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

1901 and 1905: From the Unexpected to the Highly Celebrated Inaugurations of TR

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

Nowadays, the Presidential inauguration is full of pomp and circumstance. Inaugural balls spanning a few days and a parade accompany the official swearing-in ceremony and luncheon. But the official swearing-in of the first modern president was far from elaborate. Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt’s first inauguration in September 1901 was unexpected. As President William McKinley’s condition began to worsen after being shot by Leon Czolgosz, Roosevelt was summoned from a camping and hiking trip with his family in the Adirondacks to Buffalo, New York. By the time Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo, McKinley had already passed away. Roosevelt, now constitutionally the President of the United States, was taken to the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox. After borrowing a mourning suit from Wilcox, Roosevelt went to pay respects to McKinley’s family.

When Roosevelt returned to Wilcox’s home, other members of the Cabinet who were also in Buffalo – Secretary of War Elihu Root, Secretary of the Navy John Long, Attorney General Philander Knox, Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock, Postmaster General Charles Emory Smith, and Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, along with United States District Court Judge John Hazel, New York Court of Appeals Judge Haight and New York Senator Chauncey Depew – without preparation came over to administer the oath of office.  According to Wilcox’s eyewitness account, Elihu Root requested that Roosevelt take the oath of office. Roosevelt answered:

Mr. Secretary – I will take the oath. And in this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement, I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue, absolutely without variance, the policy of President McKinley, for the peace and honor of our beloved country.

President Roosevelt then made an announcement of his request to the cabinet to remain in office. The whole ceremony was over within half an hour after the cabinet had entered the house.

Friday Feature: Reagans Riding the Yuletide Tiger

Ronald Reagan, who is clad in a full Santa Claus suit, holds a smiling Nancy Reagan in his lap.

In the spirit of Nancy Reagan and whoever might be under that beard, best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

Miller Center Panel: Immigration Reform Needed if U.S. to Compete in Global Battle for Talent, Ideas

Caplin Conference Keynote Roundtable: “High Skilled Immigration: Pathways to Progress”

On December 7, the Miller Center convened the 2012 Mortimer Caplin Conference on the World Economy at our offices in Washington, DC and at the National Press Club. Representatives from the academy, the government, and the private sector engaged in serious discussions about the true impact of current immigration provisions on American competitiveness, how proposals for high-skilled admissions can meet the needs of the U.S. economy, what effect such proposals might have on other policy goals (such as encouraging U.S. students to enter STEM fields), how those trade-offs should be managed, and the extent to which specific proposals serve national interests or instead primarily benefit particular industries or employers. 

The concluding panel at the National Press Club featured University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, United States Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), and Founder and former CEO of AOL Steve Case. The panel was moderated by Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor and Executive Editor of The Wall Street Journal online edition and President of Pew Research Center (beginning January 2013). As Murray noted in his introduction, immigration is one issue that changed on the national landscape in the wake of the election. The outcome of the election has shaken up the politics and created the possibility for some movement on immigration legislation.

Steve Case noted that it is worth remembering that the nation was once a start-up. We didn’t become the leading economy by accident. It was the work of entrepreneurs who created companies and built the economy. In the history of the nation, the work of the risk-taking, pioneering entrepreneurs to help build this country is often overlooked. Case said the good news is that the U.S. is still the world’s most entrepreneurial nation. The bad news is that other nations have figured out that “the secret sauce” to a successful economy is an entrepreneurial economy. Other countries have modified their policies to become more entrepreneurial. Australia, for example, allows ten times more entrepreneurial visas. We are engaged in a global battle for talent, capital and ideas. Detroit rose on an idea propelled by entrepreneurs and fell when it lost its way. As a country, if we don’t change course, we will also fall. The issue of talent is central – as the old truism goes, an organization is only as good as it’s people. Case expressed frustration that we’ve been talking about high skilled reform for at least a decade. We have to do something quickly. Immigration should be less of a debate about a problem and more of a debate about opportunity.

Lessons from Mr. Rogers, Relevant Still

Mr. Rogers’ Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Special, 1968

The tragedy in Newtown has set a tone of grieving throughout the United States. As the nation grapples to formulate a response and heal, we think back to other tragic times in American history and attempt to learn from—or, at least, acknowledge—their role in shaping our national consciousness at the time.

Embedded here is a clip from episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood following the assassination of RFK in 1968. In this clip, Daniel the lion talks to Betty about life and tragedy. It begins with a balloon, segues into a conversation about "What does 'assassination' mean?," and ends with a message from Fred Rogers about how we all deal with sadness differently.

