OTD in History… June 17, 1972, Five men break into DNC at Watergate launching a crisis and the fall of President Nixon

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OTD in History… June 17, 1972, Five men break into DNC at Watergate launching a crisis and the fall of President Nixon

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history… June 17, 1973, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. At 2:30 a.m. on that day, the country and the fate of Richard Nixon would forever change. The burglars were members of the White House covert unit the plumbers, former CIA agent James McCord led the four burglars on their mission. From the start, the White House began their cover-up initially calling it a “third-rate burglary.” The burglary and then its elaborate cover-up by the Nixon’s White House would plunge the country into a Constitutional crisis and be the “beginning of the end” for Nixon.

The Watergate break-in had its originals in the publication of Pentagon Papers. Michael Genovese in his book The Watergate Crisis noted, Special Assistant to the President “Charles Colson has called the events surrounding the Pentagon Papers issue “the beginning of the end.” (Genovese, 15) The Pentagon Papers were a 47-volume history of the Vietnam conflict covering the last four administrations. Disgruntled Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who opposed the Vietnam War, stole the “top-secret” documents and then distributed the papers to the New York Times, and the Washington Post. The Nixon administration opposed their publication and sought to stop their publication, the issue quickly moved up to the Supreme Court.

A year earlier on July 17, 1971, days after the New York Times broke the Pentagon Papers story, Nixon met in the Oval Office with Chief-of-Staff H.R. Haldeman, Nixon counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discussed the need to discredit Ellsberg, who Kissinger deemed a “threat to national security.” They decided the White House needed to take matters into their hands, and started would be the plumbers, a covert intelligence gathering operation. They chose David Young, a former NSC associate, and Egil “Bud” Krogh, Domestic Council staff lawyer. Young and Krough would recruit CIA & FBI agents E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate masterminds.

A year later, in the early hours of June 17, 1972, Frank Wills, the Watergate security guard uncovered a piece tape on the lock of a door, he removed it, but when he returned and found the tape a second time, he called the police. Wills told ABC News in 1973 about the tape, “The tape, at first, didn’t seem to be anything unusual… At that time, I became a little suspicious.” McCord placed the tape on the lock in the basement and eighth and sixth floors. The remaining men, who took part in the break-in were Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis. As part of Operation Gemstone, the Plumbers were gathering “intelligence” on “Nixon opponents.” The five were supposed to bug the DNC offices and take photographs of sensitive and key documents. Two weeks earlier, bugs were installed but did not work, and that night they were replacing them.

Two plain-clothes D.C. Metro police officers John Barrett and Paul Leeper showed up. The Police discovered the five men on the sixth floor of the building in the DNC offices. Had the police officers been in uniform and arrive in a police car, the situation might have been different. Lookout Alfred Baldwin might have noticed and alerted the burglars earlier allowing for their escape. Instead, he waited too long and radioed Liddy too late. The police discovered them after one had hit their arm against a glass partition making a noise.

The burglars were wearing suits and ties. Officer Leeper recounted to ABC News, “McCord said to me twice, ‘Are you the police?’ And I thought, ‘Why is he asking such a silly question? Of course, we’re the police.’ I don’t think I’ve ever locked up another burglar that was dressed in a suit and tie and was in middle age.” According to Genovese They “were wearing rubber gloves, carrying walkie-talkies, electronic eavesdropping equipment, cameras and other tools.” Officer Barrett also indicated they had “bugging devices … tear gas pens, many, many rolls of film … locksmith tools … thousands of dollars in hundred dollar bills consecutively ordered.” None of the burglars gave the police their real names or ages when they were arrested, they had been using aliases to rent their two Watergate hotel rooms. Standing guard at the Howard Johnson Hotel across from the Watergate were Hunt and Liddy. The police arrested them as well.

There were connections to the White House. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein determined the connections to the President, and that McCord was the security director for the Committee to Reelect the President CREEP. The FBI’s investigation determined Hunt had a closer connection to the White House. Their 1974 report found, “On June 17, 1972 [the date of the break-in], Hunt’s probable involvement in the Watergate incident came to the WFO’s [Washington Field Office] attention because of his country club bill found in the Watergate Hotel and because of information contained in [the address book of Bernard] Barker [another of the burglars]. WFO, about 6:00–7:00 pm, June 17, 1972, contacted [Alexander] Butterfield of the White House and learned that Hunt had previously worked as a consultant at the White House. Butterfield was told Hunt may be involved in the DNCH [Democratic National Committee Headquarters] burglary. On June 18, 1972, Butterfield recontacted WFO and advised that Hunt had worked for Charles Colson, Special Counsel to the President.” The White House denied the connections, but the suspects had White House documents.

Preeminent Watergate historian Stanley I. Kutler in his book The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon argued that Nixon was “at the center of Watergate,” and “The wars of Watergate are rooted in the lifelong personality of Richard Nixon. Kutler noted the break-in “clearly was a political operation,” with Attorney General John Mitchell working on a cover-up just “several hours after the news of the burglars’ arrest broke.” Kutler viewed the break-in and subsequent cover-up, as “its planning, its flawed execution, even its motives-ultimately must be seen as part of a behavior pattern characterizing the president and his aides that stretched back to the beginning of the Nixon Administration.” (Kutler, 208, 216, 209)

On Jan. 15, 1973, Barker, Sturgis, Gonzale, Martinez and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping charges and served over a year in prison, while Hunt served 33 months. Liddy and McCord took their chances with a trial both were convicted on Jan. 30, 1973, Liddy served 52 months in prison, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter “commuted his sentence.” McCord served the least time, four months. Federal Judge John J. Sirica shortened his sentence after he claimed there was a “cover-up” that involved senior White House officials.

Many historians see Watergate as the nation’s worse political scandal while clearly placing the blame on Nixon for the downfall of his presidency. Kutler concludes, The Watergate scandal “consumed and convulsed the nation and tested the constitutional and political system as it had not been tested since the Civil War.” (Kutler, 616) London Times Washington Bureau Chief Fred Emery in his book Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon called Watergate “a self-destruct tragedy for Richard Nixon.” Emery determines that Watergate “was a pattern of malfeasance by him and his men that led to the damning — and bipartisan — vote in Congress.” (Emery, xii)

Historian Joan Hoff in her revisionist history, Nixon Reconsidered, viewed Nixon’s presidency as “more than Watergate,” and “Watergate more than Nixon.” Hoff believes the scandal was a product of the times, concluding, “Watergate was a disaster waiting to happen, given the decline in political ethics and practices during the Cold War.” (Hoff, 341) While historian Allan Lichtman notes Watergate “was a widespread conspiracy. Several dozen people went to jail, including other very high officials of the [Nixon] campaign and of the Nixon administration. So a lot of people who should have known much better got sucked into this terrible scandal and it is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions because in many ways Richard Nixon did a lot for the country.”

Three days later, on June 20, Nixon was speaking with Colson in the Oval Office and both agreed, “This is going to be forgotten.” In the short time, the break-in was forgotten, Nixon won reelection with a landslide. The investigative reporting by Washington Post reports, Woodward and Bernstein, whose story would be recounted in their book and then the movie “All The President’s Men” would soon unravel the massive cover-up leading back to the Nixon White House.

The Watergate scandal would consume the nation, and Nixon’s presidency taking down most of the administration’s high ranking officials and sending them to prison. After the revelation of Nixon’s elaborate taping system, and fight over handing over the tapes, the president would lose support from his party. Just over two years later, Nixon facing sure impeachment chose instead, to become the first president to resign from the office. Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford declared upon taking office, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” A month later, Ford pardoned Nixon, and in time, Nixon’s image rehabilitated but the stain of Watergate remained on the nation and Nixon.

SOURCES & READ MORE

Emery, Fred. Watergate: The Corruption and Fall of Richard Nixon. London: Pimlico, 1995.

Genovese, Michael A. The Watergate Crisis. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Hoff, Joan. Nixon Reconsidered. New York: BasicBooks, 1998.

Kutler, Stanley I. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon. New York: Norton, 1992.

Kutler, Stanley I. Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes. London: Touchstone, 1999.

