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Riding the Tiger > Category: Media and The Press

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

President Kennedy, the Press and the National Security Question

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Brightwell, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and a fourth year student at the University of Virginia majoring in English and French and working on her MA in Public Policy at the Batten School.

Fifty-two years ago, on April 27th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. His speech, titled “The President and the Press,” addressed the role of the press in helping American efforts to curb communism; the speech discussed the standards for releasing sensitive materials that might compromise national security. The President’s address came just over one week after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in which the U.S. trained and funded parliamentary group, Brigade 2506, unsuccessfully invaded Cuba. In the days leading up to the invasion, the media had leaked plans for the invasion, which was intended to be a surprise.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs Invasion began after the Cuban Revolution replaced Fulgencio Batista, an ally of the U.S., with Fidel Castro. A Cuba led by Castro concerned the U.S. government especially because Castro began expropriating the country’s economic assets from the U.S. and developing a relationship with the Soviet Union.  It was actually President Dwight Eisenhower who initiated and authorized the bulk of the Bay of Pigs planning process. President John F. Kennedy, however, gave the final nod of approval for the invasion, which began on April 17th, 1961 and ended in defeat three days later. One hundred and eighteen Americans were killed and 1,202 were captured and the invasion was a major embarrassment for the U.S. President Kennedy subsequently ordered many internal investigations of the invasion plans, preparations and execution.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs were classified and intended to be kept secret in the interest of national security and in the interest of the plans’ success. The plans, however, were not as secret as the Administration would have wished.

The Warped Estate

Richard Nixon’s “Checker’s Speech,” September 23, 1952

First hand access to the daily life of President Obama has become the new hot ticket among political journalists. Americans have four more years of Democratic leadership. Correspondingly, they want to know more about thee somewhat shadowy figure pulling the strings inside the Oval Office. Just what is the Commander-in-Chief up to?

Results have been mixed. Brian Williams chose the angle of fellow traveler on the campaign trail fairing on NBC’s “Rock Center.” From his travels, we garnered little, save for the fact that modern politicians fly quite a great deal.

Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair, added a piece of his own. Like Williams, much of the focus seemingly whiffed at a pitch that others might have taken a harder swing at.

For instance, the Moneyball and Blind Side author spends an extended period of time covering Obama’s Spartan taste in furniture. He then documents Obama’s well-covered love of basketball in great detail. However, to say that his was nothing more than a puff piece undersells it. Indeed, there were some highly interesting moments to note. One in particular stuck out.

What’s Up with White Women in 2012? Nothing new!

White American Presidential Vote Choice

White American Presidential Vote Choice. Graph by Adam Hughes.

Gender has been in the news a lot this week, since women seemed to be vital to President Obama’s reelection. Maybe they were, but the white ones? Not so much, John Cassidy noticed in a New Yorker blog post the Friday after the election. Challenging the much-hyped gender gap, Cassidy wondered “What’s up with White Women”? They've headed the “wrong way,” he claimed: in the Republican direction, causing what Cassidy called a “reverse gender gap" with white women preferring Romney to Obama by 14 points in 2012 (56% to 42%). What's more, wrong-way white women chose McCain (53%) over Obama (46%) last time around, while 55% of white women picked George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. So what's up?

A little bit of history would've taken the punch out of Cassidy's line of reasoning. What's up with white women? Absolutely nothing. White women have not reversed or changed course. In 2012 and the two elections before that, white women voted about the same way they've been voting since the 1970s: almost always for the Republican Presidential candidate.

Surprise that white women are doing what they’ve always done stems from distorting media spin on findings by polling organizations, such as Gallup, which suggests that women’s concern for women’s issues drives them towards the Democratic Party. Yet as political scientists have shown, the gender gap – that is the difference between women’s aggregate vote preferences compared to men’s – is explained best by differences in how the sexes see the size and role of government. Further, political scientists have shown that the gap opened up around 1980, when white men headed for the GOP, not when white women abandoned it for the Democratic Party. Way back in 1991, the venerable political scientist Warren Miller (gated article) cited work published even earlier, by his younger colleague Dan Wirls (gated article) in 1986, to wit: “the appearance of the gender gap in the Reagan years was not as much a function of a liberal, pro-Democratic growth in the partisan sentiment of women as a function of the sharply conservative pro-Republican move among men.”

What Wirls said in 1986 and Miller broadcast in political science’s flagship journal, the American Political Science Review, in 1991 should have become conventional wisdom, but it didn’t. So we repeat the (still not yet conventional) wisdom here. Using data from recent exit polls, NES data and other data, our colleague Adam Hughes created the graph pictured with this post to demonstrate the history of the gender gap. Like all polling data, these data are estimates of real votes (that of course are not recorded according to gender or any other personal attribute) to give us a sketch of the vote choices individuals make on Election Day.

The graph shows how, for a long time, white women have reliably voted more Republican than Democratic, though less dependably so than their white male counterparts. The graph also shows that the only year in which white women are more Democratic than Republican in their Presidential vote choice is 1996, which also happens to be the only year in which there is a large, unequivocal gender gap in the sense that more white women voted Democratic than Republican and more white men voted Republican than Democratic.

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.