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

Do Gaffes Matter?

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

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

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

Friday Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ezra Klein argued that elections do not give presidents mandates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promoting Democracy in the Arab World: What the Candidates Say

MENA protests throughout the Arab world.

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

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

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

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

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

A bearded man stands beside a large horse.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walker Makes History & Romney Sweeps Five More Primaries

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on February 18, 2011.

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

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

Making and (un)Keeping Foreign Policy Promises

President Barack Obama Remarks at University of Cairo. June 4, 2009.

Yesterday marked the third anniversary since President Barack Obama delivered a landmark speech at the University of Cairo in which he promised forge a closer relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. On June 4, 2009, President Obama said:

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Yet, three years later, hopes for better relations have been dashed. UVa Edward R. Stettinius Professor of Politics William B. Quandt placed the anniversary in perspective for Riding the Tiger:

Obama's Cairo speech in June 2009 raised expectations among many in the Middle East that they were about to see significant change from the widely disliked policies of the George W. Bush era. But along with the hope went considerable skepticism. Many admired the rhetoric, but were skeptical about real policy changes. Three years later their doubts seem largely justified, especially on the sensitive Israeli-Palestinian issue.

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.