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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

Reagan Wanted to Announce Conclusion of the Iran Hostage Crisis in his Inaugural

Vice President George Bush and other VIP's wait to welcome the former hostages to Iran home.

Vice President George Bush and other VIP’s wait to welcome the former hostages to Iran home. Andrews Air Force Base, 27 January 1981. Photo by Templeton. PD.

January 20th marks not only the anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration as president of the United States in 1981, but also the release of 52 American hostages who were held in Iran for 444 days.

President Reagan had hoped to make announcement regarding the release of hostages in his inaugural address and, in fact, wrote an insert of his own for that contingency. If the hostages were released on Inauguration Day, he was going to get a signal, and then he was going to announce to the country that the hostages were released. Ken Khachigian, Reagan’s chief speechwriter, argued with him about making the announcement during the inaugural. According to Khachigian, who gave his account of the matter during a Miller Center symposium:

I said it would interrupt the historical quality of the speech, that he could easily do something about that after the speech. It wouldn’t fit into the nature of the inaugural address. But had they been released during that speech and had he gotten that signal, he would have read that insert.

Of course the hostages were released shortly after Reagan took the Oath of Office on the day Jimmy Carter departed, but not early enough for Reagan to receive the signal and include the announcement in his inaugural address.

In short diary entries in the days following the Inauguration, Reagan wrote about the conclusion of the crisis:  

Hostages will arrive in country tomorrow. It seems some of them had tough questions for Carter in Germany as to why they were there so long and why there were there to begin with.

Ceremony on S. Lawn to welcome hostages home. Thousands of people in attendance. Met the familys [sic] earlier. Now we had in addition the familys [sic] of the 8 men who lost their lives in the rescue attempt. One couple lost their only son. His widow was also here. I’ve had a lump in my throat all day.

Check out these interviews conducted for the Miller Center's Jimmy Carter Oral History Project, which offer insights into not only how the President and his team handled the hostage crisis for the U.S. government, but also how the crisis crippled Carter's 1980 re-election campaign. Interviews for the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project also shed light on how Reagan's team viewed the situation, and how they approached it even before the nation's 40th President was inaugurated.

Inaugural Addresses: Insider Accounts of How and Why They Matter

Panel on Inaugural Addresses with Presidential Speechwriters Ray Price (Nixon); Don Baer (Clinton); Patrick Anderson (Carter)

The inaugural address is one of the most important speeches a president will give. It has a special place in political life because it documents the history of the nation. Indeed, as Ken Khachigian, the chief speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, noted:

One thing that struck me about reading all the inaugural addresses is that they are a history of America. You can go through, beginning with Washington, and you can learn all about the country just by reading them. If you did nothing else, you’d know almost all about the history of the Civil War, about the Depression, about World War I, about World War II, and about the Vietnam War.

Don Baer, speechwriter for Bill Clinton, summed up the importance of the inaugural address as “the one communal national monument that we have had right along, throughout the entire history of country.” And Ray Price speechwriter for Richard Nixon, called the inaugural a “ceremonial speech with a programmatic content” and “one of the great sacraments of democracy.” He said the opening lines of Nixon’s first inaugural summed up what the sacrament is:

“Senator [Everett] Dirksen, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, President Johnson, Vice President [Hubert] Humphrey, my fellow Americans, and my fellow citizens of the world community, I ask you to share with me today the majesty of this moment. In the orderly transfer of power, we celebrate the unity that keeps us free.”

In June 2008, the Miller Center hosted a symposium on presidential speechmaking that featured nine former Republican and Democratic speechwriters who served every president from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton.  One of the sessions included a discussion on Inaugural Addresses. The session provided an insider account of writing the inaugural address, what makes an effective inaugural and what the addresses should be about. In this post, we highlight some of their key insights.

Patrick Anderson, speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, noted that in an inaugural address, you introduce yourself as President, you are no longer just a candidate:

It is solemn. It is historic. I think it I also, under the surface, a very competitive situation, because you are very aware that you are going to be judged against [John F.] Kennedy and [Ronald] Reagan and other great speeches of the past – which tends to inspire both the candidate and his writers to make their best effort. It shouldn’t be partisan or political. It should be inspirational and personal, I think. It should be an attempt to unite the nation for a new start, which all new presidents think they’re going to accomplish.

