“History doesn’t repeat itself,” Mark Twain once said, “but it does rhyme.”
People choose a variety of ways in which to view current events. In the stark reality of modern politics, it’s typical to see any situation through the lens of a strict political ideology, a particular religious creed, or even one’s party affiliation.
But for true conservatives, current events should be viewed through the prism of history. As Pat Buchanan has written, “conservatism is grounded in the past. Its principles are derived from the Constitution, experience, history, tradition, custom, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us – ‘the best that has been thought and said.’ It does not purport to know the future. It is about preserving the true, the good, the beautiful.”
With the 2010 midterm election over, the focus can now shift to 2012, a critical presidential election for the future of the country.
Seeing Obama in light of recent presidential electoral history, the conclusion can be drawn that he will be ousted in 2012 and the nation placed on a better course, if the Republican Party follows the historical model and plays its cards wisely.
By examining presidential elections in the 48 years from 1960 until 2008, we find a similar pattern emerging:
1961-1969 – JFK-LBJ – (D) – 1993-2001 – Clinton
1969-1977 – Nixon-Ford – (R) – 2001-2009 – Bush II
1977-1981 – Carter – (D) – 2009-2013 – Obama
1981-1989 – Reagan – (R) – ?
In 1961, the youthful, handsome John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency from the aged Dwight Eisenhower, announcing to the nation “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” Kennedy was the first president born in the 20th century and the youngest ever elected. Over the course of eight years, he and Lyndon Johnson embarked on an ambitious, leftwing agenda that saw the size and scope of government grow as it had not since the days of FDR.
Seen by many as a flaming liberal, Kennedy at least had some conservative ideas, such as an income tax cut to keep the economy humming and a strong national security policy, making him seem less progressive today. While in the Senate, Kennedy had the temerity to harshly criticize President Eisenhower for cutting defense spending, the famous “missile gap,” and vowed to restore it once in the White House. He flexed his military muscle in Cuba and again in Vietnam, pledging to take a strong stand against the monolithic nature of communism in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Though civil rights legislation may be taken for granted today, in the early 1960s it was seen, even by many Northern liberals, as a path to be traveled lightly. And for JFK, very lightly indeed. Even though he started out slow, Kennedy eventually ordered thousands of U.S. troops into Oxford, Mississippi to enforce a court order, a radical step that does not comport with the spirit of the Constitution or Posse Comitatus.
When Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963, after Kennedy’s tragic assassination, he sensed that the nation had moved to the left and embarked on a far-reaching agenda that called for stronger civil rights legislation, welfare payments to end poverty, and literacy programs to stem the tide of ignorance. For it would take a massive government effort to build a great society, Johnson told the country.
While most Americans believe that a great society consists of freedom, individual rights, and capitalism, Johnson thought differently and argued that government, and only government, could provide the means of crafting it. Vowing that poverty could be wiped out with a few billion dollars, Johnson’s program flopped and poverty is still very much alive, even after pouring trillions of tax dollars into a seemingly infinite number of government programs. It was the greatest wealth transfer in American history and a miserable failure.
Johnson left the nation weaker than he found it and more divided than it had been in a century.
The disastrous years of Kennedy-Johnson were followed by those of Nixon-Ford, from 1969 to 1977. As the leader of the “conservative party,” Nixon was no conservative, nor was Jerry Ford. Campaigning as a conservative and reaching out to the right, Nixon governed as a moderate-to-liberal president. He gave the country the Environmental Protection Agency, increased welfare payments, wage and price controls, and an economy in stagnation.
In foreign affairs, the war in Vietnam was expanded to Cambodia, and nearly as many Americans died in Southeast Asia under Nixon than Johnson. Rather than confront Soviet Communism, Nixon, along with Henry Kissinger, fashioned a policy of détente, meant to warm relations between the superpowers. The policy did nothing but infuriate most conservatives.
After the ravages of Vietnam and its spawn, Watergate, Nixon left the presidency in disgrace. Ford, though a decent man, made the crucial mistake of pardoning Nixon, which angered many Americans and most certainly killed any hopes of election in his own right.
