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

Beyond Tiananmen: Managing Sino-American Relations

Beijing:Tiananmen Square 180 degree overview picture

Beijing: Tiananmen Square 180 degree overview from Tiananmen gate looking south.

While the economy is central focus of most presidential elections, foreign policy serves as proxy for demonstrating presidential leadership. A strong record on foreign policy can help to bolster re-election prospects, but challengers can also use foreign policy failures for electoral advantage or to distinguish their policy platforms. In a series of posts this week, Riding the Tiger will examine the implications of foreign affairs for the presidency and the presidential election.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China. Students sparked the popular demonstrations following the death of liberal reformer Hu Yaobang on April 15. The students called for economic and political reform and expressed grievances over inflation, limited career prospects for students, and corruption of the party elite. Military suppression ended the demonstrations just seven weeks later on June 4.  It is unclear how many protestors were actually killed by the military action and some are still serving prison sentences for participating in the demonstrations. The anniversary remains a sensitive subject for the party leadership in China. Twenty-three years later, censors continue to prohibit public commemorations, except in Hong Kong, and numerous internet search terms related to the date are blocked. Meanwhile, the Shanghai Stock Exchange opened on Monday at 2346.98, which looks like the date of the crackdown written backward, followed by the 23rd anniversary, prompting Chinese censors to block search terms related to the stock market. The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index also fell 64.89 points, which of course looks like June 4, 1989.

American foreign policy toward China has been a careful balancing act between managing the economic relationship, human rights, and democracy for decades.

Friday Roundup

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

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

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

Vox Populi. The Real Clear Politics average for May 9-30 shows President Barack Obama polling +2.3. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 41 percent of Americans express positive views of Mitt Romney compared to 52 percent for President Barack Obama. But, Republican women are rallying to Romney now that other party candidates have dropped out. Obama and Romney are in a dead heat in three swing states – Iowa, Nevada and Colorado – according to a new Marist-NBC poll. Marco Rubio predicted that Latino voters will align with Romney as they learn more about the economic differences between the candidates. According to a new Gallup poll, Romney now enjoys a 24-point lead over Obama among Veterans. Larry Sabato keenly observes that rather than try to predict the winner based on presidential polling in June, we might as well flip a coin.

It’s the economy, stupid! Romney went on the offensive after clinching the nomination on Tuesday. He went after President Obama’s economic policies on Thursday with a campaign stop at the closed Solyndra facility, calling it a “symbol of failure.” Romney also attacked Obama’s job creation record in a coal mining community in Colorado. Meanwhile Democratic leaders across the country say they are largely united behind the Obama campaign’s strategy to go after Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. On Thursday, David Axelrod attempted to go after Romney’s “economic philosophy and his failed economic record in Massachusetts” at an event in Boston, but was drowned out by Romney supporters. Ann Romney said she “completely” supports “90 percent of where Mitt is.” (This week Mrs. Romney also got a new press secretary, Sarah Haley, who previous served as the Santorum campaign’s national coalitions director.) Meanwhile, former first lady Nancy Reagan endorsed Romney and said her husband would have liked his business background and strong principles.

The government released its monthly jobs report this morning that found U.S. employers added just 69,000 jobs in May – the fewest in a year – with unemployment rising slightly to 8.2 percent. To mark Jobs Day, we bring you this “Cap the Knife” clip from the Miller Center archives. In the clip, President Richard Nixon makes it perfectly clear to Caspar Weinberger, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, that he is to spend money on creating jobs and bringing down the unemployment rate from around 6.2 percent, regardless of the impact on inflation or the budget.

Friday Feature: President Bush Not Riding a Tiger

A young George W. Bush, wearing a cowboy hat and holding a lasso, sits atop a pony.

Three-year-old George W. Bush rides a horse in 1949. The future President moved as a toddler with his family to West Texas and had what he has described as an idyllic upbringing in post-World War II Midland, Texas.

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

VEEP 45: The ‘New Democrat’

Bill Clinton Walking with Vice President Al Gore on the South Lawn, August 10, 1993.

Bill Clinton Walking with Vice President Al Gore on the South Lawn, August 10, 1993. Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States William J. Clinton: 1993, Book II, Photographic Portfolio.

The office of the vice presidency might be the most understudied institution in American government, but vice presidents and potential running mates certainly receive their fair share of media attention (not to mention a new HBO comedy series, VEEP). In a series of posts, we look beyond the headlines focusing on the current VEEPstakes and dig into our archives at the Miller Center to examine the contributions of previous vice presidents. In this edition, we examine Albert A. Gore Jr., who, according to President Bill Clinton, had a greater substantive role than his predecessors and had “more influence than any Vice President. Ever.” Previous posts in this series include J. Danforth Quayle, Walter F. Mondale, and Richard Cheney.

