A lot has been made of the supposed move of the federal government into liberalism or even further into socialism. People who are actually liberal or socialist laugh at this assertion, as did conservatives when people felt that the government under George W. Bush was moving to far in the conservative and even into the fascist arenas.
The truth about national politics today and for the last 60 years (the conclusion of World War Two) is that the federal government has stayed pretty much a centrist government much like the people of the United States.
When you look at all the men who have served as president you can't point to one single man as being wholly liberal or conservative. The fact is that when you look at our style of politics, we have a vast middle ground and then on the fringes we have liberalism and conservatism. Even further out on the fringes, barely even noticeable, are the socialists and fascists. There have been moves to both the right and the left with each president but those moves have never fully led a president out of the circle of centrism.
Starting with Harry Truman he became president after Franklin Roosevelt died. He had no foreign policy experience and was fairly horrible in his domestic policy as well. He did try to keep the New Deal alive with the Fair Deal which appeased some liberals, but his foreign policy drove liberals away until 1948. In the run-up for the presidential race of 1948, liberals were looking for anyone not named Truman. One of the first men they approached was Dwight Eisenhower, he had decided not to run so liberals eventually settled on Henry Wallace who was running on the Progressive Party Ballot. Wallace was Vice President under Roosevelt until being removed in favor Truman. But Wallace was just a little too receptive of the Soviet Union for many liberals who ended up voting for the "lesser of two evils".
Under Truman's tenure the country actually moved a little more to the center after being slightly left of center under Roosevelt.
Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower became our next president in 1952. He has been described as being very cool on politics. One might even call him politically agnostic. But when you look at his tenure as president; through his his domestic policy and foreign policy he effectively put the country as close to the center as you could imagine.
His domestic policy was liberal as he kept many of the programs from the New Deal and the Fair Deal in place. His foreign policy was conservative as we fully see Containment Policy come into play. Containment Policy, for those who don't know, was the act of the United States attempting to keep Communist Soviet Union at bay.
This trend on domestic policies and foreign policies would actually continue through the administrations of Kennedy and Johnson, though to be fair both Kennedy and Johnson would actually tilt a little back to the left with the actions in Vietnam, which historically speaking, those presidents considered to be left of center have started the most wars. Just looking from World War 1 through Vietnam all our major military actions were started by left of center presidents: World War 1 by Woodrow Wilson, World War 2 by Franklin Roosevelt, Korean War by Harry Truman, Vietnam Conflict by Lyndon Johnson and by extension John Kennedy.
Under Johnson the federal government moved a little more to the left with his "Great Society" movement.
Richard Nixon has long been believed to be the cause of the great turn to the right in American politics. When you look at what he did, though, he moved the country right but only back to the center and a little to the right. In foreign affairs he went back to the Containment Policy and got us out of Vietnam. But even with that move the shift to the right was dulled when he became the first sitting president to visit China. That was a purely classical liberal move. In domestic affairs he too kept most of the programs that were still running from the New Deal and Fair Deal.
After his resignation, Ford pretty much kept Nixon's policies.
Carter's Administration is harder to classify as both his domestic and foreign policies were very unclear and even 30 years later political scientists still can't pin down where he stood.
From 1980-2008 politics pretty much stayed the same. There was a clear shift to the right under Reagan and Bush but still within the circle of Centrism. Under Clinton there was another move back to the left but only to about the center of the circle maybe a little to the left but not much. Under George W. Bush we see yet another shift to the right but not nearly as far is believed.
Now that Obama has taken office there has been a rush to declare that Obama has pushed the federal government far to the left. It really isn't the case and most of the information used as proof just hasn't happened. Obama is still in his first year of office so to declare whether he has pushed the federal government in any direction is very premature. Bush left office in January and as he declared only history can judge him.
But the long and short of it for most of our history our federal government has been a Centrist government. True liberalism and true conservatism have never found homes in the White House and probably never will.