Small, Melvin. A Companion to Richard M. Nixon. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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OTD in History… June 12, 1987, President Reagan calls on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

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OTD in History… June 12, 1987, President Reagan calls on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech at the Brandenburg Gate and called upon the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” in what became known as Berlin Wall Speech. The speech challenged Gorbachev but was controversial in Berlin and among his speech writing team. Reagan had made two previous references to the Berlin Wall in 1982 and 1986, but this was the boldest of his references. The speech is one of Reagan’s most famous anti-Communist speeches and a symbol of the start of ending the Cold War.

Berliner’s protested Reagan’s arrival in West Germany, with 50,000 opposing his visit to the country. Earlier most of his speechwriters opposed the controversial line, concerned that it might heighten tensions with the Soviet Union, however, junior speechwriter Peter Robinson researched the mood in Germany and believed they wanted the wall down. Soviets erected the Berlin Wall in 1961 to prevent East Berliners in the Soviet bloc escaping to the Western-controlled half of the city.

In a May 18, meeting with his speechwriters, the line had fierce opposition from White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and National Security Advisor Colin Powell, while Reagan was noted as saying, the speech was a “good solid draft” and said about the line, “I think we’ll leave it in.” Robinson claims to have gotten his inspiration from Ingeborg Elz of West Berlin at a dinner, who had said, “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of Glasnost and perestroika he can prove it by getting rid of this wall.” Chief speechwriter Anthony Dolan counters Robinson’s recollection and insists Reagan thought of the line, not Robinson.

Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan arrived in West Berlin on June 12, to protests. They first visited the Reichstag, where they stood on the gallery observing the wall, before heading to the Brandenburg Gate for the speech at 2 p.m. Reagan chose the gate because both President John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter delivered speeches in the same spot. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963 was the better-known coming just months after the wall was erected and is considered “one of Kennedy’s best.”

Reagan’s speech “emphasiz[ed] freedom and reunification,” and challenged Gorbachev to show good faith in negotiations and challenged him to get rid of the wall, calling on him to do so twice in the speech.

The first time with the famous line:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The second, Reagan stated he foresees the inevitability of the wall falling:

“As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’ Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

The speech’s focus, however, was to get Gorbachev at the negotiating table to reduce nuclear arms, particularly SS-20 weapons. As Reagan brought up, saying, “Not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

The speech was not given the weight at the time as it does in historical context. When the wall fell on November 9, 1989, and Berlin reunified on October 3, 1990, Reagan’s call and foreshadowing had greater significance. Some journalists have been critical of the speech’s impact, however, New York Times best-selling author James Mann, believes it did have an impact on ending the Cold War. Mann argued in his 2007 New York Times article “Tear Down That Myth,” Reagan “wasn’t trying to land a knockout blow on the Soviet regime, nor was he engaging in mere political theater. He was instead doing something else on that damp day in Berlin… — he was helping to set the terms for the end of the cold war.”

READ MORE

Matlock, Jack F. Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. New York: Random House, 2004.

Ratnesar, Romesh. Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech That Ended the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin
June 12, 1987

Thank you very much. Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and gentlemen:

Twenty four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the city hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer, Paul Lincke, understood something about American Presidents. You see, like so many Presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: “Ich hab noch einen koffer in Berlin.” [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the American people. To those listening in East Berlin, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guardtowers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said: “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.” Today I say: As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State–as you’ve been told–George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the Western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: “The Marshall plan is helping here to strengthen the free world.” A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium–virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty–that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany-busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of park land. Where a city’s culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there’s abundance–food, clothing, automobiles-the wonderful goods of the Ku’damm. From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on Earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But, my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn’t count on Berliner herz, Berliner humor, ja, und Berliner schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner schnauze.] [Laughter]

In the 1950’s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind-too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent–and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides. Beginning 10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat, hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of-striking every capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a counterdeployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution; namely, the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its counterdeployment, there were difficult days–days of protests like those during my 1982 visit to this city–and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then–I invite those who protest today–to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative-research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place–a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete. Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safer, freer world.

And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world. To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other issues that call for international cooperation. There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East. Our French and British friends, I’m certain, will do the same. And it’s my hope that an authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western sectors.

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you many have noted that the Republic of Korea–South Korea–has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West?

In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You’ve done so in spite of threats–the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there’s a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there’s something deeper, something that involves Berlin’s whole look and feel and way of life–not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love–love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the Sun strikes that sphere–that sphere that towers over all Berlin–the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I’ve been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they’re doing again.
Thank you and God bless you all.

OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy orders the National Guard to desegregate the University of Alabama

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OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy orders the National Guard to desegregate the University of Alabama

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy orders the National Guard to force Alabama Governor Wallace to end his blockade and desegregate the University of Alabama. June 11, 1963, was a busy day for the civil rights movement. Early in the day, Alabama Governor and strong segregationist George Wallace delivered his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door Speech.” Alabama was the only state that still did not desegregate their schools, Democrat Wallace entered office earlier in the year promising “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Wallace was unyielding refusing to negotiate and compromise with the Kennedy Administration, hoping instead for a confrontation that would elevate his status, while diminishing Kennedy in the Deep South.

Wallace physically prevented two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from completing their registration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wallace literally stood in front of the school’s Foster Auditorium door blocking Malone and Hood from entering. Wallace attempted to prevent the university’s integration despite a court order the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

When Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to move aside, he refused. Instead, Wallace delivered his infamous speech on states’ rights. Wallace called the desegregation an “unwelcomed, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus” and “a frightful example of the expression of the rights, privileges, and sovereignty of this state.” (Brinkley, 109) Katzenbach then contacted President Kennedy.

President Kennedy again was forced to federalize the Alabama National Guard Executive Order 11111 to end the conflict. Kennedy issued Presidential Proclamation 3542 to force Wallace to comply and allow the students to enter the university building and complete their registration. Four hours later Wallace finally moved aside after being by Guard General Henry Graham, allowing for the integration of the University. Wallace made national headlines upping his profile, but also forcing Kennedy’s hand that he had no choice left but to announce his intentions to introduce a civil rights bill to Congress.

SOURCES

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co, 2003.

Dallek, Robert. John F. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

Executive Order 11111—Providing Assistance for the Removal of Obstructions of Justice and Suppression of Unlawful Combinations Within the State of Alabama
June 11, 1963

WHEREAS on June 11, 1963, I issued Proclamation No. 3542, pursuant in part to the provisions of section 334 of Title 10, United States Code; and

WHEREAS the commands contained in that Proclamation have not been obeyed, and the unlawful obstructions of justice and combinations referred to therein continue:

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, including Chapter 15 of Title 10 of the United States Code, particularly sections 332, 333 and 334 thereof, and section 301 of Title 3 of the United States Code, it is hereby ordered as follows:

SECTION 1. The Secretary of Defense is authorized and directed to take all appropriate steps to remove obstructions of justice in the State of Alabama, to enforce the laws of the United States within that State, including the orders of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama referred to in the said Proclamation, and to suppress unlawful assemblies, combinations, conspiracies and domestic violence which oppose or obstruct the execution of the laws of the United States or impede the course of justice under those laws within that State.

SEC. 2. In furtherance of the authorization and direction contained in section 1 hereof, the Secretary of Defense is authorized to use such of the Armed Forces of the United States as he may deem necessary.

SEC. 3. I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of Defense to call into the active military service of the United States, as he may deem appropriate to carry out the purposes of this order, any or all of the units of the Army National Guard and of the Air National Guard of the State of Alabama to serve in the active military service of the United States for an indefinite period and until relieved by appropriate orders. In carrying out the provisions of section 1, the Secretary of Defense is authorized to use the units, and members thereof, called into the active military service of the United States pursuant to this section.

SEC. 4. The Secretary of Defense is authorized to delegate to the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of the Air Force, or both, any of the authority conferred upon him by this order.

JOHN F. KENNEDY
THE WHITE HOUSE,
June 11, 1963

OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy addresses civil rights to the nation

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OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy addresses civil rights to the nation

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

John F. Kennedy delivering the Civil Rights Address (Wikimedia Commons)

On This Day in History… June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised address on civil rights to the nation from the White House Oval Office paving the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two days in June 1963 have been highlighted as part the pantheon of major turning points in American history. The recently published “Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Changed History” by award-winning journalist and Canadian political author Andrew Cohen in 2014 highlighted the importance of those two days to both the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War and the Kennedy presidency.

