Seriously, What Would Hoover Do?

9780700623051By Matthew Cecil

FBI Director James Comey’s decision to release an ambiguous and ill-timed update on the Bureau’s investigation into Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server situation has drawn significant public criticism. Former Justice Department officials have noted that Comey violated longstanding Justice Department policies against election season disclosures. Political critics, including many Democrats and even some Republicans have accused Comey of everything from political naiveté to Machiavellian genius for the timing and nature of his announcement.

One name that has not been evoked in the discussion is that of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Perhaps it is not surprising. After all, “What would Hoover do?” is a question that likely only comes up in his namesake building as a warning: “Let’s be sure not to do whatever Hoover would have done.”

It is worth considering, though, how Hoover handled election-year politics during his 48-year tenure as director of the FBI. Would Hoover have acted as Comey did in this instance? My immediate reaction, having read hundreds of thousands of FBI documents from the Hoover era is: Probably not, at least not in a presidential campaign.

9780700619467Generally speaking, Hoover was exceedingly careful about allowing himself to be drawn into election year politics. Most often, efforts to drag  Hoover’s name into campaigns, usually by his friends in Congress as evidence of their anti-communist credentials, were spurned by the FBI through its public relations officials. I can think of one specific instance, however, where Hoover allowed his political capital to be used in an election campaign.

Stalwart GOP Senator Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota faced a difficult reelection campaign in 1960 against popular Democratic U.S. Rep. George McGovern. One early 1960 poll showed McGovern with a 20-point lead over the venerable Mundt, then seeking his third term in the Senate. Mundt, who had been member of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was about as anti-communist as one could be and was considered a “personal friend” of Hoover. In the summer of 1960, an FBI memorandum urged agents to keep a close watch on the race for any efforts by Mundt’s campaign to invoke Hoover’s name. It was left to a friend of the Bureau, newspaper editor, Fred C. Christopherson of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader to orchestrate a Hoover “endorsement” of Mundt. Christopherson wrote to Hoover in October 1960 asking him to name “the most experienced members of Congress with knowledge of the communistic threat and legislative know-how to handle the situation in our national legislature today.”

Hoover, in a letter written by his politically savvy public relations aide Deke DeLoach (see my book, Branding Hoover’s FBI, for more about DeLoach’s political machinations), named Mundt and three others while lamely qualifying the response by stating there were many others in Congress who were experienced in anti-communist matters. Hoover’s response was repackaged by the Argus Leader and by Mundt’s campaign in a newspaper advertisement, as an “endorsement” of Mundt. The Argus Leader published Hoover’s letter in full, including the qualifying statement. Mundt’s advertisement left that part out. Did Hoover understand he was assisting Mundt’s re-election? Probably, although my reading of thousands of FBI files has convinced me that Hoover was often unaware of basic context of the memoranda he read and letters he signed. The impact of DeLoach’s carefully-worded letter was certainly enhanced by the way it was interpreted and packaged by a helpful newspaper editor and by Mundt’s campaign.

9780700623242Hoover was very cautious about public relations matters, and he was subjected to some criticism after the pro-Mundt ad ran, criticism the FBI did not take lightly. I wish there was more clarity in the files. The Mundt file includes one memorandum suggesting that the FBI (DeLoach, anyway) was aware that Mundt was facing a difficult re-election campaign. Hoover certainly couldn’t have been surprised that his quote was used in a Mundt campaign advertisement. But there’s no indication that the Bureau orchestrated the “endorsement,” or that it knew Mundt would use the quote in an advertisement. Mundt won reelection in 1960 by a mere 15,000 votes and ultimately retired in 1973, although he suffered a stroke in 1969 and did not attend any Senate sessions during his last several years in office.

The many FBI files I have seen suggest that Hoover, for the most part, stayed out of political campaigns, at least publicly. Bureau public relations officials, in most cases, discouraged efforts to use Hoover’s image or words in campaigns. And in the case of Mundt’s campaign, the careful wording of the Bureau’s response to Christopherson’s letter demonstrates how cautious the Director was on those rare occasions when he did intervene publicly in election-year politics.

So what does this all mean for James Comey? I’m afraid Comey comes out looking bad no matter how one evaluates the precedent set by Hoover. If Comey was merely acting as Hoover sometimes did to influence elections, he was parroting the actions of the most discredited figure in FBI history. If he was acting beyond the cautious precedent set by Hoover, Comey was exceeding even the discredited Hoover’s Machiavellian tendencies. Either way, history provides little help for James Comey, whose enduring legacy will likely be shaped by the interpretation of this one event.

Dr. Matthew Cecil is the Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at Minnesota State University – Mankato. He has published three books with the University Press of Kansas, The Ballad of Ben and Stella Mae, Branding Hoover’s FBI and Hoover’s FBI and the Fourth Estate.

