November 7, 1962: Richard Nixon’s “Last Press Conference”

On this day in 1962, Richard Nixon conceded the California gubernatorial race to incumbent Pat Brown at an angry press conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. At the time, he stated that it would be his last press conference.

Richard Nixon - 1962On this day in 1962, Richard Nixon conceded the California gubernatorial race to incumbent Pat Brown at an angry press conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. At the time, he stated that it would be his last press conference.

The speech (excerpts of which can be seen below) came the day after the polls closed. Nixon had gone to bed without conceding the race because there still were uncounted votes in Republican-leaning counties. The next morning, Nixon congratulated Brown on his victory and gave a press conference criticizing the media for its coverage of the race. He then said. “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

It, of course, wasn’t his last. Nixon returned in 1968 to win the presidency. Given the way he left the political arena, his comeback is seen as one of the greatest in history.

November 3, 2009: Bill Owens Wins New York’s 23rd District

On this day in 2009, William “Bill” Owens won New York’s 23rd Congressional District. This particular race provides a constant and important lesson to be remembered regarding political control.

Rep. Bill OwensOn this day in 2009, William “Bill” Owens won New York’s 23rd Congressional District. This particular race provides a constant and important lesson to be remembered regarding political control.

Republican nominee Dierdre Scozzafava saw upstart Doug Hoffman, a conservative with support from the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and Dick Armey, declare ideological war on her candidacy. She was a moderate in the same vein as John McHugh, the Republican who held the seat before being appointed Secretary of the Army. Sensing a defection of the Republican base and simply irritated, Scozzafava withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens, who won a seat that Republicans had controlled since 1872.

We’ve all heard, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” In Congress that saying should start with, “Them who has the purple…” Purple districts and purple states – not thought change – are the margins needed for House and Senate control. The shifts in Congressional power have ultimately hinged on the candidates who win the moderate seats; not the ones who completely align with every one of our beliefs.

Owens defeated Hoffman again in a narrow race in 2010. His district was renumbered to the 21st in 2012 and he was reelected in another very close contest.

September 15, 1981: The Reagan Revolution is Published

On this day in 1981, “The Reagan Revolution” by Robert Novak and Rowland Evans was published. This interesting and out-of-print book chronicles the formative early months and significant changes brought about by President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

The Reagan RevolutionOn this day in 1981, “The Reagan Revolution” by Robert Novak and Rowland Evans was published. This interesting and out-of-print book chronicles the formative early months and significant changes brought about by President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Evans and Novak, of course, wrote the longest double by-lined syndicated column in history and numerous books.  Their level of access was legendary and this particular book is not some gushing lament about conservatives retaking the mantle, but more of an inside look at the major changes Reagan’s presidency brought.

The book highlights everything from Reagan embracing Congressman Jack Kemp’s supply-side economic policies to being the first president in decades to push for major budget cuts to his loosening of regulations. The book also includes fascinating tidbits, such as the fact the Reagan would have let the U.S. auto industry succeed or fail on its own accord in 1981, but provided government support after being persuaded by Vice President George H.W. Bush. In addition, “The Reagan Revolution” also highlights the fact that he was  the first Republican leader to seriously court the social conservatives that dominate the party today.

The book that was published less than one-year into Reagan’s presidency provides a snapshot of him and the public’s perception. It is worth checking out.

August 6, 1912: Bull Moose Party Convention

On this day in 1912, the Progressive Party, also known as the “Bull Moose Party,” held its convention in Chicago. To date, the Bull Moose Party remains the strongest third-party challenge to the presidency of the past 125 years.

Bull Moose Party ConventionOn this day in 1912, the Progressive Party, also known as the “Bull Moose Party,” held its convention in the Chicago Coliseum. To date, the Bull Moose Party remains the strongest third-party challenge to the presidency of the past 125 years.

After becoming very frustrated with the policies of his hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt entered the 1912 race for the Republican ticket. He entered the race late and despite outpolling Taft in most primaries, lost the nomination.

Undaunted, Roosevelt met with a handful of progressive Republicans to form its own party. The party was given its nickname after Roosevelt told reporters “I’m as fit as bull moose.”

Roosevelt may have had the energy, but the party had little support and limited funding. Nevertheless, 2,000 delegates attended and Roosevelt was nominated and California Governor Hiram Johnson was selected as his running mate.

Roosevelt pulled 27 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes, compared to winner Woodrow Wilson’s 42 percent and 435 votes and Taft’s 23 percent and 8 votes. It still is the best showing by any third-party candidate in both the 20th and 21st Centuries.

The party did win a handful of congressional seats and remained a presence in American politics until 1916. One look at a its 1912 platform makes moderate Republicans and Democrats long for such a party today.

July 7, 2009: Justice Ginsburg Makes Controversial Abortion Statement

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Official SCOTUS PortraitOn this day in 2009, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg controversial comments on abortion during an interview were published in The New York Times Magazine. What followed was an example of the political divide and sensationalism in this country today.