From Mr. Rogers himself (beginning 6:10):

“I've been terribly concerned about the graphic display of violence which the mass media has been showing recently, and I plead for your protection and support of your young children. There's just so much that a very young child can take without it being overwhelming to him. I've been, very frankly, quite concerned about it, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today. The best thing in the world is for your children to be included in your family ways of coping with the problems that present themselves any time… but particularly now, in this very difficult time in our nation.”

He goes on to describe different ways a family might deal with their grief: attending a church, walking by a river, putting "a strong arm" around those you love.

Video courtesy Fred Rogers Center, all rights reserved.

 

Is this the Moment for Political Action on Gun Violence?

President Bill Clinton Address 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 Newton, Connecticut, the nation could be poised for a more serious dialogue about gun violence. Even President Obama, who was reticent in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shootings amidst the height of electioneering to risk losing swing voters, now seems more willing to engage in a national dialogue on preventing gun violence. On Sunday, President Obama traveled to Newton, Connecticut to address the community at an interfaith vigil. As he noted in his speech, it was the fourth time in his presidency that the nation has come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings. Indeed, according to a Mother Jones investigation, spree shootings like those in Newton, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine have been on the rise in the United States (a less restrictive definition of mass shootings employed by James Allan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern, finds that there hasn’t been an increase). There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the past three decades, with 24 in the last seven years alone. In addition to these shootings, there have also been “an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children.” President Obama told the community:

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

While the President refrained from advocating specific gun control laws, he noted:

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

In pressing for action, President Obama follows in the footsteps of his Democratic predecessors, though he has been more restrained thus far by refraining from advocating specific measures.

1881: Inaugural of a Forgotten President

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite administering the oath of office to James A. Garfield on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol.

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite administering the oath of office to James A. Garfield on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. PD.

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

The inaugural address of James Garfield certainly falls into the category of “speeches lost to history.” It dovetails nicely with the addresses previously examined in this series. Harrison’s inaugural is more known for the fact that it probably killed him than for its content. Buchanan’s is overshadowed by a presidency infamous for his inability to prevent (and respond to) the onset of civil war. James Garfield falls into neither of those categories. His speech is lost to history because his presidency is lost to history. His most distinctive attribute is that a former supporter who was mentally ill assassinated him less than a hundred days after his inauguration. This end is all the more unfortunate when considered in the context of his inaugural address, which is surprisingly substantive and inspiring--especially for one of the “forgotten” presidents.

Garfield, a man who rose to public office largely due to his renown as hero of the Civil War, began by saying: “We ourselves are witnesses that the Union emerged from the blood and fire of that conflict purified and made stronger for all the beneficent purposes of good government.” Garfield believed that the conflict had foreclosed one of the most divisive issues in American political history:

The supremacy of the nation and its laws should be no longer a subject of debate. That discussion, which for half a century threatened the existence of the Union, was closed at last in the high court of war by a decree from which there is no appeal--that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are and shall continue to be the supreme law of the land, binding alike upon the States and the people.

A considerable portion of the speech is dedicated to discussing the plight of newly freed slaves. Garfield said that the enfranchisement and self-sufficiency of freed persons was a force that would “grow greater and bear richer fruit with the coming years.” Garfield went on to say:

[T]hose who resisted the change should remember that under our institutions there was no middle ground for the negro race between slavery and equal citizenship. There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.

Legal History Shows Tactical Shifts of Right-to-Work Movement

Leon Bates (UAW leader) handing out UAW—United Auto Workers literature during the 1941 organizing drive at Ford.

Leon Bates (UAW leader) handing out UAW—United Auto Workers literature during the 1941 organizing drive at the Ford Motor Company - River Rouge plant - gate #4 on Miller Road. PD.

This week, the state of Michigan passed and Governor Rick Snyder signed into law new right-to-work legislation. The two measures ban unions from requiring workers to pay membership dues. The tactics employed by supporters to pass the measures show they have learned from recent efforts. The measures were attached to an appropriations bill, which exempts it from being taken to a referendum. The measures also exclude firefighters and police, groups that were critical in overturning similar measures in Ohio. The right-to-work effort underway in a number of states also demonstrates the power of conservatives at the state level, despite the Republican loss in the presidential election.

