Miller Center

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

Friday Roundup: It’s Economy + Personality, Stupid!

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Today, the Bureau of Labor statistics released its monthly jobs report, which is the last report before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are held later this month and in early September. As in June, July brought mixed results. One the one hand, payroll employment increased by 163,000, a promising rise after three straight months of disappointing job gains. On the other hand, unemployment ticked up slightly, from 8.2% to 8.3%. Romney reacted to the unemployment in a statement calling it a “hammer blow to struggling middle-class families.” Focusing on the positive aspects of the report, Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement on the White House blog:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

So, with less than 100 days until the election, just how important is this jobs report for the presidential race? First, we know from a Gallup Poll released this week that voters rate job creation as the number one priority for the next president to address. However, Romney’s campaign has so far been unable to capitalize on the stagnant economic performance. Even though voters believe that Romney would be a better manager of the economy, personal image is playing an important role in this election. Because the campaigns are primarily being waged in the battleground states, we might look there to get a better sense of the candidate prospects, rather than just relying on the national averages. The table presented below compares the unemployment rates in key states with the most recent Gallup Poll January-June 2012 presidential approval ratings released this week. Read on for more!

 

Toss-ups

June 2012 Unemployment

Obama Job Approval

Colorado

8.2

43

Florida

8.6

46

Iowa

5.2

46

New Hampshire

5.1

43

Nevada

11.6

45

Virginia

5.7

46

 

 

 

Leans Democrat

 

 

Michigan

8.6

49

Pennsylvania

7.5

46

Wisconsin

7

49

 

 

 

Leans Republican

 

 

North Carolina

9.4

45

 

Friday Feature: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Not Riding a Tiger

Jacqueline Kennedy sits atop a large camel.

Jacqueline Kennedy (right) and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland (left) ride a camel in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. 1962

In March 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited Pakistan and India. She is seen here riding a camel through the grounds of President Mohammad Ayub Kahn's residence with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland.

While the First Lady was overseas, President Kennedy paid a visit to the University of California, Berkeley, and gave an address that noted, "As we press forward on every front to realize a flexible world order, the role of the university becomes ever more important, both as a reservoir of ideas and as a repository of the long view of the shore dimly seen." He does not mention camels in the speech, however, he does mention elephants, which the First Lady test drove just days before during her visit to India. Listen to the full speech.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has posted several albums of photos from Jackie O's trip, view the full set here

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight a whimsical item from presidential history.

Taxation Without Persuasion

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation on federal tax reduction legislation, July 27, 1981.

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation on federal tax reduction legislation, July 27, 1981. PD.

Just about everyone is talking taxes this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress has been feuding over tax rates that are part of the “fiscal cliff” towards which the nation is headed post-election. Republicans want to keep the Bush-era tax rates for all individuals, while Democrats seek to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, largely repeating the president’s tax message.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, President Obama is making the case for tax equality and framing Romney’s plan as a tax burden on the middle class. Citing a Brookings Institution study while stumping in Mansfield, Ohio, President Obama told supporters that Romney “is not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit. He's not asking you to pay more to invest in our children's education or rebuild our roads or put more folks back to work. He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut.” The Obama campaign is also launching a new campaign ad that will air in eight key states. Citing a report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the ad argues Romney has paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than many people of lesser means: “He pays less, you pay more.”

Mitt Romney isn’t taking the punches sitting down though. Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom called the report “a joke,” challenging its impartiality and methodology. (Ezra Klein has a worthwhile post on why Romney’s tax plan and the campaign’s response to report are problematic here.) The Romney campaign is also attempting to shift the focus away from the tax issue to the economy, charging that the president has not fulfilled promises made in the 2008 campaign.

Although Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution gives Congress the power of introducing bills to raise revenues, a brief survey shows that modern presidents have been a powerful force in proposing and selling tax policy to Congress and the American public, especially as part of broader plans for economic recovery. Presidential persuasion is requisite when it comes to attempts at major tax reform. The Miller Center has compiled an online exhibit demonstrating how presidents have used the bully pulpit over the years to sell tax policy -- sometimes successfully, but not always. Although modern presidents have played an important role in crafting and selling plans, since the Kennedy administration, compromise with Congress and across party lines was necessary to achieve major policy reform.  Check out the exhibit or read on for highlights.

