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The Political Spectrum from 1945-1980

Posted Wednesday, October 28, 2009, at 12:50 PM

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.


Comments
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Interesting read. I do see an issue that could cause confusion for some people. You speak of a "circle of centrism", and claim that we have not moved from the circle for quite some time. I don't disagree. But the problem I see with people understanding this, is that the circle's location is subjective to every individual. And many (most?) individuals would draw that circle with their own opinions in the center.

So someone who is "far right" will potentially draw their circle MUCH further to the right than you would. Someone you might consider centrist, they might call a socialist. And someone you consider a "hardcore conservative" they might see as a centrist.

And of course the converse is true for people on the far left.

Mike, I'm sure that you're attempting to draw this circle in the actual middle, instead of around your own beliefs. But not everyone will so inclined when they draw their own "circle of centrism".

Also: Kennedy before Johnson!

-- Posted by jhat on Wed, Oct 28, 2009, at 1:17 PM

jhat I do agree with you on the perception but when I speak of a circle of centrism I am talking about true political circle. I am liberal so yes from my perspective my own personal circle is more to the left. But when we look at our country's history, it is unmistakable that when it comes to the federal government that circle of centrism is in the middle no matter which perspective you are looking at it from.

The only reason I put Kennedy after Johnson was because the the majority of escalation took place in his administration. I did not mean to confuse anyone on that point. Kennedy was president before Johnson. I should have been more clear though in my original blog that when I said extension I was referring that even though the Vietnam Conflict technically started under Kennedy the majority of it did take place under Johnson.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Wed, Oct 28, 2009, at 2:44 PM

Mike,

OK, I get your intent with the Kennedy/Johnson thing.

And I do completely agree with your post. We've had generally centrist presidents for years.

I was just pointing out the fact that others might not see it that way, because they skew their perceptions based on their ideology.

-- Posted by jhat on Wed, Oct 28, 2009, at 3:46 PM

That is a good point jhat. That's one of the amazing and wonderful things about American politics, though.

When you compare our political system to European systems you can see the glaring differences. For one, since the inception of this country not one single president has been removed by force or gone into power by force. That's a pretty amazing stat. That also lends to my argument of having mostly centrist presidents.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Wed, Oct 28, 2009, at 5:36 PM

The huge difference between Democratic and Republican presidencies since 1952 has been in how political patronage has been dispensed nationally.

Eisenhower regarded tens of millions in federal benefits to his corporate and big money friends as perfectly legitimate, along with handing G.M. Chairman Charlie Wilson the keys to the treasury with unbridled spending while heading the defense department. Not surprisingly, most of that wild defense spending went to General Motors.

The other best examples -- Dixon-Yates, where by executive order, Good Ol' Ike, handed all nuclear generation rights in the Tennessee Valley Authority area to his golfing buddy and a business partner.

Congress objected, but it still cost Uncle Sam $25-Million to buy out the deal.

A U.S. Steel Senior Vice President virtually lived in D.C. playing golf with Ike at Burning Tree, until securing a new barge channel up the Delaware River above Philadelphia to provide barge service to a single U.S.Steel plant.

That cost the taxpayers the equivalent to 50% of total U.S. investment in the St. Lawrence Seaway from the Atlantic into the Great Lakes.

Finally of course, came the Mid-Atlantic States Distributorship for Mid-Size General Motors Trucks -- awarded to a subsidiary of Ike's Gettysburg Farm Corporation by Wilson.

Carter -- there seemed to be a little extra going into Georgia from the federal treasury and the Navy appeared to gain an edge in spending. But otherwise, his initial determination to stem free-flowing booze and reckless living, seemed to hold.

The peanut farmer simply could not stop micro-managing.

Nixon -- Possibly the greatest Greek Tragedy in U.S. politics. All he accomplished was offset by pure paranoia. Nixon rewarded his old buddy Howard Hughes with some serious "deep cover" projects and lots of dollars.

J.F.K. -- Pure charisma, except for the Cuban Missile Crisis, little to show for his time, unless you count "Ask NOT What," "I'm the fellow who is with Jackie in Paris," "Ich bin ein Berliner" and the "Bay of Pigs."

In the J.F.K.-L.B.J. era, the worst decisions in Viet Nam belonged to Johnson, while he pushed huge federal spending to Texas, including the Houston Space Center.

