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tv   David Levering Lewis The Improbable Wendell Willkie  CSPAN  November 24, 2021 1:37pm-2:29pm EST

1:37 pm . welcome. thank you for joining us for the reading festival. we're excited to bring the program back this year virtually
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and look forward to reviing our traditional in person format in 2022. my pleasure to introduce our next speaker david levering lewis. join us in the youtube chat after the presentation. david levering lieu sis professor emeritus of history at new york university, a recipient of the national humanities medal, he received the pull itser prize. today he'll talk to us about his book "the improbable wendell willkie." the businessman who saved the republican party and his country and conceive a new world order. welcome, david. >> thanks. wendell willkie's last words were these -- whatever we do at home constitutes foreign policy,
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and whatever we do abroad constitutes domestic policy. this is the great new political fact. wendell willkie wrote those words two weeks before his fatal cardiac seizure in manhattan october 8, 1944. they appear in an american prom, a book of ten extraordinary chapters, most of which may still profit the contemporary reader and and some stunned by their immediacy. read chapter eight, willkie's proposed platform for the 1944 republican national convention. with its keynesian economics, health care, civil rights plank, its labor union plank and you have a document whose ranked progressive reagan, republicans would reject and the party of
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donald trump vilify as socialist. born on presidents' day 1892 in tiny elwood, indiana, wendell willkie was the youngest of four sons in a family of six sibls. the oldest julia did much of the rearing after their academically advanced number announced the end of pregnancies, passed the state bar, and joined her husband wendell as the first wife and husband law firm arrangement. willkies for democrats, fierce partisans of william jennings bryant. when bryant ran again in 1900, he spent the night at the willkies, and with them listening out of sight past midnight, 8-year-old wendell and
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his brothers remember their father uring bryan to play down -- the dead issue and emphasize the evil of america's new imperial adventures instead. no talk of -- when the stars and stripes are hosted over vanilla bay. their ancestors hadn't fled militarism only to have their descendents. the family home was unusual. neighbors called it the crazy willkies. parents, free wheeling diser theation -- dissertations. he regularly woke his brood with quotes from shakes spear. from athens, famous dates they
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were expected identify. in the 1910, indiana university student newspaper, its headline -- another willkie arrives. with a drop in the "l" from the double "l." his bloomington contemporaries recall an unkempt ubiquitous video vert who is scholarly seemed inexrabble. -- adding or finding ten students to enroll in the university's first class on socialism with mark's "das capital" and history of socialism on the syllabus, he would just, no wonder they thought of me as a socialist. he would correct that years later, providing many a man not
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something serious before he's 40 has no heart, adding exculpatorily, any man who's still a socialist after 40 has no head. in the fall of 1919, straightened family finances carried willkie to puerto rico after a year of high school teaching in coffeeville, kansas. it was a sixth-month appointment as a chemist's assistant in order the pay for law school at indiana. this experience marked wendell deeply. he began writing about much of the island on horseback to, see conditions for himself, and one day, as he rode with the plantation manager, a rebellious peasant scampered across their path. without slowing his horse or stopping the conversation, the manager missed the man's neck but severed the shoulder with
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his machete. the violence affected him that he often spoke years later of how hows puerto rican experience kept him from speaking as a millionaire, even after becoming one himself. congress passed and approved president wilson's april 1917 war request, the willkie family, unlike other german americans signed on. captain willkie came home a conformed, exhilarated by the president's visionary league of nations. he expressed and recorded concern at that time about the wilson administration's national security excesses, not even indicted, convicted and sentenced to a lifetime of
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disenfranchisement. captain willkie fully expected to resume his place in willkie and willkie as the family's third member on elwood's anderson street. but his mother vetoed the plan as a recipe for mediocrity. on april fool's day, 1920, wendell willkie reported to the firestone tire and rubber company in akron, ohio, as head of its legal department. wife edith and infant son filip soon followed. willkie was not only a democrat, he was a wilson, league of nations democrat in an isolationist city two week after the u.s. senate's final rejection of the treaty of versailles and the league of nations. to harvey firestone's new lawyer, rejection of the league of nations was a disgrace that he and like minded akron men and