The Vice-Presidential Debate: What’s at Stake?

via Blue Nation Review
via Blue Nation Review

Thursdays from now until the election, we will feature a piece by a UPK author that deals with an aspect of American politics. Today, Joel K. Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency, discuses the importance and possible impact of Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate.

When Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence square off in the vice-presidential debate on October 4, 2016 they will be engaging in an institution that is both unique and important in American government. The debate, which will take place at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., will be the tenth vice-presidential debate over the last 40 years.

The unique quality of a vice-presidential debate comes from several features. The major party presidential candidates typically debate two or three times, but Kaine and Pence will have only one vice-presidential debate, a pattern that has been followed in every presidential campaign beginning with 1976 except 1980. Accordingly, the stakes for the vice-presidential candidates are high; they have no chance to redeem a poor performance as, for instance, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama did in their second debates in 1984 and 2012 respectively.

The debate also presents a novel experience for the running mates. After all, presidential candidates have been debating during the primary season; the vice-presidential candidates have not had that opportunity except in the rare instances where they were unsuccessful presidential candidates that year (John Edwards, 2004; Joe Biden, 2008).

Moreover, the vice-presidential candidates are frequently relatively unknown. It is not unusual for 30% to 50% of the electorate to feel it knows too little about the vice-presidential candidates to have a firm opinion about them. Some surveys suggest that is the case this time. Neither Pence nor Kaine has run for president, served in high visibility roles, or attracted extensive attention (as Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin did).

9780700622023Finally, the focus of the vice-presidential debate is not so much on the two candidates on stage but on the two national candidates who are absent that night, the presidential candidates. The vice-presidential candidates therefore must be conversant regarding their record and that of their counterpart but also with the positions and biography of the two presidential candidates.

These features introduce some interesting dynamics into the debate. Because many voters will not have fixed opinions about them, vice-presidential candidates want to make a good impression in this signature campaign event to help shape the initial public perceptions of them. How they are regarded will affect their utility during the remainder of the campaign and the extent to which the public views them as a plausible president. Accordingly, they want to present themselves in an appealing way which may lead them to minimize the extent to which they attack the opposing ticket. On the other hand, their role is largely to support the party standard-bearer, by echoing his or her themes, defending his/her views, actions and qualifications and attacking those of the opposing presidential candidate. If the vice-presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking about themselves or their opponent, they are probably missing their main mark.

Yet even if the vice-presidential candidates are not entirely the focus of the vice-presidential debate, the vice-presidential debate is an important institution. It gives presidential candidates greater reason to choose a running mate who is able and accomplished and who can perform well under the bright lights of a national campaign. It focuses the spotlight on the second candidates, thereby making it easier for voters to consider them in casting their votes. Thus, the vice-presidential debate contributes to the quality of vice-presidential candidates (and vice presidents) and helps make their election more democratic.

And sometimes the vice-presidential debate makes a difference. In the first debate in 1976, Senator Walter F. Mondale helped, and Senator Bob Dole hurt, his cause. Mondale had themes and presented himself in an appealing way; Dole came across as sarcastic and unfocused. The highlight of the debate came when Dole blamed the Democratic party for all of the wars in the 20th century, prompting Mondale’s rebuke that “Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight, by implying, and stating, that World War II and the Korean War were Democratic wars.” Thereafter, Governor Jimmy Carter routinely cited the Mondale-Dole choice as a reason voters should support him, the Democrats used the vice-presidential choice in campaign ads, and Mondale contributed to Carter’s victory.

Dick Cheney was seen as having bested his rivals in the 2000 and 2004 debates; Senator Joe Lieberman’s unwillingness to attack the Republican ticket vigorously in 2000 was seen as a missed opportunity for the Democrats in a painfully close election.

In 2012, Vice President Joe Biden shifted the momentum in the Democrats’ favor after President Barack Obama had a substandard first debate. Biden ridiculed the positions of Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan and his performance energized the Democratic base.

The Biden-Palin debate outdrew the presidential debates that year, the only time the undercard debate has received such relative prominence. After Palin’s disastrous interview with Katie Couric, many watched the debate anticipating a monumental meltdown. She got through the debate without any such debacle but failed to persuade most Americans that she was qualified to be president. By contrast, Biden provided a masterful performance. Whereas the Pew Research Center found that only 42% thought Palin was qualified to be president (compared to 52% who did not), 77% saw Biden as qualified (as opposed to 16%).

The most famous moment in presidential debate history, of course, occurred in the 1988 vice-presidential debate when Senator Lloyd Bentsen delivered his “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy” putdown to Senator Dan Quayle after the Indiana senator had compared his congressional experience to that of JFK. Quayle had actually done pretty well in the debate, attacking Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as a tax-and-spend liberal. But when the panel of reporters persisted in asking Quayle what he would do if he became president, Quayle misinterpreted the questions as challenging his qualifications and ignored his handlers’ admonition to avoid the JFK comparisons and spoiled an otherwise successful evening. The rest, as they say, is history.

