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Riding The Tiger

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

Without Precedent: Is the Bay State Necessary for a Romney Victory?

Mitt Romney voting in Belmont, MA, March 2012.

Mitt Romney voting in Belmont, MA, March 2012.

Massachusetts has received quite a bit of attention this election year. The Obama campaign launched an ad campaign attacking Mitt Romney’s record as governor there. This week, the campaign also announced that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will debate President Obama in order to prepare him for the fall debates with Romney. And earlier this week, spending reports showed that both presidential campaigns have spent $45 million, or nearly a quarter of all campaign spending since last year through the first quarter, in the Bay State, mostly on political consultants and data analysis companies.  Meanwhile, instead of going after Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is claiming Michigan as his native home and saying the state would hand him the presidency. In this post, Anand Rao digs beyond the headlines to examine what effect Massachusetts could have on Romney's chances in November.

In 2002, Mitt Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts, as the voters of that “blue” state defied conventional wisdom again and chose a Republican as their state leader for the fourth consecutive time dating back to 1990. The final vote tally was not especially close, as Romney outpolled Democratic opponent and state treasurer Shannon O’Brien by more than one hundred thousand votes, out of nearly 2.2 million total votes cast. Therefore, ten years later, it would seem natural for Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, to be a shoe-in to win at least a plurality of the popular vote in Massachusetts this November as he tries to unseat incumbent President Barack Obama. After all, it’s close to an article of faith in the U.S. that sitting or former governors are popular with the voters of the states that elected them. Unlike U.S. Senators who serve in Washington, D.C., governors serve in the states themselves and develop close relations with local legislatures and the people on the ground. So Romney all the way in Massachusetts with its 11 electoral votes, right?

Not so, according to a recent Washington Post article by Philip Rucker, who cites data showing that President Obama maintains a double-digit lead in the polls over Romney in the Bay State. Rucker concludes that while Massachusetts proved to be a launching pad for Romney’s presidential ambitions, he has no concrete base of support there and is almost guaranteed to lose the state to Obama, his fellow Harvard Law School graduate. Thus, in 2012, Romney must do something that has yet to be accomplished in post-1900 U.S. presidential politics: Be elected president for the first time without winning a plurality of the popular vote (and therefore all of the electoral votes) in the state where voters had once elected the candidate in question as their governor. James Cox of Ohio (1920), Al Smith of New York (1928), Alf Landon of Kansas (1936), Thomas Dewey of New York (1944), and Adlai Stevenson of Illinois (1952 and 1956) were all major party presidential nominees who suffered the humiliation of losing in the states where they had served as governor, and they were decisively defeated in their presidential bids as well. Even when Dewey won New York in his second presidential bid, this time against incumbent President Harry Truman in 1948, he still lost the general election.

Transforming American Democracy: TR and The Bull Moose Campaign of 1912

1912 US colorized postcard showing Theodore Roosevelt speaking to crowd.

1912 US colorized postcard showing Theodore Roosevelt speaking to crowd.

One hundred years ago this week, a dramatic Republican National Convention prepared the ground for the transformation of American democracy. On June 17, 1912, the celebrated ex-President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a dramatic speech that that encouraged his political followers to walk out of the Convention, maintaining that the Republican National Committee and President William Howard Taft defied the will of the people and stole the nomination of the Grand Old Party. Since April, Roosevelt had warned of a walkout should the Old Guard of the party defy the clear intention of the Republican primaries that year – the first time popular primaries played an important role in a presidential election. Having been denied the Republican nomination, in spite of trouncing President Taft in these contests, TR bolted the Republican Convention and summoned a new party to “stand at Armageddon" and “battle for the Lord.” Progressive followers of TR left the convention on June 22 and reconvened in Chicago's Orchestra Hall to endorse the formation of a national progressive party.

The 1912 presidential election was a rare campaign in which voters were challenged to think seriously about their rights and the Constitution. Four impressive candidates engaged in a remarkable debate about the future of American democracy. In particular, each candidate tried to grapple with the emergence of corporations embodying a concentration of economic power that posed fundamental challenges to the foundations of the decentralized republic of the 19th century. Although Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate, and Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate who was elected president, contributed significantly to this surrogate constitutional convention, in a real sense, the most important exchange was between TR and Taft.