Justice Ginsburg’s comments during her interview with Emily Bazelon with New York Times Magazine were on the Court’s 1980 decision to uphold the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicare funding for abortions. The excerpt of the interview is below:

BAZELON: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae – in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Bazelon did not ask a follow-up question. Not surprisingly, Ginsburg’s “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” comment caused controversy and drew ire amongst conservatives, most notably Michael Gerson and Jonah Goldberg. It has also made the question “Does Ruth Bader Ginsburg Support Euginics?” a straight-faced name for a blog post. Others, like Conor Clark with The Atlantic have argued that Ginsburg’s comments were taken out of context.

In a 2012 article for Slate, Bazelon acknowledged that she should have asked a follow-up question for clarity. However, the article also included a clarification from Ginsburg, which stated:

Emily, you know that that line, which you quoted accurately, was vastly misinterpreted. I was surprised that the court went as far as it did in Roe v. Wade, and I did think that with the Medicaid reimbursement cases down the road that perhaps the court was thinking it did want more women to have access to reproductive choice. At the time, there was a concern about too many people inhabiting our planet. There was an organization called Zero Population Growth. In the press, there were articles about the danger of crowding our planet. So there was at the time of Roe v. Wade considerable concern about overpopulation.

Four years later, the whole thing seems absurd. Should Bazelon and her editor have sought clarification? Yes. Should pundits have given her the benefit of the doubt before drafting columns? Probably so. Did anyone learn any lessons from this? No.

July 4, 1776: American Dream Begins

On this day in 1776, the American Dream began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Countless Americans have prospered since, including heavyweight champion Gene Tunney.

Gene Tunney StampOn this day in 1776, the American Dream began with Congress ratifying the Declaration of Independence. Countless Americans have prospered since.

The freedoms we have benefit us in immeasurable ways. One of histories most noteworthy beneficiaries was Gene Tunney, who grew up the son of a longshoreman in New York City and, with his wits and drive, became heavywieght champion of the world and the first fighter to receive a $1 million check for a bout. Tunney was not your typical boxer. He was arguably the most intellectual heavyweight champion in history and hung out with individuals like George Bernard Shaw and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tunney also contributed pieces to publications like The Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest and was the first fighter to fully author his own books. He wrote two “A Man Must Fight” and “Arms for Living,” and in the latter he offered his thoughts on democracy, which serve us well ason this day. Tunney wrote:

“[Democracy] is a spiritual concept that one feels rather than practices. It is a concept which once understood can never be replaced by any other form of government. It is a concept that makes men meek in the presence of their peers, but makes them fight tyrants. It inspires the humble to die militantly on their feet, rather than live servilely on their knees. The concept of democracy is the ideal that countless millions have died for during the ages.”

Happy Fourth of July. Hope everyone has a wonderful day.

May 29, 1973: Tom Bradley Elected Mayor of Los Angeles

On this day in 1973, Thomas J. “Tom” Bradley became the first African-American to be elected Mayor of Los Angeles. It’s a shame that a statesman of Bradley’s caliber is mainly synonymous outside of California with the “Bradley Effect,” because his election as mayor was remarkable.

On this day in 1973, Thomas J. “Tom” Bradley was elected mayor of Los Angeles becoming the first African-American to be elected mayor of a city without and African-American majority. It’s a shame that a statesman of Bradley’s caliber is mainly synonymous outside of California with the “Bradley Effect,” because his election as mayor was more remarkable than his losses.

After defeating incumbent Sam Yorty and State Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh in the Democratic primary and runoff (both major heavyweights in California politics), Bradley carried 54 percent of the vote in the general election. At the time, the African-American population of Los Angeles was less than 18 percent. He went on to serve an unprecedented five terms as Mayor.

Bradley also ran for governor of California twice, in 1982 and 1986, losing both times to Republican George Deukmejian. In 1982, Bradley had a narrow lead over Deukmejian heading into election day and many exit polls projected him to be the winner. However, in the end, Bradley ended up losing by about 100,00 votes after all ballots were counted.

This led to the coining of the term, the “Bradley Effect,” a theory stating that in a race between a white candidate and non-white candidate, an impactful number of white voters may say they will vote for the non-white candidate, but would inevitably vote for the white candidate. This theory (and legitimate worry) was heavily prevalent until 2008, when the presidential election of Barack Obama smashed it to smithereens.

In 1986, Bradley was down heading to the polls and lost to Deukmejian by a much wider margin.

During Bradley’s tenure of mayor from 1973 to 1993, Los Angeles became the second-most populous city in the country, hosted the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, and redeveloped many of the city’s business districts. However, as the city became more diverse, it also became a powder keg of racial tension, and Bradley chose not to run again after the 1992 riots.