Cohen emphasized the magnitude of the events and particularly two speeches Kennedy delivered one on foreign policy at the commencement at American University and the other televised to the nations advancing civil rights. Cohen explained, “To the calendar, June 10 and June 11, 1963, was late spring; to history, it was high summer. Great forces converged and smaller ones emerged over these forty-eight hours, bracketed by two imperishable speeches. One produced an arms treaty, the first of the Cold War. The other produced a civil rights law, the most important of its time” (p. 19)

Cohen indicated the importance of those dates in the Kennedy Presidency, but a recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal by author Joel Engel went further. Engel in his article entitled “Three Days That Changed the World, Not That the World Noticed” elevated the significance of three days in June 1963 as major turning points in history. Engel noted, “History is in part the observation of consequential days, tragic and joyous. Americans celebrate July 4 and commemorate Sept. 11. We remember Dec. 7 and honor June 6. In those four days, major events bore consequences that changed the world. But at no time in American history have there been three days like June 10–12, 1963, during which several unrelated events altered the nation’s course as surely as had the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

June 11 and 12, 1963 represented a tide that turned in the battle African-Americans had been waging to obtain civil and equal rights in the United States. All the more significant, 1963 was the bicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation were in the midst of the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln granted freedom to America’s slaves. Freedom did not mean equality, although initially through Reconstruction African-Americans saw gains with the addition of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution soon segregationist Jim Crow laws segregating African-American settled in throughout the South leaving a new form of bondage.

Throughout, African-Americans were slowly fighting back, primarily with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded in 1909; the best way to move forward was within the court system. Any gains were minimal until a major victory in the Supreme Court by the landmark ruling of the Brown v Board of Education. The decision declared separate segregated school, were not equal but also illegal.

A legal victory was not a practical one; the south remained unwilling to desegregate their schools, and only 10 percent of schools desegregated by the end of the decade. Desegregation took a turn when in 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the National Guard to “enforce the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.” Afterward, desegregation sped up in public schools, but in every other way of life, it remained at a standstill. In 1960 and 1961, sit-ins and freedom rides attempted to desegregate lunch counters and buses. The gains remained modest under Democrat John F. Kennedy’s presidency despite the sympathetic rhetoric, but only minor action.

The spring of 1963 was paving the way to those two fateful days that would lead to a turning point. The push for desegregation gained momentum with the rise of a charismatic and eloquent leader; Montgomery, Alabama, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s non-violent protests became a hallmark of the civil rights movement, and integral part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which King helped found in 1957, and also served as president. King gained prominence as the leader of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in the winter of 1955–56 at just 26.

In the interim, King’s movement would continue to make news, but King again made headlines in the spring of 1963 with a string of protests in Birmingham, Alabama, which King called “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.” Throughout the spring, from April 3 to May 10, King along with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and James Bevel of the SCLC led activists in the Birmingham campaign, who protested with sit-ins, marches and a boycott, most leading to clashes with the local police.

One of the most notable occurred on Good Friday, April 12, 1963, where King was arrested for his 13th time. King would remain in jail for a week staying longer than necessary mostly to publicize the movement. There he wrote his famous treatise “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the letter was a response to a letter eight religious leaders wrote criticizing him in Birmingham’s newspaper. King defended the movement’s methods and criticizing the leaders saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” President Kennedy eventually intervened leading to King’s release on April 20.

The demonstrations continued and the violent tactics of Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor, continued. On May 2, what was later dubbed the “Children’s Crusade,” protest led to nearly 1000 arrests and Connor used “fire hoses and police dogs” on the young school age protesters. The televised images gripped the nation with the New York Times publishing a photo of dogs attacking a 17-year-old student on their front page. At the time Kennedy remarked, “The other problem is the problem of civil rights… What a disaster that picture is. That picture is not only in America but all around the world.”

There was a brief moment of peace, on May 11, civil rights leaders and city and business owners in Birmingham signed the “Birmingham Truce Agreement.” The deal allowed for a “partial desegregation (of fitting rooms, water fountains, and lunch counters in retail stores).” Additionally, those arrested during the campaign would be released, and there would be the creation of a Committee on Racial Problems and Employment.

On the evening of May 11, segregationists most probably members of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama targeted civil rights leaders with bombs including the home of Rev. A. D. King, movement leader, King’s brother and the Gaston Motel, where King was staying and held a press conference the day before. The non-violence espoused by King turned to violent protests and riots later in the evening.

The violence forced President Kennedy to act; he sent “troops to an Alabama air base” and began the process of “drafting” a proposed civil rights bill to send to Congress. Addressing the nation, Kennedy balked at addressing the larger issue at hand, civil rights. Instead, while addressing the nation Kennedy said, “This Government will do whatever must be done to preserve order, to protect the lives of its citizens, and to uphold the law of the land.” (Brinkley, 106) The morality of civil rights would have to wait a month.

Still, according to historian Nicholas Andrew Bryant in his highly critical book, “The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality,” (2006) Kennedy refused to bring about legislation throughout the Birmingham Campaign, and only considered action after the riots broke out. Bryant, who examined the Kennedy civil rights legacy throughout his entire political career, questioned why it took the president over two years to get to the issue and pursue legislation.

Sheldon M. Stern points out that according to Bryant Kennedy had “a willingness to make important symbolic gestures about race and civil rights, coupled with a reluctance to take political risks.” (Hoberek, 79) Bryant also concluded Kennedy’s civil rights record showed a “symbolic approach to the race problem meant that many of the changes he ushered in were largely cosmetic.” (Hoberek, 85) Historian Alan Brinkley writing his biography John F. Kennedy as part of the American Presidents Series concurs, writing that towards civil rights Kennedy had a “pattern of rhetorical activism followed by resistance and delay began on his very first day in office.”

The pivotal moment that changed Kennedy perception on civil rights was viewing African-Americans fighting back with the May 11 race riots. Kennedy could no longer sit idly by; civil rights had also become law and order issues that he could not let go unresolved. Bryant analyzes in his book, “It was the black-on-white violence of May 11 — not the publication of the startling photograph a week earlier — that represented the real watershed in Kennedy’s thinking, and the turning point in administration policy. Kennedy had grown used to segregationist attacks against civil rights protesters. But he — along with his brother and other administration officials — was far more troubled by black mobs running amok.” (Bryant, 393)

A taped conversation between the president and his brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy from the Oval Office confirmed his motivation. Kennedy indicated on May 12, “First we have to have law and order, so the Negro’s not running all over the city… If the [local Birmingham desegregation] agreement blows up, the other remedy we have under that condition is to send legislation up to Congress this week as our response…As a means of providing relief, we have to have legislation.”

June 11, 1963, was a busy day for the civil rights movement. Earlier, Alabama Governor and strong segregationist George Wallace delivered his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door Speech.” Alabama was the only state that still did not desegregate their schools, Democrat Wallace entered office earlier in the year promising “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Wallace was unyielding refusing to negotiate and compromise with the Kennedy Administration, hoping instead for a confrontation that would elevate his status, while diminishing Kennedy in the Deep South.

Wallace physically prevented two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from completing their registration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wallace literally stood in front of the school’s Foster Auditorium door blocking Malone and Hood from entering. Wallace attempted to prevent the university’s integration despite a court order the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

When Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to move aside, he refused. Instead, Wallace delivered his infamous speech on states’ rights. Wallace called the desegregation an “unwelcomed, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus” and “a frightful example of the expression of the rights, privileges, and sovereignty of this state.” (Brinkley, 109) Katzenbach then contacted President Kennedy.

President Kennedy again was forced to federalize the Alabama National Guard Executive Order 11111 to end the conflict. Kennedy issued Presidential Proclamation 3542 to force Wallace to comply and allow the students to enter the university building and complete their registration. Four hours later Wallace finally moved aside after being by Guard General Henry Graham, allowing for the integration of the University. Wallace made national headlines upping his profile, but also forcing Kennedy’s hand that he had no choice left but to announce his intentions to introduce a civil rights bill to Congress.

Kennedy’s address would have an adverse reaction on civil rights leaders. Just hours later in the early morning of June 12, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers was African-American civil rights activist and the field secretary for the Mississippi state NAACP, who earlier in the day demanded desegregation from local leaders. Byron De La Beckwith, who belonged to the segregated group the White Citizens’ Council, shot Evers in the back as he entered his home after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Although De La Beckwith was first arrested on June 21, 1963, for Evers’ murder, it took until 1994 for him to be convicted of the crime.

