Friday, March 18, 2016

'The More Things Change In American Politics.....

...the more they just keep changing'.

We saw this animation showing how voting patterns changed over time in American history starting from the beginning. It is worth taking 2.5 minutes to watch it. (click through title link if you can't see it in this format)

The one thing that jumps out at you if you are any student of American political history is how voting patterns have changed over time and are still continuing to change.

Even as we speak right now.

We are experiencing tectonic shifts in American voting behavior right now during these presidential primaries that adherents of both sides of the political spectrum are either failing to recognize or refusing to recognize such as the case might be.

For example, it was probably 'impossible' for Federalists in 1800 to believe that less than 20 years in the future, their beloved Federalist Party would completely cease to exist. Similarly, it was 'impossible' for the National Republican Party of John Adams and Henry Clay in 1828 to imagine that less than 8 years in the future, their party would be destroyed and essentially replaced by the new Whig Party. Which lasted only 20 years until Lincoln helped reform remnants of the Whigs and National Republican Party under the banner of the new Republican Party which is essentially the structure we see today.

Except 'those' Republicans were very high tariff protectionists whereas modern-day Republicans are fairly considered to be open trade, laissez-faire advocates.

Which is where the rub starts between current conservative Republicans and Donald Trump, their leading vote and delegate-leader in the GOP primaries so far. He favors very high tariffs in retaliation for unfair trade practices and huge surpluses with our trading partners, which, of course, he says he is going to fix anyway through new negotiations so there no longer be huge trade imbalances between the United States and the rest of the world, namely China and Mexico.

Has the Republican Party come full circle back to the days of John Adams and Henry Clay when it comes to tariffs, or just back to the protectionist stance favored by Republicans during the McKinley years?

The point of all this is just to show how dynamic, as opposed to static, American politics has been over the years. 'Classical liberals' (free enterprise, free traders) become conservatives who beget protectionists, somehow. Strong Democratic defense hawks (JFK) beget a party of isolationism and retreat from the world stage. 'Balanced budget advocates' such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt become progenitors of Big Government welfare statism and 'balanced budget Republican conservatives' of the 1980's and '90's become feeders of government spending and expansion in the first decade of the 21st century.

One thing that has been true more often than not in American presidential politics has been that is has been a personality contest from the beginning.

Think there was a lot of love for George Washington after leading the young nation to victory over the dreaded British? Think there was a lot of love for General Ulysses S Grant (the 'S' stood for nothing; his name was 'Hiram Ulysses' and 'H.U. Grant' didn't sound as good as 'U.S.' did at the time) when he ran in 1868 just 3 years after keeping the Union together?
'Mix 1 part policy with 6 parts personality
and you got a presidential candidate!'

Combine 'personality' with a few important issues such as 'immigration' and 'jobs' and you get Donald Trump. It is almost like mixing up Kool-Aid it seems so simple put that way.

What we are most likely seeing right now in both established political parties is a fracturing and perhaps splintering of both into new factions. There is the very left-wing part of the Democratic Party and the more traditional Democratic coalition that started post-Watergate. There is the right-wing social conservative wing of the Republican Party that started to form in the 1980's under the Moral Majority umbrella headed by Reverend Jerry Falwell and the more fiscally-conscious, business friendly, strong national defense coalition that has always been considered to be the core of Republican politics dating back at least a century.

As the extremes on both sides have gained power and the upper-hand in primaries and then win the general election, both parties are now more heavily represented by people who are maybe 3-4 standard deviations from the mean on the political philosophical scale.

Yet the vast majority of Americans, perhaps 80%+, still consider themselves to be around the middle politically, not more than 1 and maybe 2 standard deviations from the mean on any issue. They tend to be self-described 'socially libertarian/fiscally conservative and responsible' voters who don't really get too ginned up about politics on a second-by-second basis.

And they feel completely ignored and un-listened to by leadership in both major parties today. (emphasis added)
Mainly because they have lives to live that are far more interesting and important than listening to Rush Limbaugh and Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly and Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck and Josh Earnest of the Obama White House all day long.

