Second-term Blues

Why Have Our Presidents Almost Always Stumbled After Their First Four Years?

Pity poor George W. Bush, stuck in the morass of those second-term blues! As of this writing, Mr. Bush’s poll numbers—those now ubiquitous barometers of presidential popularity—are barely creeping up after hitting record lows earlier this year.

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Little Rock: The 2005 American Heritage Great American Place

I’ve been thinking about windows. When I wrote this article, I was looking out my apartment window to the Pyrenees mountains in the south of France, where my wife and I had been living for the previous year while I researched and wrote a book about the painter Henri Matisse. Windows were an important motif in Matisse’s art, but that is only part of the reason I’ve been thinking about them.

 

Little Rock, hot air balloons
 
arkansas department of parks and tourism2005_5_50-51
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The Temper Thing

How bad is it when Presidents get really sore?

The rumor first began to spread around Washington last year: Sen. John McCain had a skeleton in his closet. Was it something to do with his past as a war hero in Vietnam? His voting record in the Senate? The role he had played as one of the Keating Five in the savings and loan scandal? Read more »

How Smart Should A President Be?

Smarter than stupid, of course; but does the intellectual tradition that began with the century suggest there is such a thing as being too smart for the country’s good?

The century now ending opened with a political situation that is both unusual and recurring: Intellectuals were somewhat firmly in the saddle. From 1901 to 1921 the White House was occupied by three authors—Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Taft and Wilson were ex-professors to boot. One of the powers of the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, was another author-professor.

 
 
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America The Apologetic

Should our leaders say they’re sorry about slavery? About Indians? About their personal behavior? Such questions are hardly new; public contrition has been a national preoccupation for centuries.

Before President Clinton went to Africa in March of this year, his press secretary, Mike McCurry, made a double announcement. The President would discuss American slavery while visiting the continent from which America’s slaves had come. But he would not apologize for it. “He certainly is going to talk about the legacy of slavery and the scar that it represents on America,” McCurry said. But an apology would be “extraneous and off the point.” Read more »

The Federal Debt

And how it grew, and grew, and grew…

The federal government was still in the process of establishing itself in 1792 and did not have a good year financially. Total income was only $3,670,000, or 88 cents per capita. Outlays were $5,080,000. The budget deficit therefore amounted to fully 38 percent of revenues. The next year, however, the government sharply reduced expenses while enjoying increased tax receipts and showed its first budget surplus.Read more »

Clio And The Clintons

An Interview With the President and the First Lady

On a busy Wednesday morning last August, President and Mrs. Clinton found an hour to speak with me in the Oval Office of the White House. Defense Secretary William Perry and Attorney General Janet Reno were preparing for a live noontime conference in the West Wing press room to announce new legal policy regarding Cuban refugees; the taken-for-dead crime bill would finally pass the fol- lowing day; the tumult over the future of the President’s health-care proposals was still very much in the air.Read more »

A Nation Of Immigrants

It’s a politician’s bromide—and it also happens to be a profound truth. No war, no national crisis, has left a greater impress on the American psyche than the successive waves of new arrivals that quite literally built the country. Now that arguments against immigration are rising again, it is well to remember that every single one of them has been heard before.

The uproar over Zoë Baird has subsided by now, and readers with short memories may profit by a reminder that she was forced to withdraw as President Clinton’s first nominee tor Attorney General because she and her husband had hired two “illegal aliens” for babysitting and housekeeping chores.Read more »

“The Lines Of Control Have Been Cut”

Jack Kennedy came into the White House determined to dismantle his Republican predecessor’s rigid, formal staff organization in favor of a spontaneous, flexible, hands-on management style. Thirty years Bill Clinton seems determined to do the same thing. He would do well to remember that what it got JFK was the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War.

In early October of 1963, Rep. Clement Zablocki, a Wisconsin Democrat, led a House Foreign Affairs Committee fact-finding delegation to South Vietnam. Invited to the White House when he returned, Zablocki told President John F. Kennedy he thought that removing President Ngo Dinh Diem would be a big mistake, unless the United States had a successor in the wings. Remember Cuba, Zablocki said. “Batista was bad, but Castro is worse.” Read more »