No apathy here
U.Va.'s epertise on the presidency and politics keeps public informed
Quickly, now: “Who was the first American president who was not born a British subject?”
Unless you’re a U.S. history major or a trivia geek, you probably didn’t have that fact at your fingertips. But now, with AmericanPresident.org, you do.
For the past three years, U.Va.’s Miller Center of Public Affairs has hosted the Web site, packed with information about American presidents and the history of their presidencies. Launched as a companion to the 2000 PBS television series, “The American President,” the Web site was donated to the Miller Center in 2001 by the series’ sponsor, New York Life.
‘Politics is a good thing’
In order to strengthen American democracy, the Center for Politics, directed by Larry J. Sabato, promotes the value of politics and seeks to improve civic education and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis, and innovative educational programs.
The center is an interdisciplinary, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the proposition that government works better when politics works better and its corollary that politics works better when citizens are informed and active participants. ... It embraces politics in its motto “Politics is a Good Thing!”
Founded in 1988, the center’s activities include the Youth Leadership Initiative, American Democracy Conference, National Symposium Series, Governors Project, debates and publications.
For more information, visit the center’s Web site at: www.centerforpolitics.org/
SOURCE: Center for Politics, 2004.
1. Which president earned the nickname “Old Man Eloquent” for his speeches
2. Which president served the shortest time — 32 days?
3. Who was the first president not born a British subject, or even of British ancestry?
4. Who was the first to become president, not through popular election but through the death of his predecessor?
5. Who was elected president the first time the nation voted on the same day?
6. Which president was so popular at the end of his first term that he ran unopposed for a second term?
7. Which president had a formal education of only six months of grade school?
8. Which president once gambled away the White House china in a card game?
9. Which president remains the only man in American history to have gained both the highest executive and the highest judicial positions?
10. Which president could speak Mandarin Chinese and worked as a mining engineer before entering politics?
1. John Quincy Adams
2. William Henry Harrison
3. Martin Van Buren
4. John Tyler
5. Zachary Taylor
6. James Monroe
7. Millard Fillmore
8. Warren G. Harding
9. William H. Taft
10. Herbert C. Hoover
SOURCE: AmericanPresident.org, 2004.
Since then, the Miller Center has dramatically expanded and improved the site, according to Garth Wermter, the center’s director of technology.
The site now has more than 60,000 pages, and has received over 660,000 visitors in the past six months. The secret of its success? Wermter and Executive Editor Marc Selverstone, a historian with the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program, teamed with a group of consulting editors comprised of leading academic historians and political scientists to add a wealth of new material to the site. “Essentially, our editorial board is a Who’s Who of American historians,” Wermter said.
The consulting academics sifted through the existing material to identify errors and suggest new materials. Selverstone then worked with two graduate students who rewrote many of the site’s original presidents’ biographies, a process that took two years.
Seven biographies remain to be redone, but Wermter expects to have them all in hand by the end of this year.
The site is more than just a Who’s Who of the American presidency. Philip Zelikow, Miller Center director, envisioned a site that would help the American public better understand its government.
The first part of the site is historical, “The Presidency in History,” built around the biographies, but with new elements — timelines of the key events of each presidency, a description of each president’s administrative structure, and the inclusion of multimedia elements from the Miller Center’s extensive archives, such as photographs, audiotapes and videotapes. The Miller Center also is tapping the University Library and other U.Va.-based resources to make primary sources available online through the Web site.
The second part of the site is political science, “The Presidency in Action,” which covers several areas of presidential responsibility and includes information on foreign policy, domestic policy, economic policy, legislative affairs and presidential politics. The Miller Center team contacted some of the country’s top political scientists and asked them to write essays on these topics, which are now part of the site. Wermter sees the history Web site as targeted to high school and college students, while the political site is expected to appeal more to government agency employees, the press and members of the public who want to know how their government works.
As we count down to Election Day, experts in American politics at U.Va. are fired up.
A google.com search on Larry Sabato brings up 74,900 hits, not all of them media outlets, but many of them newspapers that have quoted the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at U.Va. in recent months, from the Wichita Falls (Texas) Times Record News, circulation 36,154, to USA Today, circulation 2.2 million.
Other faculty at the University who specialize in the American political system may spend less time on the phone with reporters, but they also contribute to the democratic process in numerous ways — assessing the health of the system and publishing their findings, writing articles and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, appearing on television and sharing their thoughts with policymakers, politicians and voters.
U.Va. faculty explore many aspects of the American political system, including the conduct of political campaigns, public opinion polling, campaign advertising, political parties, the presidency, public
policy and American political thought.
The contributions of U.Va. programs and scholars in this package — and those of their colleagues on Grounds — help make the American republic a better place.
Remember to vote on Nov. 2!
The Miller Center is certainly not alone in posting online information on the American presidency — other organizations that have done so include the Congressional Quarterly (CQ.com) and WhiteHouse.gov — but none offers either the depth or the unbiased outlook of AmericanPresident.org, Wermter said.
Now the project is set to expand again.
In recent weeks, the Miller Center received a $577,500 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The center now needs to raise $1.7 million to reach its goal of $2.2 million, which will allow it to endow the third part of the AmericanPresident.org project, “Teaching the Presidency.” This project fits into the Miller Center’s ongoing $39 million campaign, which began earlier this year.