His Great Society programs fulfilled J.F.K.s rhetoric in ways the Ivy Leaguer never considered.

Reagan/Bush -- accelerated the developing imbalance in Asian Trade, with huge rewards for Reagan's California Kitchen Cabinet and other cronies -- G.E. in particular.

The L.B.J. years were the epitome of federal spending for the lower income brackets. Possibly the greatest benefit has been produced by Head Start, although Hubert Humphrey's Peace Corps and even the VISTA and similar programs inside the country have made major changes.

Not much help in the Country Club world, but serious improvements in "po' folks' lives."

The Bush's were considerably more subtle, with Prescott Jr. busily negotiating the business license deals for Mainland China - including the totalitarian leadership families in the profit making. Politically, that may have been the single most potent persuader for that leadership to push China's rampant capitalism.

Of course, there has been no explanation for where the Bush family's profits from those Import/Export licensing monopolies are secured or invested.

For the average Lunch Bucket Crowd -- the Bush's left a combined legacy -- Two Deep Economic Recessions, farm/business/home foreclosures, disaster in the U.S. Timber/Metals Mining and Petroleum exploration businesses.

Both left economies where the Western States tourism, hunting and fishing economies were mostly wiped out.

Clinton left little for hyper critics to target other than reducing the size of the federal payroll and bureaucracy and regulations, reducing the deficit and federal debt and producing the only fiscal surplus in modern times.

His hormones obscured the intellect and achievements and destroyed Al Gore and John Kerry's hopes for the White House.

With all the presidents in their White House years, the greatest failures have been:

Failure to secure true election finance reform and secure control over the unfettered and flagrant lobbying corruption.

Failure to secure control over election spending.

Failure to secure national election honesty.

Failure to actually secure passage of a national health program -- which has been given mouth service by virtually every president since the ultra conservative/progressive Theodore Roosevelt.

With Obama, the public and the D.C. Press Crowd is having to wait through numerous news cycles with the Washington Media harlots frantically speculating what is going to be proposed.

For the previous eight years, a situation would appear and a decision for U.S. policy announced before the end of the news cycle.

The media was inevitably scrambling to keep up and never resorted to the unheard of practice of actually thinking about federal policies.

The D.C. media actually provided minimal coverage to the Bush/Cheney record of rampant no-bid crony contracts and exploitive profiteering.

The Media and Congress were caught up in the War on Terrorism, without considering details.

Just as the nation has been diverted with minute details within the War on Drugs, and failing to think about the fact the national disgrace is worsening daily.

As in Afghanistan, we have been losing the War on Drugs, and our addicts are helping finance the people who are killing our soldiers and marines in Afghanistan -- while also destroying the Pakistan government which holds an atomic arsenal.

A truly comforting heritage from 2002 through 2008 policies -- Osama bin Laden with NUKES.

Of course, the reality of what Obama inherited has not stopped the frantic criticism.

Within weeks of taking office, they wanted to label the Bush era economic actions (BAIL OUTS) as Obama's Bail Outs.

The eight year old Afghanistan War became Obama's War, even though clearly failure to complete the job with Al Qaeda and the Taliban were the gravest Bush/Cheney mistake.

It is possible this nation will never know what the Obama administration could have been.

The non-stop baseless criticism could well destroy the country.

But the obvious lesson of the past 80 years is that "Liberal" Democratic presidents often took the hard line when dealing with Communist and Socialist countries, while "Conservative" Republicans could take needed action, such as Nixon going to China, in dealing with those same countries. If a Democrat spoke civilly to Kruschkev, he was automatically SOFT on COMMUNISM.

If a Republican went to China, he became statesman.

Oh well, at least Jimmy Carter did get election reform in Georgia and as a result, any voter who has been dead more than five years can no longer vote.

Yessir, it is the law in Georgia.

-- Posted by HerndonHank on Wed, Oct 28, 2009, at 8:10 PM

Theodore Roosevelt is definitely an enigma and plays into the Centrist Circle perhaps better than anyone. He did more in the early 20th Century to push national politics to the right and yet he was a progressive as can be seen with the creation of the National Park system.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Wed, Oct 28, 2009, at 9:20 PM

Maybe you're right Mike, but over the course of a couple decades we now cannot have a "Christmas" party at school. We cannot celebrate Easter in school, even though they still get out of school for these mysterious holidays.

