The current partisan rift over fiscal policy and the deadlock negotiators face regarding the impending fiscal cliff are nothing new. Indeed, divisions over fiscal policy have long been at the center of competition between the two parties. While both parties are taking positions that will benefit them electorally, they may be doing so to the detriment of the country’s broader economic well-being. But it is worth noting that the parties’ positions on fiscal policy have not been stable over the last seventy years, and both have switched on matters related to taxes and debts. A brief review of the history of the modern Republican Party’s fiscal policy positioning provides insights on the origins of the situation we face today, as well as insights into the party’s use of tax policy as means to combat government expansion and to win elections.
While the modern Republican Party has long been viewed as the fiscally conservative party, the meaning of fiscal conservatism has varied over the last seventy years. The position of the modern Republican Party has its roots in the mid-1900s. During the 1940s, Republicans had proposed tax cuts as a means to force government retrenchment in the wake of New Deal policies and spending. Just as we are witnessing in the current fiscal cliff standoff, Republican Members of Congress in the 1940s and 1950s rejected increasing taxes as a means for addressing the nation’s fiscal imbalances. For example, in 1951, House minority leader Joseph Martin (R-MA) argued against President Harry Truman’s proposal to increase taxes:
The Administration’s contention that this tax bill is needed to control inflation is economic voodoo talk. No set of controls and no pyramid of taxes ever devised by man wills top inflation in America when the root of the evil is government spending.
Similarly, as they do today, Republicans argued that tax cuts were a better means for stimulating the economy. In 1953, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Daniel Reed (R-NY) argued that “tax reduction, far from enlarging the deficit, would serve to increase federal revenues by stimulating economic growth.”
Although the modern Republican Party has come be associated with support for tax cuts and opposition to tax increases, this wasn’t always the case.
Another partisan battle appears on the horizon and, no, it’s not about the fiscal cliff. Battle lines are being drawn over rules in the Senate. For the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering limiting filibusters on motions to proceed and debate bills (but not on votes to pass legislation), making filibusters shorter and requiring senators who want to filibuster to hold the floor of the Senate and talk. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), said even these narrow measures would marginalize the Senate minority. Quoting a 2005 speech by then-Senator Barack Obama, McConnell warned that if Reid changes the rules, hyperpartisan fighting and gridlock will only increase. Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn (Texas) went so far as to claim that the reform “will shut down the Senate. It’s such an abuse of power.” But, never mind the fact that the GOP threatened the same rule changes back in 2005 when they held the majority and Democrats were using obstructive tactics.
The co-existence of partisanship and the filibuster are nothing new in the Senate. Indeed scholars have shown that partisanship and filibusters frequently went hand-in-hand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century on issues ranging from important to trivial. For example, the 1880 election produced a narrow split between Republicans and Democrats and both parties sought to use parliamentary maneuvers to their advantage. Between March 24 and May 6 of 1881, 114 dilatory motions were made to prevent Republicans from replacing Democratic officers in the organization of the new Congress. The filibuster only ended when President Garfield agreed to remove certain appointments. In modern times, the filibuster has been increasingly used by the minority party in the Senate to block presidential appointments. For example, between 2001 and 2003 and again in 2005, Democrats utilized the parliamentary maneuver to block George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. Republicans have similarly used the maneuver to prevent Barack Obama’s appointments.
In a new article, Douglas A. Blackmon, contributing editor at The Washington Post and chair and host of the Miller Center Forum, analyzes the role of the South in the 2012 election. According to Blackmon, President Obama’s strong finish in the South presents a surprising story and underscores another challenge to the GOP, which has relied on Southern whites as their base of national support. In the 2012 election, Obama outperformed every Democratic nominee since Carter in Southern coastal states and significantly narrowed past gaps between Democratic and Republican candidates. Furthermore, the 2012 election revealed a deepening voting divide between blacks and whites. For example, Blackmon cites exit polls in Mississippi where nearly nine of ten white voters cast their ballot for Mitt Romney and 96 percent of black voters cast their ballots for Obama. Differences in turnout rates amongst black and whites in Southern states also contributed to Obama’s strong finish. While Southern whites voted overwhelmingly for Romney, far fewer went to the polls in at least six Southern states on Election Day compared to 2008. Meanwhile, black voters came out in droves, contradicting expectations of Republican pollsters. The results reveal that the Republican Party will need to address the concerns of African Americans, in addition to Hispanics and other minorities if it wishes to be competitive in future elections.
Read the full article by Douglas A. Blackmon here.
On the surface, President Obama’s reelection appears to have been the electoral equivalent of a progressive exclamation point. Obama not only won 8 of the original 10 battleground states (winning: CO, FL, IA, NH, NM, NV, OH, VA; losing: IN and NC), but also earned a whopping 332 electoral votes.
