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

SCOTUS Immigration Ruling and the Hispanic Vote

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meeting with President Barack Obama in June 2010 in the wake of SB 1070.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meeting with President Barack Obama in June 2010 in the wake of SB 1070, to discuss immigration and border security issues. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Arizona vs. United States, the 2010 Arizona immigration law (S.B. 1070). With a 5-3 vote, the Court upheld the most hotly contested provision of the law – the so-called “show me your papers” provision – but blocked other provisions on the grounds that they preempted the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said:

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

The majority emphasized two points regarding the federal-state dividing line over immigration law authority. First, it is “fundamental” that foreign countries be able to communicate with a “single sovereign,” the federal government, about immigration issues. Second, the federal government should have “broad discretion” in deciding whether and how to enforce immigration laws.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with the majority that “show me your papers” provision was not preempted by federal law and could go into effect. However, they dissented from the majority on other provisions. In his dissent from the majority opinion, Justice Scalia argued that the states should have the right to make immigration policy if the federal government is not enforcing its own policies.

The presidential candidates’ responses to the ruling made clear a partisan divide over how authority to set immigration law should be divided between the federal, state and local governments. President Obama said that the ruling demonstrates that Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform. According to President Obama, “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.” President Obama also agreed with the Court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status:

“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”

The Obama administration also announced that it will not assist Arizona's efforts to arrest undocumented people unless those immigrants meet federal government criteria. Furthermore, it is rescinding agreements that allow some Arizona law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

In response to the ruling Mitt Romney said that America’s immigration laws have “become a muddle.” At a campaign fundraiser in Arizona that raised $2 million yesterday, Romney told donors:

“I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less. And the states, now under this decision, have less authority, less latitude, to enforce immigration law.”

Romney did not endorse the Arizona law during the primaries and has attempted to soften his position on immigration to appeal to Hispanic voters. But yesterday, he called the Arizona law “a model” and said that “the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing.”

So what impact will the Court’s ruling have in the presidential election?

Ich bin ein Berliner

John F. Kennedy, “Ich bin ein Berliner” Speech (June 26, 1963)

Forty-nine years ago, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in Berlin and commended the people on their spirit and dedication to democracy. President Kennedy extolled the spirit of the citizens and city of Berlin, “besieged for 18 years,” yet living with “the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination.” In solidarity, he declared on June 26, 1963, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”

The "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech was derived in part from a speech President Kennedy delivered on May 4, 1962 in New Orleans:

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was to say, "I am a citizen of Rome." Today, I believe, in 1962 the proudest boast is to say, "I am a citizen of the United States." And it is not enough to merely say it; we must live it. Anyone can say it. But Americans who serve today in West Berlin--your sons and brothers--or in Viet-Nam, or in other sections of the world, or who work in laboratories, to give us leadership, those are the Americans who are bearing the great burden.

Grassroot Organizing and the Lamentable Loss of Voter Turnout

Organizing for America (OFA) office in Broward County, Florida.

Organizing for America (OFA) office in Broward County, Florida with Asia, Kelly, Aaron, Faith “The Artist”, Raven, Nicholas for Nova Debate Team, Tiandra Johnson, and Corey Shearer Sr.

Last week, Rhodes Cook argued on the Crystal Ball that although voters and pundits alike have criticized heightened partisanship and polarization, one of the positive benefits has been increased turnout, especially in presidential elections. Cook questioned whether turnout will be as high this year, citing as evidence low voter turnout in the primaries. Cook also argued that “Obama put together a winning coalition in 2008 built in large part on an unusually high turnout from youth and Hispanics, normally low turnout groups.” According to Cook it will be difficult for the president to reassemble that coalition as much of the enthusiasm for him as worn off. Citing the first elections of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, as well as Harry D. Truman’s fabled come-from-behind victory and Ronald Reagan’s first election, Cook concludes that voter turnout doesn’t need to be high in order to make the election an historic one. However, lower voter turnout will mean that one of the few positive benefits of intense partisanship and polarization will be removed.