That the 1912 election registered, and inspired, fundamental changes in American politics owes, above all, to Roosevelt’s Progressive party campaign.  The party was joined by an array of crusading reformers who viewed Roosevelt's campaign as their best hope to advance a program of national transformation. TR’s campaign pioneered a new form of “modern” politics – one that would eventually displace the traditional localized democracy, which had dominated representative government in the United States since the beginning of the nineteenth century. His crusade made universal use of the direct primary a cause célèbre; assaulted traditional partisan loyalties; and championed candidate-centered campaigns. Indeed, it advocated a direct relationship between government and public opinion, facilitated by the recall, initiative and referendum, including popular referenda on court decisions, and a more majoritarian constitutional amendment process. It also took advantage of the centrality of the newly emergent mass media and convened an energetic, but uneasy coalition of self-styled public advocacy groups. All of these features of the Progressive party campaign make the election of 1912 look more like that of 2012 than that of 1908.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act and Dismantling the Jim Crow State

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office (WHPO).

After surviving an 83-day filibuster, forty-eight years ago today, the Senate finally passed a compromised version of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a critical legal measure that contributed to the dismantlement of the Jim Crow State. The bill ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public. It also required equal employment opportunities to be provided by employers and laid the groundwork for passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

President Johnson began campaigning for civil rights legislation almost immediately upon assuming office. President Kennedy had sent the bill to Congress in June 1963, but was unable to get it passed before his assassination on November 22. In his first address to a joint session of Congress on November 27, 1963, President Johnson told the legislators:

No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.

After the Senate finally passed its version of the bill, President Johnson urged House Minority Leader Charles Halleck in a phone call, to push through quick votes on several other bills pending before the House and to pass the Civil Rights Act in time to have a signing ceremony for July 4th. Halleck noted in the call that the president would receive all of the political credit for the law’s passage.

After a bipartisan coalition took control of the House Rules Committee, a panel reported a resolution accepting the Senate version of the bill and ruled that only a single hour of debate would be allowed on the House floor. On July 2, the House voted 289-126 to accept the Senate version of the bill. On the same day President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. President Johnson addressed the nation about the meaning and purpose of the law in the signing ceremony:

The purpose of the law is simple.
It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others.
It does not give special treatment to any citizen.
It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability.
It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public. …

Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity.

But advocacy for the bill and its passage triggered a tumultuous election year.

Nixon’s Biggest Crime Was Far, Far Worse than Watergate

President Nixon escorts Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, after a meeting in 1973.

President Nixon escorts Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, after a meeting in 1973.

Today's post is from Ken Hughes, a research specialist with the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program and the producer of Fatal Politics. This post originally appeared on the History News Network.

On the thousands of hours of White House tapes Richard Nixon secretly recorded, you can hear him order exactly one burglary. It wasn’t Watergate, but it reveals the real root of the cover-up that toppled a President.

On June 17, 1971, (one year to the date before the Watergate arrests, by impure coincidence) Nixon ordered his inner circle to break into the Brookings Institution. “Blow the safe and get it,” the president said. “It” was a file of secret government documents on the 1968 bombing halt.

“What good will it do you, the bombing halt file?” asked National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger seconds after the president ordered his top aides to commit a felony.

“To blackmail him,” Nixon replied. President Lyndon Johnson had halted the bombing of North Vietnam less than a week before Election Day. Nixon claimed LBJ did it for political reasons, to throw the election to his vice president, Hubert Humphrey.

Kissinger knew better, since he had inside information about the talks. Having worked on an abortive bombing halt deal for Johnson in 1967, Kissinger used his connections with LBJ’s negotiators then to gain access to the Paris talks in 1968 -- access he used as a secret informant to the Nixon campaign.

“You remember, I used to give you information about it at the time,” Kissinger reminded the president. “To the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October. I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [Ambassador Averell] Harriman,” the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris. (Kissinger’s words on tape contradict his later claim that he didn’t even have access to classified information at the time.)

