September 17, 2014 - Constitution Day


This discussion examined how the Constitutional process laid out by the founders successfully tackled a crisis at the heart of American democracy, and offered lessons for today’s dysfunctional Washington; with former Congresswoman Liz Holtzman, who served on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate; former Nixon Presidential Library Director and Head of the Tamiment Library Tim Naftali; and historian Marilyn Young of NYU.  Introduction and welcome by Dean Gabrielle Starr, College of Arts and Science of NYU.

Brademas Center


Liz Holtzman

Tim Naftali

Marilyn Young

The news headlines are stark. Over a decade of American combat in Asia. Divided government grid-locking Washington. Members of Congress lashing out at an imperial presidency. Talk of impeachment!

This wasn’t 2014… but 1974, when Richard Nixon left the White House in disgrace, threatened with impeachment by the House of Representatives and a trial by the Senate he would inevitably lose. The months leading up to that resignation were a stark constitutional crisis for the republic, testing the balance of powers between the President, Congress and Supreme Court. The cover up of the Watergate break in and Nixon’s other abuses of office came to light through dogged Congressional investigation and subsequent release over years of the secret Oval Office recordings. Yet those tapes would have been destroyed and history denied the evidence of Nixon’s crimes were it not for the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, of which John Brademas was chief author in the House; the Act declared these materials property of the people of the United States. As former Congressman and NYU President Emeritus Brademas said at the time, “Nazis burn books; Americans don’t burn books.”

Gabrielle Starr

Dean Starr is a scholar of eighteenth-century British literature and of aesthetics, as well as a researcher in experimental aesthetics, using the tools of cognitive neuroscience, behavioral psychology, and the humanities together, to explore the contours of aesthetic experience. Her first book, Lyric Generations (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), is a history of the interrelation of lyric poetry and the early British novel, in which she argues for the need to understand the history of changes in literary form as emerging from cross-generic interactions. More recently she has engaged in empirical and theoretical work in aesthetics. Her most recent book is Feeling Beauty (MIT Press, 2013), and it explores the ways our responses to the Sister Arts of painting, poetry and music are mediated by brain-based reward processes and by the default mode network. This work has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the form of a New Directions Fellowship to facilitate training in neuroscience, as well as by an NSF-ADVANCE grant (jointly with Nava Rubin) at NYU. She is currently director of a three-year, collaborative international project on brain responses to music, painting, and literary imagery.