A cursory comparison of CNN’s exit polls from 2008 and 2012 also seems to suggest that the “emerging Democratic majority” first described by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira is beginning to take hold. Latinos, Asians, and young people (18-29) made up a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than they did in 2008 (each group gained a percentage point), while whites made up a smaller share (72% in 2012 instead of 74% in 2008). Further, President Obama’s margins among Latinos and Asians grew between the two elections by four (from 67% to 71%) and 11 percentage points (62% to 73%), respectively. Some have even gone further to argue that the country is now “center-left” because “the Republican Party lost the middle everywhere, and as a result the map got slightly bluer everywhere.”
But is this the correct interpretation of the trends above?
The simple answer to this question is “not exactly.”
As James E. Campbell, SUNY Buffalo, noted during last weekend’s Northeastern Political Science Association Conference, the 2012 exit polls also revealed that 51% of the electorate believes that the government is doing too much, while only 43% believe it should do more. Additionally, more of the electorate said that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed than not (49% to 44%).
Beyond these data, Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics.com pointed out the real issue that neither progressives nor conservatives can afford to ignore in their interpretations of the results: “The 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with non-white voters. Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up.”
So who didn’t show up?
As we celebrate this week the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, it is a fitting time to think seriously about the critical, but uneasy relationship of executive power and the rule of law that has existed since the founding.
America’s most revered statesmen – Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Roosevelt – all reveal that democratic leadership involves a vital connection between leaders and led. It requires first of all that the leader remain answerable to his followers. Even as the president takes bold initiatives and ignores public opinion in the short-run, he must enable his followers to hold him accountable in ways that are practicable and timely. Furthermore, extraordinary democratic statesmanship is not displayed in isolation. Party building and partisan leadership has been central to this task of civic education. Washington apart, America’s most celebrated statesmen were all central to either the creation or reconstruction of political parties. Episodically, periods of partisan realignment have given presidents the political strength to embark on ambitious projects of national reform.
These episodes, though they may appear to threaten our Constitution, have a revolutionary quality to them. These great political transformations have engaged the American people in popular contests over the meaning of their rights and how to protect them. Presidential statesmanship has provided a critical ingredient to these harsh partisan contests. They have required presidents to think constitutionally: to interpret the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the relationship between these two sacred political texts for their own time. In this sense, our most important presidents have truly been constitutional refounders, justifying Jefferson’s exalted, elusive hope that the Constitution would “belong to the living.”
Yesterday, CSPAN Chairman Brian Lamb spoke at the Miller Center’s Forum. Since its founding in 1978, CSPAN has made an important contribution to the revolution in communications, which in turn has enormously impacted the way in which people receive information and relate to government. Two things in particular set CSPAN apart from other media outlets. First, unlike public television or radio, it is truly separated from government. Second, unlike cable news shows, CSPAN airs policy and political events (such as the recent conventions), as well as government proceedings without filtered commentary. While CSPAN has been a pioneer in the communications revolution, Lamb noted that Twitter and Facebook are the sources of news for the next generation and the freedom they offer is even more extraordinary. The main take-away from Lamb’s talk was his belief in the absolute need to maintain a free market of ideas in the media, whether as individuals we agree with those ideas or not.
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.
Over the weekend, the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association was held in Virginia and the expansion of federal programs was just as controversial this year as it has been in previous years.
First, some history. The National Governor’s Association was established in 1908 after President Theodore Roosevelt called a Conference of Governors to discuss conservation issues. The meeting included the nine Supreme Court Justices, biologists, ornithologists and advocates of forestry science in an unprecedented Blue Ribbon Commission on natural resource management. Roosevelt said that the purpose of the conference was so “this Nation as a whole should earnestly desire and strive to leave to the next generation the National honor unstained and the National resources unexhausted.” In the opening session of the Conference of Governors on May 13, 1908, President Roosevelt warned:
We have become great in a material sense because of the lavish use of our resources, and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers…One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight. We have to as a nation exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future.
The Conference of Governors was the result of the President’s belief that increased interstate cooperation for conservation was necessary; states and the federal government had to work together in order to conserve the nation’s natural resources. However, many governors and some of Roosevelt’s critics thought the president cared more about the natural environment than the Constitution, limited government or private property, and the president’s agenda was just another means for expanding federal regulatory power. Yet the conference proved beneficial beyond just the issue of conservation. Following the conference, governors decided to form an association through which they could come together to discuss their mutual concerns and act collectively. The annual meetings of governors have thus often been used as a forum to introduce policy ideas at the state level and to debate issues of national importance. For example, in 1930, then-governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first prominent political leader to advocate unemployment insurance at the Conference of Governors in Salt Lake City.
One of the key sources of national debate and controversy at the 2012 annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association centered upon Medicaid and Healthcare exchanges.
The election of 1896 was just as much a partisan battle over the future of American economic policy as this year’s election. On this day in 1896, William Jennings Bryan delivered his rousing speech as a delegate to the Democratic convention declaring that mankind would not be “crucified on a cross of gold.” In the speech, Bryan, who was from the western farming state of Nebraska, advocated the inclusion of a silver standard for U.S. currency, which rallied the populist base of the Democratic Party and helped Bryan win the nomination for the presidency.