They just want their elected leaders to go to Washington, do their jobs, solve the big problems, shut up and come home. They don't like or admire the finger-pointing; the blame-game; the political posturing; the 'promise' that 'just help elect a few more of us and we will stop Obamacare!' or any of the childish, puerile and sometimes just flat-out ignorant statements our elected leaders put out on a daily basis.

These are the people who have left both the Democratic and Republican parties in the last decade such to the point that some observers are predicting that Independent/Unaffiliated voter will make up close to 50% of the registered vote across the entire state of North Carolina by 2020.

I had 3 people call me last week to ask how they could re-register as Independents. 2 left the GOP; 1 left the Democratic Party.

Maybe it is these people who are fueling the coming mitosis of both the Democratic and Republican Party.

Or maybe these Independents are just looking for a new leader to help reform and corral them into a new political party much as Henry Clay led the advent of the Whigs in the middle 19th century out of the rib of the National Republican Party.

Either way, things are going to be very different from now on. The older Baby Boomers who love to fight and argue about everything (even if it means getting absolutely nothing done on anything important in a bi-partisan manner) who were part of the old Democratic coalitions of the 70's and 80's and the GOP Reagan coalition of the 80's and 90's are going to be more and more marginalized by younger generations of Gen-Xers and Millennials who look at our generation with mouths agape and wonder why we have never gotten anything done except to pass all these problems on to them to deal with, and in the case of the $20 trillion national debt, to pay for.

Because we are really stupid, I guess is the only answer.

'So why not try 'Feel the Bern' Bernie Sanders or 'The Donald' Donald Trump'? many people seem to be saying nowadays. 'The political pros have gotten nothing done. What do we really have to lose anyway?'

Things in politics do not stay the same as time goes on which disproves the French aphorism 'plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

In American politics, the more they change, the more they just keep changing.

We'll have to see where this iteration takes us all. But it won't be back to where we were before 2016, that is for sure.
***Here's an extremely brief summary of the 'great issues' that were at stake in each election in American history: (winner in parentheses) 

