Opinion: A drop of whiskey

Commentary by Terry Anker

Often, when meeting a person of some renown, we are deeply disappointed. Yet, in other precious encounters, our already high expectations are exceeded and overcome by the distinctive and important comportment of our hero. Such was the occasion in a recent exchange with famed author and television commentator Doris Kearns Goodwin. With best-selling books including “Team of Rivals” on Abraham Lincoln and “The Bully Pulpit” about Theodore Roosevelt, Goodwin is a bona fide success story. She has earned a place as the preeminent commentator on the American presidency and its place in our culture – and that of the modern and evolving world.

Thanks to the annual legislative conference of law firm Bingham Greenbaum and Doll, The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site and Indiana Humanities hosted an interview and discussion with Goodwin during her recent visit.  Invited to moderate the talk, I had occasion to interact and see her in action. Affable and open, she reflected on what history can teach us regarding expansive current topics, including our natural desire to leave a legacy, the impact of fake news and the importance of common understanding to effective communication.

Goodwin spoke honestly about her concerns for our present – and for our future. We considered the general loss of confidence in the institutions upon which we’ve built the very foundations of our nation. She told stories that gave us pause, and confidence, that the future is ours to shape, without regard to the current place we may find ourselves. But we must hang on to a bit of humor to get us through the difficult patches. Goodwin quoted her most famous subject, Abraham Lincoln, thusly, “A good story is better than a drop of whiskey.” She has a point. But then again, doesn’t it depend on the story and, more importantly, on the whiskey?