Ain’t No Party Like the Revived Tea Party

 Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas.

Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC-SA.

In a new WaPo article, Miller Center Forum Chair and Washington Post Contributing Editor Douglas Blackmon documents how the Tea Party has been transforming itself into a more viable political operation. Many eyes are on the GOP run-off election for the Senate nomination in Texas today, where thanks to intense Tea Party efforts, young conservative Latino star Ted Cruz appears likely to win against an establishment-supported candidate. But, as Blackmon documents, the Tea Party’s revival and transformation goes beyond today’s race. Indeed, Tea Party efforts have helped oust GOP incumbents or to force primary run-off elections. According to Blackmon:

The movement has retooled into a loosely organized network of field operations that, as in Texas, pushes Republicans toward more strident conservative positions and candidates, while supplying ground troops across the country for candidates and big-money conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.

Meanwhile organizations affiliated with the Tea Party are actively recruiting and mobilizing voters in support of party-backed candidates in state and local elections, including in critical states such as Ohio. Perhaps even more impressive and a telling sign of its future viability are efforts to raise funds. According to Blackmon: 

FreedomWorks says that almost 190,000 activists have joined its “FreedomConnector” online network and that it expects fundraising in 2012 to exceed the approximately $21 million it collected last year. Through the end of May, tea-party-associated political action committees had raised almost $18 million.

Tea Party Patriots, an organization that says it is affiliated with more than 3,500 local tea party groups, reported raising $12 million in donations in 2011 and says it is on track to match or surpass that number this year.

It remains unclear, however, whether and how these mobilization efforts will play out in the presidential contest. There are divisions within the Tea Party over its alignment with the establishment GOP and many have been critical of Mitt Romney. Yet their “preference for any alternative to President Obama” could be enough of a motivating force to boost pro-Romney efforts.

While the Tea Party is more of a loose network of organizations than a centralized structure, it remains a force with which both Republicans and Democrats alike will have to reckon, certainly in this election cycle, but perhaps over the long-run as well.

W.I.M.P.: Why Ignore Media Personifications

President Ronald Reagan endorses then-Vice President George H. W. Bush for President of the United States, May 11, 1988.

President Ronald Reagan endorses then-Vice President George H. W. Bush for President of the United States, May 11, 1988. Photo courtesy The George Bush Presidential Library. PD.

Is Michael Tomasky’s characterization of Mitt Romney as a “wimp” unfair? The 1987 Newsweek article and the 2012 Newsweek article have this common: At their core, both articles demonstrate how the candidates, both of whom hail from the Eastern wing of the GOP, have had to navigate a party with a thriving ideologically conservative base and at the same time appeal to a broader electorate. This is perhaps why both George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney appear eager “to be liked,” “risk averse” and to lack “principle” or “political identity” in the context of the campaign. But, we should look beyond commentariat characterizations of candidates in electioneering persona and instead examine the records of how the candidates performed in actual governing situations. Of course, the greater the record, the more voters have to go on in terms of evaluating how a candidate performs under varying institutional settings and political contexts.

In this post, we highlight Miller Center Oral History Program interviews with several of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign staff regarding the so-called “wimp factor.” The interview excerpts are a great reminder that voters are inundated with media frames of the candidates, and, during the campaign season, there is a publicity battle between the commentariat and the campaigns to define the candidate.

Do the Candidates Really Want to Wake the Sleeping Issue of School Reform?

 Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind

Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind Act. White House photo by Paul Morse. PD.

Education is a sleeper issue in the 2012 election campaign. But do the candidates really want to wake it? Given the struggling nature of the economy and the ongoing risk of economic meltdown in Europe, perhaps it is no surprise that the issue has received relatively little attention from the mass media. If recent public opinion polls are to be believed, however, education is highly salient in the minds of voters. Indeed, according to a recent CNN poll, 78% of Americans report that education will have a major impact on their vote in the presidential election.