Nixon had his own reasons to realize that the bombing halt file didn’t contain blackmail material on Johnson. He knew from classified briefings during the campaign that Johnson had remained unwavering in demanding three concessions: If Hanoi wanted a bombing halt, it had to (1) respect the DMZ dividing Vietnam, (2) accept South Vietnamese participation in the Paris peace talks, and (3) stop shelling civilians in Southern cities. Throughout the negotiations, LBJ didn’t budge from these three demands. Hanoi remained equally adamant, insisting on an “unconditional” bombing halt -- until October 1968. Then Hanoi suddenly reversed course and accepted all three. Johnson didn’t decide the timing of the bombing halt; Hanoi did.

If the bombing halt file didn’t contain dirt on Johnson, what made Nixon want it desperately enough to risk impeachment and prison? Over the decades, evidence has slowly accumulated that Nixon had a far more compelling motive: the fear that the bombing halt file contained dirt on him.

Friday Roundup

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Each week in the Friday Roundup, Riding the Tiger takes a look at the major news stories of the week involving the presidential election of 2012.

Vox Populi. Pressure is building for President Obama to do something more for Latino voters as his policies havehave produced few gains for them. The administration attempted to respond today with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announcement that the Obama administration will block deportations of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children. Jeb Bush said that Mitt Romney needs broader ideas on immigration if he is going to appeal to Hispanic voters.

According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 43 percent of voters expressed a favorable impression of President Obama’s plan for the economy, while 37 percent say the same of Romney.

According to a new poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, global approval of President Obama’s policies has declined significantly. Except among Americans and Indians, there is considerable opposition to the Obama administration’s use of drones.

Jonathan Bernstein debunked five myths about swing states.

It’s the economy, stupid! President Obama delivered a major address in Ohio on economy telling voters, “This November is your chance to render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy, how to create good jobs, how to pay down our deficit.” Romney sought to frame the president’s speech in his own address on the economy, telling voters not to “forget he’s been president for 3 ½ years, and talk is cheap. Actions speak very loud.” The RNC also hit back with this video.

Friday Feature: President Nixon Not Riding a Tiger

Richard Nixon rides in a parade, waving to the crowds.

Richard Nixon and family are seen here riding in a parade at Disneyland in 1959. Photo courtesy

(Future-) President Richard M. Nixon visited Disneyland in 1959, at Walt Disney's invitation, for the park's 5th anniversary celebration. He's seen here riding down Main Street, with wife Tricia and daughters Julie and Pat in the back seat.

At the time of the visit Nixon was Vice President to Dwight Eisenhower—he would run for President as the Republican nominee the following year, but would narrowly lose to John F. Kennedy. Of course, he won his next campaign, finally taking the White House in 1968.

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

Watergate Resources

Richard Milhous Nixon, Address to the Nation About the Watergate Investigations, August 15, 1973.

As we look at Watergate in a longer perspective, we can see that its abuses resulted from the assumption by those involved that their cause placed them beyond the reach of those rules that apply to other persons and that hold a free society together. That attitude can never be tolerated in our country.  -Richard M. Nixon, August 15, 1973

June 17 will mark forty years since President Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” were arrested for breaking into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex. As we all know, their capture early that morning led to a Congressional investigation that ended with President Nixon’s resignation. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein co-authored an article last week in which they concluded that the Watergate scandal they wrote about forty years ago was only a glimpse into something far worse as has been shown by an abundant record of evidence from secret tapes, hearings, trials and memoires. In this post, we highlight a number of Miller Center resources on Watergate.

The Pentagon Papers and the Public’s Right to Know

Daniel Ellsberg at panel on a

Daniel Ellsberg at panel on a “Nuclear Free World” in New York. April 8, 2010. Photo by Thomas Good.