Bradley died of a heart attack in 1998. To honor the 40th anniversary of his election as mayor, OUR L.A., a non-profit whose mission is to increase public awareness on the stories of Los Angeles through multimedia, is preparing a project on the legacy of Bradley to teach and inspire future generations of young people and leaders. To learn more, go to: http://www.mayortombradley.com.

May 3, 1802: Congress Incorporates Washington, D.C.

On this day in 1802, Congress approved legislation incorporating Washington, D.C. and its citizens. The bill gave all eligible voters, free white males of age who had lived in the city for a year, the opportunity to elect a two-chamber city council made up of twelve members.

On this day in 1802, Congress approved legislation incorporating Washington, D.C. and its citizens. The bill, “An act to incorporate the inhabitants of the City of Washington, in the District of Columbia,” gave all eligible voters, free white males of age who had lived in the city for a year, the opportunity to elect a two-chamber city council made up of twelve members. The bill also established a mayor to be appointed by the President.

This form of government would last for ten years until Congress amended it, creating an eight-member board of alderman who, along with the council, elected the mayor. It would be the first of many restructuring and reboots of the District government over the next 160 years until 1973, when Congress passed the “Home Rule Act,” which gave the District the right to elect its own mayor and 13-member city council.

However, because it is not a state, Washington, D.C., does not have voting representation in Congress, which leaves me with a feeling of ambivalence. I certainly don’t think the District is a state or that the framers of the U.S. Constitution ever intended for it to be treated as one. However, I also doubt that they ever expected Washington to be home to more than 590,000 Americans either.

The extremism on both sides doesn’t help matters either. One side is comfortable with more than half a million U.S. citizens being denied voting representation in Congress. Another won’t stop until a city that was designed to house the federal government has two voting Senators and the autonomy of a state.

Sadly, that radical idealism will perpetuate this issue for decades to come.

April 28, 2009: Arlen Specter Switches Parties

On this day in 2009, the late Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter announced that he was switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. The switch gave specterSpecter a better chance of winning his 2010 election.

In the statement that he issued following the switch, Specter said:

“Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

Indeed. It was more surprising that the switch did not happen sooner. For years, Specter was considered to be the biggest “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) in the Senate. So much so that in 2003, at the near-height of Republican Congressional rule, the National Review released a cover story calling Specter “the worst Republican Senator”.

It was a shame that the Republican party went to great lengths to alienate its moderate members in the 2000s and that Specter felt that he had to switch to win in 2010.  However, Specter faced what was, at best, a difficult primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey. If Specter had lost, the thinking was that the seat would have gone to a Democrat. Considering how other alleged RINOs like Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (now an independent and Governor) and former Ohio Senator Mike DeWine fared in their 2008 elections, most pundits thought Specter’s switch only accelerated the Republican loss of this seat by 20 months.

But that’s not what happened.

In a political year whose slogan was “Burn the village” Specter received the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, but lost his primary to Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Sestak, who then lost the general election to Toomey. The year showed an unprecedented level of backlash for incumbents and RINOs. All in all, 54 House incumbents lost their seats. In the Senate, Republicans gained six seats, but would have gained more had states like Delaware not disregarded its moderate statesmen like Michael Castle for Christine O’Donnell.

Specter’s switch really cannot be viewed as a mistake. Had he not done so, Specter likely would have lost the Republican primary as well. Regardless of your view on the 2009 switch, it remains a strong example of how quickly the political landscape can change.

Specter finished his term in 2010 and retired from politics. Sadly, he passed away from complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in October of 2012.

April 20, 2009: President Obama Pledges to Cut $100 Million from Budget

On this day in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered his Cabinet to collectively find ways to cut federal spending by $100 million. The pledge came three months into his first term.

On this day in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered his Cabinet to collectively find ways to cut federal spending by $100 million. The pledge came three months into his first term.

The cuts would come from making government programs more efficient and would be on top of future cuts to programs that are ineffective. It amounted to less then one-two hundredth of one percent of the projected deficit for this fiscal year at that time and even Obama admitted that the potential savings would be a “drop in the bucket.”

“None of these things alone are going to make a difference. But cumulatively, they make an extraordinary difference because they start setting a tone … $100 million there, $100 million here – pretty soon, even here in Washington, it adds up to real money,” the president told reporters at the time.

The play on Everett Dirksen’s famous quote did little to alleviate concerns. Was $100 million actually saved? Who knows? Who cares for that matter? The budget deficit for this year is still pushing against $1 trillion and the national debt is at $16.8 trillion.

After years of irresponsible budgets passed by a Republican-controlled congresses, Obama’s pledge at the time seemed out of touch and exacerbated an already tense situation. While both the president and Congress have been forced to cut deals since then to prevent defaulting on our debt or shutting the government down, that distrust and belief that either truly are willing to make real sacrifices to bring our fiscal house in order is still there.