Bruce Kauffmann’s influence on media and culture stemmed from his work with national news media as well as his presentations as a popular speaker. Kauffmann agreed to do an interview with Day on the Day, and we are honored to share what he said with our readers. You can learn more about his books, website, social media, and speaking engagements by following links at the end of this article.
1) You worked as a speechwriter for Dan Rather whose own work left a giant footprint on contemporary media. What was it like?
“It was fun. Dan was a good boss, a history buff, and not nearly as liberal as he was painted. I won the Writer’s Guild of America’s ‘Best Radio Spot News’ award in 1991 after telling Dan that I believed that, from his recent actions, Saddam Hussein was planning some kind of military move in the Middle East, and Dan encouraged me to write about it. Three months after we did that radio piece, Saddam invaded Kuwait. ”
2) Considering various political attacks on the Constitutional amendments we call the Bill of Rights, what advice do you think James Madison would give average Americans today if he could?
“That we should pay more attention to a critically important amendment that receives little attention — the 10th Amendment. Madison’s federalist system struck a fair balance between the states needing to retain their long-standing sovereign powers, and the new nation’s clear need for a national government with enough power to address national concerns, in particular national defense and foreign policy.
But Madison worried that the national government might use its new-found powers to grab more powers. So the 10th Amendment says: ‘The powers not delegated to the United States (the federal government) by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’
The 10th Amendment reminds the federal government that it possesses only those powers given to it by the Constitution, while the states (and the people) retain every power not specifically denied them by the Constitution. That’s an important protection against overbearing government, but, unfortunately, one mostly ignored today.
Also mostly ignored today is the ‘separation of powers’ doctrine that was the foundational operating principle of the entire Constitution. Each governmental branch was given separate and inviolate powers. The legislative branch makes the laws; the executive branch enforces the laws; the judicial branch rules on the constitutionality of the laws. This erosion of the separation of powers doctrine has been long-standing, but our current president has taken it to new heights with his use of executive orders.
All presidents have relied on executive orders — George Washington created the executive order — but the purpose of an executive order is to clarify, not contradict, the language in a duly enacted law. For the most part, President Obama’s executive orders have contradicted the clear language in duly enacted laws, and one example is his delay of the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
The language in that law is crystal clear as to when the employer mandate, forcing businesses to provide healthcare coverage, was to take effect—January 1, 2014. Yet President Obama amended that law by unilaterally delaying this mandate by one year. He has no constitutional authority to do that because only the legislative branch, Congress, can make or amend laws.
Indeed, once a law is duly enacted, the Constitution says the president must ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed (enforced),’ and the Founders purposely added the word ‘faithfully’ to remind the president that he had to enforce the laws whether he liked them or not. ”
3) You’re published widely, and you’re a guest on TV and radio shows. What prompted you to establish your History Lessons website?
“The tons of emails I received from readers saying they just discovered my column and asking where they can read past history lessons. Also, I am often asked to apply the lessons learned from the Founders to present day politics, so through the website we created another column, Thinking Out Loud (TOL), in which I comment on today’s politics and public policy issues, usually from the perspective of the Founders and the Constitution and Bill of Rights they created.
To give an example, it often surprises people when I say that the Second Amendment does not protect the right to keep and bear arms. The amendment’s language does not say, ‘The people have a right to keep and bear arms.’ It says, ‘… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.’ That is a distinction with a difference. The former implies that the government allows the people to keep and bear arms. The latter acknowledges that the people’s pre-existing right to keep and bear arms cannot be violated by the government.
Also, I created the website to promote the two books I have published—each is a five-year collection of my weekly syndicated newspaper columns on history, and they can be purchased through my website. In addition, I lecture on a wide variety of historic topics, mostly on the Founding Fathers—Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, and my most popular lecture, on the creation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I also lecture on two of my heroes of history, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. So I use the website to advertise my availability as a lecturer.
We recently totally revamped the website to better accomplish all of the above, and to better provide resources for the media, as well as venues such as schools and community centers, where I often lecture. The goal is a more mobile-friendly platform that showcases that week’s events, interviews and appearances. It also gives us better compatibility with our new e-newsletter, which includes my most recent TOL blog or column. Everything was conceived to streamline the reader experience.”
4) Survey after survey shows many Americans are illiterate when it comes to history, despite the widespread availability of more access to information than perhaps any other society in history. Why do you think we are so uninformed?
“Because history is boring if it is improperly taught. My favorite email from readers — and I get many with this theme — is that they would have been much more interested in history back in school if it had been taught the way I write about it.
History is not about dates, figures, statistics or arcane facts that need to be memorized and regurgitated on a standardized history test, to be forgotten a day later. History is about extraordinary people doing things that alter the course of our lives, bad things as well as good, by the way. Adolf Hitler was pure evil, but his is a fascinating story. People will study history if it focuses on people.”
5) The adage ‘History repeats itself ‘ is familiar to all of us. Does it? Is history a useful source for decisions we make about world and domestic affairs today?
I like the great historian David McCullough’s take on that question: ‘A nation that forgets its past can function no better than a man with amnesia.’
History never repeats itself exactly, but a study of history can help us avoid past mistakes. Hitler is a perfect example. One wonders whether Hitler studied the history of the last dictator who invaded Russia with an overwhelmingly superior army, but who had neglected to think through the logistical, geographical and even weather-related challenges that might arise.
Napoleon invaded Russian in late June of 1812, and that invasion went badly because of supply problems, the immensity of the land he was invading, and because the Russian winter decimated his troops. Hitler also invaded Russia in late June (of 1941) and, suffice it to say, history repeated itself.”
Bruce Kauffmann is a historian, author, columnist and speaker who frequently appears on talk radio shows across the country. Kauffmann is also a regular contributor to both The Cindy Graves Show in Jacksonville (Fla.) on 600AM WBOB, and The Bill Martinez Show, a web-based nationally syndicated radio talk show on the Global American Broadcasting Network.
To learn more
Follow Kauffmann on Twitter : @BruceKauffmann
Visit Kauffmann’s Facebook page: facebook.com/historylessons
Visit Kauffmann’s History Lessons site: http://historylessons.net/
(Filed by Kay B. Day/May 20, 2014)