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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

Is President Obama prepared to release thousands of prisoners?

Attorney General Eric Holder was interviewed on American Forum on 1/23. The interview airs on public television beginning 2/9.

The American Forum Interview With Attorney General Eric H. Holder 

Attorney General Eric H. Holder, in an interview to be broadcast on public television this Sunday (Feb. 9, 2014), made some remarkable comments about the American system of justice, including:

  • There are “probably thousands” of Americans imprisoned in the U.S. serving sentences far longer than they should be,
  • That the likelihood that many people currently imprisoned are actually innocent is the “ultimate horror” of our justice system,
  • And the strong intimation that a wave of presidential commutations for drug offenders may be coming from the White House in the months ahead.

 “We have…to make people who are incarcerated aware of that avenue,” Holder said, during a taping of American Forum, a public television program I host from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and carried by about 90 PBS stations around the country.  “And so I’ve asked members of the private bar to somehow engage with the people who are in prison so that the appropriate papers get filed, are put into the system, and ultimately the White House counsel’s office, and ultimately on the president’s desk.”

 “The president is willing to do these kinds of things,” Holder said.

Book Review: FDR and Polio

Frankline Roosevelt and son James Roosevelt

FDR and son James, December 1, 1933. (Courtesy of National Archives)

For Dr. James Tobin, the famous line, "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself" meant even more to Franklin D. Roosevelt, because he understood it in a personal way as he recovered from polio.  Tobin’s new book, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, has given us a well-written and unique way to look at FDR. 

Friday Feature: President Coolidge Not Riding a Tiger

President Coolidge smiles, wearing a suit and hat, on a lumber wagon with several other individuals.

President Coolidge rides a lumber wagon during his summer in the Black Hills. Exact date of photo is unknown, though it was likely summer 1927.  Photo courtesy SouthDakotaMagazine.com.

As we wind down summertime and get back to school and work, lets all pause a moment to be jealous of President Coolidge's three-week vacation to the Black Hills in 1927. He reportedly enjoyed the fresh air and mountain streams so much that he stayed for a total of three months, and his presence helped to kick start the carving of Mount Rushmore.

By the end of summer 1927, work was beginning on the famous Rushmore carving. Coolidge's full address from the opening can be read in our speech archive, but he remarks that "The fundamental principles which [these four presidents] represented have been wrought into the very being of our Country. They are steadfast as these ancient hills." 

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

Announcing the Miller Center’s new Historical Presidency Series

“That’s what’s the matter” from the Library of Congress. McClellan separates Lincoln and Davis in a tug of war over a map of the United States.

Beginning this fall, the Miller Center will host a new lecture series based on the Historical Presidency.  The theme for 2013-14 is "The American Presidency and the Crises of the Nineteenth Century."  On September 18 at 5pm, series organizer Gary W. Gallagher (UVa history) will kick things off with Princeton Emeritus Professor James M. McPherson for a conversation about Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. 

Check out the entire 13-14 series here.

What Are The Tea Party’s Plans?

Don’t Stop the Party, Miller Center Forum with Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks

Last week, Politico reported that the Tea Party is back in action with a new strategy and a growing membership.  While discussions from the April 25th caucus meeting were not made public, Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks (the most influential tea party organization in the United States), spoke about Tea Party 3.0 and the future direction of the Tea Party at a Miller Center Forum in March.

During the forum, Kibbe noted that the Tea Party is going to focus on getting their policy proposals focused on reducing the budget and reforming entitlements introduced by members of Congress. He also noted there are at least ten Senators whom the Tea Party has helped elect to office, including “rock stars” Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

The plan for 2014, according to Kibbe, is to go after a number of Democratic seats that are up for reelection in 2014 and to focus on places like South Carolina. According to Kibbe, “We can do better than Lindsey Graham in the primary.” He also argued there is a big opportunity is to solve the Missouri problem and get behind principled fiscal conservatives in Arkansas, North Dakota and Alaska.

George Washington Warned Against Partisanship

Think partisanship is a political problem unique to today’s political context? Think again. In his first inaugural address delivered on this day in 1789, President George Washington warned Congress to avoid local and party partisanship:

In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no separate views, nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests: so, on another, that the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.

In the address, which was delivered to a joint session of Congress in New York City (the temporary seat of government), Washington acknowledged the shared responsibility of the president and Congress to preserve "the sacred fire of liberty" and a republican form of government.