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women hoped to see reversed that november 1920. when warren g. harding decisively defeated wilson's champion, ohio governor james cox, and navy undersecretary franklin roosevelt. when the willkies left for new york city after nine years in akron, not only had harvey firestone's prediction failed that wendell would never amount to much because he was a democrat, wendell's political ax activism, local bar association presidency and -- put him atop akron and got him noticed by wall street kingpins. a spectacular future lay ahead. spectacular and wholly unanticipated. at age 40, this committed
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democrat and successful lawyer would preside from new york and atlanta over the nation's second or third largest private utility holding company, commonwealth and southern, whose electric power companies of tennessee, alabama, georgia, mississippi, and parts of south carolina and florida, served 4.5 million black and white denizens with a fair amount of -- that said, willkie's big business success would hardly ever put him between the cross hair of the presidency but for the new deal of tennessee valley authority and samuel's chicago holding company. -- customers and electricity in
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gas in 32 state thanes was consume in the any other country in the world. the savings of 600,000 chicagoans were -- in 1929 great depression collapse. not all utility companies were precarious stacked pyramids, their regional services unregulated and overpriced, as with the commonwealth. edison had a notable number of them indeed to serve their characteristic -- as the spider web of wall street. publicly direct at men like the chicago utility kingpin raised the prospect of an entire industry being punished with federal sanctions. campaigning two months before the 1932 presidential outcome,
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franklin roosevelt famously blamed the depression spreading misery on men like samuel insill and pledged -- against private holding electric companies. the president's signature, transforming the government's world war i power investment at muscle shoals, alabama, into the tennessee valley authority was among the first of the new deal's prestigious 100 days accomplishments. tva, democracy on the march, a new deal classic win by one of its consuls, described the tva as the nation's greatest peacetime marvel. but tva legislation was completely silent about the regional role of willkie's company in this changed power environment. no provisions for monetary
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compensation or outright purchase. willkie's common sense demands in committees and newspaper and magazine print asked how his business could be expected to compete with a federal entity whose predict was underwritten by the public treasury and whose so-called electricity yardstick was set by policy considerations in forces. he insisted that the success could be accomplished far more economically in private enterprise, the practical business alternate advocated by experienced professionals and above all by the country's leading engineer of earnest morgan.
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it ended in a pragmatic understanding that essentially notified the conditions on the ground. the handshake to collaborate where necessary and to leave each other's imperatives to labor. it must be mentioned, however, that harvard law professor felix and his former student were appalled by such conciliation of a private holding company. even so, the first oval office meeting between the president and the holding company executive 12 days before christmas of 1934 was marked by superficial jolity and the two joult sized egos. one of the fewer men fdr took a special liking to the labor
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secretary believed. he had some of the characteristics as himself. but overoffice jousting occurred amid an ominous back drop for the utility industry as a whole. in his state of the union address, his second on january 4, 1935, the president called for the abolition of the evil of holding companies. two weeks later, he left his oval office conference confronted with a death sentence rendered. do you understand, then, that in efforts to avoid the break-up of the holding companies are futile, caught off guard, his chin jutting out, fdr reacted brusquely, this is futile. in those words, frankly
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roosevelt guaranteed four years of judicial media combat. that made the new -- chamber of commerce speech became a rallying cry for millions living in fear of the new deal's expensive power when he was convinced that only roosevelt surrendered to his party's senatorial western hard liners, george wheeler and to the federal bureaucracy's winter of yetter year's best and brightest tom a. cochran, ben cohen nullified the practical government business alternative advocated by experienced professionals and, above all, by arthur morgan, head of tba
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himself. as the shooting cracker barrel david ready to face down fdr and his brains trusters and technocrats truly began during the second new deal. his dedication to private industry ee merited praise, said the may 1937 fortune magazine. he made all the arguments, yet they are persuasive, not because they are new, but because he brings them intelligently and, he makes them sound view. the high decibel brace up america ee vocation and a call for deals and new deals for terminalism. in may 1938, the address at
