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Executive Orders: The Famous, The Infamous & The Ridiculous

Critics call them "legislation by other means." Supporters defend them as a necessary tool for leading the country "“ especially in the face of a Congress unwilling or unable to make tough choices. Whatever your position, the Executive Order has been used by presidents for good, for ill, and sometimes for just plain odd reasons.

Constitutional Basis

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution contains a vague reference to executive orders, giving the president the power to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed." Strict constructionists interpret this phrase to empower the president only to enact laws approved by Congress, but presidents have shown a remarkable mental flexibility to overcome this potential obstacle. Executive orders have covered every topic from school desegregation, to starting wars, to providing political supporters with cushy government positions.

These orders went largely unchecked until President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 10340, which placed all U.S. steel mills under Federal control. The Supreme Court ruled that Truman had overstepped his authority because he attempted to make law rather than clarify an existing piece of legislation. Justice Hugo Black, concerned that his majority opinion had offended the President (which it had), invited Truman over for dinner. Truman, overcome by the Justice's hospitality, remarked, "Hugo, I don't much care for your law, but, by golly, this bourbon is good."

Since then, presidents have exercised more restraint and usually cite specific laws when signing an Executive Order. Once signed, however, they carry the power of law and compel all U.S. citizens, agencies, and businesses to follow them.

Famous, Infamous & Ridiculous Executive Orders

You might have read about these executive orders in Mrs. Snodergrape's 11th grade history class. Unfortunately, Mrs. Snodergrape usually left out the most interesting tidbits.

Emancipation Proclamation: Perhaps the most famous of all executive orders, the Proclamation freed all slaves living in the Confederacy. (It did not, however, free slaves in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia "“ states that permitted slavery, but had not seceded from the Union.)

The Proclamation was actually President Lincoln's last attempt to bring the Civil War to a speedy close. His first desire was to save the Union, not to end slavery. In July 1862, Lincoln drafted a "Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation" that announced he would free the slaves in any territory still under rebellion on January 1, 1863. Theoretically, states that ceased hostilities and returned to the Union before that date could still practice slavery. Following the Confederacy's disastrous defeat at Antietam in September, Lincoln issued this preliminary Proclamation. He hoped that the defeat would convince the South they could not win the war, and as a concession to a quick surrender, they would be allowed to keep their slaves. The Confederacy did not surrender, so Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day. Although it freed few slaves at the time, it did clarify a moral cause for the war and dashed any hopes of the Confederacy receiving support from France or Great Britain.

WPA-poster.jpg
New Deal: Unemployment had reached 25%. Commodity prices had dropped by 60%, and the stock market had shed 85% of its value. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came on the scene facing the biggest crisis since the Civil War. Launched to the presidency through the promise of a "New Deal," Roosevelt grounded his recovery program in the Works Progress Administration, enacted by E.O. 7034 in 1935. The WPA built upon the hugely popular Civilian Conservation Corps, and provided work to an estimated 8.5 million people. In its eight years, it built over 600,000 miles of roads, 125,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 850 airport landing fields. The WPA also employed painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers. The result: 2,500 murals, 17,500 pieces of sculpture, 34 new orchestras, 2,000 public service posters and the American Guide series—the most complete travel guide to the United States ever published.

[WPA poster courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

Desegregation of the Armed Forces: In February 1948, a hopeful President Harry S. Truman sent Congress a 10-point proposal on extending civil rights to African-Americans. Included in that plan was a proposal to desegregate the military and phase out the all-black units dating back to the Civil War. He vastly underestimated the reaction of his fellow Democrats, who that July seceded from the Democratic Party and formed the Dixiecrat Party with Strom Thurmond as its nominee for president. Less than two weeks later, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, "[declaring it] to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." By 1953, 95% of all African-American service members had been integrated into previously all-white units.

Japanese-American Internment: "Tora! Tora! Tora!" The lead Japanese plane radioed to headquarters to indicate total surprise had been achieved at Pearl Harbor. The United States and Japan were at war; the nation was afraid and was convinced Japanese spies lurked everywhere. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans. Taken mostly from the West Coast, approximately 60% of those interned were American citizens, denied the right of habeas corpus and torn away from their homes for the simple crime of having Japanese ancestry. A commission later determined that E.O. 9066 was the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

Indian Reservations: In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act, which empowered the government to remove, by force if necessary, Native Americans from their ancestral homelands to less desirable locations further west. This policy quickly took a back seat to the Civil War, but President Ulysses S. Grant created dozens of reservations. Some tribes went peacefully, while others, like the Sioux, waged a bitter fight. Eventually, over 300 reservations were created, most in extremely inhospitable areas that nobody else wanted.

What's the point of being President if you can't do a little bit of whatever you want to do? These executive orders have historians scratching their heads and saying, "huh?"

TPS.jpgExecutive Orders Spelled Out: TPS reports got you down? In what might have been advance press for the movie Office Space, President Herbert Hoover signed E.O. 5658 on June 24, 1931. This executive order is about "“ you guessed it "“ executive orders. It lays out all the helpful details you need to know about grammar, spelling, margins, selecting a title, and even what size paper to use (8 ½ x 11). At least there wasn't anything important going on at the time like, you know, the Great Depression.

Patronage: Is that civil service exam too hard? Not a problem if you've got friends in high places. Presidents have frequently used executive orders to award jobs. Theodore Roosevelt seemed particularly fond of this hiring practice, doling out over two dozen jobs to clerks, engineers, doctors, and administrators. Of note, his Executive Order of June 23, 1904, appointed Dr. William L. Ralph as curator of the section of birds' eggs in the National Museum, and his E.O. of November 2, 1903, made Mrs. Roy L. Quackenbush a permanent clerk in the Post Office.

Torch Hunting: Back in the good ol' days, when men were men, those manly men liked to go hunting. At night. With torches. Apparently this was such a widespread epidemic in the Panama Canal Zone (then a U.S. possession) that it rose to the desk of President Woodrow Wilson. E.O. 1884 made the use of hunting with a "lantern, torch, bonfire, or other artificial light" a misdemeanor. Wilson apparently had a fascination with the day-to-day operations of the Panama Canal Zone; he signed executive orders covering hiring, anti-corruption efforts, telegraph and wireless services, and postal crimes. He also signed E.O. 2526, which forbade any persons of Chinese descent from entering the Panama Canal, punishable by a $500 fine and up to one year in prison.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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