Baer added:

I think that inaugural addresses ought to be elevating. I think they need to remind the nation more of what we have in common than what divides us.

More Inaugural Memories from Our Oral History Archives

Jimmy Carter Inauguration

Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration, January 20, 1977. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

One aide to George H.W. Bush called the Inaugural the “biggest day” of any commander in chief’s life.  Today we bring you some more inaugural memories from the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program archives. 

Max Friedersdorf, staff director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, discussed how Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy advisor, Hamilton Jordon got in “deep do-do” with House Speaker Tip O’Neill  when he didn’t get the Speaker enough Inaugural Ball tickets in 1977:

Well, first thing that happened, they got in deep do-do with Speaker O’Neill and they never recovered the whole four years. Hamilton Jordan also got cross-wise with the Speaker. After a while, [Frank] Moore hired Bill Cable and Dan Tate, who were Hill people. Great guys, perfect, but they should’ve been brought in at the start. He didn’t hire anybody. He was just going to do it himself. He didn’t return a phone call from Tip O’Neill and he didn’t get him all the tickets he wanted for the inaugural and Tip never ever let him off the hook. He couldn’t get in Tip O’Neill’s office; he was barred. Congressional relations barred! So when we got up there we never had any contact with him whatsoever, none. In the two years, I never saw Frank Moore. And I don’t think any of the Republican Senators or staff—I think they’d tell you the same thing. I don’t know where they were. But I think that was part of Carter’s problem, obviously.

President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, discussed having President Carter sign off on a restricting of the national security team during an Inaugural gala: 

I sat down with him [Carter] one evening and we worked on a formula for two committees. One committee would be called PRC—Policy Review Committee, which would deal with long-range policy issues and would be chaired by a Secretary. Prior to each meeting, the notion was that I would submit a memo to Carter informing him that a PRC is to be held on such and such a topic and that I recommend that the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense chair it. You approve it. The other committee would be called SCC—Special Coordination Committee, and that would be for crosscutting interagency issues. I would chair that committee. The three crosscutting agency issues would be: covert activity, arms control, and price management. Carter loved that. I drew up with David Aaron, my deputy, a memorandum which we called presidential directive because we changed the names of the previous papers. I took it to the Kennedy Center, at the time of the presidential gala the evening before the inaugural, and during intermission got Carter out and had him sign it, and the next day at 3 p.m. right after the inaugural I had messengers deliver copies of it to Brown and to Vance and to whoever was acting before Turner to inform them of the new arrangements. They were surprised.

William H. Webster, FBI Director, recounted watching the 1981 inaugural parade:

I can mention one funny incident, at the inauguration. We were invited and we sat up in that upper area where officials sit during the inauguration. We had a great view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the FBI, and I had invited a number of people to come back and watch the parade from my office space on the seventh floor, including some of George Bush’s relatives, I’m trying to think who all they were. A lot of family people came up. But I needed to get back. So they’d arranged to get us in a car which was parked outside and head down Pennsylvania Avenue. Right alongside us was the young son… Young Ron, Ronnie. He didn’t have the right license plates. He was to be the first car in Pennsylvania Avenue and they wouldn’t let him go, he didn’t have the right license plates. That put our car first going down from Capitol Hill. My late wife, Drue, was wearing a red coat. The only other person wearing a red coat was Nancy Reagan. We were starting down, these people were looking in, Now who is this? They didn’t realize that Reagan had gone to have lunch with Congressmen. So yes, they started waving, so we started waving back. We had a wonderful time all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inaugural Memories from Our Oral History Archives

Ronald Reagan delivers his first Inaugural Address.

A view of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, as he delivers his Inaugural address from a specially built platform in front of the Capitol during the Inauguration Day celebration. PD.

One aide to George H.W. Bush called the Inaugural the “biggest day” of any commander in chief’s life. From the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program archives, we bring you some inaugural memories. These excerpts also appeared in the Washington Post on January 11, 2013.

