Miller Center

Riding the Tiger > Category: Miller Center Resources

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

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.

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.

Presidential Speechwriters’ Perspectives on the SOTU

Terry Edmonds (Clinton speechwriter), Lee Huebner (Nixon and Ford speechwriter), and Clark Judge (Reagan and Bush speechwriter)

A speech is part theater and part political declaration; it is a personal communication between a leader and his people: it is art, and all art is a paradox, being at once a thing of great power and great delicacy.

-Peggy Noonan, Former Speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, from What I Saw

On February 12, President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union (SOTU) address to a joint session of Congress. What distinguishes the SOTU from other presidential speeches is that it is the only constitutionally mandated speech. This post offers historical perspective on the SOTU based on insights from former speechwriters for presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and William Jefferson Clinton.

The State of the Union was transformed with the onset of the television age. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson moved the SOTU from midday to evening in order to attract a larger television audience. Indeed, tens of millions of Americans (roughly 30% of households with television) are expected to tune in to watch the address. But televising the speech has meant that presidents are more limited in what they can say. Televised State of the Union addresses delivered from Dwight D. Eisenhower to present have ranged from 3,500 to 9,200 words. One way that Richard Nixon dealt with this limitation was to limit what he said about foreign policy and draft a separate “State of the World message.” In 1970, for example, Nixon gave only a broad outline of his foreign policy in the SOTU, but on February 18 of that same year, he transmitted the “First Annual Report to Congress on United States Foreign Policy for the 1970s.”

According to Lee Huebner, speechwriter for Richard Nixon (and corroborated by the National Archives), it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who popularized the term “State of the Union” in 1935. From 1790 to 1934, it was simply called the “Annual Message.” Even though the most memorable speeches tend to be short, like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the SOTU has essentially become a laundry list of wide-ranging policies on the president’s agenda for the year.

So what purpose does the SOTU fulfill? The answer tends to vary by president.

This Day in History: Warren G. Harding Installs Radio in White House

In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches.

In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches. PD.

On this day in 1922, President Warren G. Harding had a radio installed in the White House. On June 14 of the same year, Harding became the first president to have his voice transmitted to the American public by radio. Although President Harding’s address was not radio-specific (Calvin Coolidge was the first to deliver a presidential address on radio in 1923), the broadcast of Harding’s speech dedicating a memorial site for Francis Scott Key heralded a revolutionary shift in how presidents addressed the American public.

Check out the Miller Center’s Warren G. Harding Speech Exhibit, which features 14 audio excerpts of speeches given by Harding before 1922. The audio clips were recorded from 1917 until 1921 during three stages in Harding’s career—as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, and finally as President of the United States. The recorded collection was first assembled by President Harding’s nephew, Dr. George T. Harding III.

Madeleine Albright Offers Insights and Advice to Student Leaders

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addresses student leaders in a session at the Miller Center.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addresses student leaders in a session at the Miller Center, February 4, 2013. Photo by Amber Lautigar Reichert.

On Monday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed a packed Miller Center Forum. Earlier in the afternoon, she was generous with her time and met with more than 50 students from politics, history, and other classes taught by Miller Center faculty and from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She was pleased to see such a multi-disciplinary gathering, and remarked on the importance of aspiring leaders to have such a wide and diverse background of study. Today, we bring you some highlights from her exchange with the students.

Albright began by noting that we are living in a very complicated time in which there are more forces that are less and less controllable and don’t lend themselves to the tools of statecraft that we possess. The tools of statecraft that we possess – aid, trade, sanctions, threat of force, force, etc. – work in relations between states. But now we are dealing with non-state actors and they are both difficult and bring different forms of war.

In a book she prepared for the president in 2008, she argued that there are five big umbrella issues the U.S. must effectively deal with:

  1. fighting terrorism without creating more terrorists. She noted that the death of Osama bin Laden was important, but we have to address the root causes of terrorism, including poverty, alienation and the remnants of colonialism.
  2. the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
  3. addressing the growing gap between the rich and poor
  4. energy, environment and climate change, and
  5. restoring the good name of democracy.