Alan Abramowitz recently termed Bill Clinton’s selection of Al Gore a “reinforcing choice.” Both were Southern Baptist baby boomers and shared a centrist “New Democrat” outlook. However, Gore was the Washington insider with military experience (he spent six months in Vietnam as an Army journalist) and brought foreign and national security policy credentials to the 1992 ticket. Gore was one of ten Senators to split with the Democratic party and support a resolution in January 1991 authorizing President George H.W. Bush to pursue military action in the Persian Gulf after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Dick Cheney told the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program in March 2000 that the reason Gore was picked as Clinton’s running mate was that he had voted with the George H.W. Bush administration on Gulf War resolution. According to Cheney:

I always felt [former Georgia Senator] Sam [Nunn] made the decision [to vote against the Gulf War resolution] because he wanted to run for President in ’92. He didn’t think he could run for President if he was on the wrong side from the standpoint of the bulk of the Democratic Party on this issue. Therefore, he led the charge against and turned out it was wrong. Al Gore got to be Vice President because he voted with us on that issue. I don’t think [William J.] Clinton would have picked him in ’92 if he, Gore, had been one of the Democrats who’d voted against it. It had long-lasting ramifications, obviously. In the end, because of the quality of the debate, because we did prevail, because we were so successful with the ultimate operation, I think it really did a lot to boost public support, confidence.

Thus, Clinton’s choice of Gore was not to balance the ticket in any geographic or demographic sense, but rather in terms of experience and expertise. The choice reflects in a broader sense the general trend towards choosing a running mate who is compatible and competent to take over as president, but who will not outshine him.

Presumptive No Longer: Romney Clinches Nomination

Mitt and Ann Romney on Super Tuesday.

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)

Even though the Republican primary race has effectively been over since Rick Santorum ended his candidacy in April, we can finally drop the “presumptive” adjective. Mitt Romney officially clinched the Republican nomination yesterday with a victory in the Texas primary that gave him enough delegates to reach the magical 1,144 he needed. Now nominee Romney must prepare for even more scrutiny and the media frenzy that will surely ensue with any new revelation about the candidate. (Top results on the news search today included: Romney’s new “Believe in Amercia” app, the misspelling of which lit up the social media world yesterday; why the Republican foreign policy establishment has been slow to embrace him; how he got ‘trumped’ by birther talk; the revelation that his father was born in Mexico; and how people of the Mormon faith are responding to his White House run.)

Riding the Tiger takes this opportunity to highlight some of the (dare we say “excellent”) scholarly contributions on Mitt Romney to our blog.

Behind the Scenes: Medal of Freedom Nomination and Clearing Process

The general badge of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with its various components.

The general badge of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with its various components. This specific medal was presented to Bob Hope. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today, President Barack Obama honors 13 individuals with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. The Medal of Freedom recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Among this year’s recipients are former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn, basketball coach Pat Summitt and rock legend Bob Dylan.

We dug into our archives here at the Miller Center and found insider knowledge of the Medal of Freedom clearance and nominating process. In January 2002, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program interviewed Aram Bakshian, Jr. for the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project. Bakshian served for three years in the Reagan White House, first in the Office of Public Liaison, then as Director of Speechwriting from 1981 to 1982. During the interview, Bakshian discussed the clearance and nominating process for the Medal of Freedom for which he was responsible during his tenure in the Reagan White House. Click through to read excerpts from the interview.

Whither the War Powers Resolution?

President Barack Obama delivered an address at the National Defense University on the American intervention in Libya.

President Barack Obama speaks on the military intervention in Libya at the National Defense University, March 28, 2011. Photo courtesy of the National Defense University.

In observance of Memorial Day, we express our profound gratitude to all of the men and women who have bravely served our country. In this post, Riding the Tiger contributor Stephen Knott puzzles over the institutional contestation of the power to send our soldiers to war. 

Students taking introductory courses in American government are taught that there is an abiding tension built into the Constitution, “an invitation to struggle” between Congress and the President over the right to direct the nation’s foreign policy. We learn that the founders were determined to “chain the dog of war” by giving Congress the power to declare war, believing that this power was simply too dangerous to entrust to the President alone.

Friday Roundup

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

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

Electoral Horse race. New polling from NBC and Marist College give President Barack Obama a slight edge over Mitt Romney in Florida (48-44), Ohio (48-42), and Virginia (48-44). Public Policy Polling gives Romney a 50-43 advantage in Arizona and a Civitas Institute Poll shows Romney leading 47-45 in North Carolina. According to a new Gallup poll, Vice President Joe Bidens favorability ratings have dropped to 42%, suggesting he may not be as a big of an asset when deployed by the Obama campaign.

An NBC-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll shows that Obama leads Romney by 34 points among the Hispanic community. Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at the Washington Post's The Fix suggest that the Republicans’  “Hispanic problem” didn’t happen overnight, but they “need to find ways to begin growing their support among Hispanics or they run the risk of struggling to build majority national coalitions in 2016, 2020 and beyond.” Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is quietly beginning an outreach effort to black voters.

Joseph Gerth at the Courier Journal provided a visual representation of the vote breakdown and explained that Kentucky snubbed President Obama in the primary mostly as a result of widespread and emphatic opposition to many of his policies.

Ron Paul’s campaign is making good on his promise to continue to build support in the states. Or at least that’s the case in Nevada where top Republican party officials resigned in a dispute with Paul supporters just weeks after supporters swept the state convention.

