too.





ZAKARIA: All together now ...


UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, I, j, k, l, m, n, o, p ...


ZAKARIA: Amazing. These children had barely ever seen any letters before, let alone the Roman alphabet. Now they had discovered their way to learning the alphabet song.


CHILDREN: W, x, y, and z.



ZAKARIA: It's a sign of great hope for the 100 million children around the world who will never go to school.

The correct answer to our GPS Challenge question was B. There have been 15 Democratic presidents of the United States. Actually 16 separate Democratic presidencies. That's because Grover Cleveland had two terms, but separated by a four-year term for Chester Arthur. Now, you notice that 18, the number of Republican presidents plus 15, the number of Democratic presidents does not add up to 44, the total number of presidencies. That is, of course, because many of our early presidents were party-less, like George Washington or Federalists like John Adams or Whig, like William Henry Harrison.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.