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Riding The Tiger

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

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.

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.

Should Voter Preferences Matter in Veep Selection?

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona.

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona, April 20, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA.

One of the factors presidential nominees consider or are faced with is a call from factions within their own parties for a particular vice presidential running mate. While the presidential nominee ultimately decides, along the way countless pundits, party leaders and other members of the political class weigh in with suggestions on who might excite the party base, who might help unite party factions behind the presidential ticket or who might carry the party to victory in the general election. But where do voter preferences fit in this process? Do they matter in veep selection? Evidence from this election and a previous one suggest they don’t. Among the most important criterion is a vice presidential candidate’s ability to demonstrate presidential leadership and to be ready to assume the number one position on day one. So if the vice president is supposed to be prepared to represent the whole people, should voter preferences matter in the selection process?

Although most voters don’t pay attention to vice presidential candidates when they cast their ballot, enough people do that it can tip most close elections. Thus, in this close election year, who Mitt Romney selects might matter more for voters than in other years. A CBS/New York Times poll last week found that vice presidential selection will matter “a lot” to about one quarter of voters and somewhat to additional 50 percent of voters for their decision in November. Meanwhile, a recent Fox News poll asked voters who they would prefer to see on the Republican ticket if given a choice. Of the entire sample population, 30 percent preferred Condoleezza Rice, 12 percent preferred Marco Rubio, 8 percent preferred Chris Christie, and 6 percent preferred Paul Ryan (24 percent didn’t know). When the findings were narrowed to which veep candidate Republican voters would like to see, 30 percent of Republicans supported Rice as top choice, while Marco Rubio was the second most popular at 19 percent (16 percent said they didn't know). Yet, Reuters reported last week that Mitt Romney’s likely final three top choices are Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman. According to the Fox News poll, only 5 percent of Republicans prefer Jindal, 2 percent Pawlenty and 3 percent Portman.

Solving the Rancor of Executive Privilege Disputes

Miller Center Executive Privilege Report Cover

Yesterday, Mitt Romney assailed President Obama for a lack of transparency in invoking executive privilege to withhold documents related to the botched gun-walking Operation “Fast and Furious” to the House Government and Oversight Committee. In the Romney campaign’s released statement, headlined “Transparent Hypocrisy: Obama’s Fast and Furious Broken Promises,’’ Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: “President Obama’s pledge to be transparent has turned out to be just another broken promise.” Romney is following Republicans in Congress who already have seized upon the issue for partisan and political gain. Last month, in a vote of 255 to 67, with 108 Democrats abstaining, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress, a move that Holder described as a proxy attack against President Obama.

The attack is also founded on President Obama’s criticisms of President George W. Bush in 2007 for invoking executive privilege over the firing of nine United States Attorneys and the Valerie Plame leak. In an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Obama said, “There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there's something a little shaky that's taking place.” Obama was also critical of the Bush administration’s practices during the 2008 campaign. Of course, the Obama administration has defended invoking the doctrine over “Fast and Furious,” noting that it was the first time the president has done so, while the Bush administration invoked it six times and the Clinton administration invoked it fourteen. What is perhaps more interesting than President Obama invoking the doctrine to withhold the documents, however, is that while he had promised more government transparency in 2008, he has not departed from all of the Bush administration’s executive privilege practices.

While Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency marks the modern rise of the use of executive privilege (Eisenhower invoked the doctrine more than 40 times), George Washington set a precedent for future administrations. After a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans in 1791, Congress convened an investigation and requested President Washington turn over documents related to the expedition. The President convened the Cabinet and Thomas Jefferson recorded that they all determined “that the Executive ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit & ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public” (Paul Ford, ed., 1892. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Putnam. pp. 189–190). President Washington similarly withheld documents in two further instances: after Congress made a request for diplomatic correspondence between the United States and France in 1794 and after the House of Representatives requested documents related to the Jay Treaty in 1796. Presidents since the founding have claimed they have a right to withhold documents from Congress and the judiciary.

So why all the controversy? Executive privilege, is after all, a presidential power derived under Article II of the Constitution that is legitimate when it relates to certain national security needs, when it is in the public interest and when ongoing investigations require secrecy. A new Miller Center report entitled Executive Privilege: Mapping an Extraordinary Power highlights the rancorous nature of executive privilege conflicts:

Although the current approach to executive privilege allows most disputes to be settled through negotiation, these settlements may come with significant partisan bickering. Members of Congress and the executive are often more interested in scoring political points than in protecting the prerogatives of their respective branches of government. They see themselves as partisans first and institutionalists second. As a result, Congress tends to investigate the executive branch more when it is controlled by the opposing party and less when the same party controls both branches.