Last week, Sophia Lee, an assistant professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, presented a chapter on her forthcoming book at the Miller Center’s GAGE Colloquium. Lee’s new book provides insight into the current situation by examining the history of two important and powerful, but competing movements since the 1930s – the civil rights movement and the right-to-work movement.  Her book explains why the state action doctrine survived the civil rights and conservative revolutions, and explores the implications of this history for the workplace and beyond.

The thriving right-to-work movement at the state level today has its roots in the 1940s. Though it hasn’t always been politically successful, the right-to-work movement has been deeply intertwined with the conservative and anti-New Deal movement. Lee documents one of the earliest conservative efforts to apply the Constitution to the workplace. In 1944, Hollywood impresario and showman, Cecil B. deMille brought a lawsuit to the court challenging the constitutionality of a one-dollar fee levied on him by his union. Lee notes that this was the first of many campaigns to pass a right-to-work law banning mandatory support for unions in the state of California.  According to Lee:

Like the black railroad workers of his day, deMille struggled to articulate why the Constitution reached his workplace. To say he was unsuccessful would be an understatement. The California courts found his claim near incomprehensible. But deMille was not deterred. He spent the rest of the 1940s building a foundation to champion the right-to-work and taking his constitutional theories to the prominent public pulpits at his disposal.

In the 1950s, right-to-work advocates, with the help of deMille, formed their first organizations dedicated to getting the Supreme Court to declare mandatory support for unions “in conflict with the Bill of Rights.” Although the right-to-work movement won potentially promising precedent in the Supreme Court, it didn’t achieve all that it had hoped for.

Friday Feature: Betty Ford and Santa Claus Riding the Tiger

First Lady Betty Ford, Santa Claus, and clowns lead a procession of Diplomatic Corps children at a White House Christmas party, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress.

As if the holidays weren't hectic enough, the fiscal cliff and the threat of sequestration looms over the White House and Congress (not to mention citizens and government organizations, large and small).

Despite economic woes, the White House in recent history has always shown a warm embrace of the holiday season. Read about holidays at the White House here.

This season, the White House expects more than 90,000 visitors to come and enjoy the decorations and this year's theme, "Joy To All."

In the embedded photo, Betty Ford and Santa lead a procession of guests and clowns to a Christmas party for Diplomatic Corps children. The theme that year was “An Old Fashioned Children’s Christmas”.

Click through for a few more treats through the years.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

Fiscal Cliffnotes: The Republican Party and Tax Policy Positioning

President Ronald Reagan delivers his address to the nation on tax reduction.

President Ronald Reagan delivers his address to the nation on tax reduction. July 27, 1981. PD.

The current partisan rift over fiscal policy and the deadlock negotiators face regarding the impending fiscal cliff are nothing new. Indeed, divisions over fiscal policy have long been at the center of competition between the two parties. While both parties are taking positions that will benefit them electorally, they may be doing so to the detriment of the country’s broader economic well-being. But it is worth noting that the parties’ positions on fiscal policy have not been stable over the last seventy years, and both have switched on matters related to taxes and debts. A brief review of the history of the modern Republican Party’s fiscal policy positioning provides insights on the origins of the situation we face today, as well as insights into the party’s use of tax policy as means to combat government expansion and to win elections.

While the modern Republican Party has long been viewed as the fiscally conservative party, the meaning of fiscal conservatism has varied over the last seventy years. The position of the modern Republican Party has its roots in the mid-1900s. During the 1940s, Republicans had proposed tax cuts as a means to force government retrenchment in the wake of New Deal policies and spending. Just as we are witnessing in the current fiscal cliff standoff, Republican Members of Congress in the 1940s and 1950s rejected increasing taxes as a means for addressing the nation’s fiscal imbalances. For example, in 1951, House minority leader Joseph Martin (R-MA) argued against President Harry Truman’s proposal to increase taxes:

The Administration’s contention that this tax bill is needed to control inflation is economic voodoo talk. No set of controls and no pyramid of taxes ever devised by man wills top inflation in America when the root of the evil is government spending.

Similarly, as they do today, Republicans argued that tax cuts were a better means for stimulating the economy. In 1953, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Daniel Reed (R-NY) argued that “tax reduction, far from enlarging the deficit, would serve to increase federal revenues by stimulating economic growth.”

Although the modern Republican Party has come be associated with support for tax cuts and opposition to tax increases, this wasn’t always the case.

