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

Labor Relations and Partisan Division

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

On this day in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the pro-labor National Labor Relations Act, also called the Wagner Act or NLRA, into law, which established the National Labor Relations Board and gave the unions the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. At the time, AFL leader William Green and future CIO president John L. Lewis called the law labor’s “Magna Carta.” One scholar, Karl Klare, heralded the Wagner Act as “the most radical piece of legislation ever enacted by the United States Congress.” The bill led to an era, albeit a rather short-lived one, of union and federal regulatory power, giving workers the legal right to strike, the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of their union activity, and the right to enter into collective bargaining agreements, all regulated and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. Scholars have noted the dramatic increase in the number of labor unions after the Wagner Act’s passage as one measure of the bill’s success.

However, the law was a short-lived victory for unions. As Dorian T. Warren (gated article) has argued, since its inception the National Labor Relations Board has lacked adequate power to monitor and enforce labor law effectively because of a comparatively weak federal administrative apparatus and its regulatory capture by business groups. Especially following the passage of the pro-business 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, unions were subsequently retrenched by employers. Although President Harry Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, Congress passed the bill over the president’s veto. Truman explained his position to the American public:

I vetoed this bill because I am convinced it is a bad bill. It is bad for labor, bad for management, and bad for the country.

It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions.

The bill is deliberately designed to weaken labor unions. When the sponsors of the bill claim that by weakening unions, they are giving rights back to individual workingmen, they ignore the basic reason why unions are important in our democracy. Unions exist so that laboring men can bargain with their employers on a basis of equality. Because of unions, the living standards of our working people have increased steadily until they are today the highest in the world.
A bill which would weaken unions would undermine our national policy of collective bargaining. The Taft-Hartley bill would do just that. It would take us back in the direction of the old evils of individual bargaining. It would take the bargaining power away from the workers and give more power to management.

Celebrating Independence Day with Presidential Speeches

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general's tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general’s tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862. Photo by Alexander Gardner, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Happy Fourth of July! In celebration of Independence Day, we bring you three presidential speeches from our archives.

On July 4, 1821, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams delivered a speech on foreign policy in the House of Representatives. Adams stressed America’s devotion to principles of freedom, independence and peace.

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

On July 4, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln addressed Congress, asking the legislature to validate actions he had taken in response to secession without Congressional approval between April 1861 and July. The speech is also notable as Lincoln provides the first full explanation of the Civil War’s purpose. In the passage below, Lincoln requested Congress to validate the suspension of habeas corpus. Lincoln argued that he had the power to do so because of the oath of office that requires the president to uphold the Constitution and “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He further clarified that the nation was facing a case of rebellion and argued that the Constitution gives the president emergency powers “when public safety may require it.” Lincoln would later justify suspending habeas corpus in a letter to Albert Hodges in this way, “By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation.”

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg, Woodrow Wilson addressed a crowd, which included Union and Confederate veterans, at the historic site in 1913. The battle itself was waged July 1-3, 1863, while Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg address in November of that same year.

Is what the fifty years have wrought since those days of battle finished, rounded out, and completed? Here is a great people, great with every force that has ever beaten in the lifeblood of mankind. And it is secure. There is no one within its borders, there is no power among the nations of the earth, to make it afraid. But has it yet squared itself with its own great standards set up at its birth, when it made that first noble, naive appeal to the moral judgment of mankind to take notice that a government had now at last been established which was to serve men, not masters? It is secure in everything except the satisfaction that its life is right, adjusted to the uttermost to the standards of righteousness and humanity. The days of sacrifice and cleansing are not closed. We have harder things to do than were done in the heroic days of war, because harder to see clearly, requiring more vision, more calm balance of judgment, a more candid searching of the very springs of right.

Partisan Rancor and the Independence of the Treasury

Martin Van Buren Campaign Poster Celebrating Independent Treasury

One of the few campaign prints issued in support of Democratic incumbent Martin Van Buren’s 1840 presidential bid. Above his portrait flies an eagle holding a streamer with the words “Independent Treasury and Liberty,” celebrating Van Buren’s Independent Treasury Bill, passed in July 1840.