President Jimmy Carter discussed the legislative horse-trading on his 1977 Inauguration Day:

I had several meetings with the Georgia [congressional] delegation, either private breakfasts at the White House or even before I went to the inauguration. We had a tacit understanding that if I really needed them on an issue of importance that I would let them know directly and they would make every effort to support me, even though it was damaging for them at home. But if I didn’t really need them, they would vote in accordance with what they thought was best for them and their own constituents.

Frank Moore, Carter’s congressional liaison discussed picking an office at the White House:

I remember [John F. Kennedy aide] Larry O’Brien telling me when I asked him about it. He said it was the damnedest thing: All of them ran from the inaugural platform to the White House. . . . Guys were moving desks because nobody made any assignments. He saw that all the offices on the ground were going to be taken, so he ran up the steps to sort of an attic, where boxes were stored. . . . He said it worked out great. In fact, he advised me not to get on the first floor. I asked why. He said: “Well, you have tourists and people coming in, plus you can’t have a beer or take your shoes off down there. You guys will get back from the Hill late at night, and you will want to take your tie off and sit around and talk, and it’s hard to do that downstairs. You’ll always get interrupted.” And he was right.

Michael Deaver, deputy chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, discussed his first impressions of the Oval Office:

Walking into that office with [Reagan] — he sat down behind the desk . . . and before he opened that drawer that had Carter’s note in it, he looked over at me. He had both his hands on the desk, and he looked at me and said, “Have you got goose bumps?”

Lloyd Cutler, White House counsel to Carter, discussed the final moments of the Iran Hostage Crisis. American hostages in Iran were released shortly after Reagan’s 1981 inaugural speech:

I don’t think I went to bed from sometime on Sunday morning until Tuesday after the day of the inauguration. After [President Carter] had gone with the Reagans up to the Hill and the actual inauguration ceremony had begun, I was still sitting on that telephone waiting for the final word on when the [American] hostages’ plane had actually taken off from Tehran. . . . About 1:30, finally, with something under each arm and a couple of other people helping me carry things out as I walked out of that West Wing basement, something caught my eye. Instead of the photographs that I was accustomed to looking at — [Carter] with the pope, meeting with Brezhnev in Vienna, et cetera — there were photographs of Ronald Reagan and his dog. By 1:30 on January 20, the transition had happened, the new photos were up, everything was ready for the new president to return to his White House.

Some Historical Perspective on the Debt Limit Debate

President Ronald Reagan’s First Press Conference in which he addresses raising the debt limit.

While pundits speculate what actions President Obama and the Treasury Department might take to avoid the next standoff with Congress over raising the debt limit, it’s worth taking a moment to briefly examine history.

Debates over the nation’s debt have been a reoccurring fact of American political life since the country’s inception. That Congress is seeking to assert control over the nation’s debt is nothing new. In fact, in the 19th century, Congress was far more in control of the nation’s debt than it is today by authorizing borrowing for specified purposes or specifying which types of financial instruments the Treasury could employ, as well as other details of debt terms such as interests rates.

While Congress has always asserted some form of control over the nation’s debt as a means to assert its Constitutional powers with regards to taxing, spending and initiation of war, over the last century it has increasingly delegated independence of action to the Treasury Department. One of the most significant turning points in the relationship was the 1917 Second Liberty Bond Act, in which Congress granted the Treasury Department the authority to issue debt needed to fund government operations as long as the total debt did not exceed a stated ceiling. The Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 helped finance the U.S. entry into World War I and gave the Treasury greater ability to respond to changing conditions and more flexibility in financial management while still retaining some Congressional control. In 1939, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt and then-Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Congress enacted legislation that created the first aggregate limit covering nearly all public debt. On the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II, H.R. 5748, further delegated independence of action on the debt to the Treasury.

Memorable Moments in Recent Inaugural History

Check out this video compiled by our Communications Team for look back at some memorable moments in past Inaugural Addresses from JFK to Clinton.

How Will Hagel Tackle the Military Industrial Complex Eisenhower Warned of?