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indiana university, big government and its dark twin autocracy were today's dangers against both dangers he presented his credo of robust liberalism. liberalism is neither easy nor sensational, he intoned. in fact, the liberal attempts the most dirveth thing in the world namely to strike a balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of society on january 30th, 1939, after two previous you dishlg challenges, the supreme court rememberedered its decisive ruling on federal regulatory powers in tennessee electric power company et at the tva. the court determined that both his commonwealth and the 19
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utility complainants had no ability to cancel the cva, even though the decision ignored the central issue of the authority's constitutionality which the court never was addressed. former nra chief speculated it was syndicated column about his chances as a gop presidential underdog. the underdog served up a slathering answer. if the government keeps on taking my business away, johnson offer is the best time. and we will go on to fdr, a
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canny note of hugo johnson's speculation, the new deal political climate had become less favorable of the elections. on november 9, the country awakened an 81 new deal house seats, six new senators and 11 new governors, three who led to the new progressivism that gained connecticut its first gop governorship since 1930. suddenly, fdr made an expected decision to remove the everlasting c&s controversy in the 1940s presidential landscape. then what happens were several secret telephone exchanges between them resulting in the final file. on august 15, 1939, staged
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with -- in the offices of first national back and to wall street, when david handled wendell wilkie a check for $78.6 million, to 1..4 billion current dollars. wendell's time magazine article all but announced his prospective presidency candidacy if, he said, roosevelt dared to run again for a third time. until the generalization, many needed help in catching up with his political prospect. the new york national committee spoke volumes.
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it pitched wendell willky and simpleson listed difficulties. so i am supposed to go back to the clubhouse and tell the boys that we have to pull together now to get the nomination for wendell roadly? but they'll ask me, willky, who is willky? and i'll tell them, he's president of the commonwealth and southern. the next question will be where does that go to? and i have explained it isn't the railroad, it's a public holding company. and then they will look at me sadly and say, ken, with all these thoughts, you are a liberal erratic. now we know you are just plain crazy and that would be without my even mentioning but he's a democrat. the story, this one is a good one. the truth about wendell willky's unlikely run for the presidency
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of the united states makes an even better one. republicans have no ground on which to stand to move the nation since the 1936 new deal land slide burying their humiliated candidate al landen. yet, when the advantageous change as the national economy barely staggered back of the so-called roosevelt recession, the administration's near catastrophic abandonment compiling for the balanced budgets. 15 million remain unemployed, public consternation over the president's blatant ability to intimidate the supreme court persisted. keen legislation stumbled to passage or even went to diety. hence, a republican's wake awakened and their stunning
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midterm 1938 congressional and statehouse successes narrow consensus prevailed. among a small group of eastern reformers, however, a scenario emerged, script in new gop victories scenario for the 1948 election. then defined as surprise candidates unfettered by shock one partisan dog ma and politically ambidextrous enough to make the reforms of the left palatable and the right credible to the left. dust off stage were the parties next presidential prospects, a pool of predictable unexciting
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possibilities. none of which fit the bill. rigidly isolationist, vandenberg another fierce midwestern isolationist and champion slayer of new deal legislation. and hash either hoover who will be economically unrepentant. no stranger to modesty, yet he's not quite ready to believe life after could lead to a republican candidacy for the presidency of the united states. yet each day, he admired the advice with germany and profoundly alienated by the new deal's redistributionist economics who encouraged him to
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the leading nation urgely needed his leadership. that's one such admirer. who abandon her columbia ph.d., literary paragon. they have achieved remarkable early success. as a sunday book editor of the new york tribune. in 1935, the van dorens. they gave smart dinners and opinion pieces. fdr, who made certain to learn about willky's personal affairs,
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can be heard on the earliest april office typing system describing her as an awful nice girl who writes for the magazine and so on and so forth. wendell white better and take out his ideas of genuine admiration. he was also responsible for political cues. and atlanta monthly who were beginning to regard willky as a dark horse for the presidency. slarg willky's managing editor of "fortune" magazine. for service in 1918 with the aes and henry's publication.