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.

Miller Center Celebrates Life of Kenneth W. Thompson

Kenneth W. Thompson

Kenneth W. Thompson, Director of the Miller Center from 1978-1998. He continued to head the Center’s Forum Program until 2004.

On April 12, 2013 the Miller Center celebrated the life of Kenneth W. Thompson, who headed the Miller Center from 1978-1998. As Governor Gerald Baliles, Director and CEO of the Miller Center, noted, “The Miller Center would not be what it is today without the inspiration and passion of Ken Thompson Ken initiated much of the work that continues to this day. Because of him, presidential history that might otherwise have been lost will be preserved for generations to come. Ken will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on as we carry on what he started.”  In this post, we highlight remarks from Gov. Baliles, Gov. Linwood Holton, Leonard Sandridge, Eugene Fife, Philip Zelikow, Shirley Burke and students delivered at the memorial service remembering the life and work of Professor Thompson.

This Day in History: The Bay of Pigs Invasion

JFK Decisions Doodle

At a cabinet meeting John F. Kennedy made several attempts to spell decisions. The Kennedy Library does not have sufficient information to determine the date of the meeting, although we suspect it was either during meetings on the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Courtesy of NARA, PD.

Today’s guest post is by Graham Egan, a 2012-2013 Miller Center Student Ambassador and a Third Year Government Major in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics a the University of Virginia.

Today marks the 52nd Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In the early hours of April 17, 1961, a brigade of approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles landed at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on Cuba’s southern coast, initiating an attempt to overthrow the Communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The invasion was the culmination of an increasingly acrimonious situation, one that had been heightened three months earlier when the Eisenhower Administration closed the American embassy in Havana and severed diplomatic relations with the island nation. Although they were funded, armed, and trained by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, the Cuban exile force was quickly overwhelmed and defeated by Castro’s revolutionary army in 3 days. More than 100 of the rebels were killed and 1,200 were captured. The operation was a terrible debacle and a very public embarrassment for the nascent Kennedy Administration.

The CIA first conceived of the plan to overthrow the Castro regime early in 1960. Cuban-American relations had been deteriorating since the Castro regime had seized power during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Fearing the anti-American rhetoric of the regime and the potential rise of communism so close to US borders, the latter of which was heightened when Cuba signed a trade treaty with the Soviet Union in 1960, President Eisenhower approved the plan on March 17th, 1960. Shortly after, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of anti-Castro exiles in Guatemala. The primary objective of the invasion, as stated in a top-secret policy paper entitled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” was to “bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention.”

Ike’s Chance for Peace

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chance for Peace, April 16, 1953

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Today marks the 60th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Chance for Peace Speech, which he delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  Although often remembered as a man of war, in his book, Ike’s Bluff, Evan Thomas argues that President Eisenhower feared the consequences of an all-out arms race with the Soviet Union, nuclear conflict and excessive spending on defense. He had, according to Thomas, an “overwhelming, single, fixed pre-occupation: the avoidance of war.”

In an attempt to take advantage of Joseph Stalin’s death, Ike delivered the “Chance for Peace” address on April 16, 1953 as a means to reach out to the new leadership in the Soviet Union and to propose disarmament. Couching the consequences of continued tense relations and rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in moral terms, President Eisenhower stated in the speech:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

Nixon Supported Gun Control

Official White House photo of President Richard Nixon

Official White House photo of President Richard Nixon, 24 December 1971. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, PD.

As Congress debates passing new gun control measures, it’s worth looking back in recent history at the relationship between a Republican President and Democratic Congress on this issue. As taped conversations from our presidential recordings archives reveal, President Richard Nixon expressed private support for banning handguns altogether and publically proposed banning “Saturday night specials” in response to gun violence against politicians in 1972 and 1973. Yet, he deferred to Congress to hammer out a legislative deal, which never fully materialized.  

Taped conversations with aides on May 16, 1972, the day following an attempted assassination that paralyzed presidential candidate George Wallace, reveal Nixon’s personal position on hand guns:

I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house…The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth…can’t we go after handguns, period?

I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it. [But] people should not have handguns.

But, a few days later, Nixon expressed opposition to measures that would go beyond banning handguns. He asked rhetorically:

What do they want to do, just disarm the populace? Disarm the good folks and leave the arms in the hands of criminals?