The U.S. military was in a sad state after Vietnam and America looked pathetically weak to its enemies abroad. When North Vietnamese communist forces overran the Republic of South Vietnam and U.S. personnel fled Saigon in humiliation, the ineffective Ford did nothing.
With the scandals and ineptness of the Nixon-Ford years, America was ready for a change and looked for something brand new. And out of Georgia came a common man who had never served in Washington and had very little experience in government. Jimmy Carter’s slim resume included just two terms in the Georgia state senate and one term as governor, before running for president in 1976. Playing up his well-crafted image as a man of moral convictions, Carter provided a stark contrast to the corruption of the previous eight years. In his victory, he returned most of the Solid South, except Virginia, to the Democratic column.
Writes Mike Evans in Jimmy Carter: The Liberal Left and World Chaos, “The presidential election was a public sounding board for the much-touted failures of the Republican Party. He ran against a disgraced president and his policies; he ran in the aftermath of an unpopular war on the platform of ‘human rights;’ and he won. His thesis was ‘change,’ and that is what America and the world got. He kept his word, and change began. No, not Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter!”
Though portraying himself as a common sensical, moral moderate, and even a conservative on some issues, Carter governed as a liberal, much more so than his Democratic predecessors, particularly in the area of anti-Communism. While Kennedy and Johnson were ardent foes of the Soviet Union, and at least took some aggressive postures against it, Carter seemed content to the let the Russians do whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted. America was militarily inept under Carter and provided no resistance to the spread of Soviet Communism.
After Islamic radicals seized the U.S. embassy and kidnapped 52 American citizens, Carter did nothing but make speeches. The hostage crisis dragged on for 444 days. The U.S. government seemed totally paralyzed.
Carter also found himself unable to handle a multitude of economic policy calamities, everything from an energy crisis to high inflation and interest rates. He seemed not to have a solution to any problem facing the nation, only to blame it all on the American people. The misery index reached an all-time high under Carter, rising to nearly 22 percent in 1980.
It has been asked how Jimmy Carter could possibly have been elected. The fact is he had the benefit of extraordinary luck. America was disgusted with the Nixon-Ford administration and Carter provided the perfect contrast. At any other time in American history, his candidacy would have been a joke.
But even with the mass problems that he was unable to handle, Carter recently told an interviewer that his biggest failure as president was not getting re-elected. He left the presidency after four dismal years. As the journalist Nathan Miller has noted, Carter “proved the White House is not the place for on-the-job training.”
During the mid-to-late 1970’s, in the wake of Watergate, the Republican Party was on the verge of collapse, with it’s polling at 22 percent and its bank accounts nearly empty. But Ronald Reagan, a two-term governor of California, and a former actor, rebuilt, revitalized, and reformed the GOP into a strong, viable party once again. Reagan lifted both the party and the nation. Whereas Carter talked of America’s “malaise,” Reagan promoted American exceptionalism. To Carter, America had done little right; to Reagan the nation had been a tremendous force for good in the world and could be again.
Conducting campaigns of unabashed conservatism and optimism, Reagan won two landslide victories in 1980 and 1984, and saw the election of his vice president, George H. W. Bush, to a “third term” in 1988, a rare feat in American politics. Eisenhower failed to do it, as did Clinton. This is owing to Reagan’s strong appeal across the vast American electorate.
Reagan brought a sharp contrast to Carter and liberal policies. He did not try to move toward the Democrats in an effort to beat them but advocated sharp distinctions. He vowed to “raise the banner of bold colors, not pale pastels.”
President Reagan came into office vowing to cut spending and slice tax rates. His tax cut package, the largest in history, led to one of the greatest peacetime economic booms that nation had ever seen. The misery index dropped to one of its lowest levels ever recorded.
His major foreign policy goals – ridding the world of the menace of Soviet communism, rather than appeasing it – was realized soon after he left office, owing entirely to the aggressive program he put in place. Reagan rose to meet the challenges posed by America’s enemies, regardless of the opinions of his political foes.
In shades eerily similar to his idol John Kennedy, Bill Clinton emerged as a new, fresh leader in stark contrast to the elderly Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was the first president born after World War II, a baby boomer. But Clinton realized that America did not trust the old Democratic label, so he fashioned himself as a “New Democrat,” campaigning on an economic agenda that might have been confused with conservatism. He pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class and to keep the nation militarily strong, but instead Clinton passed the largest tax hike in the history of the Republic and gutted the armed forces, slicing in half the once powerful force Reagan had built.