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in 1939, he took the whole -- davenport ex positive tu mated. that day, davenport committed himself to willky's political future as he raced home to tell marsha he met the man who was going to be the next president of the united states. clara booth finally met face-to-face at davenport's decided his initial confidence had been well placed. he resigned ttsy reassuring anxious son phillip giving up such a good job that an adequate return job to his tolerance was assured. he returned to the practice of
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law in january with the firm of miller, owen, otis and bradley with himself seeming to replace the retiring governor nathan miller as senior partner in the reorganized firm of willky, owen, otis, bar and gallagher, aaron gallagher, the midwestern friend who had kept the willie special campaign train on schedule. parties were to him, explained the new york governor, mere instruments, not for political advancement or power, but to serve human beings. the well connected new sponsored helped him prepare a call to option, the penultimate brass
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ring decoration, they borrowed the -- we the people promise a new deal devoid of -- and faithful to the great depression reforms, a new deal with its budget balance gradually and bureaucratic waste and duplication eliminated. in truth, declared wendell, the people no longer wanted a new deal any more. we want a new world. and therefore a right later to dismiss willky as a creature of the eastern established a republican with sex appeal alverston added.
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moz before the national gop convention, the justice department on behalf of the imprisoned cpusa hit. and german american leader in this world to remember reiterated the author, that any man who denied his justice to someone he hates prepares the way for a denial of justice to someone he loves. foreign root goes the credit for making an improbable political
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agenda reliable. princeton, 33, was the grandson, the grand nephew who wrote successively secretary of war and of state and recipient of the knowable peace prize. this senalzation, the republican party turned to some pond russ isolationist or for some krooning work gutter, i say it is morally bankrupt. >> so much to his place of business.
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less than a month, with the east league clubs where a decided minority of the electorate. but pivotal. >> promised a surprised country wendell willky's new world. secretary harold ackey believed nothing extraordinary has ever happened in american politics as willky's nomination. the much of the country with an endorsement over the three national networks. the "new york times" switched from fdr to willky. in the last week. ambassador joseph kennedy only at the last minute after an ominous phone call summons from
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the white house. and the election experts called too choice to call until they announced results. 33 states and 445 electoral votes willky's ten states and 80 electrical votes and 5 million votes less than fdr's 27 million. appealing credible residential candidates, but in representing himself has been proved the -- any americans found the genuine specimen more satisfying. moreover, girlny occupied france. the coalition of big city machines, organized labor, southern whites, liberals and
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minorities, catholics, jews and blacks. the constructed by part is an ship over the three national radio networks, that generated the greatest number of lauditory telegrams received by a defeated candidate, it was a powerful party he stipulated. let us not, therefore, fall into the partisan error of opposing things just for the sake of opposition. wilkins opposition speech would set the bar who are constructeded by part is anship until this party's virtual verification of the principal and the obama presidency. on the moment of january 22nd, 1941, the gop's leader lifted off from laguardia in a vote to
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take the pulse of british endurance in the lane of fire. it was a uniquely horrifying willky to compound congressional isolationism and restricted -- and restricts neutrality. his dramatic return to argue for unleash four of the senate foreign affairs committee altered public opinion if not the votes of his own congressional republicans. but willky as presumptive head of the gop came mothballed destroyers for great britain, came peace time selective service, came memories, came nullification of neutrality acts, came charles lindbergh and the america first committee outmaneuvered and after pearl harbor his party's qualified pronunciation of isolationism.