What is missing from Cook’s excellent analysis of historic voter turnout is Obama’s approach to party leadership and the organizational innovation of his grassroots machine “Organizing for America” (OFA). As Sidney M. Milkis, Jesse Rhodes and Emily Charnock argued in a March 2012 Perspectives on Politics article (gated), Obama’s grassroot’s campaign was in part a response to partisan polarization. However, Obama’s organizational efforts blended partisan elements with a liberal measure of post-partisanship. According to Milkis, Rhodes and Charnock, “Instead of appealing to the party’s base, Obama and his advisors sought to ‘change the demographics of the campaign’ by activating non-voters and by attracting as many independents and disaffected Republicans as possible.”

However, after winning the presidency and the merger of Organizing for America with the Democratic Party organizational apparatus, both President Obama and OFA moved in a more partisan direction. This was particularly evident in the 2010 election when the party’s majority in Congress was at stake. The president repeatedly proclaimed that voters had a choice between “moving backward” with Republican policies and “moving forward” with Democratic ones. Meanwhile, OFA’s “Vote 2010” used explicitly partisan appeals in attempts to turnout the base.

Friday Roundup: Pandermonium

Obama Vs Romney.

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

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

Pandermonium. President Obama elaborated on his decision to no longer deport undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children in a Time Magazine op-ed.  Meanwhile Romney received mixed reactions after delivering an address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in which he called for loosening some immigration restrictions, including lifting caps on skilled worker visas and speeding the processing of applications for temporary agricultural work visas. In Arizona, Republican Representatives David Schweikert and Ben Quayle, who are running against each other in one of this year’s more competitive member-vs.-member primaries, each introduced legislation this week that would prohibit implementation of the Obama administration’s plan to stop deporting some illegal immigrants. Meanwhile Obama is reminding various constituents within the Democratic coalition of other accomplishments (contraception, support for gay marriage). In a new TV ad, Obama for America touts the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as the first bill signed by the president after his inauguration.

All the pandering this election season raises the question: Does the candidate or the party matter more? Gary Wills reminded all the “high-minded” voters who say they vote for the candidate and not the party that two are inseparable. According to Wills, “The man being voted for, no matter what he says, dances with the party that brought him, dependent on its support, resources, and clientele… The party has some continuity of commitment, no matter how compromised. What you are really voting for is the party’s constituency.” Jonathan Bernstein quibbled a bit, but mostly agreed that we choose between sets of constituencies. For more in-depth recent political science theorizing on the subject, read this paper.

The Real Candidates. David Maraniss’ new biography, Barack Obama: The Story, challenges the president’s memoir, Dreams of My Father. Maraniss shared excerpts of the book here and Ben Smith has a review of the book that is worth reading here. Meanwhile, the Washington Post profiled Romney’s path to success at Bain Capital. And the New York Times exposed the selective truths both candidates use in the campaigns.

It’s the economy, stupid! According to a new Gallup poll, “Americans become progressively less positive about economic conditions the farther away from home they look. Forty-nine percent rate economic conditions in their local area as excellent or good, but that drops to 25% when rating the U.S. economy, and to 13% when assessing the world as a whole.” Andrew Gelman graphed the partisan breakdown at The Monkey Cage and found that Democrats are more optimistic about the economy than Republicans. Meanwhile, according to a new Pew Research Center poll, Obama leads Romney on eight different character traits. However, Romney has the advantage when it comes to voter beliefs about who would improve economic conditions, and the economy dominates voter concerns.

Friday Feature: Teddy Roosevelt Not Riding a Tiger

An illustration depicts Teddy Roosevelt on a large elephant with clouds of dust and panicked individuals below.

Image courtesy Theodore Roosevelt Center, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.

In this illustration from the Library of Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt is depicted riding a rampaging elephant. As described by the Theodore Roosevelt Center, 

Illustration shows President Theodore Roosevelt as a "Rough Rider" carrying a pike labeled "Fearlessness" and riding an elephant labeled "Administration"; he has chased many men labeled "Dishonest Official" and "Corruption" from the "Post Office" Department. There are mail bags labeled "Corruption, Scandal, [and] Bribery" and letters labeled "Bribe, Scandal, [and] Bribery" flying in the rush of wind as corrupt officials flee Roosevelt and the rampaging elephant.

Visit the Theodore Roosevelt Center to learn more. 

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

Without Precedent: Is the Bay State Necessary for a Romney Victory?

Mitt Romney voting in Belmont, MA, March 2012.

Mitt Romney voting in Belmont, MA, March 2012.