His radical agenda, including the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military and his two leftwing appointments to the Supreme Court made many Americans uneasy. He also attempted to take over the entire health care industry, putting the government in charge of one-seventh of the national economy. Desiring to emulate his hero, Clinton created the AmeriCorps, a version of JKF’s Peace Corps.
His far-reaching programs led to the takeover of Congress by the GOP, the first time the House was led by Republicans in forty years. The conservative presence in Congress for Clinton’s final six years at the helm kept the Democrats from raiding the treasury and destroying the economy.
The setback caused Clinton to moderate his policies and move to the right. Like Kennedy, Clinton embraced conservative ideas, like welfare reform, a capital gains tax cut that helped stimulated economic growth, and a balanced budget plan. But unlike JFK, Clinton did it for purely political reasons. He even flexed his military muscle in Iraq and in the Balkans, though also for the wrong reasons.
During his 1996 State of the Union address, Clinton announced that “the era of big government is over,” a campaign tactic in an election year that sounded great but had little meaning.
And though Clinton did not get the nation into a war the way LBJ did, we were already at war with Al-Qaeda but apparently didn’t know it. The seeds of 9/11 were sown under Clinton; Bush II reaped the rotten fruit.
George W. Bush parallels the Nixon-Ford years quite nicely. Masquerading as the next Reagan, the Right’s “knight in shining armor,” Bush ran to the left once in office, approving massive government spending unrelated to 9/11 or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A prescription drug benefit for Medicare, No Child Left Behind, bank bailouts, and numerous earmark-laden bills, doubled the national debt to over $10 trillion by January 2009, with an annual deficit of over $1 trillion.
Though Bush didn’t have any personal scandals to speak of, like Nixon his war policies, and the manner in which the Iraq war began, served as a strong equivalent, leading to Democratic calls to investigate alleged crimes during his administration. His second term popularity poll numbers were among the lowest in presidential history.
Nearly eight years of war had worn down U.S. forces. And though Bush campaigned that he would “rebuild our military,” restoring devastating cuts imposed by Clinton, he made no moves to increase its size and scope, at a time when it was desperately needed.
As the scandal-ridden Nixon-Ford years led to Carter, without Bush’s bungling, Obama would have remained the most popular man in Illinois. But the well-crafted campaign of “Change We Can Believe In” provided the perfect contrast to the Bush years. And while the country saw Ford as a continuation of Nixon, McCain was seen as Bush’s third term.
Now in office, Obama seems to be following in the footsteps of Carter perfectly. As McCain joked during the campaign, Obama “is running for Jimmy Carter’s second term.” And from what we have seen thus far, his analysis is right on point.
Obama has followed Carter’s model of national security ineptitude, cutting important weapon systems, capitulating to our enemies, and placing us in a more precarious state. The military, already in decline, will now shrink further. A new administration will have to follow Reagan’s example and spend trillions to rebuild it, at a time when spending is at an all-time high and revenues are scarce.
Obama has placed America at fault for much of the world’s ills, apologizing every chance he gets. He has also taken to bowing to foreign heads of state, which no previous president has ever done. Like Carter, Obama is bringing the presidency, as well as American prestige, to a new low.
Obama also seems utterly incapable of handling an economy in crisis. His only plans appear to be more taxes, more spending, more deficits, and more debt. If he succeeds, America faces the very real possibility of a major debt crisis and bankruptcy if serious steps are not taken soon.
Now that the nation finds itself enduring a second Carter administration, we must hope that history can, once again, repeat itself, or at least rhyme. It can with a new Reagan to lead the GOP, someone not ashamed to advance conservatism in its original purity.
If the party does not try to “re-craft” its image, to “re-make” or “re-brand” itself, and embraces true conservative principles and solutions to give the American people a true choice, then the current experiment in ultra-liberalism will soon be at an end.
Just as Reagan Conservatism left Carter’s Liberalism on “the ash heap of history,” 2012 can be the year when Republicans do likewise to Obama.
The question is can we find the right candidate?