At the same time – and despite sharp partisan conflict between Democrats and Republicans in Congress – education has been an area of major, albeit submerged, programmatic reform in 2012. While major statutory reforms to federal education policies have not been forthcoming, behind-the-scenes administrative changes have profoundly altered the premier federal policy affecting elementary and secondary education: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Indeed, using its waiver authority, the Obama administration has, over the past few months, released more than thirty states from some of NCLB’s most controversial provisions, including the requirement that all students reach academic proficiency by 2014.

Given the level of public interest and the significance of recent policy changes, will the sleeper awake in time for the upcoming October 3 presidential debate on domestic policymaking? So far, neither Obama nor his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has made much of the issue during the campaign. Still, it’s possible that education could play an important part in the debate, because the issue fits into the broader narrative that each campaign wants to tell voters going into the election. For the Obama team, the waiver decisions represent yet another pragmatic presidential response to partisan Republican intransigence, and thus highlight the president’s responsible leadership style. Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, suggested as much in the statement announcing the most recent waiver requests. “More and more states can’t wait any longer for education reform,” Duncan intoned. “A strong bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to Act.” Additionally, by touting his willingness to allow “states the flexibility to use local solutions to improve their schools”, as he does on his campaign website, Obama may be hoping to inoculate himself against charges, made repeatedly by his Republican opponent, that his administration has aggressively centralized political power in the federal government.

Friday Roundup: Should we be concerned about offshore fundraising?

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

On a trip abroad meant to boost his foreign policy credentials, Mitt Romney is also fundraising for his election campaign. Last night, he held a fundraiser in London, which drew attention this week because former Barclays PLC CEO Robert Diamond was originally signed on as a co-host of the event. Romney will also hold a fundraiser while in Israel. President Obama has likewise engaged in the practice and will hold another fundraiser with George Clooney in Geneva in August. So, should we be concerned about the money being raised from abroad? Two interrelated issues might draw our attention: the rising trend of international fundraising and transparency regarding the sources of that funding.

Friday Feature: George Washington Not Riding a Tiger

George Washington rides a dinosaur and appears to have defeated (and be supported by) an army of fictional characters.

Copyright Joseph Griffith, 2006. All rights reserved.

This week's Friday Feature delves into the realm of the unexpected: behold, an artist's rendering of George Washington in battle. The work was created upon the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown.

Our congratulations to Joseph Griffith on a truly creative interpretation.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight a whimsical item from presidential history.

Top 7 Picks of Nuclear Campaign Ads: What’s your favorite?

President John F. Kennedy Addresses the Nation on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, July 26, 1963.

Forty-nine years ago today, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation to announce that the United States and the Soviet Union had concluded negotiations on a limited nuclear test ban treaty. President Kennedy told the nation that the treaty was a “shaft of light cut into the darkness” of tense relations between the two countries. He called the treaty “a step towards reduced world tension and broader areas of agreement,” “a step towards freeing the world from the fears and dangers of radioactive fallout,” and “a step toward preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to nations not now possessing them.” Kennedy had taken a strong position on the treaty in the 1960 presidential election and envisioned it as a step toward disarmament.

Particularly during the Cold War, nuclear weapons played a prominent role among issues in presidential campaigns. In light of the anniversary, we've picked seven campaign ads that highlight the role of presidential leadership on nuclear weapons issues in past campaigns. Take a look and tell us what your favorite ad is or point out a great one we missed!

  1. "Football/Peace," Eisenhower, 1956. This ad was presented to “thinking voters, regardless of party affiliation." Eisenhower tells the public:

We witness today in the power of nuclear weapons a new and deadly dimension to the ancient horror of war. Humanity has now achieved, for the first time in its history, the power to end its history. This truth must guide our every deed. It makes world disarmament a necessity of world life. For I repeat again this simple declaration: the only way to win World War III is to prevent it.