Friday Feature: Franklin Roosevelt Not Riding a Tiger

Franklin Roosevelt is seen riding in a convertible on two occasions: once in the open air, once surrounded by bulletproof glass.

Photo courtesy The Forgotten History Blog

After the Pearl Harbor attacks of December 7, 1941, the Secret Service set about with special urgency to provide President Franklin Roosevelt with a bulletproof vehicle that would keep the President safe. But there was a problem: Roosevelt needed to make a public address the very next day to respond to the attacks.

(Listen to the speech, "Address to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War," from the Miller Center's speech archive.)

How did they solve the problem? President Roosevelt reportedly borrowed a heavily armored Cadillac formerly owned by notorious ganger Al Capone. The car had been sitting in a Treasury Department parking lot since it was seized years earlier, and it was heavily armored and had specially installed siren and flashing lights hidden behind the grill (a style still seen today on the Presidential motorcade).

President Roosevelt only used Capone's Cadillac for a short time—the Secret Service worked with Ford Motors to armor a 1939 Lincoln V12 (the "Sunshine Special," picture here) shortly thereafter.

Roosevelt is seen here riding in the Lincoln convertible before (top) and after (bottom) its armor was installed.

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

VEEP 46: The Consequentialist

President George W. Bush talks to reporters Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 in Camp David, Md., Dick Cheney seen in background

President George W. Bush talks to reporters Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 in Camp David, Md., following a meeting with his economic advisors and Vice President Dick Cheney, seen in background. White House photo by David Bohrer.

In April, Richard Cheney gave Mitt Romney this advice: ignore the talking heads and select someone who can govern well. In a series of posts, we look beyond the headlines focusing on the current VEEPstakes and dig into our archives at the Miller Center to examine the contributions of previous vice presidents. In this edition, we examine Richard Cheney, one of the most powerful, if not controversial, vice presidents in American history. Previous posts include J. Danforth Quayle and Walter F. Mondale.

Romney wins Arkansas, Kentucky—and Bragging Rights Over Obama?

Mitt Romney easily won the primary contests in Kentucky and Arkansas yesterday, with 67% and 69% of the vote, respectively.

Romney received a higher percentage of votes in the Republican primaries than President Obama did in the Democratic primaries. While Obama ultimately prevailed, 42% of voters in each state voted against the president. This follows in the wake of the Democratic primary in West Virginia earlier this month in which an incarcerated federal inmate, Keith Judd, received a significant portion of the vote.

Missile Defense: Achilles’ heel of U.S.-Russia Relations

Remarks Announcing an Agreement on Limiting Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (May 20, 1971)

At its summit in Chicago, NATO announced that the first phase of a United States-led missile defense system in Europe is “provisionally operational.” Against this backdrop, it is worth remembering that forty years ago on this day, the United States and former Soviet Union were making great strides in relations that had been strained for decades. On May 22, 1972, Richard M. Nixon was the first president to visit Moscow and reached several important agreements, including one on nuclear arms control, during a week-long summit.

U.S.-Pakistan Relationship: “One of the Most Severe Roller Coaster Rides in History”

President Barack Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Vice President Joe Biden

President Barack Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Vice President Joe Biden during a statement in the Grand Foyer of the White House following a trilateral meeting. May 6, 2009

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has received substantial attention at the NATO summit this week in Chicago. Just before the summit commenced, a deal to reopen supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan collapsed. President Barack Obama refused to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari without a deal on the supply routes, a measure of just how much the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated.

In April, Bruce Riedel, senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, spoke about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan at the Miller Center. He said the relationship between the two countries “can only be described as one of the most severe roller coaster rides in history.” Read highlights of Riedel's in-depth analysis of the relationship.

Friday Roundup

Obama vs Romney

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

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

Electoral Horse Race. Chris Cillizza, writer of the Washington Post’s “The Fix,” spoke at the Miller Center’s forum today on how the Post will cover the election, and said that President Obama starts with an edge in the race for electoral votes. Larry Sabato also gave Obama an edge at the starting block with 247 electoral votes, while Romney starts with 206. During his appearance on “The View” on Monday, President Obama said he is “going to win” the election. But, according to Gallup, Romney is gaining favorability, with a rating this week of 50%, nearly matching Obama’s 52%. Meanwhile, a USA Today/Gallup poll examined the American public’s beliefs about who will win. According to the poll’s findings: 

Fifty-six percent of Americans think Barack Obama will win the 2012 presidential election, compared with 36 percent who think Mitt Romney will win. Democrats are more likely to believe that Obama will win than Republicans are to believe Romney will. Independents are nearly twice as likely to think that Obama, rather than Romney, will prevail.

Brown v. Board of Education and Education Reform

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas, USA - Monroe Elementary school, where racial segregation was challenged in 1954

Fifty-eight years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education that "separate educational facilities" for black and white students were "inherently unequal" and therefore unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the May 18, 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that continued to uphold the legality of Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination. But has real progress been made? How might politicians consider racial inequality in debates over education reform this election season?