Massachusetts has received quite a bit of attention this election year. The Obama campaign launched an ad campaign attacking Mitt Romney’s record as governor there. This week, the campaign also announced that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will debate President Obama in order to prepare him for the fall debates with Romney. And earlier this week, spending reports showed that both presidential campaigns have spent $45 million, or nearly a quarter of all campaign spending since last year through the first quarter, in the Bay State, mostly on political consultants and data analysis companies.  Meanwhile, instead of going after Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is claiming Michigan as his native home and saying the state would hand him the presidency. In this post, Anand Rao digs beyond the headlines to examine what effect Massachusetts could have on Romney's chances in November.

In 2002, Mitt Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts, as the voters of that “blue” state defied conventional wisdom again and chose a Republican as their state leader for the fourth consecutive time dating back to 1990. The final vote tally was not especially close, as Romney outpolled Democratic opponent and state treasurer Shannon O’Brien by more than one hundred thousand votes, out of nearly 2.2 million total votes cast. Therefore, ten years later, it would seem natural for Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, to be a shoe-in to win at least a plurality of the popular vote in Massachusetts this November as he tries to unseat incumbent President Barack Obama. After all, it’s close to an article of faith in the U.S. that sitting or former governors are popular with the voters of the states that elected them. Unlike U.S. Senators who serve in Washington, D.C., governors serve in the states themselves and develop close relations with local legislatures and the people on the ground. So Romney all the way in Massachusetts with its 11 electoral votes, right?

Not so, according to a recent Washington Post article by Philip Rucker, who cites data showing that President Obama maintains a double-digit lead in the polls over Romney in the Bay State. Rucker concludes that while Massachusetts proved to be a launching pad for Romney’s presidential ambitions, he has no concrete base of support there and is almost guaranteed to lose the state to Obama, his fellow Harvard Law School graduate. Thus, in 2012, Romney must do something that has yet to be accomplished in post-1900 U.S. presidential politics: Be elected president for the first time without winning a plurality of the popular vote (and therefore all of the electoral votes) in the state where voters had once elected the candidate in question as their governor. James Cox of Ohio (1920), Al Smith of New York (1928), Alf Landon of Kansas (1936), Thomas Dewey of New York (1944), and Adlai Stevenson of Illinois (1952 and 1956) were all major party presidential nominees who suffered the humiliation of losing in the states where they had served as governor, and they were decisively defeated in their presidential bids as well. Even when Dewey won New York in his second presidential bid, this time against incumbent President Harry Truman in 1948, he still lost the general election.

Transforming American Democracy: TR and The Bull Moose Campaign of 1912

1912 US colorized postcard showing Theodore Roosevelt speaking to crowd.

1912 US colorized postcard showing Theodore Roosevelt speaking to crowd.

One hundred years ago this week, a dramatic Republican National Convention prepared the ground for the transformation of American democracy. On June 17, 1912, the celebrated ex-President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a dramatic speech that that encouraged his political followers to walk out of the Convention, maintaining that the Republican National Committee and President William Howard Taft defied the will of the people and stole the nomination of the Grand Old Party. Since April, Roosevelt had warned of a walkout should the Old Guard of the party defy the clear intention of the Republican primaries that year – the first time popular primaries played an important role in a presidential election. Having been denied the Republican nomination, in spite of trouncing President Taft in these contests, TR bolted the Republican Convention and summoned a new party to “stand at Armageddon" and “battle for the Lord.” Progressive followers of TR left the convention on June 22 and reconvened in Chicago's Orchestra Hall to endorse the formation of a national progressive party.

The 1912 presidential election was a rare campaign in which voters were challenged to think seriously about their rights and the Constitution. Four impressive candidates engaged in a remarkable debate about the future of American democracy. In particular, each candidate tried to grapple with the emergence of corporations embodying a concentration of economic power that posed fundamental challenges to the foundations of the decentralized republic of the 19th century. Although Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate, and Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate who was elected president, contributed significantly to this surrogate constitutional convention, in a real sense, the most important exchange was between TR and Taft.