  1. "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)," Johnson, 1964. This ad is perhaps one of the most famous campaign ads, juxtaposing a scene of a little girl happily picking petals off of a flower (actually a black-eyed Susan), and an ominous countdown to a nuclear explosion. The implication of the ad was that Senator Barry Goldwater would be reckless in foreign affairs.
  2. "Bomb (Nuclear Treaty)," Humphrey, 1968. This ad juxtaposes an image of a nuclear weapon detonation with the candidates positions on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The ad notes that Richard Nixon is “in no hurry to pass it,” while Hubert Humphrey supports it now, “as do the eighty countries who have already signed it.” The ad concludes: “Let's stop the spread of the bomb, now. Humphrey: There is no alternative.”  In another ad from the 1968 election, a narrator asks a man what has Nixon done? “Nixon, Nixon... Well, the bomb, the nuclear bomb! No, that was Humphrey's idea to stop testing the bomb.”
  3. "Flipflop," Carter, 1980. Carter reminds the nation of his “deep commitment to controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” while Reagan flip-flopped his position.
  4. In "Arms Control 5," the Mondale campaign in this 1984 election ad refers back to President Kennedy’s leadership on the partial test ban. Mondale tells the public:

I don't believe this administration understands how most Americans feel about arms control. We know that if those bombs go off, that's probably the end, it's over. We're the first generation to have the capacity to destroy all life. And that's why this is not just another problem--it's THE problem. I've been involved in every arms control fight over twenty years. I know what I'm doing. I've dealt with the Soviets. I've worked with our friends. I know how to get arms control. We must have that kind of leadership in the White House.

  1. "Crisis B," Bush, 1992. By the 1990s, campaign ads reflected a shift in the debate over nuclear weapons. The focus shifted from the need for arms control between the powers that had weapons to preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons.
  2. "2013," McCain, 2008. If elected president, by 2013, John McCain will have “REDUCED” the nuclear terror threat.

Election Year Politics: Don’t Expect a Gun Law Showdown

President Clinton Addresses Gun Laws in his 2000 State of the Union Address in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado Tragedy.

In the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, there is a window of opportunity to discuss gun laws because people are paying attention. The real question is whether the presidential candidates will have enough courage to seize the moment and begin a national dialogue on gun laws. After all, Aurora is not singular incident. Indeed, just three days before, a man carrying an assault weapon fired into a crowded bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leaving 17 injured, and indeed other recent examples abound. Instead of engaging in a real, albeit difficult, debate over the issues, both presidential candidates have focused on comforting victims and have hidden behind the argument of supporting of the Second Amendment. President Obama appears unwilling to risk losing support from swing voters, while Mitt Romney appears unwilling to go against the party line.

Although President Obama pledged to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, he hasn’t pursued it. Moreover, he’s not going to act on any new gun control initiatives in a close election year when he might lose voters who support gun rights. Instead, as Press Secretary Jay Carney put it on Sunday, “He believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.” President Obama might be able to afford to take for granted those in his party who support gun control, they’re unlikely to defect to the Republican Party, after all. On the other hand, not acting adds to the list of items the president has not delivered to his constituency and that could depress supporter turnout.

On the other side of the aisle, Mitt Romney gave his position yesterday, reiterating that there isn’t a need to renew the federal ban on assault rifles. Never mind the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he signed a ban on assault weapons and quadrupled the fee for gun licenses. As a presidential candidate, Romney is of course towing the party line.

Should Voter Preferences Matter in Veep Selection?

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona.

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona, April 20, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA.

One of the factors presidential nominees consider or are faced with is a call from factions within their own parties for a particular vice presidential running mate. While the presidential nominee ultimately decides, along the way countless pundits, party leaders and other members of the political class weigh in with suggestions on who might excite the party base, who might help unite party factions behind the presidential ticket or who might carry the party to victory in the general election. But where do voter preferences fit in this process? Do they matter in veep selection? Evidence from this election and a previous one suggest they don’t. Among the most important criterion is a vice presidential candidate’s ability to demonstrate presidential leadership and to be ready to assume the number one position on day one. So if the vice president is supposed to be prepared to represent the whole people, should voter preferences matter in the selection process?

