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

This Day in History: Reagan Delivers “Evil Empire” Speech

President Ronald Rean delivers “Evil Empire” Speech, March 8, 1983

Thirty years ago today, Ronald Reagan delivered one of his most influential addresses to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, referring to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and calling the Soviets “the focus of evil in the modern world.” In the decades before his presidency, Reagan had read and thought deeply about American foreign policy and brought with him to the White House a number of strong convictions. He regarded Communism as an immoral and destructive ideology and believed that the Soviet Union was bent on world domination. Reagan told the audience on March 8, 1983:

They preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth. They are the focus of evil in the modern world....

Reagan used the speech to lobby the evangelical group to support the administration’s peace through strength approach to negotiating with the Soviet Union and to oppose a “nuclear freeze” that Congress was debating at the time. The Congressional resolution in support of a "nuclear freeze” would have prevented the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II Missiles in Europe. Reagan made the case for deploying NATO nuclear-armed missiles in Western Europe as a response to the Soviets installing new nuclear-armed missiles in Eastern Europe.

Using the bully pulpit of the presidency, Reagan told the crowd:

The truth is that a freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength…

So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

Carl Hayden: From County Sheriff to U.S. Senator

Carl Hayden, Sheriff of Maricopa County

Carl Hayden, pictured here as sheriff of Maricopa County. PD.

On a recent trip to Mesa, Arizona, I found myself at the Natural History Museum.  Most of the museum is in the old city hall building where one exhibit was the territorial jail, an intimidating series of metal prison cells.  A sign hanging on the wall read that Carl Hayden was once sheriff of Maricopa County from 1907-1912.  Wait…I know that name as my political history brain began to click.  After some quick digging, I was impressed by the fact that Hayden and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii were the only 20th century politicians who saw their territory become a state, became their state’s first Representative in the House, and served long terms in Congress. 

Hayden’s state-wide political career took off, in part, because he was sheriff.  He got to know the law enforcement and court officials who would help him win a seat in the House of Representatives in 1912.  Hayden then served as Senator from 1927 until his retirement in 1969 – 56 consecutive years.  It is unusual to have such longevity, but also to experience the vast changes in the country while serving in Congress.  When he left the sheriff’s office, Maricopa County was a quiet farming community.  By the time he departed the Senate, Hayden left a considerable legacy, mainly from the federal highway system and the Central Arizona Project that brought water to Arizona from the Colorado River, thus creating modern Arizona as we know it. Both of these issues are back in the headlines today as the state’s population nearly doubled in the last two decades, now at over 6 million people.  Traffic congestion and air pollution remain a concern, especially in the state’s population center, Maricopa County. Furthermore, Arizona could face water shortages due to climate change and growing demand.

In our Presidential Recordings series at the Miller Center, we hear a couple of interactions between Senator Hayden and President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  This was a crucial year as Johnson was facing Arizona’s junior senator, Barry Goldwater, in the 1964 presidential election.  In one conversation, Johnson asked Hayden for help in Arizona, but Goldwater won the state anyway.  However, Goldwater managed to win only five other states in the wake of Johnson’s landslide.

Hitchcock: Obama’s National Security Policy Resembles Eisenhower’s

General Dwight Eisenhower during his visit in Warsaw

General Dwight Eisenhower during his visit in Warsaw, capital of Poland. Picture taken on the Old Town Square, destroyed in 1944 by German forces after supression of Warsaw Uprising (1944). Photo by the Central Photographic Agency (CAF) in Warsaw. PD

Will Hitchcock, the Miller Center’s new director of research and scholarship, was interviewed by CNN this week for an article comparing Barack Obama’s national security policy to that of Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to Hitchcock, Obama would like to keep the United States out of war, “pursue peace through strength and cut defense spending. Those are all things that Eisenhower would have approved.” Eisenhower also understood the devastating effects of war. According to Hitchcock, the former general “didn't want to be drawn into a conflict whose outcome he couldn't predict. He is not a guy who says avoid war at all costs; he would say pick your fights and make sure you can win them completely.” Although he has not had any military experience, Obama has turned to people, such as Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, with similar beliefs and positions as Eisenhower.

