Bruce Buchanan

Nov. 22 marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which served to solidify him as an icon in American history and to protect him from the criticisms that other presidents often face, according to experts on campus.

Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963 during a Dallas parade.

Journalism professor Bill Minutaglio co-authored “Dallas 1963,” which documents the political unrest during Kennedy’s administration. Minutaglio said in the years and months leading up to Kennedy’s assassination, a few small but powerful groups of people held extremist anti-Kennedy views, but many people today want to deny that there was such a high level of anger in the public discourse.

Minutaglio said the majority of people did not hold these extremist views.

“People want to paint Dallas in black and white terms,” Minutaglio said. “There were a lot of people who liked the president and there were a lot of people who disagreed vehemently, but they respected the office.”

Government professor Bruce Buchanan said Dallas still deals with the aftermath of the presidential assassination.

“Dallas is still consumed by [the Kennedy assassination],” Buchanan said. “I’m not sure that it’s fair for [Dallas] to be the city that killed Kennedy.”

Buchanan said like many young people, he liked Kennedy in part because he portrayed the government in a positive way. When Kennedy was assassinated, Buchanan was a college freshman.

“One of the things that it brought to a young person like me is the impermanence of things,” Buchanan said. “Life is fragile.”

History senior lecturer Penne Restad said traumatic events like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Kennedy’s assassination are secured in people’s minds by families’ stories and images by the media.

“The effects persist and are burnished over time, deeply embedded in our national identity,” Restad said. “I think unless you were watching television or in some ways aware of the day as it happened, it is difficult to understand the profound trauma of Kennedy’s assassination,” Restad said. “We understand it now only as it is reflected in the media. We don’t and cannot experience it as the nation did at the time.”

Buchanan said Kennedy’s multifaceted public image was one reason why the exalted idea of Kennedy has persisted. 

“You have this young, handsome president being witty and self-deprecating and charming at press conferences, but then giving speeches that we had better get in bomb shelters because it could be all over,” Buchanan said. “The yin and yang of that psychologically — the emotional roller coaster of that kind of experience — can imprint a president in one’s psyche, especially if that president later goes on to be assassinated.”

According to Buchanan, Kennedy often ranks near Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but he does not think Kennedy’s merits justify such a high status. 

“It indicates the extent to which this experience canonized Kennedy,” Buchanan said. “Most experts would grade Kennedy as a B- or C+ president,”

Buchanan said had Kennedy lived, he probably would have been subject to the disrespect and low approval ratings that second-term presidents often suffer. Kennedy’s assassination turned him into a permanent icon, Buchanan said. 

According to Buchanan, Kennedy was president during a time when the U.S. faced some of the most serious dangers the nation has ever faced. He said Kennedy successfully managed the nation’s relationship with the Soviets through peace-seeking efforts while fighting off his own military high command who expected to have a war with them.

“It is striking how high Kennedy still stands in the esteem of Americans who were alive at that time,” Buchanan said.

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will meet on stage for the first time Wednesday night to debate domestic and economic policy.

The first of three scheduled presidential debates is expected to focus primarily on the economy, although health care and the role of government will likely be discussed. It is unclear whether public or higher education will be discussed during the 90-minute debate.

Both candidates have identified a need to address the rising cost of college tuition but have put forth different strategies to do so.

Obama’s plan for higher education has centered on making college more affordable for middle class students by expanding Pell Grants, maintaining low interest rates on student loans and strengthening community colleges.

Romney’s higher education platform includes a call for simplifying the federal financial aid system, encouraging private sector participation and replacing regulation with competition.

Government professor Bruce Buchanan said this debate holds special implications for Romney because Obama is maintaining a narrow but consistent lead in most battleground states.

“I think the debate’s very important, especially for the person that’s behind, which happens to be Gov. Romney at the moment,” Buchanan said. “He’s got a tough assignment, because on the one hand he’s got to forcefully make his case in terms of policy while disagreeing with the president’s policy, but on the other hand not be perceived as disrespectful to the president.”

The debate, held at the University of Denver, is set to begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday and will be moderated by journalist Jim Lehrer. The following two presidential debates will take place Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.