It was against this turmoil in the nation over civil rights that President Kennedy called and booked time on all three major networks for him to speak to the nation at 8 PM EDT on civil rights and the situation in Alabama in his “Report to the American People on Civil Rights.” Kennedy decided the time was ripe to announce his intention to introduce civil rights legislation. As Cohen recounted, “The pretext was Tuscaloosa (today’s confrontation), the context was Birmingham (the unrest there elsewhere that spring), and the subtext was Washington (to make the case for legislation.)” (321)

It was a hastily drafted speech by Ted Sorensen in a mere two hours and revised by Kennedy. Sorenson looked back at past speeches he created for Kennedy on the issue, his own experience, and softened the rhetoric of the past few days. The president’s brother Bobby Kennedy was not pleased with Sorenson’s quickly written speech and even requested civil rights advisor Lee White to assist. The short time to draft the speech made Kennedy nervous, even doubtful if should even deliver it according to White’s observations.

Kennedy’s other poet laureate historian Arthur Schlesinger was nowhere to be found despite attempts to reach him when they did finally reach him it was too late for him to help with the speech. In the end, White did not add to the speech, but aide Louis Martin did, however, Sorenson never gave him authorship credit. The speech was not completed in time, and President Kennedy was receiving pages just as he was about to start. Kennedy determined Sorenson’s speech was too short, and he needed to fill up time, added eight paragraphs “off-the-cuff” (Cohen, 338) to the address, which is considered the best lines. The “moral issue” would be the speech’s overriding theme.

The President told Americans that segregation is a “moral issue” that is wrong. Kennedy stated; “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” President Kennedy accomplished two points in his speech, the introduction of civil rights legislation, and the beginning of significant comprehensive school desegregation.

Kennedy pleaded to the American people that civil rights are the responsibility of all citizens; “It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all… Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”

Kennedy specifically emphasized the lack of action since the Supreme Court’s decision in 1954. The landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education case ended the legality of the separate but equal system. Kennedy lamented; “Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job. The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.”

In his speech, President Kennedy began an active pursuit of Congressional legislation that would end segregation. Kennedy laid out his legislative plans, “Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law…. I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public-hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.”

President Kennedy also introduced the pursuit of the vote for all African-Americans. The president stated, “Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But the legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.” With his speech that night, Kennedy was pushing in motion not only the Civil Rights Act, but also the subsequent Voting Rights Act passed two years later in 1965 which guaranteed the vote to all Americans.

Kennedy concluded his 15-minute speech with a request for support from the American public for his sweeping and necessary proposals. The proposals were based on Constitutional rights for all Americans. Kennedy expressed to the nation, “Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents… This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.” Cohen described the speech as “a triumph. These were words written in haste for the ages. It was a knock-down, flat-out masterpiece.” (Cohen, 338) Meanwhile, historian Garth E. Pauley in “The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights” called the speech “the first sustained moral argument by an American President on civil rights.” (Hoberek, 77)

President Kennedy no longer wanted to be the bystander as Bryant called him, but he wanted to take his longtime rhetoric on civil rights and turn it into action. Kennedy told Arthur Schlesinger about his decision to move, then on the bill, he “thought more highly of American Presidents” who emphasized “concrete achievement rather than political education.” Kennedy’s civil rights speech as Cohen indicated, “was the moment a president pivoted. Kennedy was moving from detachment to engagement, from being a transactional president — as political scientists would classify leadership of a certain type a half century later — top a transformative one.” (Cohen, 338)

Kennedy submitted a civil rights bill to Congress the next week on June 19, which historian Robert Dallek in his biography of President Kennedy, an Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 described as “the most far-reaching civil rights bill in the country’s history.” (Dallek) The law would guarantee the right to vote for all with the minimum of a sixth-grade education, and end discrimination in all public and commercial facilities establishments and accommodations.

Kennedy also requested that the attorney general is granted expanded powers to implement school desegregation, asked to end job discrimination and create job training opportunities and a “community relations service.” Kennedy used the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution to justify the contents of his proposed bill.

The leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. approved of President Kennedy’s speech and described it as ‘the most sweeping and forthright ever presented by an American president.’” Initially, King told Reverend Walter Fauntroy who he was watching the speech with, “can you believe that white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit over the fence!” (Cohen, 339) Publicly King sent Kennedy a wire saying, “I have just listened to your speech to the nation. It was one of the most eloquent, profound and unequivocal pleas for justice and freedom of all men ever made by a president. You spoke passionately for the moral issues involved in the integration struggle.” (Cohen, 339) Kennedy, however, faced a tougher response from Congress.

Still, King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” delivered on August 28, 1963, over two months later during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would eclipse Kennedy’s speech as the most relevant to advancing civil rights. Although a pivotal moment, the march attended by 200,000 to 300,000, concerned Kennedy who asked King to cancel it, fearing “a big show on the Capitol” would hinder the passage of the civil rights bill. Kennedy even refused to meet with the delegation of civil rights leaders at the White House before the march concerned it could cause demonstrations. Instead, Kennedy opted for meeting King and the other leaders of the major organizations after the march ended that day.

Kennedy was right, he would not see the civil rights bill his administration authored passed into law, or even debated and put to vote on the floor of Congress. President Kennedy continued pushing Congress to pass civil rights legislation with bipartisan support in the following months but to no avail. Civil rights were one of four bills, Kennedy wanted to be passed, but never did in his lifetime, the others were a “tax cut, federal aid to education, and Medicare.” (Cohen, 360) Kennedy’s agenda stalled mostly because of his civil rights bills that led to anger from Southern Democrats and in general from the south. Kennedy would be assassinated months later, on November 23, in Dallas, Texas leaving his Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas to take over the mantle.

Pursuing civil rights, however, would become central to Kennedy’s legacy. Nevertheless, as Brinkley noted, there was a “harsh and often violent opposition that made it unlikely that his civil rights legislation would succeed soon. His tragic death, and the political skills of Lyndon Johnson, made possible the passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation. But John Kennedy — and the great movement that he finally embraced — was essential to great achievements.” (Brinkley, 112)

President Kennedy’s address to the nation on June 11 altered forever the direction of civil rights in the country. Historian Penial E. Joseph says it “might have been the single most important day in civil rights history.” Joseph also noted, “without the moral forcefulness of the June 11th speech, the bill might never have gone anywhere.” (Hoborek, 78) Without President Kennedy haven taken initial action with this speech and laying out his bold vision and plan to make a civil rights a reality for all Americans, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would never have passed and signed into law on July 2, 1964.

Sources:

Brinkley, Alan. John F. Kennedy. New York: Times Books, 2012.

Bryant, Nick. The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Cohen, Andrew. Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History. [Toronto, Ontario]: Signal, McClelland & Stewart, 2016.

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co, 2003.

Dallek, Robert. John F. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Hoberek, Andrew. The Cambridge Companion to John F. Kennedy. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Joseph, Peniel E. “Kennedy’s Finest Moment,” The New York Times, June 10, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/kennedys-civil-rights-triumph.html. Accessed June 12, 2017.

Pauley, Garth E. The Modern Presidency & Civil Rights: Rhetoric on Race from Roosevelt to Nixon. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2001.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights
June 11, 1963

Good evening, my fellow citizens:

This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.

That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.

I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Viet-Nam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.

It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.

The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.

This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or cast system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.

Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.

But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.

I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public–hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.

This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do.

I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last 2 weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.

I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to de-segregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow.

Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job.

The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.

Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.

In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.

Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom’s challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage.

My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all–in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a State university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United States.

This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.

We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can’t have that right; that your children can’t have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that.

Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents.

As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.

We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.

This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.
Thank you very much.

OTD in History… June 10, 1953, President Eisenhower rejects isolationism in the Cold War

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OTD in History… June 10, 1953, President Eisenhower rejects isolationism in the Cold War

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Getty Images

On this day in history June 10, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered a speech National Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting in Minneapolis where he laid out his “New Look” foreign policy, which rejected isolationism in the Cold War and emphasized nuclear weapons for defense. Eisenhower used his speech to respond to two of his foreign policy critics; Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft (R-Ohio) and Air Force chief of staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg. Sixty-five years later, the nation is yet again faced growing isolationism within the Republican Party. President Donald Trump’s presidency is based on an “American First” policy that isolates the country on the world stage and practices protectionism, while he is presently engaged in a trade war with allied nations.

