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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Voter Preferences Matter in Veep Selection?

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

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

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

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

Friday Roundup: The Bain Bane

Obama Vs Romney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter RTT’s VEEPstakes Contest!

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

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

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

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

Solving the Rancor of Executive Privilege Disputes

Miller Center Executive Privilege Report Cover

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

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

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

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

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

Reagan’s Coalition Building and the Compact of Freedom

Ronald Wilson Reagan, Acceptance Speech to the Republican National Convention, July 17, 1980.

Thirty-two years today, on July 17, 1980, Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention and accepted the party’s nomination for the presidency. As the excerpts below reveal, his speech stressed the themes of American values, reducing government growth, balancing the budget, the need to revitalize the nation’s defense and the need to take a leadership role in the world.

Isn't it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them--for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?...

As your nominee, I pledge to restore to the federal government the capacity to do the people's work without dominating their lives…

America must get to work producing more energy. The Republican program for solving economic problems is based on growth and productivity…

It is essential that we maintain both the forward momentum of economic growth and the strength of the safety net beneath those in society who need help. We also believe it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security are preserved…

Beyond these essentials, I believe it is clear our federal government is overgrown and overweight. Indeed, it is time for our government to go on a diet…

I have long advocated a 30 percent reduction in income tax rates over a period of three years. This phased tax reduction would begin with a 10 percent "down payment" tax cut in 1981, which the Republicans and Congress and I have already proposed…

It is time to put America back to work; to make our cities and towns resound with the confident voices of men and women of all races, nationalities and faiths bringing home to their families a decent paycheck they can cash for honest money…

Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve, but we are given weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness…. The administration which has brought us to this state is seeking your endorsement for four more years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence. No American should vote until he or she has asked, is the United States stronger and more respected now than it was three-and-a-half years ago? Is the world today a safer place in which to live?... I would regard my election as proof that we have renewed our resolve to preserve world peace and freedom. This nation will once again be strong enough to do that…

Tonight, let us dedicate ourselves to renewing the American compact. I ask you not simply to "Trust me," but to trust your values – our values – and to hold me responsible for living up to them. I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional, or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the Earth who came here in search of freedom.

But like many modern campaigns where the real proving ground for nominees takes place in the primaries, the 1980 Republican convention was more ceremonial than decision-making. Reagan’s real concerted campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency began even before he stepped down from the governorship of California.

Bipartisan Meeting of Governors Faces Partisanship and Presidential Politics

President Barack Obama answers questions from the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House.

President Barack Obama answers questions from the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 22, 2010. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. PD.

Over the weekend, the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association was held in Virginia and the expansion of federal programs was just as controversial this year as it has been in previous years.

First, some history. The National Governor’s Association was established in 1908 after President Theodore Roosevelt called a Conference of Governors to discuss conservation issues. The meeting included the nine Supreme Court Justices, biologists, ornithologists and advocates of forestry science in an unprecedented Blue Ribbon Commission on natural resource management. Roosevelt said that the purpose of the conference was so “this Nation as a whole should earnestly desire and strive to leave to the next generation the National honor unstained and the National resources unexhausted.” In the opening session of the Conference of Governors on May 13, 1908, President Roosevelt warned:

We have become great in a material sense because of the lavish use of our resources, and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers…One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight. We have to as a nation exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future.

The Conference of Governors was the result of the President’s belief that increased interstate cooperation for conservation was necessary; states and the federal government had to work together in order to conserve the nation’s natural resources. However, many governors and some of Roosevelt’s critics thought the president cared more about the natural environment than the Constitution, limited government or private property, and the president’s agenda was just another means for expanding federal regulatory power. Yet the conference proved beneficial beyond just the issue of conservation. Following the conference, governors decided to form an association through which they could come together to discuss their mutual concerns and act collectively. The annual meetings of governors have thus often been used as a forum to introduce policy ideas at the state level and to debate issues of national importance. For example, in 1930, then-governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first prominent political leader to advocate unemployment insurance at the Conference of Governors in Salt Lake City.

One of the key sources of national debate and controversy at the 2012 annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association centered upon Medicaid and Healthcare exchanges.

Friday Roundup

Ronald Wilson Reagan, Speech to the NAACP Annual Convention, June 29, 1981

The campaign got nasty (again) this week. In this week's Friday round-up, we’re focusing on the two biggest campaign stories: fights over the economy and the NAACP convention in Houston. Plus we leave you with bonus excerpts from Truman and Reagan speeches to the NAACP highlighting the parties competing visions for achieving racial justice and equality. Read on!

