Politics: A Game of Indecision

Posted on January 21, 2013 by

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It seems everybody is arguing over political ideology today. Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throats all the time, comparing liberal vs. conservative ideology on both fiscal and social issues. Furthermore, political pundits always seem to be citing evidence from the past as a reason why their ideology is superior. Given this, I expected that Democratic and Republican ideologies from the past would be reminiscent of Democratic and Republican ideology today. In general, it is widely accepted that since 1932, the Democratic Party has supported a liberal platform on both fiscal and social issues, whereas the Republicans have supported conservative views.  However, I discovered through my research that the ideologies of the parties have in fact been wildly inconsistent. Looking further into specific social and fiscal issues over time, I noticed that the parties have both become more and more progressive on social issues, and have fluctuated back and forth on fiscal issues. Learning about the political parties and their ideologies over time has helped me to further my understanding of American-style politics and America in general. While it seems that our two main parties can never make up their minds about fiscal policies, America is a progressive country, and we are constantly moving forward on social issues.

Since 1932, fiscal policies have been quite inconsistent for both the Democrats and the Republicans. While Democrats have favored more liberal policies (bigger government, progressive tax code, regulated business, welfare spending), and Republicans have favored more conservative policies (lower taxes for all, reduced government spending and size, decreased welfare spending, free markets/deregulation), there has been no consistent view over the years. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, was elected as the 32nd President of the United States, a year many consider the birth of the modern party era. America was just coming out of the Great Depression, and Roosevelt hoped to spurn economic growth through major government intervention. While in office, he created the New Deal Coalition, which united labor unions, blue-collar workers, big-city machines, and ethnic minorities. Furthermore, Roosevelt implemented many welfare programs, such as social security, and regulated business more. His presidency served as a major turning point for the Democratic Party as they began to shift more leftwards on fiscal issues. In fact, many argue that Roosevelt became more and more liberal as his presidency continued, shifting more towards socialist fiscal policies. In this speech, FDR famously said “We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.” He went on to introduce an economic Bill of Rights, in which he hoped to guarantee every American a well paying job, a home, and adequate medical care. Comparing Roosevelt’s policy to that of more moderate Presidents such as Bill Clinton, huge inconsistencies are seen. For example, Clinton was considered part of a political ideology known as the Third Way, and is considered one of the most fiscally conservative Democrats of the modern party era. During his Presidency, he cut government spending significantly and though he did raise income taxes on the richest Americans, he was criticized by the left wing for not doing so enough. Thus contrasting Clinton to Roosevelt, it is evident that the Democrats have not at all been consistent on fiscal issues.

The Republican Party has similarly had much inconsistency in terms of fiscal policy. Dwight D. Eisenhower for example was elected President in 1952, ending a long run of Democratic control of the White House. Eisenhower was a classic modern conservative and hoped to achieve economic growth through a balanced budget. However, he ended up continuing most of the New Deal and Fair Deal programs put in place by his predecessors FDR and Harry Truman. Furthermore, he is known for passing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which spent 25 billion dollars of the Federal Government’s money on developing a new interstate highway system. This massive social spending is very unlike typical Republican ideology, and thus Eisenhower is considered to be a very fiscally liberal President when compared to more modern Republicans. Of these modern Republicans, Ronald Reagan is an iconic figure and is viewed as the father of their economic policies. His policies, popularly referred to as Reaganomics, advocated for significantly reduced social spending, widespread tax cuts, and the deregulation of domestic markets. This video, in which Reagan preaches the benefits of smaller government, is considered classic fiscal conservatism. Reagan’s administration is cited constantly today by Republican candidates and strategists as proof of the power of “trickle-down economics”. Despite the economic growth achieved during the Reagan administration, note that this time was also marked by a huge increase in national debt. Nonetheless, in essence, Reaganomics can be viewed as almost the opposite of FDR’s fiscal policies in the 1930s. While this contrast is reminiscent of modern day arguments between Republicans and Democrats, it is interesting to note how different Reagan’s fiscal policy was compared with his predecessor, Eisenhower.

Social issues are another big divide today amongst Democrats and Republicans. However in my research, I have found both Democrats and Republicans have become more and more progressive over the years, a trend that continues even today. From the 1930’s onwards, Civil Rights for women and African-Americans were the biggest social issue. Starting in 1932, most of our Presidents have made progress in terms of Civil Rights for all. FDR for example worked closely with the NAACP to further the rights of African-Americans. In particular, he signed Executive Order 8802, which created the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) and stated that the Federal government couldn’t hire anybody based on race. While this was a major landmark, segregation still existed, and African-Americans were treated quite poorly under his Presidency. In addition, Roosevelt is famous for instating internment camps for German, Italian, and Japanese citizens during World War 2.