Executive privilege and democratic principles of transparency and accountability have long had a tenuous relationship, especially when it comes to national security matters. Forty-one years ago today, the New York Times began publishing a series of articles based on a 47-volume, classified study of U.S. involvement in South Asia from World War II to 1968. The Pentagon Papers, commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in June 1967, revealed that administrations from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson had deliberated and knowingly deceived the American public and Congress about the conduct of the Vietnam War. Much of the debate around the release of the papers arguably centered on this question: does the public have the right to know?

The wall has been torn down, but Russia remains a ‘hot mic’ topic

President Reagan giving a speech at the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Federal Republic of Germany. June 12, 1987.

President Reagan giving a speech at the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Federal Republic of Germany. June 12, 1987.  Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Twenty-five years ago today, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech that in many ways defined the essence of his presidency.  At the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, President Reagan demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev “Tear down this wall,” which was a symbol of communist oppression. While the cold war battle of ideas receded alongside physical tearing down of the Berlin Wall, Russian-American relations continue to be marked by geopolitical rivalry on the one hand, but modest cooperation on the other. Foreign policy toward Russia has been a hot (mic) topic in this election and a range of issues present ongoing challenges for the next administration. In this post we outline the candidates’ positions.

Do Gaffes Matter?

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner speaks during a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, June 4, 2012.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner speaks during a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, June 4, 2012. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Political analysts and pundits are abuzz over a press conference last Friday in which President Barack Obama said, “the private sector is doing fine.” Ezra Klein contends that President Obama’s original message was mangled and lost. Before his comments on the private sector, the president was discussing the global economic crisis and said, “Given the signs of weakness in the world economy, not just in Europe but also some softening in Asia, it's critical that we take the actions we can to strengthen the American economy right now.” President Obama was also using the press conference to push his administration’s plans for recovery at home. The president’s private sector comment actually sounds to me like a point made by New York Times op-ed columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman during our 2012 Election National Discussion and Debate Series on the Economy in April. During the debate, Krugman asserted that one of the most unique attributes of the economic recovery was that it largely benefited the private sector. Chris Cilliza of The Fix at the Washington Post asserted yesterday that President Obama’s remarks will be fodder for the election. That got us thinking about historical examples and the conditions under which gaffes might matter in the election.

Friday Roundup

Obama Vs Romney. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Obama Vs Romney. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Each week in the Friday Roundup, Riding the Tiger takes a look at the major news stories of the week involving the presidential election of 2012.

Vox Populi. A new Pew Research poll finds that the values and basic beliefs of American voters are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years, and nearly all of the increase has occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The GOP base is coalescing around Mitt Romney faster than expected. According to one Republican consultant, “Conservatives don't universally claim Romney as one of their own, but they appear to have united behind him, perhaps reluctantly, but without question.” The right has been romanced.

In a new Purple Strategies poll, President Obama leads by a narrow two-point margin among voters in swing states.

A Fox News poll finds Republican Mitt Romney tops President Barack Obama on economic issues, while Obama’s biggest strengths are mainly foreign policy and fighting terrorism.  

Ezra Klein argued that elections do not give presidents mandates.

Battle for the Ballots. Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, shared the campaign's conceptualization of the current electoral map. The map counts Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado as “tossups” and places the current electoral count at 243 for Obama and 191 for Romney. Governor Scott Walker might add Wisconsin to the list of states in play. After retaining his seat, Walker had this advice for Mitt Romney:

“The best thing he can do between now and November, because this is a very competitive state and we hope to see him here throughout the next several months, but is to get out and make a very compelling case about how he’s willing to take on the tough challenges.”

Michigan may also be in play. A new poll from EPIC-MRA shows Romney leading Obama 46%-45%.

Larry Sabato and his team have two new political maps – one that shows states in play based on current Crystal Ball Electoral College ratings and one that shows states in play by unemployment. From these views, the nation looks pretty divided.

Before we read too much more into what the Walker recall election results means for the presidential campaign, Nate Silver has numbers from the past 40 years that show the party identification of a state’s governor has said little about how presidential candidates will fare there.