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willky's evolving understanding of white supremacy in his own country placed him in a rare category surpassed by no major future political figure to date. the judgment of the obama presidency. unquestionably instigated by the power calculation as the great black migration presumed the outreach remains a surprisingly unappreciated chapter in mid 20s century. the cvs speech to the nation from the 1942 annual naecp national conference, willky cast the bain of imperialism as the essence of the fight to free people from its omnipresent arrogance. we seek to lib rat, not to
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enslave, people claimed, but the truth was that americans practiced within our own boundaries something that amounts to race imperialism, the attitude of white citizens towards the negroes as undoubtedly had some of the unlovely and tragic characteristics of an alien imperialism. an article by nonpracticing jew, willky closed his notable saturday evening point rejoinder, the case for minorities with a warning 245 our way of living together in america is a strong but delicate fabric. for god's sake, let us not turn it asunder, for no man knows once it's destroyed, no man will
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find it again. reported to the credit as they espoused. the leaders of turkey, iran, syria and iraq followed by ten days in the soviet union with stalin and his moment and seven days in china, the shanghai
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shack and a picture perfect gauge of the impact left in the train of willky's progress with that of christian science monitors starting on -- to the colonial nations of the middle east does he clard about willky was the four freedoms taken out of the round in the abstract of a blue suit, 36 million americans listening to the support of of the people just days before the 1942 midterm elections. it was a deeply fought message about the next chapter in the american adventure and a tragic charter recontextalizing of american exceptionalism. wendell's address offered a
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world picture of the strange new international whoa awaiting his compatriots full of engagement, like it or not. but what challenged the oval is one world radio address to the american people with the u.s. supreme court on november 9 to argue snyderman v. u.s. is extraordinary immigration first amendment case against the annulment of a foreign born communist citizenship. snyderman v. u.s. was fully resolved in june 1943, 5-3 for snide heman with the other dismay of justice filter. like the service to england survival, like his second navigation of half the globe, and like his 1943 blockbuster book, willky's super objective
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was to spare the post war world another piece as versialles. on april 8th, the most influential book mrirnd in the united states during world war ii appeared. one surpassed the sales of all fiction books since 1900. he saw the united nations movement under way to reunification that san francisco in june of 1945.
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led by pen pence's joes he of pew is edz gar all with whom are alienated by a leader whom no longer thought or spoke in their language. the party of lincoln -- >> social security. >> mike kohl's for dinner at manhattan's ambassador hoelgs in early june 1944. fdr wants to know if he's confided if you would accept if he dominated you for vice
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president on the democratic ticket. on july 5th, fdr stole the speech writer met with willky at manhattan's hotel bearing the visionary proposal that he and willky form a third party after the 1944 election. of all those he would deem worthy of his battle and surely not harry truman. presumed to be in good health.
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but dead at 52 on the eve of the 1944 election. the republican party's nationalism away from its origins toward a steadily more be ledge rants anti-communism that became indistinguishable from imperialism in all but name. they would end in american century. the precious new year that undoubtedly put him at the center of post war national reconstruction and domestic politics. and risked factuals in on the part of a historian to suggest that wendell willky's commitment to power block understanding and to existence this first and familiarity with the cart ma
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advertise with eastern europe, the middle east and asia expressed its in vigorous councils of moderation and reproach against a cold war policies that rapidly displaced the atlantic charter ideals he and fdr had made the vision of the possible world after the e day. whatever we do with them constitutes foreign policy and whatever we do constitutes domestic policy. thank you. >> wow, thank you so much, david. >> my pleasure. >> we have a couple of questions from our viewers, if you don't mind. >> no, not at all. >> the first one is can you please comment on fdr's
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relationship with willky after the 1940 election. >> it became more and more collaborationist with many, many misunderstandings and willky's feeling that fdr was a man who was a -- a prospective collaboration. >> if willkie had been died in 1944, what impact do you think he would have been and what impact would it have had on the democratic party? >> i think willkie's impact post
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war would have been enormous. and i think that his ability, though, to remain a republican might have been increasingly challenging because, indeed, that idea of a third party that fdr proposed was an idea that willkie thought had merit. and he had all began to meet with various people, progressives, both republican and democrat and others with a few to running domestic -- not domestically, but running for the mayor of new york city. as the beginning of a return to politics but in an eccentric way that might serve the public
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well. >> how realistic were the plans for a post war political party that fdr and willkie discussed during the war? >> more did he think it was feesful to have a party that was the best of both the remember and the democratic party. and so the speculation of how well he could have cobbled
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together a third force is engaging. willkie's death was really quite unnecessary. and people knew that fdr was not last much longer. and it might well have been that had both men lived a bit longer, that their collaboration, not willkie's becoming a democrat, would have been productive and positive and benign. >> thank you. that's all the questions we have for you today. >> that's enough. thank you. >> wonderful time. thank you so much. and as a reminder to everyone, the book is titled the
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improbable wendell willkie. thank you for coming in. >> thanks. >> tonight, fox news anchor brad behr on the life of ulysses grant. that is toinltd r tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span3.


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