After FDR’s death, his vice-president Harry Truman took over as President. The 1948 election marked a major split in the Democratic Party as Civil Rights became the major topic of contention. Truman decided to include in the 1948 Democratic platform a 10-point plan in support of Civil Rights for African-Americans, which enraged the segregationist wing of the Democratic Party known as the “Dixiecrats”. Despite this split, and the fact that Republican nominee Thomas Dewey was heavily favored to win the election, Truman was able to win reelection. Underdog candidates commonly cite this election even today as a great example of an election upset.

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The Chicago Tribune was so overconfident that Dewey would win, they printed the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” before the results were in. This famous picture shows Truman holding up the newspaper in a train station after the election results were in.

This election and the presidency of Truman again marked a huge turning point for both parties and a major win for Civil Rights. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, who served as President after Truman, furthered his cause even more by supporting desegregation in schools and the military, and by working to protect the right to vote for African-Americans.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected President, reenergizing the Democratic base with his youth and intelligence. Though he served only two years as President, he was able to make significant strides especially in terms of Civil Rights. I highly recommend watching and/or reading Kennedy’s famous Civil Rights Address, one of the best speeches I have heard. Kennedy directly explains to Americans his support of desegregation, and encourages them to view Civil Rights as a moral issue, rather than a political issue.

Unfortunately Kennedy was killed before he could pass any big legislation. Thankfully, his vice president Lyndon B. Johnson took over as President, and continued Kennedy’s progress towards Civil Rights. This culminated in the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, including women. Johnson would go on to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed all discriminatory voting practices. While the Republican Party initially was against Civil Rights, they eventually came around and the 50’s and 60’s thus represented slow, but major progress on the social front, as both parties came together in support of Civil Rights.

The fight for Civil Rights however continues to this day, although the battle has shifted more towards LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights for women. Most recently, our current President Barack Obama has announced his support for marriage equality and abortion rights, and recently repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowing members of the LGBTQ community to serve openly in the military. In addition, many states have recently voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage. While the 2012 Republican platform did not offer support for gay marriage, and was against abortion rights, a leftward social movement is beginning, and many people are predicting a split in the party. I personally believe that given the trends of the past, the Republicans will eventually come around and will accept the liberal social policies of today.

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This research project has shown me major trends in political ideology over time and has taught me a lot about American-style democracy. In America, we as voters are forced to deal with two big opposing ideologies that call themselves the Democrats and the Republicans. However, party platforms are constantly changing, and the party platforms of 2016 probably won’t resemble the platforms of 2012. That’s why subscribing to a political party doesn’t really make sense to me. I have come to view Democrats and Republicans not as political parties, but as two different political philosophies at a certain time. So I personally plan to keep an open mind when it comes to political parties. I wouldn’t be too quick to jump onto a party bandwagon, or count a party out entirely, because if history has shown us anything, their policies will change significantly in the future.

 

Works Cited

Cooper, Michael. “Party Platforms Are Poles Apart in Their View of the Nation.” New York Times 04 09 2012, n. pag. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

Democratic Party. 2012 Democratic National Platform. Web. <http://assets.dstatic.org/dnc-platform/2012-National-Platform.pdf>.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. United States. Federal-Aid Highway Act. 1956. Web. <http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=88>.

Gunzburger, Ron. “Directory of US Political Parties.”Politics1. N.p.. Web. 9 Dec 2012. <http://politics1.com/parties.htm>.

“History of the United States Democratic Party.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States_Democratic_Party>.

“History of the United States Republican Party.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States_Republican_Party>.

Johnson, Lyndon B. United States. Civil Rights Act. 1964. Web. <http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=97>.

Johnson, Lyndon B. United States. Voting Rights Act. 1965. Web. <http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=100>.

Kennedy, D. M., L. Cohen, and P. Bailey. The American Pageant, A History of the American People. 14. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning , 2010. Print.

Kennedy, John F. “Civil Rights Address.” 11 June 1963. Speech.

Obama Affirms Support for Same-Sex Marriage. 2012. Video. ABC News. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/obama-sex-marriage-legal-16312940>.

Ronald Reagan .. “Government is the problem”. 2009. Video. Youtube. Web. 6 Dec 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XObcP69dhCg>.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Economic Bill of Rights.” State of the Union . 11 January 1944. Address.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. United States. Executive Order 8802: Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry. 1941. Web. <http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=72>.

“The Presidents.” The White House. N.p.. Web. 9 Dec 2012. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents>.

The U.S. Presidential Election of 1948: The Causes of Truman’s “Astonishing” Victory. Bernard Lemelin. Revue française d’études américaines , No. 87, Le Politique, la politique (JANVIER 2001), pp. 38-60

Truman, Harry S. United States. To Secure These Rights THE REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT’S COMMITTEE ON CIVIL RIGHTS. 1946. Web. <http://www.trumanlibrary.org/civilrights/srights1.htm>.

Wilson, James Q., and John J DiIulio. American Government Institutions and Policies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Print.

2012 Republican National Convention. Republican Platform. Web. <http://www.gop.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/2012GOPPlatform.pdf>.

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