Friday Feature: President Bush Not Riding a Tiger

President George W. Bush rides a mountain bike with an American flag in the background.

President George W. Bush remained an avid mountain bike rider throughout his presidency. Just this year he joined the Wounded Warrior project for a 100K mountain bike ride through Palo Verde Canyon in Texas.

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

Should the Candidates be More Like Ike?

Miller Center Transportation Report Cover

On July 12, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments. Modernizing the nation’s highways was a priority for Eisenhower to the delight of the road building community, which had been disappointed by President Harry Truman. In a pre-election statement to the Hearst Newspapers, candidate Eisenhower justified expanding federal government power with joint planning between state and local governments to modernize the road system:

The obsolescence of the nation's highways presents an appalling problem of waste, danger and death. Next to the manufacture of the most modern implements of war as a guarantee of peace through strength, a network of modern roads is as necessary to defense as it is to our national economy and personal safety.

We have fallen far behind in this task-until today there is hardly a city of any size without almost hopeless congestion within its boundaries and stalled traffic blocking roads leading beyond these boundaries. A solution can and will be found through the joint planning of the Federal, state and local governments.

Beginning with his State of the Union address on January 7, 1954, President Eisenhower and his administration began pitching road modernization to the public, Congress and state leaders, arguing it was in the “vital interests of every citizen” to have “a safe and adequate highway system.” Vice President Richard Nixon told the Governor’s Conference on July 12, 1954 that the goal of President Eisenhower’s “grand plan” was “a properly articulated system that solves the problems of speedy, safe, transcontinental traffic: intercity communication, access highways and farm-to-market movement, metropolitan area congestion, bottlenecks and parking.”

Although President Eisenhower signed the 1954 Federal Aid Highway Act in the days following Nixon’s speech, both Congress and state leaders resisted the bill because of costs and Eisenhower’s insistence that it be budget-neutral. But, the president pressed his case to Congress and eventually struck a deal with governors, creating a national gasoline tax to fund the interstate system. On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which authorized the building of the interstate highway system, the largest public works project in the nations history, providing $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of roads over a period of 20 years.

The nation faces a very similar challenge today in its declining transportation infrastructure. This Spring, the Miller Center released a report, titled “Are We There Yet? Selling America on Transportation” that calls attention to the nation’s transportation infrastructure challenges. The report puts the situation frankly:

Two imperatives have collided: on the one hand the imperative to invest in a transportation system that will continue to grow our nation’s economy, create jobs, and enhance U.S. competitiveness; on the other hand, the imperative to come to grips with the nation’s short- and long-term fiscal problems, including especially the federal treasury’s unsustainable and still growing level of debt. In short, it’s not that our political leaders don’t agree that transportation is important or that infrastructure investments are needed; rather they can’t agree on whether or how to fund those investments given the current budget situation.

Beware Fundraising Graphs

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

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

On Monday, Aaron Blake at The Fix presented what they called “the second most important chart of the 2012 election.” The chart graphed fundraising by the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from January to June of this year. Blake asserted that the chart “paints another potentially grim picture for President Obama, who was outraised by $35 million in June.” The chart also didn’t include any money raised by the super PACs, where Romney has the clear advantage. While there is no doubt that Romney has the clear fundraising advantage in this election, the implicit argument of Blake’s chart – that Obama will be disadvantaged electorally because of lower fundraising levels – is questionable. For example, in a paper that tried to isolate the effect of spending in campaigns, Economist Steve Levitt found:

When a candidate doubled their spending, holding everything else constant, they only got an extra one percent of the popular vote. It’s the same if you cut your spending in half, you only lose one percent of the popular vote. So we’re talking about really large swings in campaign spending with almost trivial changes in the vote.

Fundraising might (and that’s a big MIGHT) matter for the candidates’ ability to air ads in key states, but the effect of ads on the outcome is still questionable. As John Sides noted yesterday:

Campaign ads can have an effect, even in presidential races.  However, three caveats are important here, which speak to how one should follow the ads.  First, the effect of ads seems to emerge when one side is outspending the other by a significant margin.  How much of a margin is hard to say; let’s take 2-1 as a rough estimate, which corresponds to the apparently consequential imbalance in Bush and Gore ads in battleground states right before the 2000 election.  I’m not sure either Romney or Obama will muster that kind of advantage, even with the independent spending taken into account.  TBD.

