Hoover? Damn!

George W. Bush’s failures may have set off a tectonic shift in US presidential politics, commencing a Democratic Party reign
By STEVEN STARK  |  October 9, 2008

081010_tote-main

It doesn’t matter how many negative ads are broadcast or how many moose are slain on the tundra, candidates and their actions don’t transform our politics nearly as much as outside events and circumstances do. Thus, if Barack Obama ends up winning a substantial victory next month, it may as much mark a revolutionary turning of the page in our politics as it would be a triumph for him. A decisive Obama win could have profound effects for at least a generation, ushering in a new political era marked by Democratic Party dominance (and triggered by the failures of George W. Bush).

Our presidential politics tend to be fairly consistent, divisible into eras clearly defined by national traumas that radically redraw party lines. The Civil War not only gave birth to the Republican Party, for instance. It also launched a long era during which the GOP’s supremacy on the presidential level was rarely challenged. Of 18 elections held from 1860 through 1928, the GOP won 14. The Republicans lost only when the Democrats nominated an extremely conservative candidate (Grover Cleveland — who won twice) or when the Republicans split themselves in half (1912, with the effects extending to the 1916 election).

But the Great Depression redefined the political landscape (with an assist from Herbert Hoover’s initial bumbling reaction to the crisis), giving the Democrats the upper hand in almost a mirror image of what had previously transpired. From 1932 through 1964, the Democrats won seven of nine elections. They ultimately lost power in that period after the GOP nominated Dwight Eisenhower, an apolitical national hero whose ideology was so amorphous that even the Democrats had sought him as a national candidate shortly before he began his political career as a Republican.

In 1968 the political map again dramatically changed, when the unrest caused by the Vietnam War — combined with conservative reaction to the civil-rights revolution — gave the Republicans another demographic and cultural advantage. Beginning in that year and continuing until our most recent election, the Republicans have won eight of 11 presidential contests. Modern Republican dominance has, in fact, been broken only when both the Democrats nominated a more conservative candidate from the GOP’s southern base (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) and when the GOP was either split in half (thanks to the candidacy of H. Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996) or the nation was facing the aftermath of the only presidential resignation in history (1976, following the bowing out of Richard Nixon two years before).

History in the making?
Statistics confirm the uphill road Democrats have faced in every election in this modern era. Since 1968, the party’s presidential nominees have polled above 50 percent just once — in 1976, and then only barely.

If 2008 were to follow that pattern, Barack Obama — from the northern, liberal wing of his party — would seem to have little chance to win. Even if he could somehow upset the recent trend, history suggests that he couldn’t garner much more than 50 percent of the vote. But that may happen this year. And if it does, it could signal that a new era of Democratic political dominance, last seen in the 1960s, has arrived.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Stark Ravings , Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Grover Cleveland,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY STEVEN STARK
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MAPPING OUT THE NEW YEAR'S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE  |  December 29, 2010
    MAPPING OUT THE NEW YEAR'S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
  •   DEMOCRATS AGAINST OBAMA  |  November 03, 2010
    Now that the midterm wipeout has concluded, analysts are already sizing up the GOP challengers to a weakened Barack Obama. Not only that: some Democratic party elders are considering the once-unthinkable scenario of a debilitating challenge to Barack Obama from inside his party.
  •   THE INDEPENDENT HERD  |  October 06, 2010
    The big news in this election cycle is the rise of the Tea Party. Fair enough. But passing under the radar is an accompanying development that could have even more far-reaching consequences — the rise of an emboldened third force in our politics.
  •   THE AMERICAN IDOL PARTY  |  September 23, 2010
    Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell might not turn out to be good candidates, but they make great television.
  •   HAS OBAMA PEAKED? YES, HE HAS  |  November 12, 2009
    To listen to some pundits, Barack Obama's public image began taking a serious beating when the off-year election returns came in a week ago. Or maybe it was the undeserved Nobel Prize, his approach to the war in Afghanistan, or when he revved up his pursuit of national health-care reform.

 See all articles by: STEVEN STARK