Closeup of page from a draft of Eisenhower's farewell address, showing the phrase:

Closeup of page from a draft of Eisenhower’s farewell address, showing the phrase the address made famous: “military-industrial complex”; the speech was delivered on January 17, 1961. PD

The year was 1961. America’s General was stepping down. In his place, a King readied for coronation. President Eisenhower’s years in the spotlight were at an end.

The composition of JFK’s inaugural was filled with speechwriting lore. The words are immortal. Thus, it comes as no surprise that President Eisenhower’s farewell address, given three days earlier, went largely overlooked.

However, what began as a historical footnote has seen a renaissance.  With each passing year, his words become increasingly prescient. The 29 drafts put in were apparently well worth the effort. Eisenhower began:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

There is certainly nothing surprising in this opening passage, but the tone changes. Eisenhower pivoted to the nexus of his address: military spending. More specifically, he was concerned with a new status quo that had emerged, including under his own leadership, following World War II. Specifically, spending on arms had become entrenched as an economic norm.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

1877: An Inaugural Agenda for Civil Service Reform

Torpedoes in His Path: Can he, with that load, get through without exploding them?

“Torpedoes in His Path: Can he, with that load, get through without exploding them?” By Joseph Keppler. Published in Puck Magazine: Centerfold; Vol. 1 No. 1, March 14, 1877. 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.

Rutherford Birchard Hayes is perhaps one of the most underappreciated presidents (CSPAN Historians rank him 33rd). Although he ascended to the presidency in one of the most contested and controversial elections, “Rud” was an intelligent man and honest man who sought to reform the federal government even the face of a hostile Congress and in an era of Congressional dominance.

One of the priorities of President Hayes was to reform the system of civil service appointments, which had been based on a spoils system since the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Rather than doling out federal jobs to political supporters, Hayes called for awarding jobs based on merit. Hayes’ civil service reform success, even if it was limited, was significant for a couple reasons. First, Hayes’ efforts set  “a significant precedent as well as the political impetus for the Pendleton Act of 1883,” which was signed into law by none other than President Chestur A. Arthur. Second, in a period marked by Congressional dominance, Hayes restored the President’s constitutional power of appointments. While Congress could suggest those whom they thought should be nominated for federal jobs, by the end of the Hayes administration, senators and congressman no longer dictated these appointments to the president.

Hayes laid out his civil service reform agenda in his Inaugural Address on March 5, 1877:

I ask the attention of the public to the paramount necessity of reform in our civil service--a reform not merely as to certain abuses and practices of so-called official patronage which have come to have the sanction of usage in the several Departments of our Government, but a change in the system of appointment itself; a reform that shall be thorough, radical, and complete; a return to the principles and practices of the founders of the Government. They neither expected nor desired from public officers any partisan service. They meant that public officers should owe their whole service to the Government and to the people. They meant that the officer should be secure in his tenure as long as his personal character remained untarnished and the performance of his duties satisfactory. They held that appointments to office were not to be made nor expected merely as rewards for partisan services, nor merely on the nomination of members of Congress, as being entitled in any respect to the control of such appointments… 

The President of the United States of necessity owes his election to office to the suffrage and zealous labors of a political party, the members of which cherish with ardor and regard as of essential importance the principles of their party organization; but he should strive to be always mindful of the fact that he serves his party best who serves the country best. 

FDR Addresses Congress 60 Years Ago: ‘Arsenal of democracy is making good.’

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1943 State of the Union Address

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Sixty years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. President Roosevelt didn’t lay out any legislative proposals but instead focused on the events and needs of the world war. “I think the arsenal of democracy is making good,” Roosevelt told the 78th Congress and the nation in his January 7, 1943 address.

