Exchange: Waldman on the Fourth Hour of 'John Adams'

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POLITICS MARCH 31, 2008

Exchange: Waldman on the Fourth Hour of 'John Adams'

John Patrick Diggins, author of John
Adams: The American Presidents Series
, Steven Waldman, author of Founding
Faith
, and Kirk Ellis, writer and co-executive producer of the HBO
miniseries "John Adams," are discussing the show on TNR.com. This is the sixth
entry in their conversation. (Follow their complete dialogue here: Entries 1,
2,
3,
4,
5, 6, 7.)

Click
here to read the previous entry in the discussion.

 

Dear
Jack and Kirk,

Thanks
for joining us, Kirk. Congratulations again--it's a great show.

Before
commenting on Part 4, I wanted to respond to two points in your post:

First,
for what its worth, I argue in my new book, Founding
Faith
, that most of the Founders were not Deists, as you
suggested. They believed in a God that intervened actively in history and their
lives.

Second,
in responding to Jack’s and my concern that the patriot rationale for rebellion
wasn't compelling, you note that you aired the argument that the British raised
taxes in order to pay for the French and Indian War. But that would seem to
prove our point. That dialogue only made the Brits seem reasonable and the
patriots seem selfish and whiny. As the show flows, the serious British
malfeasance came after much colonial mischief.

Now,
about the fourth episode. It has two extraordinary scenes. One is the
(first-ever?) scene of Founding Father sex. Since HBO
brought us erotic polygamy and red-hot funeral-home love, I would have been
disappointed if they hadn't found revolutionary fervor in the Founding
Bedrooms. But I must ask Kirk Ellis: How did you research the scene when John
and Abigail are re-united after years apart and have a few moments alone?

Finally,
I had goose bumps watching the scene of George Washington's inauguration. David
Morse's portrayal of George Washington is probably the best pop cultural
depiction of the first president. He captures Washington's great skill at using reticence
to convey quiet, Gary Cooper-type authority, charisma even. Washington
used his physical stature to impress; it's no accident that Washington wears his military uniform to the
Continental Congress deliberations though he was there as a civilian delegate.

The
scene at the First Inaugural--when John Adams is awkwardly holding court while
waiting for the festivities to begin--was metaphorically perfect: A room full
of confused patriots fumbling through this unprecedented moment until Washington enters,
effortlessly putting everyone at ease. He takes the oath of office in a voice
so faint, everyone is forced to lean in and listen carefully; even his
inaudibility raised his stature. I've never had trouble imagining Adams and
Jefferson as real people, but Washington
has always seemed like a cardboard cut out. His face on the dollar bill always
struck me as puffy and slightly effeminate--more like a puritan
matron than a general. But the George Washington in this HBO series? That's a
man I'd follow into battle.

Best,

Steve

 

Click here to read the next entry in the discussion.

 

John Patrick Diggins is a professor of history at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and the author of John Adams: The American Presidents Series. Kirk Ellis is the writer and co-executive producer of HBO's John Adams. Steven Waldman is the editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.com and author of the newly released Founding Faith.

By John Patrick Diggins, Kirk Ellis, and Steven Waldman

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