Today, she would add a sixth issue to that list – the global financial crisis.

The use of drones presents a tough challenge. Albright posited that they are are effective, but the decision making around their use is cloudy and this presents problems. Another significant challenge the United States and world faces is cyber war. For example, can a cyber attack trigger NATO’s Article V protection of collective defense? How do we retaliate in case of an attack? Should cyber attacks be included as a tool of statecraft?

This Day in History: Happy Birthday, Gipper

Head Shot of President Reagan during a meeting with members of Congress, 1983.

Head Shot of President Reagan during a meeting with members of Congress, 1983. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, PD.

On this day in 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan (a.k.a. “Dutch,” “The Gipper,” “The Great Communicator”) was born in Tampico, IL. Check out the Miller Center’s resources on the Reagan Presidency:

  • The Ronald Reagan Oral History project includes some forty-five interviews with those most closely involved in Reagan’s political career, including Cabinet members, White House staff, and campaign advisors. Among those interviewed are Richard Allen, Frank Carlucci, James Miller, George Shultz, William Webster, and Caspar Weinberger.
  • Listen to and watch some of the most important speeches delivered by President Reagan.
  • Read in-depth essays on Reagan’s presidency.

The State of the Union According to Millard Fillmore

Official Presidential portrait of Millard Fillmore

Official Presidential portrait of Millard Fillmore, 1857. By G.P.A. Healy. PD

Leading up to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, which will be delivered on February 12, 2013, RTT will provide historical insights and feature materials from our archives.

“[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient...”

-Article II, U.S. Constitution

Seemingly innocuous constitutional provisions like the one above in Article 2, Section 3 are known for becoming less trivial in the era of “modern” presidents and “legislative leviathans.” When it comes to State of the Union addresses, however, the proof requires far less evidence. On February 12th, Barack Obama will give a speech before both Houses of Congress and a national television audience, and barring a significant shift in presidential strategic action, it will contain a substantive, charismatic appeal to the American people to support his 2013 agenda.

These descriptive facts are alien to States of the Union prior to the 20th century. A simple comparison will make the point clearer. Consider Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union in light of another titanic speech certainly worth remembering: the 1850 address of Millard Fillmore.

This is inaccurate, of course, because the 1850 State of the Union was not a speech, it was a letter (as the substantial proportion of SOTU addresses have been). In it, there is little in the way of emotional appeals, and it has an “agenda” that is minor by modern comparison. Fortunately, Fillmore was courteous enough to report the annual revenue and expenditures, and contributions to the reduction in national debt. In addition, it contains pledges to respect the office, an explicit reference to the state of nature, and general references to the goings on of the past year.

This Day in History: Ronald Reagan Addresses Nation on the Challenger Disaster

Ronald Reagan Addresses the Nation on the Challenger Disaster, January 28, 1986

Today marks the anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster when the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. Watch this video of President Ronald Reagan’s address to the nation on January 28, 1986 from the Oval Office. President Reagan was originally scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address that evening. Challenger was supposed to be the first mission to put a civilian into space. Reagan reminds the country of the bravery and dedication of those who were killed on the shuttle. The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program and the formation of the Rogers Commission appointed by President Reagan to investigate the accident.

A Voter’s Eye View of the 2012 Election - Charles Stewart III

Charles Stewart III presents a “Voter’s-eye View of the 2012 Election,” GAGE Colloquium, January 18, 2013

During the Miller Center’s January 18th GAGE colloquium, Charles Stewart III, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, gave a preview of 2012 Election data that, in his words, is “hot off the press.” Stewart gleaned answers from a survey of over ten thousand respondents to some of the most interesting questions regarding election administration in the recent election, including topics such as reasons motivating voter turnout and public opinion regarding voter ID laws.