One of the biggest differences between Eisenhower and Obama is in their approach to cutting military spending. Hitchcock noted that Eisenhower entered the White House as an expert in world affairs and knew the military establishment well. According to Hitchcock:

That is a big deal. Eisenhower almost felt that he knew how to push around the military establishment. He told them he was going to cut the military budget and he did and they complained, but he wouldn't let them boss him around.

But Obama has yet to follow suit, Hitchcock said:

Obama is not a budget hawk; maybe his hands are tied, but he hasn't been a budget hawk. He wants to cut the defense budgets now that the wars are coming to an end, but it is not as if the defense spending is driving the war strategy.

Read the full article, “Obama's national security policy resembles Eisenhower’s,” on CNN.com. For more on Eisenhower’s foreign and national security policy, be sure to join us at the Miller Center on March 21st for The Gordon and Mary Beth Smyth Forum on American History featuring Evan Thomas, who will discuss his book, Ike’s Bluff.

This Day in History: Reagan Addresses the Nation on Iran-Contra

President Ronald Reagan Addresses the Nation on Iran-Contra, March 4, 1987

In a March 4, 1987 broadcast, President Ronald Reagan addressed the American people from the Oval Office, promising to tell the nation the truth regarding the Iran-Contra scandal, and admitting he had made mistakes. Reagan told the nation:

A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.

In the address, Regan also promised to go beyond the recommendations of the Tower Commission’s recommendations by taking action in three basic areas: personnel, national security policy, and the process for making sure that the system works. Various inquiries into the affair had revealed lax management and enormous detachment on Reagan's part, as well as appalling conduct by members of the National Security Council staff. The president announced new national security personnel, including former Senator Howard Baker as Chief of Staff, Frank Carlucci as national security adviser, and William Webster as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also announced a comprehensive review of covert operations and new processes to ensure the integrity of future national security decisions.

The Iran-Contra Affair actually involved two separate initiatives. The first was the clandestine sale of U.S. military equipment to Iran, which had the support of the Israeli government, in contradiction of the Reagan administration's public policy of remaining neutral in the Iran-Iraq War. In exchange for the arms sales, American hostages being held by terrorists in Lebanon were released. The second was the attempt by a small group of National Security Council staff members and former military men to funnel proceeds from the sale of these weapons to the Contra rebels opposing the Nicaraguan government. While President Reagan attached great importance during this period to the success of the contra effort, he insisted he had no knowledge of the diversion of funds to the Contras. However, he wrote in his diary and eventually acknowledged to the American people that he authorized the Iran arms sales.

Celebrate RTT’s Anniversary: Enter Our Caption Contest!

Harry Truman and Jack Benny

Harry Truman and Jack Benny. Photo by Abbie Rowe, U.S. National Park Service, PD.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Riding the Tiger. Our goal has been to provide readers with scholarly insight and historical context of the 2012 election, the presidency and key policy issues. We also like to indulge in occasional whimsical features. Join us in celebrating RTT’s anniversary and the quote that provides the basis for our namesake by entering our caption contest. (It was Harry S. Truman who said, “I discovered that being President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”) 

Enter your caption of the image to the right in the “Comments” to this post by 5 pm tomorrow (Friday, March 1). The winner(s) will receive a coveted Miller Center t-shirt.

Mehrotra in Bloomberg on the Income Tax and the Fiscal State

Ajay K. Mehrotra, a former Miller Center National Fellow and a professor of law and history at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University, Bloomington, has published an op-ed in Bloomberg in which he reflects on the significance of the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax. Mehrotra writes:

As Tennessee Representative Cordell Hull, one of the chief architects of the new law, explained, the goal of the 1913 income tax was to ensure that the rich were paying their fair share of increasing government expenses. “I have no disposition to tax wealth unnecessarily or unjustly,” Hull said on the floor of Congress, “but I do believe that the wealth of the country should bear its just share of the burden of taxation and that it should not be permitted to shirk that duty.” Hull intended the income tax to counterbalance the regressive elements of the existing regime. “Something is needed to restore the equilibrium,” he said, “and that something can scarcely take any form except that of an income tax.”

As we commemorate the centennial of the 16th Amendment and look ahead to looming budgetary battles, we ought to keep in mind that the foundations of our modern fiscal state are rooted not in efforts to radically redistribute wealth, but in attempts to balance fiscal duties and civic responsibilities. The progressives who bequeathed this state to us certainly knew the difference.