Although most voters don’t pay attention to vice presidential candidates when they cast their ballot, enough people do that it can tip most close elections. Thus, in this close election year, who Mitt Romney selects might matter more for voters than in other years. A CBS/New York Times poll last week found that vice presidential selection will matter “a lot” to about one quarter of voters and somewhat to additional 50 percent of voters for their decision in November. Meanwhile, a recent Fox News poll asked voters who they would prefer to see on the Republican ticket if given a choice. Of the entire sample population, 30 percent preferred Condoleezza Rice, 12 percent preferred Marco Rubio, 8 percent preferred Chris Christie, and 6 percent preferred Paul Ryan (24 percent didn’t know). When the findings were narrowed to which veep candidate Republican voters would like to see, 30 percent of Republicans supported Rice as top choice, while Marco Rubio was the second most popular at 19 percent (16 percent said they didn't know). Yet, Reuters reported last week that Mitt Romney’s likely final three top choices are Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman. According to the Fox News poll, only 5 percent of Republicans prefer Jindal, 2 percent Pawlenty and 3 percent Portman.

Friday Roundup: The Bain Bane

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

The Bain Bane. Romney’s tenure at Bain continued to raise questions this week. While the Obama campaign and Democrats questioned whether he really left Bain in February 1999, Romney insisted that he underwent a “transition period” and ended his day-to-day management role when he took over the Olympics. Yet, SEC filings show that Romney continued to take a salary “of at least $100,000” and campaign advisor Ed Gillespie didn’t help matters when he told CNN that Romney “retroactively retired.” And Olympic documents described Romney as “the founder and CEO,” present tense. At stake in this partisan battle is whether the Obama campaign can hold Romney responsible for Bain investments in companies that laid off workers, declared bankruptcy or specialized in outsourcing. While Romney has demanded an end to the Bain attacks to end and called for an apology, Obama said “we won’t be apologizing” because voters “want to know what is exactly his business experience.”

Show Me Yours…The tax return debate has prominent Republicans calling on the candidate to release the returns and has also created divisions in the Romney camp over whether the candidate should cede to demands. According to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, the majority of Americans, including almost a third of Republicans, say Romney should release more of his tax returns.

Mo’ Money. According to the aforementioned Gallup Poll, Mormons widely support Romney, but their support also runs deep. Records show that roughly two dozen members of Mormon families provided nearly $8 million of the financing for Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC. According to the WaPo, current and former employees, friends and associates of Romney from his business career have donated at least $5 million to back the candidate, including funds given to the Republican Party and the independent super PAC supporting him. Obama raised roughly $4 million in the Lone Star state earlier this week, breaking his previous single-day Texas record.

Achieving an Unprecendented Third Term: Foreign Affairs and Roosevelt’s 1940 Nomination

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, July 19, 1940.

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Sixty-two years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, officially breaking the two-term precedent George Washington had set. In his speech to the delegates on July 19, 1940, Roosevelt’s reasoning for seeking and accepting the position was, not “the call of Party” alone, but the need for continuity in foreign and defense policy given the circumstances in Europe and Asia and the threats they posed to security of the United States. Roosevelt told the delegates:

Like most men of my age, I had made plans for myself, plans for a private life of my own choice and for my own satisfaction, a life of that kind to begin in January, 1941. These plans, like so many other plans, had been made in a world, which now seems as distant as another planet. Today all private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger. In the face of that public danger all those who can be of service to the Republic have no choice but to offer themselves for service in those capacities for which they may be fitted.

Indeed, the critical situation in foreign affairs played an important role in Roosevelt’s ability to control the 1940 convention. Following his failed attempt to purge anti-New Deal Democrats in the 1938 mid-term election campaign, Congress passed the 1939 Hatch Act, which barred federal employees from participating in campaigns. The Roosevelt administration had been making use of federal workers in local and state political activity, including in some of the 1938 purge campaigns. These workers were part of a New Deal organization that operated independent of the Democratic Party machinery. The New York Times reported on August 6, 1939 that the Hatch Act was a “direct outgrowth of strong arm federal politics, of partisan use of the money appropriated and the powers delegated to the executive by Congress…it was the child of ‘the purge’.”