Second, the effect of ads seems to dissipate quickly, even within a week (see point #3).  So you may not need to think about the effects of ads for another 3+ months.   In fact, let’s shout that: FOR ANOTHER 3+ MONTHS.  This notion that you have to advertise early to “define” the candidate or the opposition is folklore.  Maybe there is some truth to that, but the truly rigorous studies have not identified such an effect, but have identified rapid decay.

Third, whether any effect of ads actually affects the outcome is a real question.  It may be that the net effect of ads only slightly widens the winner’s margin of victory, without actually making the difference between winning and losing.

As I have argued previously on RTT, one of the keys to a successful campaign is the candidates’ ability to assemble and mobilize a winning coalition of interest groups and voters. The goal of fundraising should be to support these efforts, and candidate success will depend more upon organizing than fundraising alone. I would assert that the Obama campaign has so far been unable to repeat its successful online and on-the-ground grassroots organization of the 2008 campaign, at least in part because of the embrace by President Obama and his campaign of a more partisan approach since the 2010 election. And this may matter more than being out-fundraised by Romney. Second, political science studies have shown that while campaigns help voters learn about the economy or the party positions, campaigns matter only under certain conditions. For example, Kevin Arceneaux (gated article) has argued that some voters learn more from campaigns than others. Arceneauz shows that campaigns matter more for voters with low political sophistication and who receive information from the parties. Furthermore, voters draw more on their long-standing political identities, including party identification, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as repeated political science studies have demonstrated, how voters feel about the state of the economy is likely to be the greatest predictor of who wins the White House come November because it underlies voter evaluations of the candidates.

King Andrew’s Bank War

Cartoon of Andrew Jackson from anonymous artist circa 1832, used in campaign posters.

Cartoon of Andrew Jackson by an anonymous artist circa 1832, used in campaign posters. PD-US.

Last week I blogged about President Martin Van Buren’s Independent Treasury Act and the partisan rancor surrounding the legislation that ensued through the three subsequent elections. The independent Treasury was the culmination of a bitter partisan battle that was rooted in Andrew Jackson’s fight against the Bank of the United States. On July 10, 1832, President Jackson delivered his veto of the re-charter of the Second Bank to Congress, triggering a Bank War and the formation of the Whig and Democratic Parties. The Bank War was at its core a battle over how Capitalism should be organized and what the role the state should play in managing the economy. The veto also became the key issue in the 1832 election between Jackson and Senator Henry Clay.

To be sure, the National Bank was barely an issue in the 1828 election between Jackson and John Quincy Adams, though Adams’ platform included a strong national bank to regulate the economy. Instead, the 1828 election focused more on the character of the candidates and intense personal attacks. Jackson only began a two-fold concerted attack on the Bank once he assumed office. To Jackson, the Bank threatened liberty and symbolized corruption, political oppression and privilege. Jackson also argued that the Bank was unconstitutional because Congress didn’t have the power to charter corporations and exclude them from government regulation or taxation, although the Supreme Court had previously rejected this argument in the landmark case of McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. Nonetheless, Jackson reiterated his opposition to the Bank on these grounds in his annual messages in 1830 and 1831.

In 1832, Bank President Nicholas Biddle, who had incensed Jackson when Biddle approached him in 1829 with an early request to re-charter, worked behind the scenes with Senator Clay on legislation to re-charter the Bank. The move of course confirmed Jackson’s concerns about the Bank’s meddling in politics. Congress passed the bill, but without the two-thirds necessary to override the President’s veto.

Jackson’s veto message was, in historian Daniel Feller's words, the “the rhetorical apex of his presidency.” 

Bryan’s Cross of Gold and the Partisan Battle over Economic Policy

1896 William Jennings Bryan campaign poster.

Print shows the “Cross of Gold speech” by William J. Bryan; portraits of William J. Bryan and his family, and a farmer and a blacksmith. The speech helped Bryan win the Democratic Party nomination for president. By Peter Tracey, 1896; Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The election of 1896 was just as much a partisan battle over the future of American economic policy as this year’s election. On this day in 1896, William Jennings Bryan delivered his rousing speech as a delegate to the Democratic convention declaring that mankind would not be “crucified on a cross of gold.” In the speech, Bryan, who was from the western farming state of Nebraska, advocated the inclusion of a silver standard for U.S. currency, which rallied the populist base of the Democratic Party and helped Bryan win the nomination for the presidency.