Most elections came down to 3 things: 1) the personality of the candidates vis-a-vis the other candidate(s) in the race for the White House at the time; 2) a referendum on the most recent previous Administration and 3) 1-2 solid issues of some great or grave magnitude (slavery, war, recessions, etc)
  • 1789- (Washington) Will George Washington run or not?
  • 1792- (Washington) Will George Washington run again or not?
  • 1796- (Adams) Democracy vs. centralized government in Washington; Jay Treaty with Great Britain; decentralized agrarian republic vs one built on commerce and industry.
  • 1800- (Jefferson) Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist. Adams administration’s foreign, defense, and internal security policies; naval buildup; creation of a standing army; freedom of speech; deficit spending by the federal government.
  • 1804- (Jefferson) 1803 Louisiana Purchase; reduction of federal spending; repeal of excise tax on whiskey; Federalists broke apart, no real opposition
  • 1808- (Madison) Embargo Act of 1807; economic recession
  • 1812- (Madison) War of 1812. Virginia’s control of White House; defense of  New York frontier vs British in Canada
  • 1816- (Monroe) Succession of Virginia presidents; Hartford Convention of 1814; Bank of United States; Federalists fielded no real opposition
  • 1820- (Monroe) James Monroe faced no organized opposition for reelection in 1820; Federalist Party ceased to exist.
  • 1824- (John Quincy Adams) Republican party broke apart in the 1824 election. 'Corrupt Bargain' broke out.
  • 1828- (Jackson) Jackson’s Democratic-Republicans had first national network of party organizations. National-Republicans, party of John Adams/Henry Clay platform: high tariffs, federal funding of roads, canals, and other internal improvements, aid to domestic manufactures, and development of cultural institutions.
  • 1832 (Jackson) Political patronage,tariffs, federal funding of internal improvements; Jackson’s veto of the rechartering of the Bank of the United States; abuse of executive power.
  • 1836 (Van Buren) Referendum on Andrew Jackson
  • 1840 (William Henry Harrison) Second National Bank and internal improvements
  • 1844 (Polk) Expansion of territory, slavery, abolition
  • 1848 (Taylor) Slavery and territorial expansion
  • 1852 (Pierce) Slavery and territorial expansion
  • 1856 (Buchanan) Slavery
  • 1860 (Lincoln) Ban on slavery in the territories, internal improvements, a homestead act, a Pacific railroad, and a tariff.
  • 1864 (Lincoln) Prosecution of Civil War
  • 1868 (Grant) Management of Reconstruction and black suffrage
  • 1872 (Grant) Civil service reform, laissez-faire liberalism, end to Reconstruction, protection of black rights.
  • 1876 (Hayes) End to Reconstruction, scandals under Grant Administration
  • 1880 (Garfield) Equivocation on the currency issue; civil service reform, generous pensions for veterans, exclusion of Chinese immigrants. The Republicans called for protective tariffs; the Democrats favored tariffs 'for revenue only'.
  • 1884 (Cleveland) Civil service reform; totally nasty campaign 'Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?'
  • 1888 (Benjamin Harrison) Republicans became party of high tariffs; Northern veterans, angered by Cleveland’s veto of pension legislation and decision to return Confederate battle flags.
  • 1892 (Cleveland) Republicans supported ever-increasing tariff rates; Democrats demanded import taxes for revenue only. Third party Populists wanted government ownership of railroads and monetary reform
  • 1896 (McKinley) Sound money; gold standard; high tariffs; silver coinage; 'Cross of Gold' 
  • 1900 (McKinley) Free coinage of silver; imperialism overseas
  • 1904 (Teddy Roosevelt) Trust-busting; gold vs silver coinage; advent of progressivism
  • 1908 (Taft) Roosevelt's legacy' anti-trust issues.
  • 1912 (Wilson) 2 brands of progressivism; Wilson’s New Freedom anti-monopoly policies; return to small-scale business. 'Bull Moose Party' Roosevelt’s New Nationalism interventionist state with strong regulatory powers
  • 1916 (Wilson) Staying out of WWI; progressivism
  • 1920 (Harding) Conservatism vs progressivism; law-and-order; 'return to normalcy'
  • 1924 (Coolidge) Fiscal conservatism versus social progressivism; higher taxes on the wealthy, conservation, direct election of the president, and the ending of child labor.  
  • 1928 (Hoover) Anti-Catholicism; Prohibition, old-fashioned rural values. 'A chicken for every pot and a car in every garage'
  • 1932 (FDR) Repeal of Prohibition; reduction in federal spending (Democrat platform); referendum on Hoover regarding management of Great Depression; balanced budget and gold standard
  • 1936 (FDR) Big government; burgeoning welfare state; progress of New Deal
  • 1940 (FDR) Interventionalism into WWII vs. isolationalism
  • 1944 (FDR) WWII; FDR health; stand on communism; shape of postwar world. Issue of president serving four terms. 
  • 1948 (Truman) Civil rights, progressivism
  • 1952 (Eisenhower) Isolationism vs. internationalism; Korean War, communism, inflation
  • 1956 (Eisenhower) Foreign policy; prosperity; nuclear testing, Suez Canal crisis
  • 1960 (JFK) 'Missile Gap'; foreign policy; Catholicism of Kennedy
  • 1964 (LBJ) Vietnam, bombing of North Vietnam, dismantling of Social Security; social reform, New Frontier
  • 1968 (Nixon)  Vietnam War, civil rights; protests; Chicago Democratic Convention; law and order; 'secret plan to end Vietnam War'.
  • 1972 (Nixon) End to Vietnam War; inflation; unemployment; Watergate happened
  • 1976 (Carter) Ford pardon of Nixon; 'outsider' of Washington versus 'insider'
  • 1980 (Reagan) Inflation, unemployment, Iranian hostage crisis
  • 1984 (Reagan) 'Morning in America'; peace and prosperity
  • 1988 (Bush 41) Peace, economic stability; continuation of Reagan policies; Willie Horton ads
  • 1992 (Clinton) Economic recession; Iraq War I
  • 1996 (Clinton) Economic expansion, peace, 'war dividend'
  • 2000 (Bush 43) 'Compassionate conservatism', aftermath of Clinton impeachment
  • 2004 (Bush 43) Bush tax cuts; 'Swift Boating' of John Kerry
  • 2008 (Obama) First African-American president; economic collapse; 'Hope and Change'
  • 2012 (Obama) Referendum on Obama years
  • 2016 (?)
* for a more full reading go to

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