Reagan’s Coalition Building and the Compact of Freedom

Ronald Wilson Reagan, Acceptance Speech to the Republican National Convention, July 17, 1980.

Thirty-two years today, on July 17, 1980, Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention and accepted the party’s nomination for the presidency. As the excerpts below reveal, his speech stressed the themes of American values, reducing government growth, balancing the budget, the need to revitalize the nation’s defense and the need to take a leadership role in the world.

Isn't it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them--for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?...

As your nominee, I pledge to restore to the federal government the capacity to do the people's work without dominating their lives…

America must get to work producing more energy. The Republican program for solving economic problems is based on growth and productivity…

It is essential that we maintain both the forward momentum of economic growth and the strength of the safety net beneath those in society who need help. We also believe it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security are preserved…

Beyond these essentials, I believe it is clear our federal government is overgrown and overweight. Indeed, it is time for our government to go on a diet…

I have long advocated a 30 percent reduction in income tax rates over a period of three years. This phased tax reduction would begin with a 10 percent "down payment" tax cut in 1981, which the Republicans and Congress and I have already proposed…

It is time to put America back to work; to make our cities and towns resound with the confident voices of men and women of all races, nationalities and faiths bringing home to their families a decent paycheck they can cash for honest money…

Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve, but we are given weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness…. The administration which has brought us to this state is seeking your endorsement for four more years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence. No American should vote until he or she has asked, is the United States stronger and more respected now than it was three-and-a-half years ago? Is the world today a safer place in which to live?... I would regard my election as proof that we have renewed our resolve to preserve world peace and freedom. This nation will once again be strong enough to do that…

Tonight, let us dedicate ourselves to renewing the American compact. I ask you not simply to "Trust me," but to trust your values – our values – and to hold me responsible for living up to them. I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional, or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the Earth who came here in search of freedom.

But like many modern campaigns where the real proving ground for nominees takes place in the primaries, the 1980 Republican convention was more ceremonial than decision-making. Reagan’s real concerted campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency began even before he stepped down from the governorship of California.

Friday Roundup

Ronald Wilson Reagan, Speech to the NAACP Annual Convention, June 29, 1981

The campaign got nasty (again) this week. In this week's Friday round-up, we’re focusing on the two biggest campaign stories: fights over the economy and the NAACP convention in Houston. Plus we leave you with bonus excerpts from Truman and Reagan speeches to the NAACP highlighting the parties competing visions for achieving racial justice and equality. Read on!

Should the Candidates be More Like Ike?

Miller Center Transportation Report Cover

On July 12, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments. Modernizing the nation’s highways was a priority for Eisenhower to the delight of the road building community, which had been disappointed by President Harry Truman. In a pre-election statement to the Hearst Newspapers, candidate Eisenhower justified expanding federal government power with joint planning between state and local governments to modernize the road system:

The obsolescence of the nation's highways presents an appalling problem of waste, danger and death. Next to the manufacture of the most modern implements of war as a guarantee of peace through strength, a network of modern roads is as necessary to defense as it is to our national economy and personal safety.

We have fallen far behind in this task-until today there is hardly a city of any size without almost hopeless congestion within its boundaries and stalled traffic blocking roads leading beyond these boundaries. A solution can and will be found through the joint planning of the Federal, state and local governments.

Beginning with his State of the Union address on January 7, 1954, President Eisenhower and his administration began pitching road modernization to the public, Congress and state leaders, arguing it was in the “vital interests of every citizen” to have “a safe and adequate highway system.” Vice President Richard Nixon told the Governor’s Conference on July 12, 1954 that the goal of President Eisenhower’s “grand plan” was “a properly articulated system that solves the problems of speedy, safe, transcontinental traffic: intercity communication, access highways and farm-to-market movement, metropolitan area congestion, bottlenecks and parking.”

Although President Eisenhower signed the 1954 Federal Aid Highway Act in the days following Nixon’s speech, both Congress and state leaders resisted the bill because of costs and Eisenhower’s insistence that it be budget-neutral. But, the president pressed his case to Congress and eventually struck a deal with governors, creating a national gasoline tax to fund the interstate system. On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which authorized the building of the interstate highway system, the largest public works project in the nations history, providing $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of roads over a period of 20 years.

