Episode 70

July 4th: A Presidential Perspective

with Tevi Troy, Ph.D.

June 30, 2022

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Tevi Troy, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center

Tevi Troy is a best-selling presidential historian, and a former senior government official. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House, from Truman to Trump.

On August 3, 2007, Dr. Troy was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As Deputy Secretary, Dr. Troy was the chief operating officer of the largest civilian department in the federal government, with a budget of $716 billion and over 67,000 employees.

Dr. Troy has extensive White House experience, having served in several high-level positions over a five-year period, culminating in his service as Deputy Assistant and then Acting Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.

Dr. Troy has held high-level positions on Capitol Hill as well. From 1998 to 2000, Dr. Troy served as the Policy Director for Senator John Ashcroft. From 1996 to 1998, Troy was Senior Domestic Policy Adviser and later Domestic Policy Director for the House Policy Committee, chaired by Christopher Cox.

In addition to his senior level government work and health care expertise, Dr. Troy is also a presidential historian, making him one of only a handful of historians who has both studied the White House as a historian and worked there at the highest levels. He is the author of the best-selling book, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House, as well as Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?, and Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management in the Oval Office. He has written over 250 published articles, for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Commentary, National Review, Washingtonian, The Weekly Standard, and other publications. He is a frequent television and radio analyst, and has appeared on CNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News, Fox Business, and The NewsHour, among other outlets.

Dr. Troy’s many other affiliations include: adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute; contributing editor for Washingtonian magazine; member of the publication committee of National Affairs; member of the Board of Fellows of the Jewish Policy Center; a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute; and a member of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense.

Dr. Troy has a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in American Civilization from the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Troy lives in Maryland with his wife, Kami, and four children.


Celebrating the Fourth of July, Presidents, like most Americans, go to the vacation places that they're comfortable with.



[00:00:06] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, setting in motion the United States of America. Independence Day is associated with fireworks, picnics, and barbecues. However, at its core, the day is about the liberty that binds us together as Americans. For this July 4th, we turned to Dr. Tevi Troy for an informal conversation about how US Presidents viewed Independence Day. Tevi is a prolific writer and an established presidential historian. We explored fun facts and the importance of July 4th from the lens of past presidents.

Well, good morning Tevi and welcome.

[00:00:50] Tevi Troy, Ph.D.: Thanks for having me Gary. I always like doing your show.

[00:00:52] Dr. Gary Bisbee: Excellent. Well, we’re pleased to have you at the microphone again. Actually, if you counted up the number of times that we’ve been together in interviews over the last several years, it’s 3, 4, 5 times. So it’s always good time. Tevi, well, we are interested in July 4th coming up. Of course, you’re an expert in US Presidents with four books, multiple articles on the topic, always interesting, and Wall Street Journal, and other kinds of publications pick up your work, so terrific there. We were thinking in terms of July 4th, that you might have a perspective on how US Presidents thought about July 4th or perhaps interesting activities they participated in. So let me just ask that question, Tevi, how do US Presidents actually think about July 4th and using that in some way to their benefit and the benefit of the country?

[00:01:49] Dr. Tevi Troy: It’s a great question, Gary. And it’s an appropriate time to be thinking about this with July 4th coming, and presidents are the leaders of a great nation. But as we all know, it’s a great and diverse nation with many different perspectives, and I think presidents are looking for ways to unite the country.

I’m reminded of a great speech that Ronald Reagan once gave where he had the phrase in it, “Liberty binds us together,” which I think is a beautiful way of thinking about it. And July 4th is the celebration of Liberty. And so it’s not really a day for bill signings or going up to Congress or doing the official work of the presidency. It’s a day for highlighting this Liberty and the way it binds us together in the way that Ronald Reagan talked about. So I think presidents have done it in multiple ways. I think that if you appear too stiff or too busy, or you make it a working day, I think that might alienate the American people, but you wanna have that overarching message of Liberty as a way to remind us of our shared bonds as Americans. And that’s kind of the essence of leadership.

[00:02:49] Dr. Gary Bisbee: Any interesting activities that presidents have participated in on Independence Day?