Read the full op-ed here.

This Day in History: George H.W. Bush Announces End of Gulf War

Address on the End of the Gulf War (February 27, 1991)

On this day in 1991, President George H.W. Bush delivered an address to a joint session of Congress announcing the end of the Gulf War. President Bush told the nation in his address:

We must now begin to look beyond victory and war. We must meet the challenge of securing the peace. In the future, as before, we will consult with our coalition partners. We've already done a good deal of thinking and planning for the postwar period, and Secretary Baker has already begun to consult with our coalition partners on the region's challenges. There can be, and will be, no solely American answer to all these challenges. But we can assist and support the countries of the region and be a catalyst for peace. In this spirit, Secretary Baker will go to the region next week to begin a new round of consultations.

Following the war, President Bush and his administrative team seized the opportunity to build upon the success of bringing together Arab countries that cooperated during the war to revive the Arab-Israeli peacemaking process. It was also a politically ripe moment as the president enjoyed unprecedented domestic popularity. For the next eight months, Secretary of State James Baker engaged in shuttle diplomacy, with efforts culminating in the 1991 Madrid Conference, during which Israel entered into direct, face-to-face negotiations with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians for the first time. The Madrid Conference served as a catalyst for the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, as well as for non-public talks between Israel and Palestinian Arabs in what became known as the Oslo peace process.

The Bush administration’s peace process efforts were interrupted by the 1992 elections. Although Bush was the strongest candidate among voters concerned with international issues in the general election campaign and although the president believed his record of foreign policy would be rewarded electorally, the campaign narrative focused instead on the economy, advantaging the Democratic candidate, William Clinton.

Read more about the Madrid Conference in the Miller Center’s Oral History interview with Secretary Baker here.

This Week in History: The Speech that Won Lincoln the Republican Nomination

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln

The most famous of the beardless poses, taken by Mathew B. Brady on Monday morning, February 27, 1860, only a few hours before Lincoln delivered his Cooper Union address. That speech and this portrait, Lincoln afterwards said, put him in the White House.

Last night, Daniel Day Lewis took home an Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln and became the first actor to win three lead Oscars. This week also marks an important milestone in the life of the real Abraham Lincoln, without which there likely would have been no president, and perhaps no movie or third Oscar for Lewis.

On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that played a pivotal role in his gaining the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination. In the well-researched Cooper Union Address, President Lincoln argued that of the 39 signers of the Constitution, 21 had voted at least once, some more than once, for the restriction of slavery in National Territories, thus “showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in federal territory.” The address was a stunningly effective argument demonstrating that the founding fathers intended Congress to regulate slavery and it provided a coherent justification for the Republican Party's opposition to slavery's extension.

Lincoln told the crowd of 1,500 New Yorkers, some of them prominent members of the Republican Party:

It is surely safe to assume that the 39 framers of the original Constitution, and the 76 members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called "our fathers who framed the government under which we live." And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only "our fathers who framed the government under which we live," but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.

Miller Center Celebrates President’s Day with Panel on 2012 Election

The Elections of 2012, President’s Day Panel

In a special Presidents’ Day event last Monday, the Miller Center brought together top scholars to reflect on and analyze the 2012 elections. Participants included the Miller Center's Oral History Program Senior Fellow and Editor Michael Nelson, Rhodes College, as well as Nicole Mellow, Williams College; Marian Currinder, Georgetown University; and David Mayhew, Yale University.  The session was moderated by the Miller Center's Director of Democracy & Governance Studies, Sid Milkis. Read on for highlights of the session and watch the video for more in-depth analysis of the 2012 election.

This Day in History: Only Nixon could go to China

President and Mrs. Nixon visit the Great Wall of China and the Ming tombs.

President and Mrs. Nixon visit the Great Wall of China and the Ming tombs. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. Photo by Byron E. Schumaker. PD.

On this day in 1972, President Richard M. Nixon and his entourage, including National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers, landed in Beijing for an historic trip to China. It was "The week that changed the world," as President Nixon called his eight-day trip that included official meetings, cultural visits, and sightseeing in Beijing, Hangchow, and Shanghai. According to Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose:

He knew that when his old friend John Foster Dulles had refused to shake the hand of Chou En-lai in Geneva in 1954, Chou had felt insulted. He knew too that American television cameras would be at the Peking airport to film his arrival. A dozen times on the way to Peking, Nixon told Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers that they were to stay on the plane until he had descended the gangway and shaken Chou En-lai’s hand. As added insurance, a Secret Service agent blocked the aisle of Air Force One to make sure the president emerged alone.