The nation faces a very similar challenge today in its declining transportation infrastructure. This Spring, the Miller Center released a report, titled “Are We There Yet? Selling America on Transportation” that calls attention to the nation’s transportation infrastructure challenges. The report puts the situation frankly:

Two imperatives have collided: on the one hand the imperative to invest in a transportation system that will continue to grow our nation’s economy, create jobs, and enhance U.S. competitiveness; on the other hand, the imperative to come to grips with the nation’s short- and long-term fiscal problems, including especially the federal treasury’s unsustainable and still growing level of debt. In short, it’s not that our political leaders don’t agree that transportation is important or that infrastructure investments are needed; rather they can’t agree on whether or how to fund those investments given the current budget situation.

King Andrew’s Bank War

Cartoon of Andrew Jackson from anonymous artist circa 1832, used in campaign posters.

Cartoon of Andrew Jackson by an anonymous artist circa 1832, used in campaign posters. PD-US.

Last week I blogged about President Martin Van Buren’s Independent Treasury Act and the partisan rancor surrounding the legislation that ensued through the three subsequent elections. The independent Treasury was the culmination of a bitter partisan battle that was rooted in Andrew Jackson’s fight against the Bank of the United States. On July 10, 1832, President Jackson delivered his veto of the re-charter of the Second Bank to Congress, triggering a Bank War and the formation of the Whig and Democratic Parties. The Bank War was at its core a battle over how Capitalism should be organized and what the role the state should play in managing the economy. The veto also became the key issue in the 1832 election between Jackson and Senator Henry Clay.

To be sure, the National Bank was barely an issue in the 1828 election between Jackson and John Quincy Adams, though Adams’ platform included a strong national bank to regulate the economy. Instead, the 1828 election focused more on the character of the candidates and intense personal attacks. Jackson only began a two-fold concerted attack on the Bank once he assumed office. To Jackson, the Bank threatened liberty and symbolized corruption, political oppression and privilege. Jackson also argued that the Bank was unconstitutional because Congress didn’t have the power to charter corporations and exclude them from government regulation or taxation, although the Supreme Court had previously rejected this argument in the landmark case of McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. Nonetheless, Jackson reiterated his opposition to the Bank on these grounds in his annual messages in 1830 and 1831.

In 1832, Bank President Nicholas Biddle, who had incensed Jackson when Biddle approached him in 1829 with an early request to re-charter, worked behind the scenes with Senator Clay on legislation to re-charter the Bank. The move of course confirmed Jackson’s concerns about the Bank’s meddling in politics. Congress passed the bill, but without the two-thirds necessary to override the President’s veto.

Jackson’s veto message was, in historian Daniel Feller's words, the “the rhetorical apex of his presidency.” 

Labor Relations and Partisan Division

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

On this day in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the pro-labor National Labor Relations Act, also called the Wagner Act or NLRA, into law, which established the National Labor Relations Board and gave the unions the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. At the time, AFL leader William Green and future CIO president John L. Lewis called the law labor’s “Magna Carta.” One scholar, Karl Klare, heralded the Wagner Act as “the most radical piece of legislation ever enacted by the United States Congress.” The bill led to an era, albeit a rather short-lived one, of union and federal regulatory power, giving workers the legal right to strike, the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of their union activity, and the right to enter into collective bargaining agreements, all regulated and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. Scholars have noted the dramatic increase in the number of labor unions after the Wagner Act’s passage as one measure of the bill’s success.

However, the law was a short-lived victory for unions. As Dorian T. Warren (gated article) has argued, since its inception the National Labor Relations Board has lacked adequate power to monitor and enforce labor law effectively because of a comparatively weak federal administrative apparatus and its regulatory capture by business groups. Especially following the passage of the pro-business 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, unions were subsequently retrenched by employers. Although President Harry Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, Congress passed the bill over the president’s veto. Truman explained his position to the American public:

I vetoed this bill because I am convinced it is a bad bill. It is bad for labor, bad for management, and bad for the country.

It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions.

The bill is deliberately designed to weaken labor unions. When the sponsors of the bill claim that by weakening unions, they are giving rights back to individual workingmen, they ignore the basic reason why unions are important in our democracy. Unions exist so that laboring men can bargain with their employers on a basis of equality. Because of unions, the living standards of our working people have increased steadily until they are today the highest in the world.
A bill which would weaken unions would undermine our national policy of collective bargaining. The Taft-Hartley bill would do just that. It would take us back in the direction of the old evils of individual bargaining. It would take the bargaining power away from the workers and give more power to management.

