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Lunch and Book Discussion: Featuring Geoff Cowan, Author of Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary

On Monday, February 8, 2016, Jonathan Fanton welcomed members and guests of the American Academy to a lunch and book discussion featuring Geoff Cowan, author of Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary.

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences today.

The Academy is increasing its programs for Boston and Cambridge area members. One way in which we hope to do this is to host conversations about work recently accomplished by our members with local Academy community members, including our staff—a new initiative that we start today.

It is my pleasure to welcome to the Academy Geoffrey Cowan, who is here to discuss his new book Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary. Geoff and I have known each other since high school at Choate Rosemary Hall. He earned his BA at Harvard and law degree at Yale when I was studying history there.

I have followed his career with admiration. He taught communication law and policy at UCLA for 20 years before founding the university’s Center for Communication Policy. He has been a board member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, director of Voice of America, and dean of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Currently, Geoff is president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and a University Professor at the University of Southern California, where he holds the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership and directs the Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

He co-wrote an award winning play Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers and several books including The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America’s Greatest Lawyer.

His latest book, Let the People Rule follows the 1912 presidential Republican primary race between two close friends-turned-rivals, William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. Having served in the Oval Office for seven years from 1901—after the assassination of McKinley—until 1908, Theodore Roosevelt had publicly claimed in the 1904 campaign that he would not seek a second term. However in 1912, Roosevelt came out of retirement to challenge Taft’s re-election, seizing on the idea of presidential primaries to gain support.

It is a marvelous book, which I hope you will all have a chance to read in full.

Now, a story about Geoff. Ahead of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Geoff founded The Commission on the Democratic Selection of Democratic Nominees to increase public participation in the presidential selection process. It was because of his work behind the scenes orchestrating the reform process that in 1972 at the Miami Democratic National Convention, Howard K. Smith at ABC News called him the man “who did more to change conventions since Andrew Jackson first started them.”

At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to Geoff Cowan.

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