Six months into Eisenhower’s presidency, the United States was still fighting the Korean War, which formed the basis of Taft and Vandenberg’s complaintsto the president. Taft had long been a bone in Eisenhower’s side; Taft was a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1952 and his isolationist views and actions were the reasons Eisenhower decided to run for president. The two were rivals for the nomination, with Taft suspected of trying to block Eisenhower’s nomination at the convention. The two agreed to uneasy peace during the campaign, which did not last once Eisenhower was president. Taft wanted Eisenhower to withdraw from the United Nations, should they fail to make a peace deal with Korea, so that the US can devise their policy to deal with the warring nations which he called “the ‘fortress’ theory of defense.” Meanwhile, Vandenberg objected to Eisenhower’s Defense Secretary Charles Wilson cutting the Air Force’s budget by $5 billion.

Eisenhower “feared,” according to Thomas Zoumaras, in the book, “Reevaluating Eisenhower: American Foreign Policy in the 1950s,” “that an isolationist president would succumb to protectionism.” (p. 156) The President also believed “that world trade and foreign aid, during periods of economic and military crisis would strengthen the anti-Communist alliance system enough to guarantee peace of the U.S. defense budget.” (p. 156) Eisenhower’s “New Look” foreign policy looked to keep the American economy “vital” but “build” defenses to fight the Cold War, maintain nuclear weapons as a “deterrent,” use the CIA for covert actions and maintain and build alliances in the world. Part of the “New Look” policy was the philosophy of “more bang for the buck” when it came to defense spending.

Instead of arguing with Taft and Vandenberg, the President chose to respond to them in his speech National Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting. The speech emphasized national security and did not mention either one by name. Eisenhower declared, “It is no wonder that our national security is so vast a matter-for the struggle in which freedom today is engaged is quite literally a total and universal struggle. It engages every aspect of our lives. It is waged in every arena in which a challenged civilization must fight to live.”

In response to Taft, Eisenhower focused on the Cold War as an international “total struggle,” which “calls for total defense.” The President called the Cold War, “This whole struggle, in the deepest sense, is waged neither for land nor for food nor for power — but for the soul of man himself.” Eisenhower rebuked Taft’s isolationism’s, saying, “There is another theory of defense, another oversimplified concept, which I believe equally misleading and dangerous. It is what we might call the “fortress” theory of defense.” The President emphasized his international approach focusing on “unity,” stating, “We know that only with strength and with unity — is the future of freedom assured. And freedom, now and for the future, is our goal!”

To Vandenburg, he argued that nuclear weapons make the vast arsenals used in World War II useless, and instead, the defense can be more efficient, with the strategy, “fewer planes ‘on order,’ more in the air.” Eisenhower pointed out, “There is no wonderfully sure number of planes or ships or divisions, or billions of dollars, that can automatically guarantee security.” Both Taft and Vandenberg would be out of Eisenhower’s way soon enough; Vandenberg would retire at the end of June, while Taft died of cancer on July 31.

Throughout the Cold War, the US remained internationalists, sometimes too much so. As the country became involved over public objections in conflicts, in Vietnam and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq, Republicans have again developed a more isolationist approach. All of which culminated in Trump’s presidency, which resorts to a large extent to Taft’s views, while ignoring Eisenhower’s successful strategy.

SOURCES

Melanson, Richard A, and David A. Mayers. Reevaluating Eisenhower: American Foreign Policy in the 1950s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

McClenahan, William M, and William H. Becker. Eisenhower and the Cold War Economy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a over dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Politics March 28, 2017: Trump’s record low approval rating first in presidential history

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Trump’s record low approval rating first in presidential history

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

President Donald Trump’s approval rating numbers are sinking fast. The latest Gallup Poll released on Sunday, March 26, 2017, indicated that the president now has a 36 percent approval rating. The number is ten points less than his high of 46 percent just after his inauguration. Trump may not have the lowest approval rating in Gallup’s history, but it is the lowest so early in a presidential term. The poll comes just after the House of Representatives failed to vote on their Obamacare replacement, the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

After just over two months in office, Trump’s approval rating is tumbling. The president has a 36 approval rating with a disapproval rating of 57 percent. The disapproval rating is not Trump’s highest on record for his short presidency; on March 18, he had a 58 percent disapproval rating. The approval rating number is also lower than his predecessor Barack Obama’s eight-year term. Obama had a 38 percent approval rating; however, it was in late in his first term in 2011 and his second term in office in 2014.

Trump’s first term low is only comparable to Democrat Bill Clinton (1993–2000). Clinton had a 37 percent approval rating during the summer of 1993, six months into his term. Clinton’s approval rating went on to rebound to 56 percent by September. Clinton also ended up serving two presidential terms, and he had one of the highest approval rating averages of all post-war presidents. Clinton’s low numbers early on did signify bad news for his party, the Democrats during the midterm elections. In November 1994, the Democrats lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans.

Gerald Ford (1974–1977) also saw 37 percent approval rating in his first year in office in January 1975, five months after assuming the office upon Nixon’s resignation mostly over his pardon of Nixon. Ford’s story did not have the positive ending Clinton did; Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

The Gallup Poll was conducted just after the Republicans failed to garner enough support to repeal and replace Obamacare. The repeal was a significant promise Republicans made to their constituents since the health care bill first passed in 2010. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency, the time seemed ripe for a change in the legislation. The conservative House Freedom Caucus, however, found the bill to moderate and too much like Obamacare Lite that their opposition tanked the bill.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was scrambling on Friday, March 24 to garner enough votes to pass the bill, but without the Freedom Caucus or any Democrats intending to vote in favor, the bill simply did not have enough votes, and Ryan decided to pull it upon the president’s request. With Trump’s five-point drop in his approval rating in one week, from 41 percent to 36 percent it is clear, Americans are blaming the president for failing to close the deal.

Trump’s approval rating numbers are not the lowest in presidential history. According to Gallup, the following presidents all saw their numbers below 36 percent during their presidencies. They include “Presidents George W. Bush (25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%).”

A low presidential approval rating is not all bad news for a president. The entire above-mentioned presidents saw their numbers improve except for Nixon, who went to resign in 1974 the presidency over the Watergate scandal. Trump, however, has his brewing scandal over Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign that swung the election to his favor. Inquiries are now trying to determine whether Trump campaign officials or even the president was involved in Russia’s election interference.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

History March 9, 2017: Lincoln may be on top but presidential rankings remain controversial

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Lincoln may be on top but presidential rankings remain controversial

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Lincoln remains nation’s best president according to new historians poll

Credit: Whitehouse.gov

The greatest American presidents in history cemented their positions in the latest ranking of presidents by historians. On Friday, February 17, 2017, C-SPAN released their third survey ranking of American presidents entitled “Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership,” where Civil War President Abraham Lincoln again tops the poll conducted by 91 historians. C-SPAN has done the ranking three times each time after the latest president left office in 2000, 2009 and now 2017. This time Barack Obama has his first ranking in the pantheon of presidential greats, and he comes in a respectably high 12th place. Presidential rankings are often controversial whether conducted by presidential scholars or public opinion polls, with both often-generating conflicting results and not indicative of presidential history or greatness.

According to C-SPAN’s survey, the top four presidents after Lincoln are George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt. Lincoln (1861–1865), has topped the C-SPAN survey all three times. Lincoln served as president during the Civil War, was able to save the Union, put an end to slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation, but whose time was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet before he could implement his Reconstruction plan. Washington’s (1789–1797) high status is attributed to his being the nation’s first president and the model all presidents have strived to since.

Franklin Roosevelt (1933–45) had the longest time in office, he was the only president elected to four terms but died in months into his fourth term. Roosevelt created the modern welfare state and expanded presidential powers that no previous president had done, creating the first imperial presidency. Roosevelt’s New Deal program helped the nation recover from the great economic depression and later presided over the country and its involvement in World War II. Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), was the first president of the 20th century and the first modern president. Roosevelt instituted some progressive reforms while bringing the country as a major world power. Roosevelt was also the first president to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his foreign policy, brokering peace that ended the Russo-Japanese War.