A POLITICO review of public speeches and news clippings shows that six Cabinet members have made more than 85 trips this year to electoral battlegrounds such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The trips meld politics and policy with fiery defenses of administration policies mixed with off-the-clock fundraising. More support for Todd Purdum’s argument that Obama’s Cabinet members are not much more than mascots.

Promoting Democracy in the Arab World: What the Candidates Say

MENA protests throughout the Arab world.

Collage of protests throughout the Arab world. Top-left: Cairo, Egypt.  Top-right: Tunis, Tunisia. Middle-left: Al-Bayda, Libya. Middle-right: San’a, Yemen. Bottom-left: Hama, Syria. Bottom-right: Karrana, Bahrain. 01-14 to 07-29-2011.

Thirty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan outlined a new vision for American democracy promotion in an address to members of the British parliament in London. He declared that the United States should work “to foster the infrastructure of democracy—the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities—which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.”

Congress established the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, in 1983 to implement President Reagan’s vision. The NED has since given out grants to non-governmental organizations working to promote freedom in more than one hundred countries. American democracy promotion efforts have also expanded outside of the NED. Today, the United States Agency for International Development and the State Department join the NED in giving out foreign assistance with the stated goal of advancing democracy abroad. Combined, their efforts represent a multi-billion dollar a year industry.

To date, the presidential candidates have not spent much energy in public explaining or debating their proposed democracy promotion policies.

Friday Feature: Ulysses Grant Not Riding a Tiger (Or a Horse)

A bearded man stands beside a large horse.

Ulysses S. Grant is pictured here with his most famous horse, Cincinnati. The horse reportedly stood 18 hands (about 6 feet) high.

As a young boy, Ulysses S. Grant was well-known for his talent with horses. On his family's farm, his father often gave him the responsibility of taking care of the horses, and he was renowned in the area for managing unruly horses.

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


Latin America in the Elections: Time for a new ‘strategic vision’?

President Barack Obama delivers an address in Chile. March 21, 2011.

President Barack Obama delivers an address in Chile. March 21, 2011.

Over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy proposed an “Alliance for Progress – Alianza para Progresso” with Latin America “to build a hemisphere where all people can hope for a sustainable, suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.” In his address announcing the Alliance for Progress, President Kennedy said:

Our unfulfilled task is to demonstrate to the entire world that man's unsatisfied aspiration for economic progress and social justice can best be achieved by free men working within a framework of democratic institutions. If we can do this in our own hemisphere, and for our own people, we may yet realize the prophecy of the great Mexican patriot, Benito Juarez, that ‘democracy is the destiny of future humanity.’

The program was meant to improve relations, which were at an all-time low when Kennedy assumed office, and to combat Communism. Many in the region were dissatisfied with American economic assistance after World War II. In addition, the United States was concerned with the growing Communist influence in the region. The ten-year program included a multi-billion dollar U.S. investment for economic aid, military assistance, food aid, education, and cultural initiatives.

Policy toward Latin America is one of the central issues this election. While containing the communist threat and civil wars are no longer the central focus of U.S. policy, the next administration will confront other ongoing critical challenges, including drug and gang violence, building economic ties, and immigration. Some critics contend, however, the United States no longer has a “strategic vision” for policy in the region as embodied in programs like the Alliance for Progress or the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Walker Makes History & Romney Sweeps Five More Primaries

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on February 18, 2011.

Republican Governor Scott Walker won the election in Wisconsin yesterday, making him the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election. Political pundits are having a field day with what the results mean for the presidential election in November. On the one hand, Scott Walker has become a hero of conservatives. On the other hand, there are many ticket-splitters in the state. President Obama also didn’t campaign for the Democratic challenger and there are questions about whether spending contributed to Walker’s success. A Republican candidate hasn’t won the state since Ronald Reagan.

In other news, Mitt Romney swept the primaries in five states – California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota – increasing his delegate count to 1,398. The big news was the ballot shake-up in California. In 2010, voters approved a “top two primary” system in a ballot initiative, which was intended to stem partisan political gridlock and elect moderate candidates. Under the system, the top two finishers in the primary move on to the general election, regardless of party. The new system may provide stimulus for reform in other state and national elections.