Although Roosevelt had faced a “no third term” movement for the nomination from critics within his own party in the aftermath of the failed purge, the president carefully maneuvered to broaden his coalition in the 1940 campaign. This effort centered especially on building broad support for his internationalist and interventionist foreign policies. The president also strategically brought prominent Republican internationalists into his fold. Most deftly, following the 1940 presidential campaign, Roosevelt tapped Wendell Wilkie, the recently defeated Republican presidential candidate, to serve as the president’s personal emissary to Winston Churchill. Earlier in 1940, the president appointed Frank Knox, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1936, to his cabinet and drafted Henry Stimson, also a Republican leader, to serve as his new Secretary of War. The reconstruction of his coalitional base of support was indeed another way in which Roosevelt sought to transcend partisan politics.

Enter RTT’s VEEPstakes Contest!

While modern presidential candidates have traditionally announced their vice presidential picks at the Party conventions, rumors abound that Mitt Romney’s announcement is imminent. Here at the Miller Center, we’ve decided to join the anticipation and indulge your political junkie pleasures with a VEEPstakes contest on the blog. Here are the rules.

Enter the following information in the "Comments" to this post by 5 pm on Thursday, July 19:

  1. Your prediction of who Mitt Romney will select as his vice presidential running mate. And, although it doesn’t matter for the prediction itself, tell us why you think Romney chose this person.
  2. To break any ties, tell us when you think Romney will make the announcement (e.g. during the Olympics, when he returns from Israel, at the Republican Party Convention, etc.).

Winner(s) will receive a coveted Miller Center T-shirt and be featured in a Friday Roundup with the nominal title of RTT “Political Junkie of the Week” (if they so desire).

Solving the Rancor of Executive Privilege Disputes

Miller Center Executive Privilege Report Cover

Yesterday, Mitt Romney assailed President Obama for a lack of transparency in invoking executive privilege to withhold documents related to the botched gun-walking Operation “Fast and Furious” to the House Government and Oversight Committee. In the Romney campaign’s released statement, headlined “Transparent Hypocrisy: Obama’s Fast and Furious Broken Promises,’’ Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: “President Obama’s pledge to be transparent has turned out to be just another broken promise.” Romney is following Republicans in Congress who already have seized upon the issue for partisan and political gain. Last month, in a vote of 255 to 67, with 108 Democrats abstaining, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress, a move that Holder described as a proxy attack against President Obama.

The attack is also founded on President Obama’s criticisms of President George W. Bush in 2007 for invoking executive privilege over the firing of nine United States Attorneys and the Valerie Plame leak. In an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Obama said, “There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there's something a little shaky that's taking place.” Obama was also critical of the Bush administration’s practices during the 2008 campaign. Of course, the Obama administration has defended invoking the doctrine over “Fast and Furious,” noting that it was the first time the president has done so, while the Bush administration invoked it six times and the Clinton administration invoked it fourteen. What is perhaps more interesting than President Obama invoking the doctrine to withhold the documents, however, is that while he had promised more government transparency in 2008, he has not departed from all of the Bush administration’s executive privilege practices.

While Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency marks the modern rise of the use of executive privilege (Eisenhower invoked the doctrine more than 40 times), George Washington set a precedent for future administrations. After a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans in 1791, Congress convened an investigation and requested President Washington turn over documents related to the expedition. The President convened the Cabinet and Thomas Jefferson recorded that they all determined “that the Executive ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit & ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public” (Paul Ford, ed., 1892. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Putnam. pp. 189–190). President Washington similarly withheld documents in two further instances: after Congress made a request for diplomatic correspondence between the United States and France in 1794 and after the House of Representatives requested documents related to the Jay Treaty in 1796. Presidents since the founding have claimed they have a right to withhold documents from Congress and the judiciary.

So why all the controversy? Executive privilege, is after all, a presidential power derived under Article II of the Constitution that is legitimate when it relates to certain national security needs, when it is in the public interest and when ongoing investigations require secrecy. A new Miller Center report entitled Executive Privilege: Mapping an Extraordinary Power highlights the rancorous nature of executive privilege conflicts:

Although the current approach to executive privilege allows most disputes to be settled through negotiation, these settlements may come with significant partisan bickering. Members of Congress and the executive are often more interested in scoring political points than in protecting the prerogatives of their respective branches of government. They see themselves as partisans first and institutionalists second. As a result, Congress tends to investigate the executive branch more when it is controlled by the opposing party and less when the same party controls both branches.