The majority of the top ten presidents are from the 20th century, with only three from 18th and 19th century, with the addition of Thomas Jefferson, (1801–1809) the nation’s third president at number seven. Half of the top ten are presidents from the middle of the 20th century, serving between 1933 and 1969. Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1961) in fifth, Harry Truman (1945–1953) in sixth place, John F. Kennedy (1961–63) in eighth and Lyndon Johnson (1963–1969) in tenth. There was only one president ranked in the top ten from the later part of the century, Ronald Reagan (1981–1989). While three died in office, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy, with Lincoln and Kennedy being assassinated.

Historian Richard Norton Smith, an academic advisor for the survey, commented on this mid-twentieth century golden era in presidential history, “Five presidents from this era each rank in the top ten which tells you something about the criteria that historians tend to use. It reinforces Franklin Roosevelt’s claim to be not only the first modern president but the man who, in reinventing the office, also established the criteria by which we judge our leaders.”

On the other bottom of the ranking is the presidents usually considered the worst in history and the worst of the worst remains the same. James Buchanan (1857–1861) is again at the bottom of the list, as the president right before the Civil War, historians blame him the most for the dissolution of the Union as sectional divisions eroded and the fragile balance collapsed.

Buchanan was president while slaveholders and anti-slavery fought in bleeding Kansas over slavery in the state, where he supported the proslavery and rigged Lecompton Constitution in 1857 to resolve the issue and allow Kansas to enter as a slave state. During Buchanan’s tenure was the 1857 Supreme Court decision on Missouri slave Dred Scott that determined that slaveholders could maintain their ownership of slaves anywhere in the country invalidating Congress’ attempt since 1820 to contain the expansion of slavery. John Brown’s Harpers Ferry Raid in 1859 was the last straw; the anti-slavery Brown had previously killed “five pro-slavery Kansas settlers” now wanted to raid the “federal arsenal” at Harper’s Ferry and lead a “slave uprising.” After two days of fighting, he was captured, and later that year hung for treason.

In the second to last spot is Buchanan’s predecessor, Franklin Pierce, who signed the ill-fated Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 that led to the disintegration under Buchanan’s tenure. The act allowed for popular sovereignty, allowing the state decides whether they would have slavery or be free soil. Historian Steven E. Siry writing in John E. Findling and Frank W. Thackeray’s “Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century” indicated, “No other piece of legislation in American history has produced such immediate and far-reaching changes.” (p. 10)

Andrew Johnson is perpetually in the third to last spot. Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Tennessee, was Lincoln’s Vice President as part of their 1864 Union ticket; he oversaw Reconstruction after the war and subsequently was the first president ever impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson hoped to continued Lincoln’s more lenient plan of Reconstruction, allowing the Southern rebels states back into the Union after taking a loyalty oath, a plan most Republicans in Congress opposed leading them implementing a more radical plan after the midterm election in 1866 filled with military occupations of the Southern states.

Johnson was not one to compromise and has been called “the living incarnation of stubbornness” by historians Findling and Thackeray. (p. 123) Johnson’s constant vetoes that the Republican Congress eventually overrode led them to impeach him. Congress used as grounds that Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act for removing his Secretary of War, who supported the radical reconstruction plan. Johnson was acquitted by just one vote in the Senate, affirming the right of a president to disagree with Congress.

Despite the constants in the top and bottom of the list, the greatest interest seems to be the ranking of the latest presidents including the three that successively joined the ranking since CSPAN began their survey in 2000, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now the most recent addition to the former presidents club Barack Obama. Clinton, who presided over the biggest economic boom of the post-war era, but he was also the second president to impeached is seeing his ranking improve since he joined the list in 2000. Clinton began in 2000 at 21st place, but has moved and remained at the 15th position in the last two editions.

Clinton’s good ranking mostly has to do with his economic record, the 1990s job boom, and balancing the budget ending his term with a surplus. Clinton failed primarily in foreign policy by not dealing with the growing terrorist threat that erupted early in his successor’s term and his personal scandals. It was Clinton’s lying to cover up his affair with a White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which started during the 1995 government shutdown that led to his impeachment mostly because of his perjury in a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against him. Clinton, like Johnson, was able to avoid conviction by being acquitted in the Senate’s trial.

Bush also sees his historical reputation rise, but only slightly, moving up three from 36th place to the 33rd position. Bush united the country in the aftermath of the worst terror attack on American soil in history when on September 11, 2001, radical terrorist group Al-Qaida used planes that hit the Pentagon in Washington, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing over 3,000 Americans.

Bush’s counter attack, initiating over decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, divided the country and mostly resulted in Bush falling out of favor with voters. The unpopular foreign wars coupled with domestic policy mistakes, including the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the worst economic and housing collapse since the Great Depression led to Bush’s low ranking despite being a two-term president with the highest record approval rating from 2001 on record. Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University professor and C-SPAN historical advisory board member, commented, “The survey is surprisingly good news for George W. Bush, who shot up a few notches.”

After the divisiveness of Bush, Barack Obama came onto the scene, and he was elected in 2008 on a campaign pledge of hope and change. Obama success was most in domestic policy as he remained mired up for years in Bush’s wars in the Middle East before withdrawing all troops later in his presidency. Obama was able to turn the economy around with the help of his stimulus plan passed by a Democratic Congress, but it took six years for any actual recovery. Obama was the first president to succeed and provide health insurance coverage for practically all Americans with his Affordable Care Act, the program known as Obamacare.

Obama however, failed in pursuit of his other goal immigration reform, creating a legal pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants most of whom came from Latin American countries. Legislation in Congress stalled in the Senate, and Obama’s attempts at going it alone in a limited form through executive actions were struck down by the Supreme Court. Obama will be most remembered for his soaring rhetoric, advancement rights for LGBT Americans and being the first African-American president elected in American history.

Still, partisan divisions grew in the country under Obama, who despite promises to unite divided more during his tenure, where he was according to polls the polarizing president in history. His constant wars with the Republican House voted in 2010 and Senate voted in 2014 did nothing to help the partisan divide. Obama was the first black president, however, race relations deteriorated during his tenure, as police violence against Africans Americans rose.

Despite his shortcomings, in his first foray in the presidential ranking, Obama was placed in the generous position of 12th. Obama earned the third spot in the category “equal justice for all” and seventh place “moral authority,” eighth for “economic management” and tenth place for “public persuasion.” Obama’s stature among historians counters his ranking in the public opinion polls where he only ranked ninth out of the twelve postwar presidents based on his term average.

Edna Greene Medford, a Howard University professor and a member of C-SPAN’s historical advisory board thought Obama’s ranking was low, “Although 12th is a respectable overall ranking, one would have thought that former President Obama’s favorable rating when he left office would have translated into a higher ranking in this presidential survey.” Meanwhile, fellow board member Brinkley believes, “That Obama came in at number 12 his first time out is quite impressive.”

As for the survey’s methodology, the historians rated each president with a grade of “one (“not effective”) to ten (“very effective”) scale” on ten attributes, and the average represented their total overall ranking. The attributes consisted of “ten qualities of presidential leadership” which include, “Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times.”

The CSPAN “Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership,” was overseen by an academic advisory team which included, Douglas G. Brinkley Professor of History Rice University, Edna Greene Medford, Professor of History Howard University and Richard Norton Smith, Presidential Historian, and Author. The advisory board chose the historians to participate based on those from “a database of C-SPAN’s programming.” In the end, 91 scholars, journalists or authors decided to participate. A problem with the ranking might be the caliber of historians who participated, most are liberal leaning, although there are some that participated are well known and respected, others are barely known, with some notable scholars glaringly absent.

Presidential rankings history dates back nearly 70 years and is a product of the postwar period, but has expanded greatly at the turn of the millennium. The eminent historian and professor at Harvard University Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. conducted the first presidential ranking in 1948; Schlesinger conducted it again in 1962, with the help of 75 historians, while his son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. did the third edition of their ranking years later in 1996. Along the way, both colleges and news media have tried their hand at conducting rankings of the presidents aided by presidential scholars.

Among them, include the Chicago Tribune in 1982, Siena College’s Research Institute made their ranking a tradition, publishing it each time after a president left office or ended a term starting in 1982, then 1990, 1994, 2002, and most recently 2010. Sienna College’s ranking often ranked the latest president although they were usually just starting or in their middle of their term, not giving a complete picture or fair ranking. The Wall Street Journal attempted for a fair and unbiased ranking in their two editions conducted in 2000 and 2005 by including an equal amount of liberal and conservative scholars.