To take a step back in history, the source of the issue began with the Gold Rush in 1849, which altered the bi-metallism status quo. For decades, both gold and silver backed U.S. currency and both silver and gold specie could be turned into a Sub-Treasury Mint for dollars. The government valued silver at a ratio of 16:1 to gold in ounces. With the flood of gold to the market following the Gold Rush, people could sell their silver privately and to foreign markets at a lower ratio, thus making more money. However, when silver was discovered in Nevada in the 1860s, the ratio of silver to gold sold privately or abroad increased, but the government continued to offer the 16:1 ratio. In short, the government policy increased currency circulation, benefitting westerners, rural farmers, and the poor who could more easily pay off debts or make purchases. Meanwhile, Wall Street and banks in the East mobilized against the government’s policy because they would not receive as much profit on loans to farmers and the poor.

However, by 1873, the flood of silver into government coffers created an economic crisis. Congress responded by passing the Coinage Act of 1873, which effectively ended bi-metallism by eliminating the silver dollar and by making gold the only metallic standard (though the U.S. did not accept the Gold Standard de jure until 1900). Western miners and farmers termed it the “Crime of 1873.” Their “Free Silver” movement became a core constituency of the Democratic Party, represented by William Jennings Bryan.

A clear partisan divide in the elections of 1896 and 1900 centered on the bi-metallism debate. Republican candidate William McKinley blamed the Democrats and their platform of bi-metallism for the Panic of 1893, while Republicans and Eastern banking interests called the gold standard “sound money” policy.  In the “Cross of Gold” speech, Bryan argued that the Democratic Party’s focus on bi-metallism in its platform was justified because a gold standard alone could not solve the country’s problems at the time, including debt, small business failure, and monopolies.

Friday Roundup

Obama Vs Romney.

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

It’s the economy, stupid. According to the monthly Labor Department report, the economy added 80,000 jobs in June, but unemployment remained at 8.2 percent. Mitt Romney seized upon the new report to attack President Barack Obama’s economic record. Nate Silver added an economic index to his election forecast model. He noted:

The historical evidence is robust enough to say that economic performance almost certainly matters at least somewhat, and that poorer economic performance tends to hurt the incumbent party’s presidential candidate. Likewise, it seems clear that the trend in performance matters more than the absolute level.

Healthcare. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the individual mandate is “a tax,” contradicting a statement made by his senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on Monday in which he said the former Massachusetts governor rejected the court’s characterization and believed that the individual mandate was a penalty. Seven states with Republican governors have given a flat ‘no’ to the Medicaid expansion since the Supreme Court ruling and another eight are leaning towards rejection, striking a blow to President Obama’s promise of expanded coverage, according to The Hill. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds American attitudes are split down the middle on the court ruling, with 43 percent holding favorable impressions of the ruling, and 42 percent holding unfavorable ones. The poll also finds a partisan split in attitudes with 80 percent of Democrats holding favorable views of President Obama’s plans for health care. Meanwhile 62 percent of Republicans have positive views of Mitt Romney’s ideas. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll also finds the public split at 41 percent favorable, 41 percent unfavorable, and 18 percent undecided. It also demonstrates a partisan divide.

Potpourri. A Wall Street Journal editorial outlining Romney’s hesitance to detail his policies from healthcare to immigration and other policies with any specificity is letting down Republicans. According to the WSJ:

All of these attacks were predictable, in particular because they go to the heart of Mr. Romney’s main campaign theme — that he can create jobs as President because he is a successful businessman and manager. But candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.

The biography that voters care about is their own, and they want to know how a candidate is going to improve their future. That means offering a larger economic narrative and vision than Mr. Romney has so far provided. It means pointing out the differences with specificity on higher taxes, government-run health care, punitive regulation, and the waste of politically-driven government spending.

Meanwhile Ann Romney told CBS News she worries that President Obama's entire campaign strategy is "kill Romney."

What would a second term for President Obama look like? One of the most important policy issues he could address is climate change. He might also champion immigration reform and address a more robust aid agenda for developing countries. According to Ryan Lizza:

If Obama aims to leave a legislative mark in his second term, he’ll need two things: a sense of humility, and a revitalized faction of Republican lawmakers willing to make deals with the President. Given the polarized environment and the likelihood of a closely divided Congress, it seems more implausible to suppose that Obama would turn radical in his second term than that he would cool to his Democratic base.