Doris Kearns Goodwin's unfinished love story In her new book, Doris Kearns Goodwin revisits the '60s through her late husband Richard Goodwin's perspective—and her own.

A historian's view of 'an extraordinary time capsule of the '60s'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Doris Kearns Goodwin got married, her husband brought along some baggage.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: All of our married life, Dick had dragged 300 boxes with us, and they were kind of rundown boxes. I saw them, I looked in them a little bit at a time, and I knew that they were an extraordinary time capsule of the '60s, but he would not open them.

INSKEEP: Dick was Richard Goodwin. He was older and had a life before Doris met him in the 1970s. In the '60s, he'd been a presidential aide and speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, then for Lyndon Johnson and then for presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy. The boxes included artifacts from that time.

KEARNS GOODWIN: So they were in barns. They were in storage. They were in basements - until finally, he came down the stairs once when he was 80 years old, saying, OK, it's now or never. If I've any wisdom to dispense, let's start dispensing now. So...

INSKEEP: They hadn't, like, gotten wet in the barns...

KEARNS GOODWIN: No, they had. Oh, no.

INSKEEP: ...Or decayed or whatever?

KEARNS GOODWIN: No, no. In fact, there were mice in them at the beginning or droppings of mice.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KEARNS GOODWIN: We had to vacuum them out. We had to move them from these small boxes into bigger boxes.

INSKEEP: The documents became material for a book about the 1960s, which Goodwin began while her husband lived and finished after he died. It's called "An Unfinished Love Story." As the Goodwins went into the boxes, they began to relive moments in history, like the 1960 presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

KEARNS GOODWIN: What Dick decided is we would have a debate date night, and we'd get a bottle of wine, and we would watch it on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN F KENNEDY: I know that there are those who say that we want to turn everything over to the government. I don't at all. I want the individuals to meet their responsibilities, and I want the states to meet their responsibilities. But I think there is also a national responsibility.

KEARNS GOODWIN: And then he would describe to me how he was preparing Kennedy for that. We go backward and forward. So it was really fun. You know, I remember he said to me at the beginning, are you nervous? Do you wonder who's going to win?

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KEARNS GOODWIN: And you have to imagine you don't know what's going to happen in order to make it suspenseful. But then he would describe the whole experience of the day before the debate and the day of the debate. John Kennedy was sitting on the bed with all of his notecards spread out on the bed with the question and the answer, the one-sentence or two-sentence answer.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEARNS GOODWIN: And once he had memorized them, then he threw them on the floor like cards and just seemed eerily relaxed.

INSKEEP: Richard Goodwin advised Kennedy in the White House and, after Kennedy's assassination, stayed on with President Johnson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LYNDON B JOHNSON: This time, on this issue, there must be no delay or no hesitation or no compromise with our purpose.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: In 1965, Johnson addressed Congress and decided on short notice to support passage of the Voting Rights Act.

KEARNS GOODWIN: So my husband had only that day to work on that speech. It was a brilliant maneuver to be able to get those words together. They came out little by little from the typewriter, Johnson screaming at the other end, where are they? They're not even here in time. But he never bothered Dick until the very end.

INSKEEP: The key line - you called it the We Shall Overcome speech. This is a line from a spiritual that people sang as they were demonstrating for civil rights. Johnson just says it. What did it mean that Johnson just said that?

KEARNS GOODWIN: I mean, what it really meant was that's a moment when the person in the highest level of power is connecting to an outside group, the civil rights movement, who are pressuring the government to act. And that's when change takes place in our country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: And we shall overcome.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: How do you think Richard was able to win the favor of and the trust of powerful men without losing himself, as some staffers do?

KEARNS GOODWIN: It wasn't always easy. I think the fact that he had been with John Kennedy before Lyndon Johnson meant there was always a layer in Lyndon Johnson of not fully trusting him because he thought he was a Kennedy.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEARNS GOODWIN: You know, that was that fault line. You were either a Kennedy, or you were a Johnson. Even the first time when he calls Bill Moyers on the phone and there's this great tape where he's saying, I need someone to be my speechwriter. This was only months after John Kennedy had died.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEARNS GOODWIN: And he says to Moyers, I need someone who can put sex in my speech, who can put rhythm in my speech, Churchillian phrases. Who could that be? And Moyers says, well, there's Dick Goodwin, but he's not one of us. And he knew then that that would always mean that he would always have a layer of not full trust.

INSKEEP: I feel that that relationship in microcosm is something that goes all the way through American life because this is a class difference along with everything else, right? Guy from Harvard versus the guy from a teacher's college in Texas.

KEARNS GOODWIN: So true. I mean, one of the things Johnson used to say a lot was that his father always told him that if you brush up against the grindstone of life, you'll get more polished than anyone who went to Harvard or Yale ever did. But then he would add, but I never believed that.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KEARNS GOODWIN: I mean, there was always - and he was so much more brilliant than many people who go to Harvard or Yale. I mean, he used to call me Harvard half the time. You know, Harvard, come on over here.

INSKEEP: Doris Goodwin herself had been a young aide to Lyndon Johnson. In later years, she became one of the nation's most acclaimed historians. Her husband began to wonder if anyone would remember him, which is why he at last agreed to the book on his earlier life.

When you met your husband, your future husband, in the early '70s, he's still a relatively young man but had had his greatest accomplishments. Would you say that that's true?

KEARNS GOODWIN: I think that was the thing that was hard for him the rest of his life. I mean, he did do work after that. He wrote a play that was put on in London. He wrote columns. He wrote manifestos about America's revolution, the need for a new revolution. He got more radical as time went on. And he did work on Al Gore's concession speech. I think there was a...

INSKEEP: That's a gracious speech, Al Gore's concession...

KEARNS GOODWIN: It was a...

INSKEEP: ...Speech in the 2000 election.

KEARNS GOODWIN: ...Lovely speech. And Al Gore had called him and said that he wanted a victory speech or a concession speech. But Dick knew that the concession speech would be more important. And what a great, important memory is that right now that in that year 2000, he was able to say, the law of the land is this. I don't agree with the decision, but I cherish this tradition and congratulate President Bush. We need that so badly right now.

INSKEEP: I'm struck by the idea that he thought people would not remember.

KEARNS GOODWIN: I'm not sure what it was, but yeah, he did feel that need. It wasn't so much even for his work but for the work that he did together with these presidents because he wanted people to remember that the '60s was a time when young people in particular were powered by the conviction that they could make a difference. And tens of thousands of people joined the Peace Corps, were marching against segregation, against denial of the right to vote, were anti-war marching - and the beginning of the women's movement, the gay rights movement. It was a great time to be alive and a great time to be young. And I think he was hoping that the book might be able to power people to remember that. It's so necessary today.

INSKEEP: Doris Kearns Goodwin is the author of "An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History Of The 1960s." It's a pleasure to see you. Thanks for coming by.

KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, thank you so much for having me. We could go on for a long time. I could talk to you forever.

INSKEEP: (Laughter). I would like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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