In another taped conversation, Nixon told his assistant for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman, “We’ve got to be for gun control, John. I mean for hand gun control.” In response to a memo he was reading at the time, Nixon told Ehrlichman that state and local controls on guns have never worked and therefore it was a matter of federal concern. The conversation continues:

Nixon: We just ought to say that the bill is a matter for concern and we I feel we ought to outlaw them …

Ehrlichman: You can say you wholeheartedly support Congressional action on that front.

The Iron Lady, Reagan and Bush

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David, 22 December 1984. White House Photo, PD.

This morning former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died from a stroke at the age of 87. Serving as the first female Prime Minister in the U.K., Thatcher won three general elections for the Conservative Party and shaped British politics for a generation. We culled through the archives of the Miller Center's Oral History Projects and present in this post key excerpts from the interviews in which former administration officials recollect the relationships between Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and “The Iron Lady.”

Presidential Recruitment of Former First Families for Diplomatic Posts

Last week, the media reported that President Barack Obama is likely to nominate Caroline Kennedy as the Ambassador to Japan. Kennedy was an early supporter of the Obama’s 2008 presidential bid and she served as a co-chairwoman of his 2012 re-election campaign. The appointment would continue a tradition since the 1970s of appointing well-known American political figures to the post, including former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and former Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley. If confirmed by the Senate, Kennedy would also leave her own mark as the first woman to represent the United States in Japan.

Recruiting members of former first families to serve in diplomatic posts is nothing new. As a telephone conversation from the Miller Center’s presidential recording archives reveals, President Richard Nixon attempted to recruit two of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sons for ambassadorships in 1972. Although he didn’t recommend it because it was “probably a pain in the neck,” Nixon asked James and John Roosevelt whether they would like to undertake an ambassadorship:

But there are areas of the world where having somebody who has, frankly, prestige, so forth, could mean a great deal to us. And I have found in my own travels around that, while we have some good State Department bureaucrats who are ambassadors, that there are many places, and I think John agrees after his travels abroad, where having somebody who's directly responsible to the President and holds his allegiance to the President, as well as to the State Department, is very important. Now, I just throw that out as something to think about. What do you think?

This Day in History: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, James Farmer

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and James Farmer, 18 January 1964. Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto. PD.

Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At 6:01 P.M. on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 P.M. At 9:07 P.M. that same evening, President Johnson read a short statement for radio and television broadcast from outside the entrance to the West Lobby of the White House:

America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying tonight of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence. I pray that his family can find comfort in the memory of all he tried to do for the land he loved so well. I have just conveyed the sympathy of Mrs. Johnson and myself to his widow, Mrs. King. I know that every American of good will joins me in mourning the death of this outstanding leader and in praying for peace and understanding throughout this land. We can achieve nothing by lawlessness and divisiveness among the American people. It is only by joining together and only by working together that we can continue to move toward equality and fulfillment for all of our people. I hope that all Americans tonight will search their hearts as they ponder this most tragic incident. I have canceled my plans for the evening. I am postponing my trip to Hawaii until tomorrow. Thank you.

Reagan Administration Officials on How the Falklands War Affected America’s Reputation

Argentine prisoners of war - Port Stanley.

Argentine prisoners of war at Port Stanley, June 17, 1982. By Griffiths911. PD.

The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war. The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.

This week marks the 31st anniversary of Falklands War. On April 2, 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland-Malvinas Islands, as part of a protracted historical dispute over the sovereignty of the islands. Argentina claims that the islands have been part of the country since the 19th century and Britain lays claim to islands based on colonial negotiations with Spain in 1770. The 74-day war cost 649 Argentine and 255 British lives.

The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.  In 2003, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program conducted the "Falklands Roundtable" in conjunction with the Institute of Contemporary British History (ICBH).  The Falklands Roundtable was designed to capture the recollections of key participants from the Reagan administration who were involved in the Falklands crisis. Participants included former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; David Gompert, a key member of Alexander Haig's mediation team who served as the Deputy to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Lawrence Eagleburger; Harry Shlaudeman, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina; Edward Streator, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Court of St. James; General Paul Gorman, who was Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Falklands crisis; Admiral Thomas Hayward, the Chief of Naval Operations from 1978-1982; and Admiral Harry Train, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command and the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

In this post, we highlight some excerpts from the "Falklands Roundtable" transcripts regarding the role of the United States in the conflict and how the conflict influenced America’s reputation in the region.