While many Americans will be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th is also worth reflecting upon as it marks the anniversary of Martin Van Buren’s signing of the Independent Treasury Act in 1840, a bill that “divorced” the federal Treasury Department from its relationship with all banks. While the deeply partisan battle for the Independent Treasury’s establishment would continue for six more years, the legislation marked a significant triumph in Jacksonian laissez faire philosophy and the assertion of States’ Rights and Supremacy. A brief look at the legislation’s history is also a reminder that the partisan rancor surrounding policy proposals to deal with the economic crisis the country faces today is not unique. Indeed, it suggests instead that we are amidst one of the nation’s periodic partisan battles over defining the government’s role in the economy and society.

The Independent Treasury Act was a response to the Panic of 1837. The economic crisis of 1837 was triggered by the Deposit Act of 1836 and the collapse of state banks that had been using funds distributed by President Andrew Jackson from the Bank of the United States as a basis for speculation. With the collapse of credit, banks could no longer redeem currency notes in gold and silver despite demand for it. Meanwhile, the situation was exacerbated by a depression in England, which ended British loans to the United States and forced the price of cotton to drop. The United States had also accumulated debts and unemployment rates were high. Although President Jackson used popular opinion to attack the national banks and although he extended executive power as a bulwark of popular rights against moneyed interests, the bottom line in 1837 was that the American economy was unstable.

In response to the economic crisis, President Van Buren, a proponent of Jacksonian laissez faire philosophy, called for a special session of Congress to deal with the government’s financial situation. Van Buren opposed the establishment of a new central bank, arguing that the American people had spoken against it in the previous two elections. Further, he argued that it was not government’s business to regulate “domestic exchange.” Instead, Van Buren proposed a policy that would completely separate the government from banks. In addition, the government would collect, keep and disburse it’s own funds independent of the national banking and financial system. (Senator Gordon of Virginia had made a similar proposal in 1836.)

As David Kinley wrote in 1893, the Independent Treasury System was established on the “violence of partisan feeling.” According to Kinley:

“It was a question on which parties lost and won; a question on which great statesmen changed their opinions, and parties shifted their ground; on which there was a flux and reflux of public opinion and governmental policy, until it was settled at last, nearly a half a century ago, more as a party issue than a question of scientific economics; a vindication of party strength, and a necessary outcome of the drift of practical politics rather than a triumph of economic and financial truth over fallacy, or the consensus of concerted and convinced opinion as to the merits of the question.”

Roberts Rules and Obama Cares

President Barack Obama with Chief Justice John Roberts.

President Barack Obama with Chief Justice John Roberts, January 15, 2009. Official Photo by Pete Souza.

As I approached the U.S. Supreme Court on my way to this term’s last Decision Day, I suddenly found myself literally caught between two extreme factions in the health-care debate.  One group, led by two belly dancers and a compatriot carrying a bed-sheet labeled “Single Payer,” shimmied toward two bearded anti-Obamacare protestors who shouted at the gyrating dancers, “Communists!” and “Single payer is socialism!”  Momentarily stuck between the zealots, I felt like Chief Justice Roberts, trying to find an exit strategy.

An hour later I sat in my prized seat inside the churchlike courtroom and marveled at the chief’s painstakingly crafted opinion, upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while attempting to extricate the high tribunal from a political quagmire.  Much has been made of this patently conservative jurist’s reaching a liberal outcome.  Is John Roberts the next David Souter, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, or Earl Warren—his Supreme Court predecessors who disappointed their appointing presidents by swinging to the other side of the ideological spectrum?  Probably not.  One liberal decision—albeit in a landmark case—does not a judicial career make.  In fact, on the larger issues at stake in the ACA litigation (Congress’ commerce, “necessary and proper,” and spending powers), the chief reached conservative conclusions.  It remains to be seen whether his limits on legislative prerogatives are mere “blips,” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her stinging dissent predicted, or lasting obstacles to future liberal policy initiatives.

