‘When Life Strikes the White House’: SMU symposium examines effects of personal crises on U.S. presidencies
SMU continues its schedule of events observing the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination with a symposium exploring the effects of personal crises on a presidential administration.
Experts from SMU and around the nation will participate in “When Life Strikes the White House: Death, Scandal, Illness, and the Responsibilities of a President,” a two-day examination of the effect of three types of turning points in the lives of sitting presidents – illness, personal matters made public, and death in the family. The symposium will explore what happens to a president and his administration when that president suffers a personal crisis, and whether it results in policy change or an identifiable change in historical moments.
The program begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 in the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza with a focus on John Kennedy. An all-day seminar on Wednesday, Feb. 19 on the SMU campus will examine Kennedy and 12 other presidents.
The symposium is presented by SMU’s Center for Presidential History, Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, George W. Bush Library and Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
A summary of events, topics and speakers:
Tuesday, Feb. 18 – 7 p.m., Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (411 Elm Street, Dallas)
Richard Reeves, senior lecturer in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, will discuss the traumatic events at play in John Kennedy’s life during his tenure as president – Addison’s disease, the death of his infant son, and extramarital indiscretions.
An author and syndicated columnist who has made a number of award-winning documentary films, Reeves’ latest book is Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House (Abrams, 2010).
Wednesday, Feb. 19 – 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Bob Hope Theatre, Owen Arts Center, SMU
Personal Crises and Public Responsibility
- A comparison of John Tyler and Gerald Ford: Mark Updegrove, presidential historian, author of Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents Who Took Office During Times of Crisis (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009)
- Bill Clinton: William Chafe, co-director of Duke University’s Program on History, Public Policy and Social Change
- Andrew Jackson: Dan Feller, director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee
- Lyndon Johnson: Randall Woods, Distinguished Professor, John A. Cooper Professor of History, University of Arkansas
Loss in the Family
- Calvin Coolidge: Amity Shlaes, syndicated columnist, director of the Four Percent Growth Project at the George W. Bush Institute, author of Coolidge (Harper Collins, 2013)
- Franklin Pierce: Michael Holt, emeritus professor of history at University of Virginia, author of Franklin Pierce (Times Books, 2010)
- John Kennedy: David Nasaw, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at City University of New York, award-winning author
- Abraham Lincoln: Michael Burlingame, Chancellor and Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois-Springfield
- Woodrow Wilson: Tom Knock, associate professor in SMU’s Clements Department of History, author of To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Princeton University Press, 1992)
- Richard Nixon: Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century (Harvard, 2007)
- Ronald Reagan: Kiron Skinner, associate professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, co-author of multiple books on the 40th president, including Reagan: A Life in Letters (The Free Press, 2001)
- Franklin Roosevelt: Frank Costigliola, professor of history at the University of Connecticut, author of Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2013)
Political and corporate strategist Karen Hughes ’77 – once named by The Associated Press as “perhaps the most influential woman ever to serve an American president” – will give the capstone presentation. Her ability to manage public policy, communications and politics helped brand George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative” image, lending to the success of his gubernatorial campaigns beginning in 1994 and his subsequent campaigns for president.
From 2001-02 Hughes served as strategic adviser to President Bush on policy and communications, managing all communications, speech writing and media affairs for the White House. She served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from 2005-07. Now based in Austin, Hughes is worldwide vice chair of the public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller, advising global business leaders on communications and branding strategies. She also serves on the board of SMU’s Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College.
For more information, call 214-768-3210 or e-mail SMU’s Center for Presidential History.