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

Scholarly Response: “Tax Increases Essential to Fiscal Balance”

On Sunday, August 19, the Miller Center partnered with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on the third of six special episodes examining some of the key issues heading into the 2012 Election.  On Sunday, six distinguished panelists discussed and debated whether or not the U.S. is headed towards bankruptcy.  Today’s guest post is from historian and former Miller Center Fellow Molly Michelmore offering her assessment of the arguments presented in the debate.  

The exchanges during the Miller Center’s debate “Is America Headed Toward Bankruptcy” proved one thing: the supply-side faith is still alive and well in the United States.

Friday Roundup: The Candidates Views on Energy

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

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

The candidates are stumping on energy policy, but what do their positions and records tell us? In this post, we provide an overview. Spoiler alert: the key differences between the Republican and Democratic tickets are over clean energy, climate policy, government regulation and the Keystone pipeline expansion.

Friday Feature: President Lincoln Not Riding a Tiger

Image copyright Jason Heuser. All rights reserved.

We continue our exploration of presidential fact and fiction today with this artist's rendering of President Lincoln riding a grizzly bear. He wields the Declaration of Independence and an M16.

Click here to see a full selection from artist Jason Heuser or purchase prints from

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

Join the Debate: Is the U.S. headed toward bankruptcy?

This Sunday, August 19, the Miller Center is once again partnering with ABC’s “This Week” for a debate on the question, “Is the U.S. headed toward bankruptcy?” Panelists include:

·         Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)

·         Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

·         Neil Barofsky, Former Special Inspector General for Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)

·         Austan Goolsbee, Former Obama Economic Adviser

·         Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

·         Kimberley Strassel, Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Jake Tapper, senior White House Correspondent at ABC News and a regular contributor to ABC programs “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” and “World News with Diane Sawyer” will moderate.

The panel will take questions via twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation by posting your question by Friday on Twitter to @ThisWeekABC and @Miller_Center and on Facebook here and here.

Check ABC’s This Week for airtimes in your area (scroll down to the bottom of the web page).

Be sure to also check out additional background materials prepared by the Miller Center, including information on the panelists.

Quayle: Vice Presidency ‘a Stepping Stone’ to the Presidency

President Bush walks along the colonnade with Vice President Quayle enroute to the Oval Office

President Bush walks along the colonnade with Vice President Quayle enroute to the Oval Office, March 20, 1992. Photo by David Valdez, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

Today marks the anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s selection of J. Danforth Quayle as his running mate for the 1988 presidential election. Bush had chosen a team of inner-circle Republicans, including Jim Baker and Kim Cicconi, to conduct his veep search. Bush made the announcement of his choice on the second day of the Republican National Convention. In March 2002, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Project interviewed Quayle and he discussed at length the process of being selected and serving as George H.W. Bush’s vice president. Below are some relevant insights from that interview that apply to the vice presidency and selection process today.

Regarding the selection process, Quayle observed:  

One, you can never pick when you’re going to be selected for Vice President…You can choose when you’re going to run for President. You cannot really select when you’re going to be—or choose when you’re going to be selected Vice President… You want to be in a position. I was positioning myself to eventually run for President. Now, obviously, the Vice Presidency was a stepping-stone to that. I mean, that’s why people want to be Vice President. That’s why nobody really turns the job down.

Quayle also remarked on both George H.W. Bush’s expectations for and support of him in the role of vice president. In the interview, Quayle noted that Bush was very firm against leaks, but he was also easy to get along with.

With him having been Vice President, it was very helpful to me because he knew the constraints and the opportunities of the Vice Presidency. The constraints are obvious—it’s the President’s agenda and that’s it. It’s not your agenda, and loyalty is to be practiced and adhered to. It wasn’t difficult with me or with him. There are two requirements of being Vice President, that is to be prepared and be loyal.

Quayle also offered this advice on using a vice president:

What you want is to have a Vice President who will do a lot of things that you can’t do, but in your capacity. You want him to be able to go to a lot of the political events that you don’t want to as President. You want him to be able to go up to Capitol Hill as much as possible, because it’s so important to have good relations up there. You want someone who is going to be able to travel around the world, who will go to places that the Secretary of State might not be able to get to…You pick up interesting information and insights by having your Vice President out there… you want somebody who you can feel comfortable working with on a day-to-day basis, because you’re with him a lot. If you don’t have that comfort level, it makes it difficult because you’re stuck—you’re attached at the hip.

Read the Miller Center’s full interview with Quayle here and check out RTT’s previous post on Quayle’s vice presidency.

Romney’s Veep: Attack Dog or Tonto?

Romney, Ryan, and Va. Governor Bob McDonnell campaigning in Ashland, Va. on Saturday, August 11.

Romney, Ryan, and Va. Governor Bob McDonnell campaigning in Ashland, Va. on Saturday, August 11.  Photo by tvnewsbadge, CC BY 2.0.


