“I never thought I’d be praising Bill Clinton on The Daily Caller’s website,” conservative policy intellectual and presidential historian Tevi Troy confides in an interview with TheDC about his new book, “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.”
But the former Bush administration official says “looking at presidential uses of pop culture gave me a new and unexpected appreciation for Clinton.”
“He was groundbreaking in his use of music on his campaign — think of his saxophone playing on ‘The Arsenio Hall Show,’ and the endless repetitions of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow),'” Troy said, arguing Clinton was the most culturally in-touch president in American history. “He loved movies, and could discuss films with the best of them. He was a huge and wide ranging reader, who loved mysteries, policy books and serious literature. But he also knew how to appeal to the common man, and didn’t get too high-minded or snobbish about things.”
Troy, who served as deputy secretary of Health and Human Services under George. W Bush and is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, argued that being in touch with the culture is now important for any presidential contender.
“It is clearly helpful if not mandatory to be in touch with the popular culture when running for any office, but especially the presidency,” he said. “I would not say that [Mitt] Romney was culturally illiterate, but he was out of touch. When he made cultural references, they tended to be to ‘Seinfeld’ or to ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ which were funny, but also two decades old. He definitely could have done better on the culture front, but one of the lessons of my book is that pop cultural literacy is very hard to fake.”
Troy says that one of the most interesting facts he discovered researching the book was that Jimmy Carter watched a staggering “480 films in one term in the White House.”
See below TheDC’s full interview with Troy about his book, the reading battles between George W. Bush and Karl Rove, and much more:
Why did you decide to write the book?
As a presidential historian by training and a former White House aide, I have long been interested in the subject of what influences presidents. I wrote my first book on intellectuals and the American presidency and found that while presidents could use intellectuals to their advantage, their influence on the presidency was somewhat limited. So I started looking at cultural influences. First I wrote something on books presidents read, and then I followed up with something on movies they watched. The topic interested me, so I decided to do a more comprehensive analysis.