More important, Roberts’ opinion, partially joined by the Court’s liberal quartet (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan), reflects his historic view of the chief justice’s role.  One of his first acts after confirmation was to send staff members to Chief Justice John Marshall’s Richmond, Virginia home to retrieve the fourth chief justice’s judicial robe on display there.  Roberts wanted to model his robe after the “great chief justice,” as Marshall is called.  The act speaks volumes.  Roberts’ mentor, William Rehnquist, who as an associate justice was dubbed the “Lone Ranger” for his many solo dissents, modeled his chief justice robe after a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta character (complete with four gold metallic stripes on the sleeves!).  Assuming the Court’s center chair in the wake of the polarizing Bush v. Gore decision, Roberts explained to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen that he hoped to increase collegiality and unanimity among the nine justices.  Unanimity produces stability in the law, he reasoned, which, in turn, leads to more public respect for the tribunal.

With the Court’s most recent approval ratings dropping to 44%, and three-quarters of Americans surveyed believing that the justices would follow their partisan inclinations in deciding the health-care case, Chief Justice Roberts faced a dilemma.  Siding with his conservative soul mates (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) would confirm the view that the Court is just another political institution.  Instead, he assumed the uncharacteristic position of swing voter, casting the deciding vote between four liberals and four conservatives.

Friday Roundup: the Supremes’ Moment in the Spotlight

Obama Vs Romney.

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

The High Court’s Week in the Spotlight. With scholars, experts, pundits and journalists waiting with bated breath, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) yesterday. According to the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, indi­vidual mandate was upheld, but “must be construed as imposing a tax on those who do not have health insurance,” not as “a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.” It is important to note that in making the case for the bill, President Obama repeatedly said that the mandate was not a tax. Eric Patashnik, Associate dean of the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, explained:

Chief Justice Roberts found a middle path, granting the main conservative argument against the law (the federal government's regulatory powers are not unlimited) but also allowing implementation of the law to go forward.

But, as Patashnik and Jeffery Jenkins wrote earlier this year, “The main impact of the Court’s decision will be to shape the political ground on which the health reform struggle will continue.”

Responding to the ruling, Mitt Romney said:

This is now a time for the American People to make a choice. You can choose whether to have a larger and larger government making intrusions into your life... Or whether instead you want to return to a time where Americans have their own choice in health care.

He added, “What the Supreme Court did not do on its last day in session, I will do in my first day in office. I will act to repeal Obamacare.”

President Obama also delivered a response to the ruling and said: 

I knew the idea wasn't politically popular and resisted it when I ran for this office. … It should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believed it was good for the country. ... Now's the time to focus on the most important challenge of our time: putting people back to work.

Romney’s campaign said this morning that it raised $4.2 million online following the Supreme Court's decision. The Obama campaign also seized upon the ruling to raise funds, but the campaign would not reveal how much.

Both CNN and Fox News falsely reported the outcome of the SCOTUS Healthcare ruling on the first take.

Among other rulings, the Supreme Court also handed down its decision in Arizona vs. United States, the 2010 Arizona immigration law (S.B. 1070). With a 5-3 vote, the Court upheld the most hotly contested provision of the law – the so-called “show me your papers” provision – but blocked other provisions on the grounds that they preempted the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. In a separate ruling issued on Monday, the Court solidified its Citizens United ruling by striking down a Progressive Era ban on corporate giving in the state of Montana. In its 5-4 decision, the Court said there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling applies to the state, disappointing those who viewed the Montana case as a means to challenge the controversial ruling on corporate campaign spending.

Friday Feature: LBJ and his new Veep, not riding tigers

LBJ and Humphrey sit atop two horses. Each man triumphantly waves his hat into the air.

