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On The White House Watch

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Fall 1996

On The White House Watch
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Presidential Scholar Robert Dallek, a Master of the Telling Great Men's Lives, Speaks for Himself, Reticently

By Mona Gable

It's Election '96, and Bob Dole is scrambling to define himself as pro-family by proposing a huge tax cut. Ross Perot is wasting more precious prime-time TV with a rambling tirade on the deficit. As for Bill Clinton, he's mollifying conservatives with welfare reform, appeasing liberals opposed to the reforms and trying to keep ahead of the scandal of the day.

Has a presidential race ever produced such an opportunistic trio of candidates and so much unwarranted wackiness? "Sure," says UCLA American history professor Robert Dallek cheerfully. "It reminds me a lot of the late 19th century when we had an awful lot of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. There was an affinity for third-party movements then because the feeling was that neither of the major parties were addressing the important questions. I think there's a lot of that feeling now."

Dallek, the esteemed biographer of FDR and LBJ, is on the phone from Washington, D.C., where he's settled in Woodley Park, an upscale neighborhood of lovely old brick homes and tree-lined streets. He moved here last January for a time when his wife, Geri, a respected health-care policy analyst, took a job with the nonprofit agency Families USA.

But the prolific scholar hasn't exactly passed the time lying around reading The Washington Post. In September, Dallek's sixth book, Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents, will be published by Hyperion, and he's hard at work on the next. He's been teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, among other places. And he spent the 1994-'95 academic year at Oxford University, as Harmsworth Professor of American History.

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