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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Kranish Speaks on The Real Romney

Interview with Michael Kranish

Today at the Miller Center at 11:00AM, author Michael Kranish will speak about his book The Real Romney. A Boston Globe investigative reporter, Kranish was able to get the the "real" backstory on the former Massachusetts governor.  From the amazon description:

The book explores Romney’s personal life, his bond with his wife and how they handled her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, and his difficult years as a Mormon missionary in France, where a fatal car crash had a profound effect on his path. It also illuminates Romney’s privileged upbringing in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; his rejection of the 1960s protest culture; and his close but complicated relationship with his father.

I had the chance to sit down with Kranish to chat about what he learned of Romney through the process of writing the book. Check out the clip to hear what he had to say.

To hear much more, be sure to tune in to Kranish's forum at 11AM. You can watch live at and submit your own questions for Kranish via Facebook and on Twitter using hashtag #MCForum.


Missile Defense Systems

Excerpt of 1984 Presidential Debate

On this day in 1983, President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" program to protect the U.S. from enemy nuclear missiles.

Yesterday NPR featured a story from the Associated Press about Russia’s concern over a missile defense plan that NATO has proposed, designed to deflect potential nuclear attacks from Iran. Russia’s president argued that plan broke existing nuclear parity between the United States and Russia.

NATO has said it wants to cooperate with Russia on the missile shield, but has rejected Moscow's proposal to run it jointly. Without a NATO-Russia cooperation deal, the Kremlin has sought guarantees from the U.S. that any future missile defense is not aimed at Russia and threatened to retaliate if no such deal is negotiated.

"I will say honestly that no matter how warm relations between me and my colleagues are, no matter how advanced relations between Russia and NATO member states are, we will have to take that into account and, under certain circumstances, respond," [President Dmitry] Medvedev said.

The idea of a missile defense system, and Russia's role in U.S. National Security, was a hotly debated topic in the 1984 presidential election between President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Party nominee, Walter Mondale. In this excerpt from a presidential debate in 1984, President Reagan advocates sharing the technology of the so-called Star Wars plan with the Soviet Union, while Mondale strongly disagrees.

Click to watch the whole debate. 

Looking Back on Voting Rights

Excerpt of President Johnson’s Speech on Voting Rights, March 15, 1965

In recent months, many state legislatures have tried to implement voter identification laws, in some cases requiring photo identification for people coming to vote. However, many of these efforts have been thwarted. Last week, the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

"A Dane County judge on Tuesday barred the enforcement of the state photo ID law at polling places during the general election on April 3, calling it an 'extremely broad and largely needless' impairment of the right to vote."

To supporters of these efforts, they are designed to prevent voter fraud. To some observers, however, these efforts harken back to the 1960s, when civil rights activists and everyday citizens protested voting restrictions, especially on African Americans.

The Importance of The Swing Vote

Linda Killian, The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents

Journalist Linda Killian visited the Miller Center on February 20 to talk about her latest book, The Swing Vote.

In this clip she articulates the motivation of voters who identify as "independent" and points to Ron Paul's success as a "symptom of [voter] frustration." She notes that there are only about fifty competitive "swing" districts in the United States, and examines their potential effects on the national election. 

Watch the full forum here. 

“Can’t Afford to Lose Tennessee”

President Johnson Talks with Frank Ahlgren

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With the Tennessee Republican primary set to take place tomorrow as part of Super Tuesday, Republican candidates have stepped up their efforts to woo voters in the state. The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported that:


“The three leading Republican candidates ramped up their efforts in Tennessee last week with TV and radio ads, phone banks, direct mail, a swarm of surrogate campaigners -- Gov. Bill Haslam leading the way for Romney -- plus some personal campaigning.”


And in their Super Tuesday Preview, Politico pointed to Tennessee's importance:


"A Romney win in Tennessee would be second only to Ohio in symbolic importance. He was down 4 percentage points to Santorum in an ARG poll released over the weekend, but closing. Victory in Tennessee would demonstrate that the former Massachusetts governor can win in a culturally Southern state."


Listen to this telephone conversation (embedded above) from 1964 as President Lyndon Johnson declares that he “can’t afford to lose Tennessee.”


A Brokered Convention?

President Ford’s Acceptance Speech at the Republican National Convention, 1976 (Excerpt)

Over the last few weeks, there has been lots of media chatter about the possibility of a brokered convention for the Republican Party. Sean Trende in Real Clear Politics wrote about how a brokered convention could be dangerous for the Republicans, while The Week looked back on the 1976 Republican convention as the last time the party flirted with a brokered convention. And Nate Silver pointed to the 1976 Republican nomination contest as the primary battle most resembling today’s.

A brokered convention would happen if no candidate won a majority of delegates during the first round of voting at the convention. After the first ballot if no candidate had a majority, the delegates would be released to vote for another choice, and the backroom dealing could begin.

The last time the Republicans had a true brokered convention was in 1948, but in 1976 the Republican Party had a strong primary fight between President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan of California. Ford and Reagan engaged in a bitter and close fight for the nomination in 1976, trading victories in a series of state Republican primaries. Ford entered the Republican National Convention in Kansas City with a slight lead in delegates over Reagan.

As the incumbent, President Ford had courted wavering Republican delegates in key states by inviting them to the White House, by offering to speak in their states, and by rewarding delegates with patronage positions. Ford won the nomination on the first ballot but only by a mere sixty delegate votes.

Watch President Ford acknowledged the hard-fought primary contest in this excerpt of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on August 19, 1976.

Watch President Ford's full acceptance speech.
Watch Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1976 Republican Convention

“A Man who Runs for Vice President is a Very Foolish Man”

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Is it too early to be talking about VP candidates in the waning days of February? Apparently not. On February 1st, 1964 (just over two months after the assassination of JFK) President Johnson openly discusses the the VP spot with Sargent Shriver. This discussion is part of a larger conversation between Johnson and Shriver wherein Johnson discusses a number of policy issues including the conflict in Vietnam. Specifically, Johnson admits that the United States government was responsible for the assassination of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. The discussion of Vice Presidential selection occurs at about the halfway mark in this secretly recorded phone call.

Santorum on JFK: “That Makes Me Throw Up…”

President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy

As recounted yesterday in Politico, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Rick Santorum made a strong statement about John F. Kennedy's speech from September 12, 1960, in which Kennedy stressed the importance of the separation of church and state.

Kennedy famously said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."

Santorum vehemently disagreed: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” And he noted that the idea made him want to throw up.

In the Miller Center’s Presidential Speech Archive, we feature transcripts, audio, and video of many famous presidential speeches, including the full speech that President Kennedy gave in 1960 (the excerpt Santorum referred to begins at 1:47).

How will the Tea Party Affect the Republican Contest?

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism

I don't know, but Theda Skocpol has a pretty good idea. In fact she actully wrote a book about it. To brush up on the history of this movement and learn how it may influence the Republican process, watch Skocpol, a leading scholar on American politics, discuss the Tea Party and its potential impact on the 2012 election.

Fly Me to the Moon

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Newt Gingrich has been making headlines with his pledge to establish a permanent moon colony if elected president. Gingrich's pledge is not the first time the presidency and "bold ideas in space" have run into each other. In November 1962 President Kennedy sat down with NASA director James Webb and others to discuss NASA's Apollo program and its relative priority within the agency. Click the scrolling transcript below to become a fly on the wall and listen in on this secretly recorded meeting.