The trip was widely televised and viewed. On February 27, the U.S. and China issued a joint communiqué, later known as the Shanghai Communiqué, which pledged both countries to work for "normalization" of relations, and to expand "people-to-people contacts" and trade opportunities and for the United States to withdraw gradually from Taiwan.

In October 1967, when he was running for president, Nixon wrote in a Foreign Affairs piece:

Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.

But the depth of Nixon’s commitment to a new relationship with China was difficult to judge. During his first years in office, Nixon sensed an opportunity as relations between the Soviet Union and China continued to deteriorate. Reversing Cold War precedent, he publicly referred to the country by its official name, the People's Republic of China.

In Spring 1971, Mao Zedong invited an American table tennis team to China for some exhibition matches. Following the breakthrough of sorts, Nixon sent Kissinger to China to engage in secret meetings with Chinese officials, thus laying the ground for Nixon’s trip the following year.

As one of the most anti-Communist politicians of the Cold War, Nixon was in a unique position to launch a diplomatic opening to China, leading to the birth of a new political maxim: "Only Nixon could go to China." It was only a first step, but a decisive one, in the budding rapprochement between the two countries.

Read more about Nixon’s presidency, including his trip to China, here.

Should We Celebrate the Federal Income Tax?

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax. Curious about its origins and development? Molly Michelmore, an associate professor of history at Washington and Lee University and former Miller Center Fellow, offers her views in the Washington Post.

The federal income tax was once quite popular. According to Michelmore:

After the Civil War, the federal government relied on a combination of consumption taxes and high tariffs to raise revenue. Both bore most heavily on regular people while doing little to tap the fortunes of the Gilded Age’s robber barons.

 Popular hostility toward these moneyed interests helps explain the initial popularity of the income tax. In their 1892 platform, a group of agrarian radicals known as Populists demanded a graduated income tax to bring an end to “oppression, injustice, and poverty” and to restore “equal rights and equal privileges for all.” Republicans and Democrats took notice; in 1894, Congress imposed a 2 percent tax on incomes over $4,000.

After the Supreme Court ruled the legislation unconstitutional, Congress sent an income tax amendment to the states for ratification. On February 3, 1913, the 16th amendment was ratified. According to Michelmore, it wasn’t until post-World War II that income tax declined in popularity as a result of liberals divorcing economic security and mobility from the burden of taxation.

Read Michelmore’s full piece here. Michelmore is also author of Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics, and the Limits of American Liberalism.

Book Review: US Presidents and the Militarization of Space, 1946-1967

Sputnik I exhibit in the Missile & Space Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Sputnik I exhibit in the Missile & Space Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Sputnik, which means “satellite” in Russian, was the Soviet entry in a scientific race to launch the first satellite ever. USAF photo, PD.

In US Presidents and the Militarization of Space, 1946-1967, Sean N. Kalic examines the roots of American space policy from the post-World War II era through the ratification of the Outer Space Treaty. Kalic argues that presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson all sought to establish the use of space for peaceful purposes while at the same time sustaining the militarization of space to support military missions on Earth. Under each administration, according to Kalic, space was viewed as venue for military activities, but not for the conduct of warfare. An overarching theme that emerges across the different partisan administrations is the extent to which space policy and technological development were driven by the confrontation with the former Soviet Union, especially following the USSR’s detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1947 and the launch of Sputnik a decade later. The book provides an interesting and in-depth examination of the origins of U.S. space policy and the role of presidents in its formulation.

Kalic begins by examining the period immediately following World War II, which laid the foundation for the military’s use of satellites for non-aggressive purposes. According to Kalic, President Harry S. Truman and his administration were far less interested in the research and development of satellites and other space experiments. Rather, Cold War strategic considerations and reducing the defense budget in the wake of WWII were the overriding concerns of the administration. Competition between the Army and Navy and the Army Air Force’s desire to maintain a close working relationship between universities and military scientists in the post WWII era were the primary drivers of early research and development. The air force and the RAND Corporation were the central actors in promoting America’s use of satellites for military applications, such as collecting data and intelligence (as opposed to killing or destroying targets). According to Kalic, “Despite the administration’s reluctance to support the development of satellites, the air force and RAND built the theoretical foundation to use space for military and scientific purposes” (pp. 17).