Another attempt for balance was William J. Ridings, Jr., and Stuart B. McIver who conducted a poll with 719 scholars, politicians and celebrities between 1988 and 1996. They looked for representations from all states, female historians, and African American historians for their ranking that was published as “Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. leaders, from the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent.” Recent presidential rankings include, the Times of London conducted one in 2008, the United States Presidency Centre (USPC) at the University of London in 2011, while the American Political Science Association (APSA) produced one in 2015.

Most of the rankings agree that Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt rank in the top three while the bottom consistently includes Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and the scandal-filled Warren G. Harding (1921–23). There have been some differences when conservative scholars are included in the decision-making process.

Wall Street Journal’s polls saw successive Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson ranked lower in 18th and 17th in 2000 and 15th and 18th in 2005, with both receiving their lowest ranking of all surveys, Kennedy in 2000 and Johnson in 2005. Meanwhile, Republican President Ronald Regan saw his status improve with Conservative historians involved; Reagan had his highest showing at eighth in 2000 and sixth in 2005.

The largest partisan divide is with the ranking of George W. Bush; most rankings have near the bottom of the list like C-SPAN despite his two-terms and high poll numbers dealing with the aftermath of 9/1. Liberal scholars view him negatively as WSJ’s 2005 survey indicated ranking him 37th out of 43, while Republicans considered him in the top 10 in sixth place, both suggest that Bush’s usual low ranking may show partisan bias a major flaw in the rankings. Meanwhile, Obama might be ranking higher than he should in his first outing, because liberals consider him a hero not based on his approval ratings, or any historical perspective because he just left office.

In addition to surveys compiled from expert opinions, there have been numerous polls asking the public their view of who was the greatest president, with even more conducting partial polls looking at the recent postwar presidents. CSPAN conducted a full survey in 2000, as did ABC News, Washington College conducted one in 2005, Rasmussen in 2007 and Gallup in 2011. The results differed greatly from those of scholars, usually more recent presidents fared better either entering the top ten or higher up making the top five. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan consistently did better, as did Bill Clinton, even the public had a more favorable regard for George W. Bush than academics.

Quinnipiac University released a partial survey of “the best and worst presidents since World War II” in January. In the top five best presidents were Reagan, Obama, Kennedy, Clinton, Eisenhower, and George W. Bush in sixth out of the twelve presidents. Of the worst, the top five were Nixon, Obama, George W. Bush, Carter and Reagan with Clinton in sixth place.

Presidential rankings have long been controversial even when they are conducted and are the opinions professional scholars, historians and political scientists. One of the largest problems is rankings in the humanities is not a science, the bias of the historians is always problematic, whether it be political as much academics are liberals or even personal based on their area of research.

Presidents and historians alike find the rankings controversial. Lincoln biographer, Harvard professor, and doyen David Herbert Donald recalled Kennedy’s negative opinion of presidential rankings when they met in 1961. Donald recounted, “No one has a right to grade a President-even poor James Buchanan-who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”

Historian James MacGregor Burns noted the problems with ranking some presidents with major successes and failures. An example is Richard Nixon, (1969–1974) the only president ever to resign because of the Watergate scandal cover up but made significant inroads in Cold War foreign policy with a détente with the Soviet Union, and opened the door to relations with China. Lyndon Johnson is another, his record with civil and voting rights legislation, his war on poverty with his Great Society program represented highs in his presidency marred by the deepening conflict the Vietnam War, which led him not to run for a second full term. As well as Clinton, who had a scandal-filled presidency, complete with impeachment, but had tremendous approval ratings and success with the economy.

Princeton professor and presidential scholar Julian E. Zelizer, considering his influence in the profession was not one of the participants of C-SPAN’s survey, because of his disapproval of the rankings. Zelizer commented in his 2011 op-ed for CNN “What’s wrong with presidential rankings” lamenting that “rankings don’t tell us much about presidential history. The rankings are weak mechanisms for evaluating what has taken place in the White House.” Zelizer claimed presidential reputations change over time with perspective and context. While there are also problems with the criteria evaluating the presidents, assessing presidents with conflicting records as MacGregor Burns noted, and political bias.

Professor Zelizer is right, presidential; rankings are superficial and do not truly indicate historical greatness, and the complicated decisions each president was faced with at the time, as Kennedy argued to Donald. Academics would do better to recommend thorough biographies of each president for students of history and the public for them to have a more nuanced comprehension of presidential history than participating and promote rankings that are almost always rifled with bias and as Zelizer indicated just make great headlines.

Full overall rankings from CSPAN’s 2017 survey:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
4. Teddy Roosevelt
5. Dwight Eisenhower
6. Harry Truman
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Johnson
11. Woodrow Wilson
12. Barack Obama
13. James Monroe
14. James Polk
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley
17. James Madison
18. Andrew Jackson
19. John Adams
20. George H.W. Bush
21. John Q. Adams
22. Ulysses Grant
23. Grover Cleveland
24. William Taft
25. Gerald Ford
26. Jimmy Carter
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Richard Nixon
29. James Garfield
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Zachary Taylor
32. Rutherford Hayes
33. George W. Bush
34. Martin Van Buren
35. Chester Arthur
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Millard Fillmore
38. William Harrison
39. John Tyler
40. Warren Harding
41. Franklin Pierce
42. Andrew Johnson
43. James Buchanan

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Politics January 29, 2017: Obama polarizing historical legacy as the nation’s divider-in-chief

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Obama polarizing historical legacy as the nation’s divider-in-chief

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Obama era was the most partisan; Barack Obama reigned over the country as the polarizing president history according to a new Gallup poll released on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 that looked at the partisan support of Obama during his eight-year presidency. The survey proved what already seemed obvious from the news media and recent events that Americans are more partisan than ever in American history. It is leading the country down the wrong path and divides not seen since the Civil War, ironically by a president who was elected on a pledge to unite rather than divide.

According to Gallup, Obama had the largest “party gap in presidential job approval ratings” in support of all presidents in the post-World War II era, with 70 percent, up nine points from the presidency of Republican George W. Bush. A trend started in Republican Ronald Reagan’s era, but steadily grew during George W. Bush’s presidency, and became a fact during Obama’s time in office. According to the Gallup, the partisanship has to do with the times even more than his policies, explaining, “The extreme polarization in Obama’s ratings could reflect his policies and approach to governing, it also reflects the era in which he governed.”

Gallup has been crowning the last six years of Obama’s presidency as polarized with an increasingly larger partisan divide. According to Gallup, Presidents Reagan, Bill Clinton, Bush and now Obama a party gap of over 50 percent, with 52, 55, 61 and 70 respectively. Nixon was the only president to a gap in the 40s range with 41 percent. Three presidents had gaps in the 30s, Dwight D. Eisenhower, with 39 percent, George H. W. Bush with 38, and John F. Kennedy with 35 percent. The least divisive presidents partisan wise were Jimmy Carter and Lyndon B. Johnson with a 27 percent gap, and Gerald Ford with a 29 percent.

Party support divide among recent presidents:

Average approval, Republicans Average approval, Democrats Average party gap
% % pct. pts.
Obama 13 83 70
G.W. Bush 84 23 61
Clinton 27 82 55
Reagan 83 31 52
Nixon 75 34 41
Eisenhower 88 49 39
G.H.W. Bush 82 44 38
Kennedy 49 84 35
Ford 68 37 29
Johnson 44 71 27
Carter 30 57 27

George H. W. Bush presidency might not seem divisive because it was not during its first three years with a party gap of only 32 to 24 percent, but his last year in office when the economy was in trouble became far more polarized with a gap of 54 percent, which continued through the Clinton era. Gallup indicated that the average party support gap from 1953 to 1981 was only 34 percent, from 1981 to 2017 it grew to a 54 percent average.

Pew Research Center conducted a similar survey, which they released earlier this month, just before the inauguration. Pew published their review on Oct. 28, 2016, just days before the 2016 election. Obama had a 54 percent approval rating and 42 percent disapproval, but the margin of approval differed greatly between the parties. Pew claims Obama’s poll ratings were “more politically polarized than any president’s dating back to Dwight Eisenhower.”