Greetings from President Lyndon B. Johnson and his new Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. The pair had just taken a victory in the 1964 presidential election and were posing for press at LBJ's ranch in Texas. Johnson considered his VP to be something of a "greenhorn" and (though you wouldn't know from this photo) Humphrey allegedly did seem quite uncomfortable on horseback.

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

FDR’s 1936 Convention Speech and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, June 27, 1936.

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On June 27, 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia accepting his party’s nomination for the presidency. The 1936 election was critical for FDR – it was not enough to win re-election, he was also determined to use the campaign and his personal popularity to strengthen the Democratic Party. As Miller Center Democracy and Governance Studies Director Sidney M. Milkis has documented in his book, The President and the Parties, while FDR sought to effect structural changes within the Democratic Party, he also used the 1936 re-election campaign to define a new understanding of government.

Perhaps the most important organizational achievement within the party was the abolition of the two-thirds rule, which was adopted in 1932 and required the support of two-thirds of the convention delegates in order to be nominated as a Democratic presidential or vice presidential candidate. The rule originated in the South to protect its interests from Democratic candidates unsympathetic to its problems. While the Roosevelt administration sought to assure party regulars publicly, FDR closely directed DNC Chairman James Farley to work behind the scenes to change the nomination rules. The efforts centered on encouraging state parties to pass resolutions against the two-thirds rule and stacking the membership of the rules committee, which would report the recommendation to the Philadelphia convention.

FDR’s acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic National Convention captured the essence of the New Deal creed, which Roosevelt had first articulated in the Commonwealth Club address in September 1932. Progressive reform constituted a redefinition of the foundation of American politics and pronounced a new understanding of individualism that conceived of the state as the guarantor of programmatic rights. In his acceptance speech, FDR took a stand against economic despotism and reaffirmed the need for a new definition of the social contract within a changing social order:

The brave and clear platform adopted by this Convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth that Government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.

In addition to reaffirming the New Deal manifesto, Roosevelt’s Philadelphia convention speech also intended to rouse New Deal supporters for a militant partisan campaign. FDR sought to curb the most abusive practices of business by ameliorating conditions of economic inequality:

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place…

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

Primary Season Concludes

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes the stage with his wife Ann

cription March 6, 2012 - Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes the stage with his wife Ann to give his victory speech at his headquarters at the Westin at Copley Plaza on Super Tuesday. (Ryan Hutton/Boston University News Service)

Mitt Romney has won the Utah Republican presidential primary, the last contest of the primary season, gaining all 40 of the state’s delegates. Nebraska will hold a state convention in July, but Utah held the last presidential primary. Representative Ron Paul is the only other Republican presidential candidate in the running. However, he stopped campaigning to focus on winning delegates at state conventions.

In other notable races, the political winds changed directions bringing good news for most incumbents in Tuesday’s primaries. Despite predictions of his ouster, Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who has served in the House 42 years, defeated four challengers in Tuesday’s primary after facing ethics allegations and while running in a largely redrawn district. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has served in the senate for six terms, also won against a Tea Party-backed opponent. In Colorado, Republican congressman Doug Lamborn defeated Robert Blaha, a wealthy, self-funded primary challenger.

In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley tested her political capital by endorsing local councilman Tom Rice, who won in the 7th congressional district race against former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, a Haley foe.

Incumbent Representative John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma) lost to tea party-backed candidate Jim Bridenstine. Meanwhile the retirement of Representative Dan Boren, a moderate Democrat, has opened an opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat in Oklahoma. Two of six Republicans who ran for the nomination – Markwayne Mullin and George Faught – will now compete in a run-off.