Celebrating Independence Day with Presidential Speeches

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general's tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general’s tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862. Photo by Alexander Gardner, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Happy Fourth of July! In celebration of Independence Day, we bring you three presidential speeches from our archives.

On July 4, 1821, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams delivered a speech on foreign policy in the House of Representatives. Adams stressed America’s devotion to principles of freedom, independence and peace.

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

On July 4, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln addressed Congress, asking the legislature to validate actions he had taken in response to secession without Congressional approval between April 1861 and July. The speech is also notable as Lincoln provides the first full explanation of the Civil War’s purpose. In the passage below, Lincoln requested Congress to validate the suspension of habeas corpus. Lincoln argued that he had the power to do so because of the oath of office that requires the president to uphold the Constitution and “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He further clarified that the nation was facing a case of rebellion and argued that the Constitution gives the president emergency powers “when public safety may require it.” Lincoln would later justify suspending habeas corpus in a letter to Albert Hodges in this way, “By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation.”

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg, Woodrow Wilson addressed a crowd, which included Union and Confederate veterans, at the historic site in 1913. The battle itself was waged July 1-3, 1863, while Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg address in November of that same year.

Is what the fifty years have wrought since those days of battle finished, rounded out, and completed? Here is a great people, great with every force that has ever beaten in the lifeblood of mankind. And it is secure. There is no one within its borders, there is no power among the nations of the earth, to make it afraid. But has it yet squared itself with its own great standards set up at its birth, when it made that first noble, naive appeal to the moral judgment of mankind to take notice that a government had now at last been established which was to serve men, not masters? It is secure in everything except the satisfaction that its life is right, adjusted to the uttermost to the standards of righteousness and humanity. The days of sacrifice and cleansing are not closed. We have harder things to do than were done in the heroic days of war, because harder to see clearly, requiring more vision, more calm balance of judgment, a more candid searching of the very springs of right.

FDR’s 1936 Convention Speech and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, June 27, 1936.

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On June 27, 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia accepting his party’s nomination for the presidency. The 1936 election was critical for FDR – it was not enough to win re-election, he was also determined to use the campaign and his personal popularity to strengthen the Democratic Party. As Miller Center Democracy and Governance Studies Director Sidney M. Milkis has documented in his book, The President and the Parties, while FDR sought to effect structural changes within the Democratic Party, he also used the 1936 re-election campaign to define a new understanding of government.

Perhaps the most important organizational achievement within the party was the abolition of the two-thirds rule, which was adopted in 1932 and required the support of two-thirds of the convention delegates in order to be nominated as a Democratic presidential or vice presidential candidate. The rule originated in the South to protect its interests from Democratic candidates unsympathetic to its problems. While the Roosevelt administration sought to assure party regulars publicly, FDR closely directed DNC Chairman James Farley to work behind the scenes to change the nomination rules. The efforts centered on encouraging state parties to pass resolutions against the two-thirds rule and stacking the membership of the rules committee, which would report the recommendation to the Philadelphia convention.

FDR’s acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic National Convention captured the essence of the New Deal creed, which Roosevelt had first articulated in the Commonwealth Club address in September 1932. Progressive reform constituted a redefinition of the foundation of American politics and pronounced a new understanding of individualism that conceived of the state as the guarantor of programmatic rights. In his acceptance speech, FDR took a stand against economic despotism and reaffirmed the need for a new definition of the social contract within a changing social order:

The brave and clear platform adopted by this Convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth that Government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.

In addition to reaffirming the New Deal manifesto, Roosevelt’s Philadelphia convention speech also intended to rouse New Deal supporters for a militant partisan campaign. FDR sought to curb the most abusive practices of business by ameliorating conditions of economic inequality:

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place…

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

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.

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.

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.

Behind the Scenes: Medal of Freedom Nomination and Clearing Process

The general badge of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with its various components.

The general badge of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with its various components. This specific medal was presented to Bob Hope. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today, President Barack Obama honors 13 individuals with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. The Medal of Freedom recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Among this year’s recipients are former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn, basketball coach Pat Summitt and rock legend Bob Dylan.

We dug into our archives here at the Miller Center and found insider knowledge of the Medal of Freedom clearance and nominating process. In January 2002, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program interviewed Aram Bakshian, Jr. for the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project. Bakshian served for three years in the Reagan White House, first in the Office of Public Liaison, then as Director of Speechwriting from 1981 to 1982. During the interview, Bakshian discussed the clearance and nominating process for the Medal of Freedom for which he was responsible during his tenure in the Reagan White House. Click through to read excerpts from the interview.