According to Pew “An average of just 14% of Republicans have approved of Obama over the course of his presidency, compared with an average of 81% of Democrats.” Pew explains, “The gap in partisan presidential ratings has widened in recent decades as Americans have grown more divided in their basic values and beliefs along partisan lines and as partisan animosity has increased.” Pew indicates, that “Partisan divisions in assessments of presidential performance, for example, are wider now than at any point going back more than six decades.”

Gallup, however, tracks that this polarization has increasingly become a problem in the last 15 years, under Bush and Obama, where the party gap averaged 60 percent. Pew Research Center determined recently in a survey entitled “Political Polarization in the American Public” found one of the reasons for the rise in partisanship is attributed to the disappearing middle, centrist American, the so-called mushy middle. Instead, “92 percent of Republicans are now to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.” While the “partisan animosity” is so that each side believes the other “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

It is ironic that Obama was at the center of the growing partisan divide since he burst onto the national scene at the 2004 Democratic National Conventionwith a keynote address calling for an end to red and blue states division, which at that point he called a figment of the media. Obama with soaring rhetoric said, “Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America… The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into the Red States and the Blue States; the Red States for Republicans, the Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too… We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Obama echoed that call throughout his 2008 campaign of change and hope, speaking at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa back in November 2007, he firmly stated, “I don’t want to spend the next year or the next four years refighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s. I don’t want to pit red America against blue America. I want to be the President of the United States of America.” In his March 2008 speech on race calling for a “more perfect union,” Obama made clear he was the choice candidate for unity and end of divisive politics, saying, “For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism…. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”

Obama’s failures as president had more to do with intense partisanship than any other determining factor; it was his inability to compromise with Republicans and they with him that led to a legislative gridlock that was the hallmark of Obama’s presidency since the Republican took control of Congress in the 2010-midterm elections. When the GOP won the House of Representatives in 2010, Obama divisively declared, “The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government.”

Republicans could not forgive Obama for passing with the Democratic-controlled Congress the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and most importantly the Affordable Care Act, healthcare law, which passed into law without a single Republican vote, that the GOP spent the remainder of his presidency trying to repeal it. Obama’s inability to compromise led to the sequestration, across the board spending cuts to reduce the deficit in March 2013, and later that year one of the longest government shutdowns in October that last over two weeks over failing to agree on a federal budget. Obama had little legislative success for his last six years in office, because of his confrontational and cold war attitude to the Republican Congress.

President Obama’s go it alone rhetoric on executive actions while chastising Republicans in Congress for not passing legislation he desired including immigration reform also added to the partisan “rancor.” His threats of “governing” by “pen and phone” to create a “year of action” in 2014 just before his State of the Union address only caused more of a partisan divide, without attempts to negotiate really with Republicans he just angered them. Speaking at his first cabinet meeting that year, Obama made clear, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone. One of the things that I will be emphasizing in this meeting is the fact that we are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we are providing Americans the kind of help that they need.”

Jeffery Rosen, Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School, commented to NY Magazine on Obama’s legacy in the January 2015 article, “53 Historians on Obama’s Legacy.” Rosen analyzes, “Nevertheless, Obama’s rhetoric on executive orders has been so polarizing — “Where I can act without Congress, I’m going to do so.” — that he has inflamed his opponents and strengthened their resolve to reverse his achievements.”

Obama, however, inflamed more with his talk than actions, he only issued 277 executive orders only a 35 per year average, less than his immediate predecessors did and less than any president in 120 years based on a yearly average. Just as he used his rhetoric to unite Americans in his 2008 campaign, he used it to divide them in during his presidency.

Instead of negotiating with the opposing party in Congress, as most presidents did in an attempt to pass legislation, Obama thought ridicule was the way to go. It had the opposite effect; it made the Republican Party stronger, their supporters more resolute resulting in the 2016 election where the GOP swept the elections at almost every level. The Boston Globe put it best, “Like all presidents, Obama has been frustrated by partisan opponents. But no chief executive in modern times has been so quick to impugn his critics’ motives, or to resort to mockery and demonization when amicable persuasion would serve so much better.” They concluded how much Obama contributed to the partisan divide, stating, “When presidential rhetoric is mean and contemptuous, the whole public square is befouled.”

Rosen indicated that Obama’s blazon executive actions had not fared well especially with the courts, where the Supreme Court struck down his recess appointments and then did the same in 2016 with his orders on immigration. Rosen contextualized, “Throughout history, unilateral presidential actions designed to circumvent Congress have led to pushback in the Courts and Congress that have ultimately undermined, rather than strengthened, the president’s legitimacy.”

Obama realized how much he contributed to the partisan divide in the nation by his last year in office. The former president called it his greatest regret since he campaigned in 2008 as a uniter but became a divider. First Obama lamented his failures as he was running reelection in September 2012 during an interview, saying, “I’m the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren’t constantly in a political slugfest . . . I haven’t fully accomplished that. My biggest disappointment is that we haven’t changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.” Still, Obama turned his positive hopeful campaign from 2008 into a more insulting model in 2012.

Again, in his last State of the Union Address in January 2016, Obama admitted his presidency’s failure to close the partisan gap, expressing, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

In the same State of the Union, Obama made a final “plea” to end the partisanship, saying, “A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions, different attitudes, different interests. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.” The president, however, never seem to take his advice or practice what he preached.

Obama failed to do anything to soothe the partisan divide in his last year in office and possibly inflamed according to Gallup with his intensely partisan rhetoric as he campaigned for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The campaign between Clinton and Republican, now President Donald Trump was one of the nastiest in American history with a deep partisan divide between two vastly different candidates and the demographics of their supporters.

During his campaign speech for Clinton, Obama made the differences between the parties stark, with rhetoric as divisive as the GOP who was accusing the same of, saying the day before the election, “So we got one more day. And we can choose a politics of blame and divisiveness and resentment. Or you can choose a politics that says; we’re stronger together. Tomorrow you can choose whether we continue the journey of progress or whether it all goes out the window.” Obama’s stump speech was full of insults he opposed during his first campaign not just for the Republican nominee but the party, “If you think ‘Voting for Endless Gridlock’ is a good slogan, you should vote for the Republicans.”

Obama’s failure to bridge the partisan divide only led to a more divisive presidency, and it is only getting worse. According to the first numbers Gallup collected from Trump’s fledgling presidency show the nation is even more divisive and partisan under Trump. According to Gallup, Trump is seeing a 76 percent gap between party approval ratings with 90 percent of Republicans approving of him while only a meager 14 percent of Democrats. Trump’s first week in office included a flurry of executive actions, adding a wall to the Mexican border, approving oil pipelines, and barring refugees and immigrants from some Muslim countries resulting in reactionary protests across the country and around the world, ensuring a new age of even more polarizing politics.

Obama’s polarizing numbers show a greater failure, while Trump had always campaigned as a divisive, controversial, revolutionary and populist choice, Obama overriding theme throughout his career in national politics was the aim to unite the partisan divide. Instead, his period in the spotlight created the most intense divisions within the country not seen since the Civil War when the North and South waged war over their brothers over states rights and slavery.

Now the country seems on the verge of a new ideological civil war between the Red and Blue States, Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals. While not yet violent, this new war uses the weapons of words and protests against those they ideologically oppose, with Obama’s Democrats being the most vocal and extreme. Obama always wanted to emulate Abraham Lincoln, but now his only semblance to the great president who presided and ended the Civil War was the Lincoln, the divider which when elected in 1860 saw half the states of the union secede. Unlike Lincoln, Obama further tore the country apart and never tried to put it back together.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Politics March 31, 2015: On this day in history March 30 1981 Reagan shot survives assassination attempt

On this day in history March 30 1981 Reagan shot survives assassination attempt

March 31, 2015

Journalists are remembering the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life 34 years ago on Monday, March 30, 1981. On that day, as Reagan was exiting the Washington Hilton hotel he was bombarded by six bullets from…

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Politics May 15, 2014: Obama presidential push could force House to pass unemployment extension bill

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Obama presidential push could force House to pass unemployment extension bill

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Examiner.com, May 15, 2014, 9:43 PM MST

 While the unemployment benefits bill is languishing in the House of Representatives set to expire at the end of May, President Barack Obama maybe could get the House to pass it if he only decides to call and negotiate with the Speaker of the House John B
While the unemployment benefits bill is languishing in the House of Representatives set to expire at the end of May, President Barack Obama maybe could get the House to pass it if he only decides to call and negotiate with the Speaker of the House John B
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