Bountiful Mayor Joe Johnson hasn't always been a fan of history.
"I took history to pass a test," Johnson admits. "After the test was over, I'd forget all about it."
That attitude changed about six months ago, when he read "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Johnson picked up a copy of the best-seller to prepare for another test of sorts: Goodwin's visit to Davis County in March as part of the "Davis Reads" program. Earlier this month, Johnson got the chance to thank Goodwin for helping him "to finally love history."
Goodwin was in Salt Lake City to speak to municipal government officials from across the state during the Utah League of Cities and Towns' annual convention. She praised the elected leaders for giving so much of their time and energy to serve their cities and towns. "It's so much of what makes this country work," she said.
In "Team of Rivals," Goodwin explores the relationship between Lincoln and his main opponents for the Republican nomination for president in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates. After Lincoln was elected, he displayed his "political genius" by appointing the three men to his Cabinet, she said. "In the end, he was able to bring them together into a team that saved the Union, won the (Civil) War and ended slavery forever."
Goodwin cited leadership skills Lincoln possessed that were key to that success, including his capacity to allow different points of view to be expressed inside his Cabinet and his ability to learn on the job, acknowledge errors and learn from his mistakes.
Those are among the qualities that Goodwin said voters should be looking for in political candidates, particularly as they prepare to choose between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in the upcoming presidential election.
"The media so often concentrates on superficial markers on what makes for a good president who says what in the debates, who has a clever ad, who's wearing an earth-tone suit or a cleavage-revealing dress," Goodwin said. "This is too important an election. Such big issues are at stake."Both candidates have been elected officials, and their successes and failures are on record, she said. "With the right kind of analytical look at their past, we should be able see which one of them better suits the qualities of character, judgment and wisdom that Lincoln exhibited."