That the 1912 election registered, and inspired, fundamental changes in American politics owes, above all, to Roosevelt’s Progressive party campaign.  The party was joined by an array of crusading reformers who viewed Roosevelt's campaign as their best hope to advance a program of national transformation. TR’s campaign pioneered a new form of “modern” politics – one that would eventually displace the traditional localized democracy, which had dominated representative government in the United States since the beginning of the nineteenth century. His crusade made universal use of the direct primary a cause célèbre; assaulted traditional partisan loyalties; and championed candidate-centered campaigns. Indeed, it advocated a direct relationship between government and public opinion, facilitated by the recall, initiative and referendum, including popular referenda on court decisions, and a more majoritarian constitutional amendment process. It also took advantage of the centrality of the newly emergent mass media and convened an energetic, but uneasy coalition of self-styled public advocacy groups. All of these features of the Progressive party campaign make the election of 1912 look more like that of 2012 than that of 1908.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act and Dismantling the Jim Crow State

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office (WHPO).

After surviving an 83-day filibuster, forty-eight years ago today, the Senate finally passed a compromised version of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a critical legal measure that contributed to the dismantlement of the Jim Crow State. The bill ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public. It also required equal employment opportunities to be provided by employers and laid the groundwork for passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

President Johnson began campaigning for civil rights legislation almost immediately upon assuming office. President Kennedy had sent the bill to Congress in June 1963, but was unable to get it passed before his assassination on November 22. In his first address to a joint session of Congress on November 27, 1963, President Johnson told the legislators:

No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.

After the Senate finally passed its version of the bill, President Johnson urged House Minority Leader Charles Halleck in a phone call, to push through quick votes on several other bills pending before the House and to pass the Civil Rights Act in time to have a signing ceremony for July 4th. Halleck noted in the call that the president would receive all of the political credit for the law’s passage.

After a bipartisan coalition took control of the House Rules Committee, a panel reported a resolution accepting the Senate version of the bill and ruled that only a single hour of debate would be allowed on the House floor. On July 2, the House voted 289-126 to accept the Senate version of the bill. On the same day President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. President Johnson addressed the nation about the meaning and purpose of the law in the signing ceremony:

The purpose of the law is simple.
It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others.
It does not give special treatment to any citizen.
It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability.
It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public. …

Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity.

But advocacy for the bill and its passage triggered a tumultuous election year.

Nixon’s Biggest Crime Was Far, Far Worse than Watergate

President Nixon escorts Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, after a meeting in 1973.

President Nixon escorts Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, after a meeting in 1973.

Today's post is from Ken Hughes, a research specialist with the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program and the producer of Fatal Politics. This post originally appeared on the History News Network.

On the thousands of hours of White House tapes Richard Nixon secretly recorded, you can hear him order exactly one burglary. It wasn’t Watergate, but it reveals the real root of the cover-up that toppled a President.

On June 17, 1971, (one year to the date before the Watergate arrests, by impure coincidence) Nixon ordered his inner circle to break into the Brookings Institution. “Blow the safe and get it,” the president said. “It” was a file of secret government documents on the 1968 bombing halt.

“What good will it do you, the bombing halt file?” asked National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger seconds after the president ordered his top aides to commit a felony.

“To blackmail him,” Nixon replied. President Lyndon Johnson had halted the bombing of North Vietnam less than a week before Election Day. Nixon claimed LBJ did it for political reasons, to throw the election to his vice president, Hubert Humphrey.

Kissinger knew better, since he had inside information about the talks. Having worked on an abortive bombing halt deal for Johnson in 1967, Kissinger used his connections with LBJ’s negotiators then to gain access to the Paris talks in 1968 -- access he used as a secret informant to the Nixon campaign.

“You remember, I used to give you information about it at the time,” Kissinger reminded the president. “To the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October. I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [Ambassador Averell] Harriman,” the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris. (Kissinger’s words on tape contradict his later claim that he didn’t even have access to classified information at the time.)

Nixon had his own reasons to realize that the bombing halt file didn’t contain blackmail material on Johnson. He knew from classified briefings during the campaign that Johnson had remained unwavering in demanding three concessions: If Hanoi wanted a bombing halt, it had to (1) respect the DMZ dividing Vietnam, (2) accept South Vietnamese participation in the Paris peace talks, and (3) stop shelling civilians in Southern cities. Throughout the negotiations, LBJ didn’t budge from these three demands. Hanoi remained equally adamant, insisting on an “unconditional” bombing halt -- until October 1968. Then Hanoi suddenly reversed course and accepted all three. Johnson didn’t decide the timing of the bombing halt; Hanoi did.