If all goes as it should, Paul Ryan will spend two weeks in the national spotlight: this week and the week surrounding the vice presidential debate on October 11 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.  That debate will come eight days after the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney and five days before their second encounter, and Ryan’s job will be to attack Obama in gloves-off, full-throated ways that Romney, as the Republican nominee for president, will need to show more restraint in doing.  That’s the nature of a vice presidential candidacy—attack, attack, attack.  And not, incidentally, attack the other candidate for vice president, which would strike most voters as tangential to the real choice they are making.

This week, Ryan’s job will be different: to appear to all the world as Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Robin to Batman—that is, as the junior member of a high-powered team that is greater than the sums of its parts.  

And the Winner Is?: Romney Announces Ryan as VEEP choice

Paul Ryan speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011.

Paul Ryan speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC SA.

This morning Mitt Romney announced he selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his GOP runningmate. Romney's veep choice is just another affirmation that this election is a duel over competing visions for the economy and the government's role in economic affairs. In a speech this morning, Congressman Ryan made the case for why he's ready to be veep:

I believe my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney's executive and private sector success outside Washington. I have worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats to advance an agenda of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and job creation.

While the Romney-Ryan ticket certainly makes the election a clear choice over approaches to economic affairs, it's still unclear how the pick will impact coalitional differences within the party - particularly between conservatives and more pragmatically-minded Republicans - and how independent voters will respond. 

We'd like to congratulate "RTT's Political Junkie of the Week," Joseph Emerson, who correctly predicted Ryan as Romney's choice in our VEEPstakes contest. Joseph noted in his entry that Romney would choose Ryan for the following reasons:

1) Keep the focus on the economy 2) Attempt to steal a solid “blue” state 3) A budget has already been developed 4) “Teapublicans” love him 5) He’s not old 6) There’s also an alliteration factor “Romney-Ryan”

Joseph also noted that Ryan's last name will fit nicely with the campaign's "R" logo.

Well, done, Joseph, well done.

Stay tuned for a new contest and chance to win the title of "RTT Political Junkie of the Week" and a coveted Miller Center shirt! 

Friday Roundup: Top Ten Articles from the Campaign this Week

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

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

As the race to the bottom continues to spiral, this week, we offer our top ten campaign news stories. Add your suggestion!

  1. Is Harry playing dirty with his pants aflame? We’re not sure, but apparently his fearless allegations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for ten years are a winning ploy for team Obama.
  2. Where’s Gepetto with his strings when you need him to rein in the candidates? The noses of both the Obama and Romney campaigns grew this week as the ad wars escalated
  3. Money, Money, Money…President Obama, according to the New York Times, “has spent more campaign cash more quickly than any incumbent in recent history.” The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have spent about $400 million from the beginning of last year to June 30 this year, investing in field offices, voter registration efforts, and high-tech campaign infrastructure (but a fancy campaign app also has some privacy advocates concerned). Meanwhile Team Romney once again out-fundraised Team Obama in July - $101.3 million to $75 million.
  4. Conservative critics accused Romney of betraying right-wing supporters after the campaign sought credit for the health-care law he signed as Massachusetts governor.
  5. Biting our lips…The veepstakes have narrowed and the top contenders are certainly earning their spot.
  6. Speechify…The Republican convention is “all about Mitt,” according to Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Romney campaign is carefully controlling convention speakers. Neither George H. W. Bush nor George W. Bush will attend, but Donald Trump is set to have a “memorable” role. On the Democratic side, Jimmy Carter will speak to the Convention on the front end by video, while Bill Clinton will play a central role and formally nominate Obama. The Democratic convention will also feature Republicans and a “nightly ‘social contrast’ in which two people describe their personal experience with a hot-button issue — one person lauding the president’s actions, the other taking Romney to task.”
  7. The great crossover that isn’t…A new Gallup poll shows that 86% of voters who say they voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are backing him again this year, while 92% of 2008 John McCain voters say are supporting Romney. The poll also finds that 9% of 2008 Obama voters have switched to supporting Romney this year, while 5% of McCain voters have switched to Obama. While voter partisan identification remains remarkably stable, it is also more polarized now than it’s been since 1988. Eighty-four percent of Republicans view Obama unfavorably, while 80 percent of Democrats feel the same about Romney, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
  8. Too clever by half? Romneyhood vs. Obamaloney.
  9. Putting a young face forward... In attempts to appeal to a younger generation, the Republican Party is de-emphasizing social issues while returning to an emphasis on libertarian values like limited government and individual freedom.
  10. OK, this one isn’t really a campaign news story, but for your entertainment pleasure, this video blast from the past is a good reminder that liberals and conservatives should still share humor. 

MC Switchboard

On August 10, 1927, Calvin Coolidge dedicated Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. In his remarks opening work at the new national monument, Coolidge said:

No one can look upon it understandingly without realizing that it is a picture of hope fulfilled. Its location will be significant. Here in the heart of the continent, on the side of a mountain which probably no white man had ever beheld in the days of Washington, in territory which was acquired by the action of Jefferson, which remained an unbroken wilderness beyond the days of Lincoln, which was especially beloved by Roosevelt, the people of the future will see history and art combined to portray the spirit of patriotism.