Beginning in the summer of 2008, teachers, scholars and education professionals will gather for week-long summer “Presidential Institutes” to explore various aspects of American history and the American presidency, and design, together, teaching modules allowing them to take what they learn back home. They would also post the curricular materials online to allow others who do not attend the institutes to benefit.
The Miller Center’s work continues, but there’s plenty of good information already available on the center’s Web site, such as the answer to the question above: Martin Van Buren. See for yourself at www.americanpresident.org. It’s just a click away.
Grooming future leaders
The Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, headed by Executive Director William H. Wood, seeks to improve political leadership in Virginia, thereby strengthening the quality of governance at all levels of government.
As a private, nonprofit organization affiliated with U.Va., the institute provides opportunities for meaningful dialogue with political leaders from around the state and an education that transcends party politics.
The institute prepares the state’s emerging leaders for public service as candidates for office, government officials and citizen activists in the affairs of their communities, the commonwealth of Virginia and the nation. This is accomplished through educational programs designed around ethics, public policy and practical politics.
The process begins when today’s business, civic and political leaders identify men and women who are most likely to emerge as leaders in tomorrow’s Virginia. These outstanding people vie for participation in the institute’s various educational programs, including:
• Political Leaders Program — a 10-month series of seminars for potential leaders in ethics, public policy and practical politics.
• Candidate Training Program — a three-day series of interactive presentations on ethics and campaign skills.
• College Leaders Program — a leadership program for undergraduates on Virginia government, politics and public policy.
• High School Leaders Program — a two-week leadership program for high school students.
• Danville-Southside Leaders Program, a civic leadership program for residents of Danville, Pittsylvania County and Caswell County, N.C.
For more information, visit the institute’s Web site at:
SOURCE: Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, 2004.
Analyzing politics and presidencies
Ceaser on the GOP
James W. Ceaser, professor of politics at U.Va.,
co-authored the book, “The Perfect Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election.” He also co-wrote the lead article, “A New GOP?” in the fall issue of the neoconservative journal, The Public Interest. The following is an excerpt from the article:
“President Bush has identified the Republican party with a distinct foreign policy, which he has justified by recourse to certain fixed and universal principles – namely that, in his words, ‘liberty is the design of nature’ and that ‘freedom is the right and the capacity of all mankind.’
“Not since Lincoln has the putative head of the Republican party so actively sought to ground the party in a politics of natural right. This has led [Bush’s] Democratic opponent, John Kerry, to brand the Bush administration the most ‘ideological’ of recent times.
Victory for President Bush in November will surely vindicate his policies and principles. Defeat will mean, at a minimum, a curtailment of the Bush foreign policy, and will also likely bring an end to his understanding of the Republican party.”
© The Public Interest, 2004
Freedman on campaign ads
PaKnott on Reaganul Freedman, associate professor of politics, studies the impact of media and public opinion on presidential elections. He also is a national
election-night analyst for network television. An excerpt follows from an article he co-wrote, “Campaign Advertising and Democratic Citizenship,” which appears in the current (October 2004) edition of the American Journal of Political Science:
“Our findings show that exposure to campaign advertising produces citizens who are more interested in the election, have more to say about the candidates, are more familiar with who is running, and ultimately, are more likely to vote.
“To be sure, these effects are relatively modest, particularly when compared with the impact of factors such as education, strength or partisanship, and mobilization, but they remain significant.
“And importantly, these effects are mostly concentrated among those citizens who have the greatest need: those with relatively low levels of political information to begin with. In short, people can and do learn from television ads, and campaign advertising can thereby fulfill a vital democratic function.”
© 2004 by the Midwest Political Science Association
Knott on Reagan
Stephen F. Knott, associate professor and research fellow with the Miller Center of Public Affairs, oversees oral history projects for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is part of a team of scholars interviewing living members of past presidential administrations:
“Our goal is to capture for the historical record a picture of these presidencies from people who knew the presidents best. People in government no longer keep diaries. So, these presidents’ records are thin in comparison with previous presidents. We’re trying to fill the documentary gap with an oral documentary. People even in recent past administrations are getting on in age. If you don’t get there in time you lose a lot. With the interviews for the Reagan project, we’re looking for insight into what made that guy tick. Some people felt he had a wall up around him, but those who knew him best saw through that wall. We’re getting a more complete picture of what it was like to work side by side with him and what moved him to abandon a comfortable life in Hollywood to run for president. Reagan loved ideas. He was a true believer in his conservative principles ... issues like changing the system of government in the Soviet Union. He was smarter than many people gave him credit for.”
Milkis on LBJ
Sidney M. Milkis, the White Burkett Miller Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, currently serves as chairman of the Department of Politics, and as co-director of the American Political Development Program at the Miller Center. He is completing a book on Lyndon Johnson, “The Great Society and the New Liberal Political Order”:
“LBJ pursued an ambitious reform program that would leave its (and his) mark on history. He gave the signature speech of his administration on May 22, 1964, in a commencement address at the University of Michigan. [He] did not merely call for an extension of FDR’s economic constitutional order, which emphasized programs that would protect individual men and women from the uncertainties of the market place. ... LBJ chose to deliver a provocative message [as Bill Moyers, White House aide noted]: ‘The President is not just thinking of the next election — he is thinking of the next generation. … He believes there is a danger that the primacy of politics this year will prevent the Nation from looking at the longer pull — hence his decision to cast the spotlight on issues which ought to be imbedded in the Nation’s consciousness,’ such as ending poverty and racial injustice.”
© Sidney M. Milkis, 2004