SCOTUS Immigration Ruling and the Hispanic Vote

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meeting with President Barack Obama in June 2010 in the wake of SB 1070.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meeting with President Barack Obama in June 2010 in the wake of SB 1070, to discuss immigration and border security issues. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Arizona vs. United States, the 2010 Arizona immigration law (S.B. 1070). With a 5-3 vote, the Court upheld the most hotly contested provision of the law – the so-called “show me your papers” provision – but blocked other provisions on the grounds that they preempted the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said:

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

The majority emphasized two points regarding the federal-state dividing line over immigration law authority. First, it is “fundamental” that foreign countries be able to communicate with a “single sovereign,” the federal government, about immigration issues. Second, the federal government should have “broad discretion” in deciding whether and how to enforce immigration laws.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with the majority that “show me your papers” provision was not preempted by federal law and could go into effect. However, they dissented from the majority on other provisions. In his dissent from the majority opinion, Justice Scalia argued that the states should have the right to make immigration policy if the federal government is not enforcing its own policies.

The presidential candidates’ responses to the ruling made clear a partisan divide over how authority to set immigration law should be divided between the federal, state and local governments. President Obama said that the ruling demonstrates that Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform. According to President Obama, “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.” President Obama also agreed with the Court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status:

“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”

The Obama administration also announced that it will not assist Arizona's efforts to arrest undocumented people unless those immigrants meet federal government criteria. Furthermore, it is rescinding agreements that allow some Arizona law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

In response to the ruling Mitt Romney said that America’s immigration laws have “become a muddle.” At a campaign fundraiser in Arizona that raised $2 million yesterday, Romney told donors:

“I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less. And the states, now under this decision, have less authority, less latitude, to enforce immigration law.”

Romney did not endorse the Arizona law during the primaries and has attempted to soften his position on immigration to appeal to Hispanic voters. But yesterday, he called the Arizona law “a model” and said that “the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing.”

So what impact will the Court’s ruling have in the presidential election?

Ich bin ein Berliner

John F. Kennedy, “Ich bin ein Berliner” Speech (June 26, 1963)

Forty-nine years ago, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in Berlin and commended the people on their spirit and dedication to democracy. President Kennedy extolled the spirit of the citizens and city of Berlin, “besieged for 18 years,” yet living with “the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination.” In solidarity, he declared on June 26, 1963, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”

The "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech was derived in part from a speech President Kennedy delivered on May 4, 1962 in New Orleans:

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was to say, "I am a citizen of Rome." Today, I believe, in 1962 the proudest boast is to say, "I am a citizen of the United States." And it is not enough to merely say it; we must live it. Anyone can say it. But Americans who serve today in West Berlin--your sons and brothers--or in Viet-Nam, or in other sections of the world, or who work in laboratories, to give us leadership, those are the Americans who are bearing the great burden.

Grassroot Organizing and the Lamentable Loss of Voter Turnout

Organizing for America (OFA) office in Broward County, Florida.

Organizing for America (OFA) office in Broward County, Florida with Asia, Kelly, Aaron, Faith “The Artist”, Raven, Nicholas for Nova Debate Team, Tiandra Johnson, and Corey Shearer Sr.

Last week, Rhodes Cook argued on the Crystal Ball that although voters and pundits alike have criticized heightened partisanship and polarization, one of the positive benefits has been increased turnout, especially in presidential elections. Cook questioned whether turnout will be as high this year, citing as evidence low voter turnout in the primaries. Cook also argued that “Obama put together a winning coalition in 2008 built in large part on an unusually high turnout from youth and Hispanics, normally low turnout groups.” According to Cook it will be difficult for the president to reassemble that coalition as much of the enthusiasm for him as worn off. Citing the first elections of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, as well as Harry D. Truman’s fabled come-from-behind victory and Ronald Reagan’s first election, Cook concludes that voter turnout doesn’t need to be high in order to make the election an historic one. However, lower voter turnout will mean that one of the few positive benefits of intense partisanship and polarization will be removed.

What is missing from Cook’s excellent analysis of historic voter turnout is Obama’s approach to party leadership and the organizational innovation of his grassroots machine “Organizing for America” (OFA). As Sidney M. Milkis, Jesse Rhodes and Emily Charnock argued in a March 2012 Perspectives on Politics article (gated), Obama’s grassroot’s campaign was in part a response to partisan polarization. However, Obama’s organizational efforts blended partisan elements with a liberal measure of post-partisanship. According to Milkis, Rhodes and Charnock, “Instead of appealing to the party’s base, Obama and his advisors sought to ‘change the demographics of the campaign’ by activating non-voters and by attracting as many independents and disaffected Republicans as possible.”

