Here Come the Democrats

By Thomas, David N. | Contemporary Review, February 1993 | Go to article overview

Here Come the Democrats


Thomas, David N., Contemporary Review


FOR the fifth time this century America's active party has come to power with an agenda for change. It is replacing at least for a while the Republicans, historically perceived as symbols of stability and the status quo. Since 1912 those Democratic intervals, generally characterized by flurries of legislative initiatives, have lasted on the average for ten years. Democratic leaders have included Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, counted among this country's most world renowned political personalities whose administrations are remembered for activism and reform. Ironically, they came to office almost exclusively preoccupied with a domestic agenda only to become embroiled in diplomatic entanglements. After twelve years of Republican rule the nation is bracing itself for yet another outpouring of new domestic programmes and social experimentation. And once again at the outset of a Democratic era there is relatively little anticipation of concern over the problems of the world.

'Campaign '92' was the fifty-second presidential election. It was the twenty-seventh example of an incumbent seeking another term. Of those, seventeen were successful. George Bush became the tenth sitting president defeated in a re-election campaign. While his failure can be attributable in part to problems faced by most of his unfortunate predecessors, such as economic hard times and intra-party rivalries, Bush's defeat was extraordinary. Less than a year before the election the President seemed unbeatable largely because of Desert Storm. At one point he had an approval rating of nearly ninety per cent. All of the prominent opposition leaders considered his most likely challengers decided not to become candidates. There seemed to be no compelling reason for a change in presidential leadership. But soon after the start of the campaign year, President Bush experienced a precipitous drop in popularity unprecedented in American political history. At the end his defeat was all but inevitable.

Yet for awhile, even at the end of the campaign, there seemed to be a slight prospect that George Bush and the Republicans might replicate the feat of John Major and the Conservatives last Spring and stage an upset. It was the third time since 1945 that Britain and America were holding national elections to select a Prime Minister and a President in the same year. On the two earlier occasions, 1964 and 1976, the Anglo-American electorates voted in ideological concert, selecting Labour and Democrats at the same time. In the first post-Cold War elections in both countries, some American pundits assumed that after the surprising Conservative upset, American voters would again follow the British example and in the end choose the more conservative presidential contender. Instead they turned out of office an incumbent who seemed preoccupied with foreign affairs, insisting that the ending of the Cold War did not mean elimination of danger in the world. President Bush was unable to make an adjustment in his image of a leader almost exclusively preoccupied with diplomacy.

By far the greatest issue of Campaign '92 was the economy which beginning in 1990 was marked by a slower rate of growth and a consequent elevation in unemployment. The ending of the Cold War caused a vast reduction in government expenditures on armaments that had a radiating impact, especially on the economies of California and New England. Particularly affected were professional groups and white collar workers who make up the heart of the Republican Party. Those economic troubles were portrayed by the media as a major recession in spite of statistical data to the contrary. Some commentators even compared the recession of the early 1990s to the Great Depression. The Bush campaign was unable to convey the idea that given the enormity of the impact of the ending of the Cold War, the economy was, perhaps, in relatively good condition. Too many people of the middle class were adversely affected by the tortuous transition occurring in American society. …

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