We now have affirmative action and hate crime laws that seemingly trump free speech and private business freedoms.

I agree there is hate out there and it needs to stop. I can't believe people can hate other people based on their color or origin, but it does happen. However, those checks and balances are routinely abused when people these people are looking for an easy way out or an easy paycheck.

It is those liberal policies that have made things a lot harder in this country for good and honest people.

I agree with Clint Eastwood on his comments about political correctness. Enough is enough. It has gotten to the point in this country where only the minorities have the right to be offended. Why can't white Christians be offended by the debatchery that goes on in the maiunstream culture these days? Why can't we be offended when we can't refer to the "winter break" as Christmas break anymore?

This country has gone liberal. Oh, and abortion, or the murdering of babies has also been made leagal during this time you referred to. Do I need to go on?

-- Posted by Justin76 on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 10:41 AM

GI,

You beat me! I was writing a response to express the exact same sentiment.

"Liberal" policies don't outlaw or condemn Christmas and Easter, they simply forbid the state from endorsing them over another religion's holidays.

Those of us of different faiths (or no faiths) celebrate this time with our families as well. Many of us even celebrate Christmas (albeit in a non-religious manner). We celebrate our fellowship with one another and our lives together. By calling it "winter break" or "winter holiday", EVERYONE is included. You and your family are free to call it whatever you want. But when the government/school calls it "winter break" instead of "Christmas break" they aren't doing it to punish or discriminate against Christians, but to INCLUDE every person of every faith in this country.

-- Posted by jhat on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 1:55 PM

Last time I checked Justin, Easter is on a Sunday so school is already out, unless you are aware of schools that are open during the weekend.

The school district that I work for still calls the two week break around Christmas as Christmas Break. Colleges typically don't anymore because they typically let out for a month between semesters. That Christmas just happens to fall in that time period doesn't mean they aren't celebrating Christmas.

Why is it so important anyways to call that break Christmas or Winter Break? Kids don't care what it is called, they just know that they get a nice two week break in the middle of school.

If you hate someone because of the color of their skin or their sexual preference, or their sex, or their age how does that make a person good OR honest?

These hate crime policies are meant to keep people in check in the public spectrum. If you can't control yourself from dispensing of hate against another group of people that is your problem not mine. If you want to do it in your home then go for it, that's your business.

Hate crimes and affirmative action have nothing what-so-ever with freedom of speech. I could almost give you hate crime measures but at what point does someone's freedom of speech trump another person's rights. Affirmative action is a hiring and placement measure that has nothing to do with speech.

I've said it time and time before and I'll say it again. Justin go spend some actual face to face time in a public school, you would be surprised at what you see. Those news stories that you see that put public schools in a bad light are not actually representative of over 99% of the schools in this country. Christianity has NOT been banned in school. God has NOT been banned in school. Christmas parties have NOT been banned in school. The names may have changed in some areas but they haven't been banned.

There is not witch hunt against Christianity in this country. That fact that the overwhelmingly majority of Americans are Christian make that impossible.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 2:49 PM

Justin,

School should not be time obligated to teaching frosty the snowman and making ginger bread houses.

School is for learning what you will need as a "grown up" Plus, 99% of Americans have screwed up Christmas enough. You'd be shocked at how many children don't know the actual signifigance behind Easter and Christmas.

-- Posted by mccookreader on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 3:53 PM

Yeah, why should kids have a mental break in school from the reading and math and learn about things in childhood like frosty and making gingerbread houses with their peers. I mean, they were horrible experiences for the rest of us, why should we subject our kids to that.

I have a feeling my 4 month old daughter is going to have problems with information overload, between school and all the crap she'll be able to Google to learn more about. Then with the news coming at us 24 hours. I'm honestly not to worried sometime in school being dedicated to frosty and delicious houses or making whatever arts and crafts for whatever religious holiday. Honestly, her papers in school will be easier to research then mine are right now.

-- Posted by npwinder on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 9:32 PM

It should be noted that as Vice President it was Richard Nixon who signed the treaty committing our troops to Viet Nam.

-- Posted by ontheleftcoast on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 11:43 PM

An America that's 75% Buddhist or Hindu would be very interesting to live in.

-- Posted by npwinder on Sat, Oct 31, 2009, at 6:08 PM


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