To take a step back in history, the source of the issue began with the Gold Rush in 1849, which altered the bi-metallism status quo. For decades, both gold and silver backed U.S. currency and both silver and gold specie could be turned into a Sub-Treasury Mint for dollars. The government valued silver at a ratio of 16:1 to gold in ounces. With the flood of gold to the market following the Gold Rush, people could sell their silver privately and to foreign markets at a lower ratio, thus making more money. However, when silver was discovered in Nevada in the 1860s, the ratio of silver to gold sold privately or abroad increased, but the government continued to offer the 16:1 ratio. In short, the government policy increased currency circulation, benefitting westerners, rural farmers, and the poor who could more easily pay off debts or make purchases. Meanwhile, Wall Street and banks in the East mobilized against the government’s policy because they would not receive as much profit on loans to farmers and the poor.
However, by 1873, the flood of silver into government coffers created an economic crisis. Congress responded by passing the Coinage Act of 1873, which effectively ended bi-metallism by eliminating the silver dollar and by making gold the only metallic standard (though the U.S. did not accept the Gold Standard de jure until 1900). Western miners and farmers termed it the “Crime of 1873.” Their “Free Silver” movement became a core constituency of the Democratic Party, represented by William Jennings Bryan.
A clear partisan divide in the elections of 1896 and 1900 centered on the bi-metallism debate. Republican candidate William McKinley blamed the Democrats and their platform of bi-metallism for the Panic of 1893, while Republicans and Eastern banking interests called the gold standard “sound money” policy. In the “Cross of Gold” speech, Bryan argued that the Democratic Party’s focus on bi-metallism in its platform was justified because a gold standard alone could not solve the country’s problems at the time, including debt, small business failure, and monopolies.
While many Americans will be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th is also worth reflecting upon as it marks the anniversary of Martin Van Buren’s signing of the Independent Treasury Act in 1840, a bill that “divorced” the federal Treasury Department from its relationship with all banks. While the deeply partisan battle for the Independent Treasury’s establishment would continue for six more years, the legislation marked a significant triumph in Jacksonian laissez faire philosophy and the assertion of States’ Rights and Supremacy. A brief look at the legislation’s history is also a reminder that the partisan rancor surrounding policy proposals to deal with the economic crisis the country faces today is not unique. Indeed, it suggests instead that we are amidst one of the nation’s periodic partisan battles over defining the government’s role in the economy and society.
The Independent Treasury Act was a response to the Panic of 1837. The economic crisis of 1837 was triggered by the Deposit Act of 1836 and the collapse of state banks that had been using funds distributed by President Andrew Jackson from the Bank of the United States as a basis for speculation. With the collapse of credit, banks could no longer redeem currency notes in gold and silver despite demand for it. Meanwhile, the situation was exacerbated by a depression in England, which ended British loans to the United States and forced the price of cotton to drop. The United States had also accumulated debts and unemployment rates were high. Although President Jackson used popular opinion to attack the national banks and although he extended executive power as a bulwark of popular rights against moneyed interests, the bottom line in 1837 was that the American economy was unstable.
In response to the economic crisis, President Van Buren, a proponent of Jacksonian laissez faire philosophy, called for a special session of Congress to deal with the government’s financial situation. Van Buren opposed the establishment of a new central bank, arguing that the American people had spoken against it in the previous two elections. Further, he argued that it was not government’s business to regulate “domestic exchange.” Instead, Van Buren proposed a policy that would completely separate the government from banks. In addition, the government would collect, keep and disburse it’s own funds independent of the national banking and financial system. (Senator Gordon of Virginia had made a similar proposal in 1836.)
As David Kinley wrote in 1893, the Independent Treasury System was established on the “violence of partisan feeling.” According to Kinley:
“It was a question on which parties lost and won; a question on which great statesmen changed their opinions, and parties shifted their ground; on which there was a flux and reflux of public opinion and governmental policy, until it was settled at last, nearly a half a century ago, more as a party issue than a question of scientific economics; a vindication of party strength, and a necessary outcome of the drift of practical politics rather than a triumph of economic and financial truth over fallacy, or the consensus of concerted and convinced opinion as to the merits of the question.”
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.
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.
This Friday at 11am, the Miller Center Forum will feature the Washington Post’s Marcus Brauchli and Chris Cillizza on “The Long Battle Ahead: The 2012 Presidential Election and How The Washington Post Will Cover It.” You can watch live online at www.millercenter.org.
How should journalists cover the campaign, and how have they done so in past elections? For one perspective, we turn to Nicole Hemmer, postdoctoral fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and former Miller Center National Fellow.
Griping about the press is one of America’s oldest political traditions, a rite of passage for presidential candidates. This time around, however, journalists have matched candidates in their complaints about media coverage.
Today, we bid adieu to Newt Gingrich, who officially announced he will end his campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination. His campaign produced many memorable moments (check out this ABC video of Gingrich’s greatest hits), not least of which was his grandiose promise that by the end of his second term, “we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.” Alas, after 354 days on the campaign trail and more than $4 million in debt, Gingrich only won two states (South Carolina and Georgia) out of the 38 states that have held Republican primaries/caucuses thus far.