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

Friday Roundup: Top Ten Articles from the Campaign this Week

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

As the race to the bottom continues to spiral, this week, we offer our top ten campaign news stories. Add your suggestion!

  1. Is Harry playing dirty with his pants aflame? We’re not sure, but apparently his fearless allegations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for ten years are a winning ploy for team Obama.
  2. Where’s Gepetto with his strings when you need him to rein in the candidates? The noses of both the Obama and Romney campaigns grew this week as the ad wars escalated
  3. Money, Money, Money…President Obama, according to the New York Times, “has spent more campaign cash more quickly than any incumbent in recent history.” The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have spent about $400 million from the beginning of last year to June 30 this year, investing in field offices, voter registration efforts, and high-tech campaign infrastructure (but a fancy campaign app also has some privacy advocates concerned). Meanwhile Team Romney once again out-fundraised Team Obama in July - $101.3 million to $75 million.
  4. Conservative critics accused Romney of betraying right-wing supporters after the campaign sought credit for the health-care law he signed as Massachusetts governor.
  5. Biting our lips…The veepstakes have narrowed and the top contenders are certainly earning their spot.
  6. Speechify…The Republican convention is “all about Mitt,” according to Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Romney campaign is carefully controlling convention speakers. Neither George H. W. Bush nor George W. Bush will attend, but Donald Trump is set to have a “memorable” role. On the Democratic side, Jimmy Carter will speak to the Convention on the front end by video, while Bill Clinton will play a central role and formally nominate Obama. The Democratic convention will also feature Republicans and a “nightly ‘social contrast’ in which two people describe their personal experience with a hot-button issue — one person lauding the president’s actions, the other taking Romney to task.”
  7. The great crossover that isn’t…A new Gallup poll shows that 86% of voters who say they voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are backing him again this year, while 92% of 2008 John McCain voters say are supporting Romney. The poll also finds that 9% of 2008 Obama voters have switched to supporting Romney this year, while 5% of McCain voters have switched to Obama. While voter partisan identification remains remarkably stable, it is also more polarized now than it’s been since 1988. Eighty-four percent of Republicans view Obama unfavorably, while 80 percent of Democrats feel the same about Romney, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
  8. Too clever by half? Romneyhood vs. Obamaloney.
  9. Putting a young face forward... In attempts to appeal to a younger generation, the Republican Party is de-emphasizing social issues while returning to an emphasis on libertarian values like limited government and individual freedom.
  10. OK, this one isn’t really a campaign news story, but for your entertainment pleasure, this video blast from the past is a good reminder that liberals and conservatives should still share humor. 

MC Switchboard

On August 10, 1927, Calvin Coolidge dedicated Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. In his remarks opening work at the new national monument, Coolidge said:

No one can look upon it understandingly without realizing that it is a picture of hope fulfilled. Its location will be significant. Here in the heart of the continent, on the side of a mountain which probably no white man had ever beheld in the days of Washington, in territory which was acquired by the action of Jefferson, which remained an unbroken wilderness beyond the days of Lincoln, which was especially beloved by Roosevelt, the people of the future will see history and art combined to portray the spirit of patriotism.

Friday Feature: President Harding Not Riding a Tiger

President Harding riding his horse, Harbel, in Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., with a secret service man riding alongside. c. 19

President Harding riding his horse, Harbel, in Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., with a secret service man riding alongside. c. 1921

President Warren Harding was among the first presidents to record their speeches, and he did so by shouting into a large horn affixed with a recording device. The speeches were limited to five minutes because of the equipment.

Check out the Harding exhibit here, then view the Miller Center's full multimedia archive of presidential speeches.

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

1912: The Last Transformative Third Party Convention

1912 National Progressive Convention at the Chicago Coliseum.

“National Progressive Convention, Chicago, August 6, 1912.” Moffett Studio and Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co., copyright claimant. Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991, Library of Congress. PD

Last month, we blogged about TR and the Bull Moose campaign of 1912. We argued that it was a transformative campaign infused with constitutional significance that championed the “modern” presidency as the institutional means to a full-blown social insurance state. In light of the 100th anniversary of the Progressive Party’s convention in Chicago and in preparation for the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions that will begin later this month, today’s post examines in greater depth the importance of the 1912 convention. Indeed, in the last one hundred years, it’s difficult to imagine a third party convention and campaign that has had a more important impact on American politics and political development.

