Elizabeth Drew, author, Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall
Senator Sam Ervin, a ham, might have gotten the attention during Watergate for his hearings, but Peter Rodino, a New Jersey congressman thrust into the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, hired just the right people and pulled off the only respected impeachment proceedings in our nation’s history.
Joseph Ellis, professor, Mount Holyoke
Thomas Jefferson was known for his lyrical prose and lofty ideas, but a closer look at his career in the 1790s reveals a level of political deftness and duplicity that makes Machiavelli appear naive.
Candy Crowley, chief political correspondent, CNN
In terms of loving the game, Pat Buchanan was as good as any I’ve ever seen. People tend not to see him as a serious politician. But like Hubert Humphrey, Buchanan was a “happy warrior”: he seemed to genuinely care for the voters he met on the campaign trail.
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, managing editors, Bloomberg Politics
Jerry Brown has been written off as “Governor Moonbeam,” a washed-up flake, and a human exercise in nostalgia. But he’s taken heterodox, ahead-of-their-time positions; waged surprising and spirited campaigns (he was Bill Clinton’s stiffest challenger in the 1992 presidential race); and bent politics and policy to his will, leveraging the intricacies of inside baseball and the propulsive force of public opinion. And he has embodied the most essential political quality of all: resilience.
H. W. Brands, professor, University of Texas at Austin
For decades, Southerners wrote the dominant histories of Reconstruction, and they didn’t like Ulysses S. Grant, the only president between Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson to put the muscle of the federal government behind rights for African Americans. Southern sabotage and Northern apathy defeated his efforts, but he set down a moral marker that the nation finally had to redeem.
Kenneth W. Mack, professor, Harvard Law School
An antislavery zealot and murderer who failed at everything he did in life, John Brown was executed for the ill-planned 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Everyone underestimated him, including the Virginia political leaders who made the mistake of putting him on trial, the platform he used to help bring on the Civil War.
Jean Edward Smith, political historian
While Dwight Eisenhower was accused of having a 36-hole workweek, he made peace in Korea, avoided war in Vietnam, and thawed the Cold War. He also punctured the bubble of McCarthyism, enforced desegregation in the South, and constructed the interstate highway system and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, opening the Great Lakes to ocean traffic.
Bill Maher, host, Real Time with Bill Maher
Mikhail Gorbachev. The world had a few close calls with Armageddon during the Cold War, and Gorbachev was able to end it with a whimper and not a bang. He's not popular in his own country, but the whole world owes him a huge debt of gratitude.