However, after winning the presidency and the merger of Organizing for America with the Democratic Party organizational apparatus, both President Obama and OFA moved in a more partisan direction. This was particularly evident in the 2010 election when the party’s majority in Congress was at stake. The president repeatedly proclaimed that voters had a choice between “moving backward” with Republican policies and “moving forward” with Democratic ones. Meanwhile, OFA’s “Vote 2010” used explicitly partisan appeals in attempts to turnout the base.

Friday Roundup: Pandermonium

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.

Pandermonium. President Obama elaborated on his decision to no longer deport undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children in a Time Magazine op-ed.  Meanwhile Romney received mixed reactions after delivering an address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in which he called for loosening some immigration restrictions, including lifting caps on skilled worker visas and speeding the processing of applications for temporary agricultural work visas. In Arizona, Republican Representatives David Schweikert and Ben Quayle, who are running against each other in one of this year’s more competitive member-vs.-member primaries, each introduced legislation this week that would prohibit implementation of the Obama administration’s plan to stop deporting some illegal immigrants. Meanwhile Obama is reminding various constituents within the Democratic coalition of other accomplishments (contraception, support for gay marriage). In a new TV ad, Obama for America touts the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as the first bill signed by the president after his inauguration.

All the pandering this election season raises the question: Does the candidate or the party matter more? Gary Wills reminded all the “high-minded” voters who say they vote for the candidate and not the party that two are inseparable. According to Wills, “The man being voted for, no matter what he says, dances with the party that brought him, dependent on its support, resources, and clientele… The party has some continuity of commitment, no matter how compromised. What you are really voting for is the party’s constituency.” Jonathan Bernstein quibbled a bit, but mostly agreed that we choose between sets of constituencies. For more in-depth recent political science theorizing on the subject, read this paper.

The Real Candidates. David Maraniss’ new biography, Barack Obama: The Story, challenges the president’s memoir, Dreams of My Father. Maraniss shared excerpts of the book here and Ben Smith has a review of the book that is worth reading here. Meanwhile, the Washington Post profiled Romney’s path to success at Bain Capital. And the New York Times exposed the selective truths both candidates use in the campaigns.

It’s the economy, stupid! According to a new Gallup poll, “Americans become progressively less positive about economic conditions the farther away from home they look. Forty-nine percent rate economic conditions in their local area as excellent or good, but that drops to 25% when rating the U.S. economy, and to 13% when assessing the world as a whole.” Andrew Gelman graphed the partisan breakdown at The Monkey Cage and found that Democrats are more optimistic about the economy than Republicans. Meanwhile, according to a new Pew Research Center poll, Obama leads Romney on eight different character traits. However, Romney has the advantage when it comes to voter beliefs about who would improve economic conditions, and the economy dominates voter concerns.

Friday Feature: Teddy Roosevelt Not Riding a Tiger

An illustration depicts Teddy Roosevelt on a large elephant with clouds of dust and panicked individuals below.

Image courtesy Theodore Roosevelt Center, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.

In this illustration from the Library of Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt is depicted riding a rampaging elephant. As described by the Theodore Roosevelt Center, 

Illustration shows President Theodore Roosevelt as a "Rough Rider" carrying a pike labeled "Fearlessness" and riding an elephant labeled "Administration"; he has chased many men labeled "Dishonest Official" and "Corruption" from the "Post Office" Department. There are mail bags labeled "Corruption, Scandal, [and] Bribery" and letters labeled "Bribe, Scandal, [and] Bribery" flying in the rush of wind as corrupt officials flee Roosevelt and the rampaging elephant.

Visit the Theodore Roosevelt Center to learn more. 

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

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.