Unlike Truman, Eisenhower firmly embraced the use of satellites and space systems as a central tenet of the national security strategy of the U.S. and he established a national space policy. Countering threats from the former Soviet Union was the overriding driver of space policy. Eisenhower and his administration believed that the U.S. should use space technology as a means to maintain and expand the international prestige of the nation. In the wake of the Air Policy Commission’s miscalculation of when the USSR would test a nuclear weapon, Eisenhower also wanted to improve intelligence gathering and reconnaissance capabilities. Thus, he directed the National Security Council to define a space policy and to move forward with satellite construction, but Eisenhower chose not to deploy space weapons. Unlike future presidents, Eisenhower maintained that the U.S. should maintain separate military and civilian space programs.

One key question the book raises but might have explored further is why President Eisenhower sought to keep the American public unaware of the nation’s military developments despite public demand for a response to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch.

Friday Feature: Warren G. Harding Riding the Tiger

In case you missed it: This week in 1922 Warren G. Harding installed the first audio recording equipment in the White House. Little could he have known how ubiquitous these recordings would become for later presidencies… and how consequential they'd be for administrations such as that of Richard Nixon.

Harding's recordings were limited to about 5 minutes because of technological limitations. What would White House communications be like today if we were limited to 5 minutes of spoken word?

Read more about this week in history and visit the Miller Center's Warren G. Harding Speech exhibit.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

This Day in History: TR Signs Bill Creating Department of Labor and Commerce

Group portrait of the cabinet of President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt

Group portrait of the cabinet of President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt (at far left). March 4, 1909. Photo courtesy of M. A. DeWolfe Howe (1919), PD.

On this day in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill creating the Department of Commerce and Labor, the ninth Cabinet office. In his first State of the Union address delivered on December 3, 1901, Roosevelt called for the creation of the department. Although there had been a long-standing dispute between labor forces and business interests, Roosevelt did not believe that labor and capital were in conflict with one another. Rather, he thought that combining the functions of various information and statistics bureaus into one department would be more efficient. Roosevelt told Congress in his annual message:

There should be created a Cabinet officer, to be known as Secretary of Commerce and Industries, as provided in the bill introduced at the last session of the Congress. It should be his province to deal with commerce in its broadest sense; including among many other things whatever concerns labor and all matters affecting the great business corporations and our merchant marine.

The course proposed is one phase of what should be a comprehensive and far-reaching scheme of constructive statesmanship for the purpose of broadening our markets, securing our business interests on a safe basis, and making firm our new position in the international industrial world; while scrupulously safeguarding the rights of wage-worker and capitalist, of investor and private citizen, so as to secure equity as between man and man in this Republic.

Senator William P. Frye (R-Maine) translated these ideas into legislation, which he introduced in the 57th Congress. The bill passed despite Democratic minority opposition to the bill on the grounds that Labor would be submerged and that the distrust between labor and business would destroy the usefulness of the Department. President Roosevelt appointed his private secretary, George B. Cortelyou, the first Secretary of Commerce and Labor.

Memorable SOTU Addresses in the Modern Presidency

President Barack Obama delivers the 2011 State of the Union Address to a joint session of the United States Congress.

President Barack Obama delivers the 2011 State of the Union Address to a joint session of the United States Congress. Photo by Lawrence Jackson, PD.

Tonight President Obama will deliver the first State of the Union Address of his second term. As we learned from former presidential speechwriters, under the modern presidency, the objectives of the SOTU are to set the president up for what he is trying to achieve that year, to get a bounce in public approval, to inoculate the public when introducing controversial policies and to generate support for those policies within Congress. Yet, because the SOTU attempts to do so much, it rarely makes history, serving instead as a laundry list with few memorable moments or lines. Thus, the SOTU tends to contribute to the idea that presidents are remembered more for what they do than what they say. Still, the SOTU is valuable since it lays out a president’s objectives and provides a basis by which we might measure his accomplishments. We combed through our archives and offer in this post what we think are the the memorable SOTU addresses in the modern presidency.