The Progressive Party’s 1912 convention marked an important change in presidential campaigns, whereby candidates, rather than the parties conducted and gave definition to the national contests. TR broke long-standing precedents by launching a direct primary campaign and his famous “Confession of Faith” address delivered on the second day of the convention proposed a universal system of direct primaries to replace the convention as the mode of nominating candidates in order to thwart the “invisible government” that silenced the people. Furthermore, TR broke convention precedents by joining his running mate, California Governor Hiram Johnson, in accepting the party’s nomination before the assembled delegates after being informally notified of their nomination. Previously, party nominees stayed away from conventions until they had been formally notified.

The convention was particularly significant for uniting seemingly disparate strands of social reform and wedding TR’s charisma to various causes, thereby creating a more coherent movement. As Roosevelt’s friend and critic Learned Hand wrote in a letter soon after the convention:

It is the most inspiring time in my own political experience, and has the largest premise for good. You have succeeded in switching the radical movement from the mere distribution of political power to the actual issues for which political power exists at all…You will immensely raise the tone of American politics for a generation.

The convention embodied the religious earnestness of the social gospelers in its ranks who invested moral fervor into TR’s crusade for a new form of politics that would transform the religion of America into a new national democracy. While TR played a central role in mediating and shaping work on the Progressive Party platform, which was crafted over the summer months, social reformers played a critical role in formulating the “covenant with the people.”

Why Aren’t the Candidates Addressing Poverty?

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Poverty Bill (also known as the Economic Opportunity Act).

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Poverty Bill (also known as the Economic Opportunity Act) on August 20, 1964. LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. PD.

This month marks the anniversary of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the legislative centerpiece of President Lyndon Baine Johnson’s War on Poverty.

President Johnson declared the War on Poverty in his State of the Union Address on January 8, 1964:

This administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join me in that effort...

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and local level.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

Very often, a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom.

Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty but to cure it–and above all, to prevent it.

No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.

Johnson made the War on Poverty the central concern of the nation, but as he noted in his SOTU address, it also required several bills and acts to create programs meant to alleviate poverty and improve the living standard for the poor. It also required presidential leadership and partisan compromise.

A half a century later, poverty has fallen off the national agenda. Furthermore, according to a recent Associated Press survey of economists, think tanks and academics finds that the poverty rate is set to rise to 15.7 percent this year, the highest levels since the EOA was adopted. What’s more, the presidential candidates aren’t addressing the poor in this election. Instead, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are battling for the middle class.

Presidential Power and the Nuclear State

President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 establishing the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 establishing the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. August 1, 1946. Photo Courtesy DOE, PD.

Sixty-seven years ago this week, the United States was the first country (and the only since) to use nuclear weapons in war. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped “Little Boy,” a uranium atomic bomb, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima instantly killing 80,000 to 140,000 people and seriously injuring 100,000 more. Three day laters, on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped a second plutonium atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing over 75,000 people. Although the bombings have been credited with ensuring Japanese surrender and American victory in World War II, the development of the nuclear weapons was also politically significant domestically because it increased the power of the presidency and set a precedent for government secrecy on national security matters. Nuclear weapons development has also been consequential for the rise of the national security state. Finally, the nuclear era raises important Constitutional questions regarding checks and balances of power and compatibility of nuclear weapons in democracy. As we remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week, it also worth considering how the development nuclear weapons have altered governing relations in the American state. Given the alterations of Constitutional powers, secrecy and costs borne by citizens, are nuclear weapons compatible with democracy?

Friday Roundup: It’s Economy + Personality, Stupid!

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Today, the Bureau of Labor statistics released its monthly jobs report, which is the last report before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are held later this month and in early September. As in June, July brought mixed results. One the one hand, payroll employment increased by 163,000, a promising rise after three straight months of disappointing job gains. On the other hand, unemployment ticked up slightly, from 8.2% to 8.3%. Romney reacted to the unemployment in a statement calling it a “hammer blow to struggling middle-class families.” Focusing on the positive aspects of the report, Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement on the White House blog:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

So, with less than 100 days until the election, just how important is this jobs report for the presidential race? First, we know from a Gallup Poll released this week that voters rate job creation as the number one priority for the next president to address. However, Romney’s campaign has so far been unable to capitalize on the stagnant economic performance. Even though voters believe that Romney would be a better manager of the economy, personal image is playing an important role in this election. Because the campaigns are primarily being waged in the battleground states, we might look there to get a better sense of the candidate prospects, rather than just relying on the national averages. The table presented below compares the unemployment rates in key states with the most recent Gallup Poll January-June 2012 presidential approval ratings released this week. Read on for more!

 

Toss-ups

June 2012 Unemployment

Obama Job Approval

Colorado

8.2

43

Florida

8.6

46

Iowa

5.2

46

New Hampshire

5.1

43

Nevada

11.6

45

Virginia

5.7

46

 

 

 

Leans Democrat

 

 

Michigan

8.6

49

Pennsylvania

7.5

46

Wisconsin

7

49

 

 

 

Leans Republican

 

 

North Carolina

9.4

45

 

Friday Feature: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Not Riding a Tiger

Jacqueline Kennedy sits atop a large camel.

