Joel D. Aberbach is professor emeritus of political science and public policy and former director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at UCLA. His most recent book is Understanding Contemporary American Conservatism. Before joining a Zócalo Public Square/UCLA Downtown event titled “Are American Presidents Above the Law?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, he sat down in the green room and talked about what he’s reading right now, his favorite pizza toppings, and who has the world’s best constitution.
What American figure, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Ah, living or dead. That’s a really hard question. At the moment, Barack Obama.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a couple of things. I’m reading a book on the tea party, and I just finished reading a book on the evangelicals by Frances Fitzgerald. It’s a very interesting book about the impact of evangelicals on conservatism, in particular.
Who has the world’s best constitution?
I really don’t know. We used to think we did, but now I think we’ve learned a little about ours that we probably didn’t fully understand. And some people used to think the Brits had the best, but that’s not working all that well either.
If you didn’t live in the U.S., what country would you want to live in?
At this point, either the U.K. or New Zealand.
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday?
Probably in the gym.
What are you keeping in your garage that you should have thrown out already?
Oh god. A lot of boxes, a lot of kid’s games from when our kids were young. Files from old projects that I probably should get rid of. Stuff like that.
Who was the best special prosecutor of all time?
Well, I don’t think we know yet.
Who was the worst special prosecutor?
Probably Ken Starr.
Have you ever been prosecuted?
No. Not even by an ordinary person, let alone a special one.
What’s your favorite pizza topping?
Oh, I’m one of these classic types, so just cheese and tomato sauce. I was raised in New York City, you know, where people eat the classic slices.
What’s the best movie or book about a president?
In some ways, The Making of the President, 1960. It certainly had, I think, the biggest public appeal.
What was the most important year of your life?
That is a hard one! Other than the year I was born—that’s probably the most important one—probably the year I got married.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
That I’m at the age I’m at, and I’m still not sure what the hell I’m doing.
Who is your favorite president and why?
I’m not sure I have a favorite president.
When you turn on the television at your house, what channel is more likely to be on?
Probably CNN these days.
What’s your happiest childhood memory?
I think going to Yankee Stadium with my dad when I was about seven years old on Babe Ruth Day, just before he passed away.
What do you miss about New York?
The extensive theater life.