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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

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.

The Politics of Presidential Commencement Addresses: Not Just for Grads

Barack Obama at Notre Dame commencement May 2009

President Barack Obama bows his head during the invocation at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony, May 17, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each delivered commencement addresses this week to core constituents of their respective party’s base. It is fair to say that both speeches were campaign speeches. Of course this wasn’t the first time in history that presidential candidates have delivered commencement addresses for campaign purposes or to justify policies. We dug into our archives here at the Miller Center to highlight a number of memorable commencement speeches from presidential history.

Where Are the VEEPs Now? J. Danforth Quayle

President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle

President George H. W. Bush walks along the colonnade with Vice President Dan Quayle enroute to the Oval Office in 1992.

Vice President Joe Biden, and his relationship with President Barack Obama, is attracting quite a bit of attention this week. In addition, we’re witnessing a rather remarkably public and early campaign for the selection of the Republican vice presidential candidate this election. Michael Nelson recently wrote on Riding the Tiger that the vice presidency has been an office of real prominence and influence for well over a generation. At the same time, the vice president must also take care to stay within the bounds of the office and play second fiddle to the president and the broader goals of his administration. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week, “Being a vice president is kind of like being a first lady. You are there to support and serve the president. There is no job description.”

In a series of posts, we will dig into our archives at the Miller Center to explore the contributions of previous vice presidents and see what they’re doing now. We begin with J. Danforth Quayle, who served as the 44th Vice President of the United States in the administration of George H. W. Bush. 

Scholarly Response: “This Economic Recovery Is Still Being Built”

Debaters on ABC's This Week

On Sunday, April 29, the Miller Center partnered with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on the second of six special episodes examining some of the key issues heading into the 2012 Election.  On Sunday, six distinguished panelists discussed and debated whether or not America’s economic recovery is “built to last.” Today’s guest post is from historian and former Miller Center Fellow Julia Ott offering her assessment of the arguments presented in the debate.  

On Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked a panel of six distinguished commentators whether or not America’s economic recovery is built to last.  No one answered “no” outright, but pessimism pervaded.  

Scholarly Response: “It’s Hard to Put a Happy Face on This Recovery”

Debaters on ABC's This Week

On Sunday, April 29, the Miller Center partnered with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on the second of six special episodes examining some of the key issues heading into the 2012 Election.  On Sunday, six distinguished panelists discussed and debated whether or not America’s economic recovery is “built to last.” Today’s guest post is from historian Brian Domitrovic offering his assessment of the arguments presented in the debate.

Paul Krugman said some misleading things in this debate. “This is not especially worse than the recovery from the 2001 recession,” for example. And, “If you actually just look at the job gains, or lack thereof, they’re more or less on track.”

JFK Assassination Tapes

Johnson Takes Oath of Office

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office aboard Air Force One. He is flanked by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, left, and Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, right.

Today Robert A. Caro, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, releases his fourth book in The Years of Lyndon Johnson series. The book, The Passage of Power, chronicles Johnson’s career from 1958 until 1964, and his journey from Senate majority leader to vice president to president of the United States.

In the, Ron Rosenbaum describes a major theme in Caro’s book:

This mortal struggle [between Johnson and Robert Kennedy] explodes into view over RFK’s attempt to deny Johnson the vice presidential nomination. Caro captures the pathos of LBJ’s sudden loss of power as VP, “neutered” and baited by the Kennedy echelon, powerless after so long wielding power. And the sudden reversal of fortune that makes him once again master on November 22, 1963—and suddenly makes Bobby Kennedy the embittered outsider.

The book covers the assassination of JFK and Johnson’s ascent to the presidency. In a fascinating piece in the New Yorker, Caro documented Johnson’s reactions in the moments after the assassination to his taking the oath of office on Air Force One.

The Miller Center has put together an exhibit of some of the highlights of the Presidential Recordings that took place on November 22, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The JFK Assassination Tapes include a selection of calls from Air Force One enroute from Dallas to Washington. The plane was carrying a newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson along with the slain president's body.

Correspondents Dinner

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The 98th annual Correspondents' Dinner will be hosted at the White House this Saturday, featuring Jimmy Kimmel as headline entertainment.  

Not all Presidents have enjoyed Correspondents' Dinners—listen to this clip of Richard Nixon, talking to chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, wherein Nixon relays his feelings about the 1971 dinner which had taken place two days earlier. 

Economic Effects on Immigration

The Bracero Program

In 1942, the first Mexican workers arrive in Los Angeles, California, as part of the Bracero Program.

Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona’s S.B. 1070 law, which allows local police to inquire about the immigration status of people—stopped for any reason—whom they suspect are in the country illegally. One of the core issues at the heart of the Supreme Court decision is which level of government should address immigration policy. In a post for Riding the Tiger earlier this week, Anna O. Law provided historical context to the debate over who should control immigration policy.

S.B. 1070 and other state laws also raise important questions regarding the link between the economy and immigration. Historically, debates over national immigration policy have included two arguments. The first is the claim that immigrants do work that Americans do not want to do. On the other hand is the concern that illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

“These People are Taking Our Jobs”

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As the Supreme Court gears up to hear the Arizona immigration case, take a trip back to 1964 as President Lyndon Johnson discusses the Bracero Agreement, a controversial work program for Mexican farm laborers.

In this clip, President Johnson calls James Farmer, a vocal opponent of the program, to relay his conversation with President Adolfo Lopez Mateos of Mexico about ending the Bracero Agreement. Farmer had long been concerned that the program was taking jobs from American workers, and in this recording LBJ notes that Lopez Mateos did not object to ending the program. As hinted by LBJ in this recording, the labor arrangement did not last much longer into 1964.

Who is ‘The Real Romney’?

Miller Center Forum: The Real Romney

One of the most established findings in political science is that an incumbent’s record is central to the public’s judgment in a campaign for reelection. But what about challengers? A challenger’s campaign is more about the promises the candidate makes and their personality. Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, journalists, scholars, pundits and citizens alike are seeking to delve even deeper into his seemingly impenetrable background and qualifications in order to evaluate his ability to be president. Last month, the Miller Center hosted a Forum with Boston Globe investigative reporter Michael Kranish, who recently co-authored a new biography on Mitt called The Real Romney. For those of you who weren’t able to attend the Forum, we’ve put together some highlights.

It’s Tax Day!

President Obama and Warren Buffett

President Obama and Warren Buffett

Today is the IRS tax filing deadline for 2011. Be sure to get your taxes submitted today. 

Throughout history, presidents have been involved in setting tax policy and then trying to sell their plan to the public. Recently President Obama has been touting the benefits of the Buffett Rule, which would raise taxes on people earning more than $1 million a year. As CNN acknowledged, the Buffett Rule has little chance of moving forward in the U.S. Senate, but Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green argues that it might be more powerful as a political message than as actual legislation. 

Presidents and Tax Policy: The Politics of Persuasion is a Miller Center exhibit that looks at various snapshots of presidential tax policy drawing on a wide array of its resources, including presidential speeches, forums, presidential recordings, and oral histories.

Let the Veepstakes Begin

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With Rick Santorum’s announcement that he will halt his campaign, leaving Mitt Romney the presumed Republican presidential nominee, it’s time to start playing one of everyone’s favorite election season parlor games – the VEEPstakes.

Behind the Scenes When Reagan Was Shot: A Pre-Forum Chat with Wilber

Interview with Del Quentin Wilber

As we mentioned this morning, on this day in 1981, President Reagan was shot.

John Hinckley Jr. shot at President Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, wounding the president, press secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent, and a police officer. Since the incident, few have realized how near to death Ronald Reagan actually came, and no one has ever written in detail about the tragic day…until now. In his New York Times best-selling book Rawhide Down, Del Quentin Wilber reveals an

electrifying story of a moment when the nation faced a terrifying crisis that it had experienced less than twenty years before, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I had the chance to talk with Wilber about what he uncovered while writing Rawhide Down.

To learn more, be sure to tune in for Wilber’s Forum on Monday, April 2 at 11AM. If you can’t make the trip to Charlottesville, you can watch the webcast live at and ask questions on the Miller Center’s Facebook page and via Twitter using hashtag #MCForum.

“Rawhide Down!”

President Reagan

President Reagan Moments Before Assassination Attempt

Today, on March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot coming out of a hotel. Thanks to the quick thinking of a Secret Service agent, President Reagan was rushed to George Washington Hospital and underwent surgery to remove a bullet that was just lodged just an inch away from his heart. As part of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History program, members of the Reagan administration recounted what it was like to be part of that moment in history and how it changed (or did not change) Reagan and his presidency.

A Decent Interval

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Today, on March 29, 1973, the last U.S. troops left Vietnam. As the country debates the war in Afghanistan and a new poll indicates that two-thirds of Americans are against U.S. involvement in the war, it is interesting to listen to this secret White House recording from 1972 between President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, as they discuss a time frame for pulling American troops out of Vietnam.