Just two years before, Roosevelt had delivered his “Four Freedoms” speech. Roosevelt used the occasion of the 1943 State of the Union to remind the country that “freedom from want,” which he defined as the right of employment and the right of assurance against life’s hazards, would be a significant task facing the country in the coming years. Furthermore, the extension of two new rights in the Four Freedoms speech – “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” – beyond what had been guaranteed by the Constitution promised a significant expansion of the federal government. Roosevelt linked these two freedoms and justified their pursuit as necessary to the future prosperity of the nation in his address to the 78th Congress and the nation in 1943:

In this war of survival we must keep before our minds not only the evil things we fight against but the good things we are fighting for. We fight to retain a great past—and we fight to gain a greater future.
Let us remember, too, that economic safety for the America of the future is threatened unless a greater economic stability comes to the rest of the world. We cannot make America an island in either a military or an economic sense. Hitlerism, like any other form of crime or disease, can grow from the evil seeds of economic as well as military feudalism.
Victory in this war is the first and greatest goal before us. Victory in the peace is the next. That means striving toward the enlargement of the security of man here and throughout the world—and, finally, striving for the fourth freedom—freedom from fear.

Read and listen to the full address here.

1845: The First Dark Horse Inaugural

Scan of a page from the Illustrated London News, v. 6, April 19, 1845.

Scan of a page from the Illustrated London News, v. 6, April 19, 1845, with the first newspaper illustrations of an American presidential inauguration this being for James K. Polk on March 4, 1845. Courtesy of 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.

In December, President Obama threatened to use his Inaugural Address to appeal to public opinion and blame Republicans if there was no deal over the nation’s austerity crisis before New Year’s. Now that some compromise has been reached, the fiscal cliff may not dominate the address on January 21. However, given that the next round of negotiations on the nation’s debt and taxation is now less than two months away, the President will certainly use the Inaugural to once again appeal to the public and lay out his policy agenda. Tariffs, taxes and banking were also the subjects of the Inaugural Address of one of the most significant, if little known presidents of the 19th century.

Not many Americans know James Knox Polk, but they should. He was a rather consequential president and an astute political leader who fought the Mexican War; expanded the Union to the Southwest and West; and solidified national economic policy. Polk was the first dark horse candidate ever to be nominated by a major political party and elected to the presidency. His candidacy was made possible after Martin van Buren committed political suicide by opposing the annexation of Texas. Polk beat Henry Clay by the closest margin in history —1,338,464 popular votes to Clay's 1,300,097—a difference of 38,367 votes. Even though Clay won five slave states, including Polk’s home state of Tennessee and North Carolina, Polk netted 170 electoral votes to Clay's 105. As president, Polk's agenda was driven by four of the most contentious issues of the Jacksonian Era: territorial expansion, slavery, banking, and the tariff. Polk assumed the presidency with a focused political agenda.

At his Inauguration on March 4, 1845, Polk spoke at length about his political agenda and the convictions of his positions. Polk promised to administer the government in the true spirit of the Constitution and promised not to assume any powers not expressed or implied in the document:

The government of the United States is one of delegated and limited powers, and it is by a strict adherence to the clearly granted powers and by abstaining from the exercise of doubtful or unauthorized implied powers that we have the only sure guaranty against the recurrence of those unfortunate collisions between the federal and state authorities which have occasionally so much disturbed the harmony of our system and even threatened the perpetuity of our glorious Union.

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln

“First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, 1864. Oil on Canvas. PD.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As the country approached the third year of a bloody civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which formally emancipated all slaves held in States or parts of States in active rebellion against the Union. Lincoln declared by executive order “all persons held as slaves” in Confederate territories to be “forever free” and, furthermore, that the “Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”

Although first unsure about the extent of his executive power and authority under the Constitution to free the slaves, eventually Lincoln justified emancipation by executive order as a military necessity that came under his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief. Just before signing the document, Lincoln said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper." But Lincoln only went as far as he believed the law permitted him. He also took into account political and military considerations. The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in that it only applied to states that had seceded from the union; it exempted areas already under Northern control; and freedom depended upon Union military victory. Although the proclamation didn’t end slavery, it set in motion a sequence of events that led to the ratification of 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

The Emancipation Proclamation also changed the character of the war, giving the war a moral force and transforming it to a war of freedom. As Henry Ward Beecher said in a commemorative sermon to an overflow audience in Brooklyn, "The Proclamation may not free a single slave, but it gives liberty a moral recognition."

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.

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.

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.