Overall, Stewart stressed that the vast majority of Americans have a good voting experience. A large proportion of voters wait five minutes or less on election day, and the vast majority of voters say it was very easy to find their polling place. However, Stewart’s talk suggests that more work could be done. In both his colloquium paper and talk, Stewart cited what V.O. Key wrote in 1949: election administration is “the most primitive and neglected branch of our public administration.” This suggests that more time ought to be spent addressing, in a systematic and scientific way, the administrative challenges associated with the expedience, accuracy, and accessibility of voting.

Stewart showed those states that had previous problems with long wait times, particularly Florida, tended to continue to have the same problems--rebutting the notion that the 2012 Election was particularly problematic in that way. Instead, Stewart said long wait times are more often a function of statewide policies, year after year.

For more, watch the full colloquium, which also touched on issues such as higher wait times for minority voters and partisan polarization over election reforms.

This Day in History: Nixon Announces Conclusion of Peace Agreement with Vietnam

Richard Nixon Addresses the Nation on Conclusion of Peace Accords with Vietnam, January 23, 1973.

Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon announced to the nation that the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam had finally concluded an agreement to end the war in Vietnam. Nixon had promised to end the Vietnam War in his campaign for the presidency in 1968. In his reelection campaign in 1972, he once again promised to end the war in Vietnam in such a way as to ensure a "a full generation of peace."

In his address on January 23, 1973, Nixon told the nation:

We must recognize that ending the war is only the first step toward building the peace. All parties must now see to it that this is a peace that lasts, and also a peace that heals—and a peace that not only ends the war in Southeast Asia but contributes to the prospects of peace in the whole world.

The official cease-fire, along with the release of all American prisoners of war, went into effect on January 28, though troops remained in Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Miller Center’s Balogh Explains Why Obama’s Second Inaugural Matters

Barack Obama Takes Oath of Office, January 2013

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to President Barack Obama during the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on 21 January 2013. White House photo by Sonya Hebert, PD.

Brian Balogh, the Compton Professor at the Miller Center and the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, opines on CNN.com that President Obama’s second inaugural address matters because future historians will mark it as the moment the president explained why he is a progressive:

The programs that Obama called for were characteristically liberal: reaffirming the social safety net, equal pay for women, etc. Nothing new here -- just the Obama classic.

What differed this time, and what this moment was made for (to twist the president's own words) was articulating the progressive rationale for these programmatic ends. "Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action," Obama proudly told the nation...

His second election behind him, Obama linked his fate and the nation's to a rationale that propelled tens of millions of Americans into the middle class. By making collective action explicit, Obama yoked a century-old progressive agenda to the nation's founding documents and its past history. "Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people." To achieve America's lofty goals of "life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" will require back watching, backslapping and no shortage of back-scratching as well.

Read Brian’s full op-ed here.

Honoring MLK in the Inaugural

Reagan Speech on the Creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Holiday, November 2, 1983

The theme of this year’s inauguration is “Our People, Our Future,” a theme intended to promote national unity and reconciliation as most inaugurals do. In a Presidential Inaugural Committee video released over the weekend, President Obama noted that two men he admires more than anyone in American history are Dr. Martin Luther King and President Abraham Lincoln because without them, he would not be in office. The inaugural weekend once again featured a “Day of Service” because the public ceremony falls on the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. President Obama told the country:

The inauguration reminds us of the role we have as citizens in promoting a common good as well as making sure we carry out our individual responsibilities.

President Obama will be sworn into his second term using the bibles of Dr. King and President Lincoln, bringing additional significance to the inaugural ceremonies as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Dr. King’s speech to the participants in the August 1963 march was one of the most memorable moments and he roused the crowd by addressing the racial injustices and discrimination that continued to plague the nation 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. He criticized the nation for defaulting on a “promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned”:

Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

In some of the most powerful lines of the speech, Dr. King told the crowd he had a dream. Among his dreams was that his “four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”