If the bombing halt file didn’t contain dirt on Johnson, what made Nixon want it desperately enough to risk impeachment and prison? Over the decades, evidence has slowly accumulated that Nixon had a far more compelling motive: the fear that the bombing halt file contained dirt on him.

Friday Roundup

Obama Vs Romney.

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

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

Vox Populi. Pressure is building for President Obama to do something more for Latino voters as his policies havehave produced few gains for them. The administration attempted to respond today with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announcement that the Obama administration will block deportations of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children. Jeb Bush said that Mitt Romney needs broader ideas on immigration if he is going to appeal to Hispanic voters.

According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 43 percent of voters expressed a favorable impression of President Obama’s plan for the economy, while 37 percent say the same of Romney.

According to a new poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, global approval of President Obama’s policies has declined significantly. Except among Americans and Indians, there is considerable opposition to the Obama administration’s use of drones.

Jonathan Bernstein debunked five myths about swing states.

It’s the economy, stupid! President Obama delivered a major address in Ohio on economy telling voters, “This November is your chance to render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy, how to create good jobs, how to pay down our deficit.” Romney sought to frame the president’s speech in his own address on the economy, telling voters not to “forget he’s been president for 3 ½ years, and talk is cheap. Actions speak very loud.” The RNC also hit back with this video.

Friday Feature: President Nixon Not Riding a Tiger

Richard Nixon rides in a parade, waving to the crowds.

Richard Nixon and family are seen here riding in a parade at Disneyland in 1959. Photo courtesy

(Future-) President Richard M. Nixon visited Disneyland in 1959, at Walt Disney's invitation, for the park's 5th anniversary celebration. He's seen here riding down Main Street, with wife Tricia and daughters Julie and Pat in the back seat.

At the time of the visit Nixon was Vice President to Dwight Eisenhower—he would run for President as the Republican nominee the following year, but would narrowly lose to John F. Kennedy. Of course, he won his next campaign, finally taking the White House in 1968.

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

Watergate Resources

Richard Milhous Nixon, Address to the Nation About the Watergate Investigations, August 15, 1973.

As we look at Watergate in a longer perspective, we can see that its abuses resulted from the assumption by those involved that their cause placed them beyond the reach of those rules that apply to other persons and that hold a free society together. That attitude can never be tolerated in our country.  -Richard M. Nixon, August 15, 1973

June 17 will mark forty years since President Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” were arrested for breaking into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex. As we all know, their capture early that morning led to a Congressional investigation that ended with President Nixon’s resignation. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein co-authored an article last week in which they concluded that the Watergate scandal they wrote about forty years ago was only a glimpse into something far worse as has been shown by an abundant record of evidence from secret tapes, hearings, trials and memoires. In this post, we highlight a number of Miller Center resources on Watergate.

The Pentagon Papers and the Public’s Right to Know

Daniel Ellsberg at panel on a

Daniel Ellsberg at panel on a “Nuclear Free World” in New York. April 8, 2010. Photo by Thomas Good.

Executive privilege and democratic principles of transparency and accountability have long had a tenuous relationship, especially when it comes to national security matters. Forty-one years ago today, the New York Times began publishing a series of articles based on a 47-volume, classified study of U.S. involvement in South Asia from World War II to 1968. The Pentagon Papers, commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in June 1967, revealed that administrations from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson had deliberated and knowingly deceived the American public and Congress about the conduct of the Vietnam War. Much of the debate around the release of the papers arguably centered on this question: does the public have the right to know?

The wall has been torn down, but Russia remains a ‘hot mic’ topic

President Reagan giving a speech at the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Federal Republic of Germany. June 12, 1987.

President Reagan giving a speech at the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Federal Republic of Germany. June 12, 1987.  Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Twenty-five years ago today, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech that in many ways defined the essence of his presidency.  At the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, President Reagan demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev “Tear down this wall,” which was a symbol of communist oppression. While the cold war battle of ideas receded alongside physical tearing down of the Berlin Wall, Russian-American relations continue to be marked by geopolitical rivalry on the one hand, but modest cooperation on the other. Foreign policy toward Russia has been a hot (mic) topic in this election and a range of issues present ongoing challenges for the next administration. In this post we outline the candidates’ positions.

Do Gaffes Matter?

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

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

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