Jacqueline Kennedy (right) and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland (left) ride a camel in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. 1962

In March 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited Pakistan and India. She is seen here riding a camel through the grounds of President Mohammad Ayub Kahn's residence with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland.

While the First Lady was overseas, President Kennedy paid a visit to the University of California, Berkeley, and gave an address that noted, "As we press forward on every front to realize a flexible world order, the role of the university becomes ever more important, both as a reservoir of ideas and as a repository of the long view of the shore dimly seen." He does not mention camels in the speech, however, he does mention elephants, which the First Lady test drove just days before during her visit to India. Listen to the full speech.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has posted several albums of photos from Jackie O's trip, view the full set here

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

Taxation Without Persuasion

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation on federal tax reduction legislation, July 27, 1981.

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation on federal tax reduction legislation, July 27, 1981. PD.

Just about everyone is talking taxes this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress has been feuding over tax rates that are part of the “fiscal cliff” towards which the nation is headed post-election. Republicans want to keep the Bush-era tax rates for all individuals, while Democrats seek to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, largely repeating the president’s tax message.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, President Obama is making the case for tax equality and framing Romney’s plan as a tax burden on the middle class. Citing a Brookings Institution study while stumping in Mansfield, Ohio, President Obama told supporters that Romney “is not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit. He's not asking you to pay more to invest in our children's education or rebuild our roads or put more folks back to work. He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut.” The Obama campaign is also launching a new campaign ad that will air in eight key states. Citing a report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the ad argues Romney has paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than many people of lesser means: “He pays less, you pay more.”

Mitt Romney isn’t taking the punches sitting down though. Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom called the report “a joke,” challenging its impartiality and methodology. (Ezra Klein has a worthwhile post on why Romney’s tax plan and the campaign’s response to report are problematic here.) The Romney campaign is also attempting to shift the focus away from the tax issue to the economy, charging that the president has not fulfilled promises made in the 2008 campaign.

Although Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution gives Congress the power of introducing bills to raise revenues, a brief survey shows that modern presidents have been a powerful force in proposing and selling tax policy to Congress and the American public, especially as part of broader plans for economic recovery. Presidential persuasion is requisite when it comes to attempts at major tax reform. The Miller Center has compiled an online exhibit demonstrating how presidents have used the bully pulpit over the years to sell tax policy -- sometimes successfully, but not always. Although modern presidents have played an important role in crafting and selling plans, since the Kennedy administration, compromise with Congress and across party lines was necessary to achieve major policy reform.  Check out the exhibit or read on for highlights.

Ain’t No Party Like the Revived Tea Party

 Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas.

Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC-SA.

In a new WaPo article, Miller Center Forum Chair and Washington Post Contributing Editor Douglas Blackmon documents how the Tea Party has been transforming itself into a more viable political operation. Many eyes are on the GOP run-off election for the Senate nomination in Texas today, where thanks to intense Tea Party efforts, young conservative Latino star Ted Cruz appears likely to win against an establishment-supported candidate. But, as Blackmon documents, the Tea Party’s revival and transformation goes beyond today’s race. Indeed, Tea Party efforts have helped oust GOP incumbents or to force primary run-off elections. According to Blackmon:

The movement has retooled into a loosely organized network of field operations that, as in Texas, pushes Republicans toward more strident conservative positions and candidates, while supplying ground troops across the country for candidates and big-money conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.

Meanwhile organizations affiliated with the Tea Party are actively recruiting and mobilizing voters in support of party-backed candidates in state and local elections, including in critical states such as Ohio. Perhaps even more impressive and a telling sign of its future viability are efforts to raise funds. According to Blackmon: 

FreedomWorks says that almost 190,000 activists have joined its “FreedomConnector” online network and that it expects fundraising in 2012 to exceed the approximately $21 million it collected last year. Through the end of May, tea-party-associated political action committees had raised almost $18 million.

Tea Party Patriots, an organization that says it is affiliated with more than 3,500 local tea party groups, reported raising $12 million in donations in 2011 and says it is on track to match or surpass that number this year.

It remains unclear, however, whether and how these mobilization efforts will play out in the presidential contest. There are divisions within the Tea Party over its alignment with the establishment GOP and many have been critical of Mitt Romney. Yet their “preference for any alternative to President Obama” could be enough of a motivating force to boost pro-Romney efforts.

