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On The White House Watch

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Fall 1996

On The White House Watch
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And while Dallek can be quite blunt when it comes to criticizing individual presidents, he is no cynic. He has a reverence for the institution that is surprising and even touching.

Early this year, Rica Rodman, one of Dallek's former honors students who now produces President Clinton's weekly radio address, arranged for Dallek to be introduced to the President. The event took place on a Friday, after Clinton had recorded his speech in the Roosevelt Room, where Teddy Roosevelt's Nobel Peace Prize is displayed. (The setting was especially poignant for Dallek, who regards Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt as among the greatest presidents.) The scholar was then escorted into the Oval Office, where he had his photo taken with the President.

"Professor Dallek and President Clinton were standing in front of the famous desk that JFK used, that John John used to crawl under," recalls Rodman,"and Bob handed the President a couple of his books. Then I said, Mr. President, I'd like to introduce a former professor of mine.' But the President knew immediately who Robert Dallek was. Clinton looked so excited. He said, He was your professor?' "

Dallek devotes three full pages in his new book to slamming Clinton over his botched efforts to reform health care. But he found nothing awkward about meeting the President in person after lambasting him in print. "Maybe I'm a humanist," the historian says thoughtfully. "Whether the president or an ordinary guy in the street -- we all suffer our limitations. Clinton meets people all the time who are critical of him. What good is it to be a cipher to a person in authority? Maybe my book can be of some help to someone who's aiming to be president."

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