What to Expect in the Second Term: Presidential Travel and the Rise of Legacy Building

President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili meet in Tbilisi Tuesday, May 10, 2005.

President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili meet in Tbilisi Tuesday, May 10, 2005. White House photo by Eric Draper. PD.

To date, little attention has been dedicated to the study of the “public presidency” in the second-term, despite the fact that securing reelection represents an achievement capable of granting one entrance into our nation’s pantheon of “great” presidents. Former Miller Center National Fellow Emily Charnock has co-authored with James A. McCann and Kathryn Dunn Tenpas a new paper published by the Brookings Institution that examines presidential travel from President Eisenhower through George W. Bush. If President Obama follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, he will spend less time over the next four years in swing states and more time abroad. Charnock, McCann and Tenpas analyze second-term presidential travel, revealing a distinct uptick in international travel and the demise of the permanent campaign strategy. The authors suggest that such a change in priorities reflects an emphasis on legacy building.

Download the full paper here.

1857: The Inaugural Before the Tempest

Photograph of James Buchanan's 1857 presidential inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. First ever such photograph

Photograph of James Buchanan’s 1857 presidential inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. First ever such photograph. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. PD.

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

“To the Patriot Buchanan / The tribute we owe, / Til the people proclaim it again to bestow, / And the fourth day of March be again made to yield, / A harvest of Glory in Liberty’s field.”

-Col. W. Emmonn, an Ode composed in honor of James Buchanan’s inauguration

History has not been kind to James Buchanan. Historians in the business of ranking presidents generally place him near the infamous bottom of the list - beyond the relative harmlessness of being completely unknown (Millard Fillmore) and sometimes even the disgrace of scandal (Warren G. Harding). Arguably, he his lowly rank is, in part, due to his proximity to the near-universally accepted “best” president, Abraham Lincoln. The contrast does not serve Buchanan’s legacy well. To summarize his historical portrait: he is the president who believed that the South had no right to secede from the Union, and that the president had no right to stop them. Not surprisingly, his inaugural address gets very little attention from presidential scholars. While there is no use in arguing for renewed attention to Buchanan, it is worth noting that the inaugural addresses of “failed” presidents are at least as interesting as those of successful ones.

At the time, Buchanan’s inaugural did not enjoy a warm reception. The front page of the New York Times featured the speech the next day, together with an article entitled “Narrow Escape of the President Elect from a Violent Death,” which included unflattering details of Buchanan suffering from diarrhea as a side effect of accidental arsenic poisoning. Even more recent, evenhanded, considerations of Buchanan and his inaugural add only slight modifications to his “reviled” legacy. “James Buchanan,” writes Michael Carrafiello of Miami University, “was tragically ill equipped to become the nation’s chief executive at a time of burgeoning crises.”

The speech lives up to expectations, though it can be read two ways. It can be read as the best attempt of an incoming president to serve as an arbiter in a time of growing sectional conflict, or it can be read as a tragic miscalculation of an inept president-elect.

Could Conservatives Overthrow Boehner? What History Can Tell Us

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union Address. Official photo by Pete Souza. PD.

On Monday, the Republican Steering Committee, at the behest of Speaker John Boehner, removed four Republicans from prime committee assignments in advance of the convening of the 113thCongress: Justin Amash (MI) and Tim Huelskamp (KS) from the Budget Committee and Walter B. Jones (NC) and David Schweikert (AZ) from the Financial Services Committee.  Reports suggest that these members were ousted because of insufficient support for leadership positions (i.e., low leadership support scores) on a set of key votes in the 112th Congress.  See here, here, and here.  In addition, three of these individuals (Amash, Huelskamp, and Schweikert) are considered among the more conservative members of the Republican Conference, suggesting that Boehner is trying to rein in the rebellious Tea Party tendencies that were so apparent in the 112th Congress.

This committee “purge” has elicited considerable outrage in conservative circles inside and outside of Washington.  The most radical suggestion, offered by Ned Ryun on the conservative blog Red State, is that a small group of Republicans signal their unhappiness with Boehner by voting against him in the speakership vote on the House floor.  Ryun argues that if 16 Republicans abstain from voting for Boehner for Speaker, based on the assumption that there will be 233 Republicans in attendance when the 113th House convenes in January, then he will fail to receive a majority – and, in time (assuming repeated, inconclusive speakership balloting), the Republican Conference will be forced to choose a new speakership nominee, one more amenable to the preferences of the dissident faction (and, presumably, conservatives more generally).