Printed on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 as: Obama and Romney to face off in first debate

Early voter turnout for the Texas runoffs in Travis County is looking to be lower than early voting in the May primaries. This trend is not new and some expect voter turnout for the runoffs to be lower than usual.

According to the Travis County Elections Division, of the 597,479 registered voters in Travis County, only 13,478 people voted in the available 48 locations, 2,226 by mail. About 36,000 people voted in the May primaries. Current data suggests only 2.63 percent of the eligible voting population voted from July 23, when early voting opened, through Thursday, July 26.

Government professor Bruce Buchanan said he is not very surprised by the low turnout, given the 11 percent turnout for the primaries.

“People who vote in the primaries are faithful in American politics and know that their vote is important,” Buchanan said. “Sadly, most people don’t realize that because they don’t care or think that they can make a difference, usually due to a poor understanding of politics instilled in them from school.”

Buchanan said he expects the runoff election numbers to stay lower than the primary numbers, as they have historically been.

Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said numbers for this year’s runoff elections are expected to be even lower than usual.

“The election date being pushed back into a heavy vacationing time has resulted in voter fatigue and confusion,” Acuña said. “A lack of understanding of how the process works also doesn’t help, as some people who vote in the primaries might not realize that they still need to vote in the actual runoffs.”

Acuña said a lot of people also view the primaries as being more important because that is when a lot of the big issue are fleshed out.

“That’s not to say that they are more important,” she said. “That’s just what people do.”

Former Student Government president Natalie Butler said in a column for The Alcalde that anyone who cares about UT should care about the outcome of the elections.

“Elected officials in Texas, especially the state legislature, governor and lieutenant governor, have a profound influence over The University of Texas at Austin,” she said. “They determine everything from our funding and leadership to admissions and safety policies.”

Early voting ends today, and the full statistics won’t be released until Friday night. The last day to vote in the runoff election is July 31.

Businessman Herman Cain makes a point as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, left, listens during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Monday. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Seven candidates squared off Monday in the first Republican primary debate, answering questions about unemployment, the federal debt, health care, foreign policy and social issues.

Republican presidential candidates in the first primary debate Monday mostly needed to present solutions to current economic woes, said UT government professor Bruce Buchanan. He also said the race remains unusually contentious.

“Usually the Republicans begin with a clear front-runner who has waited his turn,” Buchanan said. “This time we don’t have that. We have a real harsh race and a more fractured electorate.”

According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted June 8-11, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney currently leads the pack. Of the 851 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents surveyed, 24 percent prefer him over other candidates.

Romney needs to prove himself as a leader that can unite the party, Buchanan said.

“Romney’s challenge is to try to prove himself as a front-runner, both by how he does in the debate and by speaking inclusively about Republicans, not singling out anyone to attack,” he said.

At the debate, Republicans proposed to improve the economy by cutting business taxes, softening business regulation and allowing more drilling for oil and natural gas. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stressed the need for Congress to act immediately on high unemployment.

“They ought to start creating jobs right now, because for those 14 million Americans [who are unemployed], this a depression now,” he said

Congress has until Aug. 2 to raise the debt ceiling. Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who announced at the debate that she has officially filed paperwork required to run, said Congress should not raise the debt ceiling without deep spending cuts.

Romney differentiated health care reform he supported as Massachusetts governor from national health care reform. He said the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, costing over a trillion dollars, was simply too high a cost considering the nation’s debt.

“Ours was a state plan, a state solution, and if people don’t like it in our state, they can change it,” he said.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said he is against bombing operations in Yemen and Pakistan, opposed U.S. participation in the NATO operation in Libya and supports quickly withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We should learn the lessons of history, and the longer we’re there, the worse things are and the more danger we’re in as well,” he said.

Lauren Pierce, president of College Republicans at UT, said it is too early to determine who the best candidate is, given that many candidates may drop out and many may not have officially filed yet.

“No one’s really too excited about who’s running right now, which is kind of disappointing,” she said. “A lot of it is grassroots candidates, Tea Party candidates and candidates who attempted in the past and were unsuccessful.”

Pierce said her top priority issues included the economy and various foreign policy issues such as foreign aid, the U.S. relationship with Israel and immigration.

“The economy is going to be important because we don’t want to graduate and then not be able to get a job,” she said.