While the Tea Party is more of a loose network of organizations than a centralized structure, it remains a force with which both Republicans and Democrats alike will have to reckon, certainly in this election cycle, but perhaps over the long-run as well.

W.I.M.P.: Why Ignore Media Personifications

President Ronald Reagan endorses then-Vice President George H. W. Bush for President of the United States, May 11, 1988.

President Ronald Reagan endorses then-Vice President George H. W. Bush for President of the United States, May 11, 1988. Photo courtesy The George Bush Presidential Library. PD.

Is Michael Tomasky’s characterization of Mitt Romney as a “wimp” unfair? The 1987 Newsweek article and the 2012 Newsweek article have this common: At their core, both articles demonstrate how the candidates, both of whom hail from the Eastern wing of the GOP, have had to navigate a party with a thriving ideologically conservative base and at the same time appeal to a broader electorate. This is perhaps why both George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney appear eager “to be liked,” “risk averse” and to lack “principle” or “political identity” in the context of the campaign. But, we should look beyond commentariat characterizations of candidates in electioneering persona and instead examine the records of how the candidates performed in actual governing situations. Of course, the greater the record, the more voters have to go on in terms of evaluating how a candidate performs under varying institutional settings and political contexts.

In this post, we highlight Miller Center Oral History Program interviews with several of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign staff regarding the so-called “wimp factor.” The interview excerpts are a great reminder that voters are inundated with media frames of the candidates, and, during the campaign season, there is a publicity battle between the commentariat and the campaigns to define the candidate.

Do the Candidates Really Want to Wake the Sleeping Issue of School Reform?

 Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind

Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind Act. White House photo by Paul Morse. PD.

Education is a sleeper issue in the 2012 election campaign. But do the candidates really want to wake it? Given the struggling nature of the economy and the ongoing risk of economic meltdown in Europe, perhaps it is no surprise that the issue has received relatively little attention from the mass media. If recent public opinion polls are to be believed, however, education is highly salient in the minds of voters. Indeed, according to a recent CNN poll, 78% of Americans report that education will have a major impact on their vote in the presidential election.

At the same time – and despite sharp partisan conflict between Democrats and Republicans in Congress – education has been an area of major, albeit submerged, programmatic reform in 2012. While major statutory reforms to federal education policies have not been forthcoming, behind-the-scenes administrative changes have profoundly altered the premier federal policy affecting elementary and secondary education: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Indeed, using its waiver authority, the Obama administration has, over the past few months, released more than thirty states from some of NCLB’s most controversial provisions, including the requirement that all students reach academic proficiency by 2014.

Given the level of public interest and the significance of recent policy changes, will the sleeper awake in time for the upcoming October 3 presidential debate on domestic policymaking? So far, neither Obama nor his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has made much of the issue during the campaign. Still, it’s possible that education could play an important part in the debate, because the issue fits into the broader narrative that each campaign wants to tell voters going into the election. For the Obama team, the waiver decisions represent yet another pragmatic presidential response to partisan Republican intransigence, and thus highlight the president’s responsible leadership style. Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, suggested as much in the statement announcing the most recent waiver requests. “More and more states can’t wait any longer for education reform,” Duncan intoned. “A strong bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to Act.” Additionally, by touting his willingness to allow “states the flexibility to use local solutions to improve their schools”, as he does on his campaign website, Obama may be hoping to inoculate himself against charges, made repeatedly by his Republican opponent, that his administration has aggressively centralized political power in the federal government.

Friday Roundup: Should we be concerned about offshore fundraising?

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

On a trip abroad meant to boost his foreign policy credentials, Mitt Romney is also fundraising for his election campaign. Last night, he held a fundraiser in London, which drew attention this week because former Barclays PLC CEO Robert Diamond was originally signed on as a co-host of the event. Romney will also hold a fundraiser while in Israel. President Obama has likewise engaged in the practice and will hold another fundraiser with George Clooney in Geneva in August. So, should we be concerned about the money being raised from abroad? Two interrelated issues might draw our attention: the rising trend of international fundraising and transparency regarding the sources of that funding.

Friday Feature: George Washington Not Riding a Tiger

George Washington rides a dinosaur and appears to have defeated (and be supported by) an army of fictional characters.

Copyright Joseph Griffith, 2006. All rights reserved.

This week's Friday Feature delves into the realm of the unexpected: behold, an artist's rendering of George Washington in battle. The work was created upon the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown.

Our congratulations to Joseph Griffith on a truly creative interpretation.

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

Top 7 Picks of Nuclear Campaign Ads: What’s your favorite?

President John F. Kennedy Addresses the Nation on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, July 26, 1963.