(One aside: Ryun argues that dissident members should simply abstain from voting.  But the rule for electing Speakers has been interpreted differently over time. At times the requirement has been a majority of all members-elect, and at other times it has been a majority of all members present and voting “for a person by name.”  The most recent interpretation has been the latter. For example, in the 105thCongress, Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker with 216 votes, which constituted a majority of all members present and voting for a person by name, but not a majority of all members-elect.  So Ryun’s strategy, to be safe, should direct dissidents to cast their protest votes for one of their own, rather than abstain.)

Highlight from the Recasting Presidential History Conference: Darren Dochuk on Religious Ecologies

Darren Dochuck, “There Will Be Oil: Presidential Politics, Wildcat Religion, and the Culture Wars of Pipeline Politics.”

Darren Dochuk’s paper and presentation at the Miller Center’s Recasting Presidential History conference in October is another terrific example of cutting edge work that points to the rich opportunities for conservation between political history, social and cultural history and the presidency. Dochuk, an Associate Professor in the Humanities at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, asserts that there are relatively few historians who have foregrounded religion in their studies of the presidency and that those who have, have generally done so in ways that resonate with the old presidential synthesis of history that deemed the supreme commander the supreme force in American politics. There is a familiar narrative among historians who write of faith and presidency in which presidents, “humbled by sin, budding politician encounters God, dedicates life to civil service, appeals to his people with piety, then as the anointed governs with a firm imposition of will.” Faith in this popular storyline is an isolated impulse or a catalogued theology of the president that doesn’t track to the day-to-day muddles of real politics. The measurement of belief and action is usually done within the context of culture war issues like abortion and gay marriage. According to Dochuk, what remains is a rather superficial literature “in which priestly presidents still act as free-floating agents who dictate, not simply embody, the spirit of their age.”

Dochuk invites us to instead consider a new, more exciting dimension in our rendering of presidential history by examining how presidents have grappled with the sacred environments they have inherited. We need to look beyond spiritual biographies and “examine the religious ecologies that shape the politics of a place, and define the presidents and presidencies that emerge from them.” Recent innovations, for example, have shown how religious interests, especially Protestant ones, have influenced presidential politics and policy. Scholarly progress can be made by moving away from conventional renderings of the priestly president towards more textured political histories that embed presidencies and presidents in their deepest social contexts. Dochuk makes that case that a new generation of scholars should pay attention to the “moral geographies that presidencies and presidents inhabit and engage,” and in so doing, “we will also be compensated with histories that make it harder to differentiate between the social and political, the political and religious.”

Highlight from the Recasting Presidential History Conference: Grace Elizabeth Hale

As we noted in a post last week, RTT is highlighting papers and presentations from the Miller Center’s Recasting Presidential History conference in October that point to the rich opportunities for conservation between political history, social and cultural history and the presidency. One such presentation worth highlighting is that delivered by Grace Elizabeth Hale, a professor of History and American Studies at the University of Virginia. Her presentation, “Outsider in Chief: Presidents and the Politics of Authenticity and Emotion,” traces the cultural development of the President’s outsider persona. Observers of contemporary American politics need only look at each new batch of Republican primary candidates to witness the irony of individuals attempting to become the foremost political insider--while all simultaneously claiming to be outside the fray. Hale traces this proclivity to the desire to appear “real” before the electorate, while showing how presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have touted their own outsider credentials. Her presentation invites us to consider the cultural roots of their presidential authenticity (or lack thereof).

The Warped Estate

Richard Nixon’s “Checker’s Speech,” September 23, 1952

First hand access to the daily life of President Obama has become the new hot ticket among political journalists. Americans have four more years of Democratic leadership. Correspondingly, they want to know more about thee somewhat shadowy figure pulling the strings inside the Oval Office. Just what is the Commander-in-Chief up to?

Results have been mixed. Brian Williams chose the angle of fellow traveler on the campaign trail fairing on NBC’s “Rock Center.” From his travels, we garnered little, save for the fact that modern politicians fly quite a great deal.

Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair, added a piece of his own. Like Williams, much of the focus seemingly whiffed at a pitch that others might have taken a harder swing at.

For instance, the Moneyball and Blind Side author spends an extended period of time covering Obama’s Spartan taste in furniture. He then documents Obama’s well-covered love of basketball in great detail. However, to say that his was nothing more than a puff piece undersells it. Indeed, there were some highly interesting moments to note. One in particular stuck out.