Quayle went on to become vice president and contributed in that role to the George H.W. Bush administration. But he never escaped that dramatic moment and we’re reminded of it every four years about this time as it is replayed again and again.

That provides a cautionary tale for Mssrs. Pence and Kaine as they approach this major event in their national political careers. No matter how well they do in presenting themselves and in sounding campaign themes, celebrating their ticket-mate, and criticizing the opposing presidential candidate, one inopportune moment may prove defining. Or a uniformly impressive performance may enhance their stature and their ticket’s prospects.

By Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law, Saint Louis University School of Law

Decoding the 2016 Elections

9780700622764Election campaigns this year are playing by new rules. The 2016 presidential nominating conventions clearly demonstrated that many voters are profoundly angry with politics as usual. Republicans primary voters bypassed even Tea Party candidates to nominate Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent, won both delegates and platform concessions from Hillary Clinton. The alienated in both parties show deep dissatisfaction with elected officials, whom they view as ineffective and nonresponsive.

At the same time, campaigns have become increasingly expensive. Candidates spend too much of their time raising money. Often, they seek to please potential donors more than their constituents.

The Citizen United and McCutcheon court cases have drastically affected 21st century campaigns. Not only have limits on spending by interest groups been eliminated, but SuperPAC donors remain secret and flood campaigns with “dark money. Our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century, explains how grassroots campaigns can win despite these obstacles. It also decodes behind the scenes changes in the 2016 elections.

A strong candidate with avid volunteers can still win votes with little money. The first thousand votes are cheap ‑ almost free ‑ because as much as five percent of the vote is obtained just by getting your candidate’s name on the ballot. The next few thousand votes require financing a headquarters, staff, and publicity. Toward the end of a close race, advertising extras like radio or television ads and direct mail must be bought.  In today’s elections, however, there are additional costs in purchasing data analytic and technological expertise in managing social media, as well as purchasing Internet platforms and ads.

Comparing today’s elections from those of the past, the Internet and related technology cannot be overlooked. The technology developed by national campaigns is now used in local campaigns to interact with their potential supporters to get volunteers, donations, and votes. Planning an online campaign begins by building an integrated system with traditional and online campaign components reinforcing each other. The major technological components of a twenty-first century participatory campaign include a campaign webpage, blogs, email lists, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social media and bloggers have influence, so campaigns develop ways to monitor and respond to them. Knowing this, Donald Trump conducted his successful primary campaign mainly through use of often-hourly tweets. He sent more than 5,000 tweets in the first few months and had millions of views by the time of the early primaries.

Data analytics, information on voters gathered through social media data, is also having a major effect on present-day campaigns. Even local campaigns now use cookie-targeted online advertising to reach voters. Campaigns market their candidate online just like any other product.

Online politics brings both benefits and  problems to voters and candidates. A candidate with no gravitas can use a catchy campaign to gain notoriety, displacing a worthy candidate with less online presence. This accounts for Donald Trump’s success in winning the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

The Internet and social media have become a permanent part of modern political campaigns. Wise use of digital media gives an edge to a candidate, enabling anyone to interact with them.  Smart campaigns use social media to reach voters inexpensively.

As we recount in Winning Elections in the 21st Century, campaigns at even the most local level cost more than even the most expensive campaigns twenty years ago. Yet, raising money other than in Internet appeals is much the same.  The candidate still has to meet and call donors for hours every single day.

Today’s campaigns are digital, with websites, voter analytics, and social media.  Digital technologies make it possible to select which voters to contact and how best to approach them; sending information cheaply to them through the Internet.  But the simple principle behind this is the same since the days of Abraham Lincoln.  Find your favorable voters, get them to the polls, and you win the election.

Some of these new campaign trends boost voter information and participation.  Some negative aspects threaten democracy.  All these techniques, both the good and the bad, are now coming to local campaigns. Digital media is evolving quickly, so it is critical that it be harnessed to improve informed, democratic participation. This is a major challenge, not only for the Clinton and Trump campaigns, but for candidates running for town council, school board, or state legislature.  No matter how crazy this election becomes under the new rules of the game, the end must be to improve, not undermine, our democracy.

-Written by Betty O’Shaughnessy & Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Highlights UPK Author Donald A. Zinman

Donald Zinman, author of “The Heir Apparent Presidency,” offers this piece for The Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage.”  Zinman speaks on timely political issues including challenges Hillary Clinton faces as she races to win the presidential election.  As he writes, “If elected, Clinton, too, will most certainly have to correct something in Obama’s policy legacy, either because it’s malfunctioning or unpopular.”

The Daily Caller and The Guardian Spotlight Hawley’s “Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism”

9780700621934George Hawley, author of Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism,” is featured in articles by The Daily Caller and The Guardian. The Guardian states, “Hawley’s book is one of the best places to begin to understand what’s happening not only in America, but, by extension, throughout the English-speaking world.”