Forty-nine years ago today, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation to announce that the United States and the Soviet Union had concluded negotiations on a limited nuclear test ban treaty. President Kennedy told the nation that the treaty was a “shaft of light cut into the darkness” of tense relations between the two countries. He called the treaty “a step towards reduced world tension and broader areas of agreement,” “a step towards freeing the world from the fears and dangers of radioactive fallout,” and “a step toward preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to nations not now possessing them.” Kennedy had taken a strong position on the treaty in the 1960 presidential election and envisioned it as a step toward disarmament.

Particularly during the Cold War, nuclear weapons played a prominent role among issues in presidential campaigns. In light of the anniversary, we've picked seven campaign ads that highlight the role of presidential leadership on nuclear weapons issues in past campaigns. Take a look and tell us what your favorite ad is or point out a great one we missed!

  1. "Football/Peace," Eisenhower, 1956. This ad was presented to “thinking voters, regardless of party affiliation." Eisenhower tells the public:

We witness today in the power of nuclear weapons a new and deadly dimension to the ancient horror of war. Humanity has now achieved, for the first time in its history, the power to end its history. This truth must guide our every deed. It makes world disarmament a necessity of world life. For I repeat again this simple declaration: the only way to win World War III is to prevent it.

  1. "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)," Johnson, 1964. This ad is perhaps one of the most famous campaign ads, juxtaposing a scene of a little girl happily picking petals off of a flower (actually a black-eyed Susan), and an ominous countdown to a nuclear explosion. The implication of the ad was that Senator Barry Goldwater would be reckless in foreign affairs.
  2. "Bomb (Nuclear Treaty)," Humphrey, 1968. This ad juxtaposes an image of a nuclear weapon detonation with the candidates positions on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The ad notes that Richard Nixon is “in no hurry to pass it,” while Hubert Humphrey supports it now, “as do the eighty countries who have already signed it.” The ad concludes: “Let's stop the spread of the bomb, now. Humphrey: There is no alternative.”  In another ad from the 1968 election, a narrator asks a man what has Nixon done? “Nixon, Nixon... Well, the bomb, the nuclear bomb! No, that was Humphrey's idea to stop testing the bomb.”
  3. "Flipflop," Carter, 1980. Carter reminds the nation of his “deep commitment to controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” while Reagan flip-flopped his position.
  4. In "Arms Control 5," the Mondale campaign in this 1984 election ad refers back to President Kennedy’s leadership on the partial test ban. Mondale tells the public:

I don't believe this administration understands how most Americans feel about arms control. We know that if those bombs go off, that's probably the end, it's over. We're the first generation to have the capacity to destroy all life. And that's why this is not just another problem--it's THE problem. I've been involved in every arms control fight over twenty years. I know what I'm doing. I've dealt with the Soviets. I've worked with our friends. I know how to get arms control. We must have that kind of leadership in the White House.

  1. "Crisis B," Bush, 1992. By the 1990s, campaign ads reflected a shift in the debate over nuclear weapons. The focus shifted from the need for arms control between the powers that had weapons to preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons.
  2. "2013," McCain, 2008. If elected president, by 2013, John McCain will have “REDUCED” the nuclear terror threat.

Election Year Politics: Don’t Expect a Gun Law Showdown

President Clinton Addresses Gun Laws in his 2000 State of the Union Address in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado Tragedy.

In the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, there is a window of opportunity to discuss gun laws because people are paying attention. The real question is whether the presidential candidates will have enough courage to seize the moment and begin a national dialogue on gun laws. After all, Aurora is not singular incident. Indeed, just three days before, a man carrying an assault weapon fired into a crowded bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leaving 17 injured, and indeed other recent examples abound. Instead of engaging in a real, albeit difficult, debate over the issues, both presidential candidates have focused on comforting victims and have hidden behind the argument of supporting of the Second Amendment. President Obama appears unwilling to risk losing support from swing voters, while Mitt Romney appears unwilling to go against the party line.

Although President Obama pledged to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, he hasn’t pursued it. Moreover, he’s not going to act on any new gun control initiatives in a close election year when he might lose voters who support gun rights. Instead, as Press Secretary Jay Carney put it on Sunday, “He believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.” President Obama might be able to afford to take for granted those in his party who support gun control, they’re unlikely to defect to the Republican Party, after all. On the other hand, not acting adds to the list of items the president has not delivered to his constituency and that could depress supporter turnout.

On the other side of the aisle, Mitt Romney gave his position yesterday, reiterating that there isn’t a need to renew the federal ban on assault rifles. Never mind the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he signed a ban on assault weapons and quadrupled the fee for gun licenses. As a presidential candidate, Romney is of course towing the party line.