[00:02:54] Dr. Tevi Troy: Sure. I mean, presidents do all kinds of leisure type activities on Independence Day. One thing I found is that a lot of these have been water based activities. So for example Calvin Coolidge, he went fishing in Wisconsin on July 4th. Herbert Hoover went down to the Rapidan River and enjoyed some time there. FDR went to the Bahamas, which obviously a beach location and JFK, John F. Kennedy, went sailing on Hyannis part, which is something that his family liked to do. So, water based activities like many Americans do on July 4th is something that presidents have enjoyed as well.

[00:03:27] Dr. Gary Bisbee: How about births and deaths? People are always interested in that.

[00:03:32] Dr. Tevi Troy: Well, it’s a good question. Because Calvin Coolidge, of course, who I just mentioned as having gone fishing, he wasn’t only celebrating July 4th when he was fishing in Wisconsin. He was celebrating his own birthday. I think he’s the only president to be born on July 4th. But three presidents, interestingly have died on July 4th, Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe, and even more interestingly Adams and Jefferson died on the same day. And not only was it the same day, but it was 50 years to the day of the signing of the declaration of July 4th, 1776, and they died on July 4th, 1826. And they didn’t know that the other one had passed because they didn’t have phones and faxes and immediate information back then. I believe it was Jefferson who said Adams still lives when he died. And another interesting story is they both worked on the Declaration. Obviously Jefferson gets the bulk of the credit for the declaration of independence, but Adams worked on it as well with him, and they were close allies for a while. And then they had a falling out, and they were rivals if not enemies. And then later in life, they picked up the friendship again, via correspondence. And then of course they both die on the same day in 1826.

[00:04:39] Dr. Gary Bisbee: How about the White House as the center of presidential activities on July 4th?

[00:04:45] Dr. Tevi Troy: Yeah it’s a good question also. Just mentioned Jefferson who died on July 4th, 1826, but 25 years before that, and 25 years after the first signing, he has the first party at the White House where he invites guests and outsiders and they had horse racing and all kinds of other activities. And this is a regular feature of what Presidents do on July 4th now, which is they invite their friends, their supporters, their staff, to the White House lawn to watch a fireworks display. And it’s really a tremendous place to watch the fireworks. You have the best angle and best view of the Washington Monument there. And I’ve been privileged to be able to do it when I served in the George W. Bush White House, and you get a handful of tickets and you can bring friends and outsiders. And so it’s a group that’s very supportive of and wants to celebrate the president, but also to celebrate this great country. And it’s a very friendly and fun event.

[00:05:39] Dr. Gary Bisbee: We’ve all heard about the South Lawn at the White House. I have no idea how many people might fit in. Under President Bush, when you went to that event, how many people would be there?

[00:05:50] Dr. Tevi Troy: It’s pretty jam packed. I mean, you’ve gotta get your spot with your blanket or whatever on the spot you’re trying to suss out. And I think it’s in the low thousands, I would say it’s between one and two thousand.

[00:06:01] Dr. Gary Bisbee: Well, in these partisan days, it gives rise to the question. Is there any trend of how a Republican Presidents deal with this versus a Democratic President?

[00:06:12] Dr. Tevi Troy: Yeah, it’s a good question. You know, there has been some sort of celebration of the military theme on July 4th. So, Adams viewed a military parade when he was president. Trump did that kind of display of military hardware a few years ago. And George W. Bush, who was really into immigration and wants to get his immigration bill passed in naturalization ceremony. So sometimes Presidents do something that advances the policies of their administration. I do worry in the long term, if we’re gonna get to a place where different presidents have different conceptions of patriotism and could look at the holiday differently, I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I do worry about it. But I think it’s more likely that presidents do kind of what you expect them to do. So Eisenhower, for example, played golf. And Nixon went to Key Biscayne, which was his second White House. And George H. W. Bush went to Kennebunkport, which was his vacation home. And Ronald Reagan went to his ranch in Santa Barbara. So a lot of times Presidents, like most Americans, they go to the vacation places that they’re comfortable with. And again, that’s also sending a message that we work hard during the year, but on July 4th is a day to take some time with family, enjoy yourselves, relax, and also celebrate this great nation.

[00:07:27] Dr. Gary Bisbee: That’s a great way to wrap up I think. Tevi, we appreciate your coming on with us and sharing your expertise about US Presidents. Many thanks.

[00:07:38] Dr. Tevi Troy: Thanks and happy July 4th, everybody.

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