Friday Feature: President Harding Not Riding a Tiger

President Harding riding his horse, Harbel, in Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., with a secret service man riding alongside. c. 19

President Harding riding his horse, Harbel, in Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., with a secret service man riding alongside. c. 1921

President Warren Harding was among the first presidents to record their speeches, and he did so by shouting into a large horn affixed with a recording device. The speeches were limited to five minutes because of the equipment.

Check out the Harding exhibit here, then view the Miller Center's full multimedia archive of presidential speeches.

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

1912: The Last Transformative Third Party Convention

1912 National Progressive Convention at the Chicago Coliseum.

“National Progressive Convention, Chicago, August 6, 1912.” Moffett Studio and Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co., copyright claimant. Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991, Library of Congress. PD

Last month, we blogged about TR and the Bull Moose campaign of 1912. We argued that it was a transformative campaign infused with constitutional significance that championed the “modern” presidency as the institutional means to a full-blown social insurance state. In light of the 100th anniversary of the Progressive Party’s convention in Chicago and in preparation for the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions that will begin later this month, today’s post examines in greater depth the importance of the 1912 convention. Indeed, in the last one hundred years, it’s difficult to imagine a third party convention and campaign that has had a more important impact on American politics and political development.

The Progressive Party’s 1912 convention marked an important change in presidential campaigns, whereby candidates, rather than the parties conducted and gave definition to the national contests. TR broke long-standing precedents by launching a direct primary campaign and his famous “Confession of Faith” address delivered on the second day of the convention proposed a universal system of direct primaries to replace the convention as the mode of nominating candidates in order to thwart the “invisible government” that silenced the people. Furthermore, TR broke convention precedents by joining his running mate, California Governor Hiram Johnson, in accepting the party’s nomination before the assembled delegates after being informally notified of their nomination. Previously, party nominees stayed away from conventions until they had been formally notified.

The convention was particularly significant for uniting seemingly disparate strands of social reform and wedding TR’s charisma to various causes, thereby creating a more coherent movement. As Roosevelt’s friend and critic Learned Hand wrote in a letter soon after the convention:

It is the most inspiring time in my own political experience, and has the largest premise for good. You have succeeded in switching the radical movement from the mere distribution of political power to the actual issues for which political power exists at all…You will immensely raise the tone of American politics for a generation.

The convention embodied the religious earnestness of the social gospelers in its ranks who invested moral fervor into TR’s crusade for a new form of politics that would transform the religion of America into a new national democracy. While TR played a central role in mediating and shaping work on the Progressive Party platform, which was crafted over the summer months, social reformers played a critical role in formulating the “covenant with the people.”

Why Aren’t the Candidates Addressing Poverty?

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Poverty Bill (also known as the Economic Opportunity Act).

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Poverty Bill (also known as the Economic Opportunity Act) on August 20, 1964. LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. PD.

This month marks the anniversary of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the legislative centerpiece of President Lyndon Baine Johnson’s War on Poverty.

President Johnson declared the War on Poverty in his State of the Union Address on January 8, 1964:

This administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join me in that effort...

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and local level.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

Very often, a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom.

Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty but to cure it–and above all, to prevent it.

No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.

Johnson made the War on Poverty the central concern of the nation, but as he noted in his SOTU address, it also required several bills and acts to create programs meant to alleviate poverty and improve the living standard for the poor. It also required presidential leadership and partisan compromise.

A half a century later, poverty has fallen off the national agenda. Furthermore, according to a recent Associated Press survey of economists, think tanks and academics finds that the poverty rate is set to rise to 15.7 percent this year, the highest levels since the EOA was adopted. What’s more, the presidential candidates aren’t addressing the poor in this election. Instead, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are battling for the middle class.

Presidential Power and the Nuclear State

President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 establishing the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 establishing the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. August 1, 1946. Photo Courtesy DOE, PD.

Sixty-seven years ago this week, the United States was the first country (and the only since) to use nuclear weapons in war. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped “Little Boy,” a uranium atomic bomb, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima instantly killing 80,000 to 140,000 people and seriously injuring 100,000 more. Three day laters, on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped a second plutonium atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing over 75,000 people. Although the bombings have been credited with ensuring Japanese surrender and American victory in World War II, the development of the nuclear weapons was also politically significant domestically because it increased the power of the presidency and set a precedent for government secrecy on national security matters. Nuclear weapons development has also been consequential for the rise of the national security state. Finally, the nuclear era raises important Constitutional questions regarding checks and balances of power and compatibility of nuclear weapons in democracy. As we remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week, it also worth considering how the development nuclear weapons have altered governing relations in the American state. Given the alterations of Constitutional powers, secrecy and costs borne by citizens, are nuclear weapons compatible with democracy?

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!



June 2012 Unemployment

Obama Job Approval










New Hampshire












Leans Democrat















Leans Republican



North Carolina




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.