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Front Page

In This Issue:

¨ President Obama is partly correct

     -More on Presidents and congressional balance

¨ Desperate Offensive, Article from 1972 , a revisit

¨ Partisan Advantage in the Senate

PRESIDENT OBAMA IS PARTLY CORRECT

 

A historical review of the last 50 plus years of Democrat

and Republican Presidencies

 

 

By Ivan W. Parkins

The Presidency that Obama won was/is that of a national political system in terrible condition, its citizens depressed in both spirit and many aspects of substance.  But, Obama is wrong historically, even if not as a political tactician.  Americans have long adjusted their political thought too closely to recent mass media accounts and too little to larger but less obvious historical trends.  Little of
President Obama's problem results from the work of his, predecessor,
President George W. Bush.  One key to our present problems occurred, but passed almost unnoticed, before Obama was born.

 

Prior to 1956, every American President who had just won the office with a majority of the popular vote got also, a Congress in which his own party held the majority of seats in both Houses.  It is highly probable that that fact contributed to more moderate levels of partisan conflict and it is even more likely that it contributed to better comprehension of which party was responsible for successes or failures.  Eisenhower’s personal popularity and lack of an active partisan history helped to obscure what was really a fundamental change in how parties had functioned during most of our history.

 

Not easily ignored was the appearance, at about that same time, of a new and exceptionally potent technology for campaigning.  Television was rapidly penetrating nearly every American household, and with real-time visual content to accompany commentaries.  Also, huge increases of public largess were producing vast university campuses, with young faculty and tens of thousands of students forming new communities of (mainly) liberal Democrat opinion.

 

The election of 1960 was certainly controversial, but the three top contenders, Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy all came from the older school of politics.  Television may have been a major factor in the outcome. Kennedy’s careful preparation for televised debates, along with Nixon’s initial neglect of them, was likely a factor in the JFK win.

 

Assuming the story is true that Joseph Kennedy promised his son he would pay for an election victory, but not for a landslide, the Patriarch called things exceedingly close.  JFK won by a bit less than a popular majority; and that with precincts in Chicago, where there had been recent and massive demolitions of homes, turning in heavy Democrat majorities from their recent residents.  In spite of his narrow win, President Kennedy was accompanied by a Congress that was somewhat more heavily Democrat than our present one is. 

 

JFK brought little political record to the top office, but he did acquit himself well as problems developed.  He spoke early and forcefully on the dangers of Communist challenges through proxies in the Third World.  And he faced down the Soviet Union’s challenge of missiles placed in Cuba.  He also helped to give substance to the newly required integration of our schools.  Even so, his popularity and likelihood of reelection lagged.  The final and fatal trip to Dallas was aimed to bolster his popularity there, but brought the exaggerated fame of martyrdom instead.

 

Lyndon Johnson succeeded to the presidential office, to which he brought exceptional congressional experience.  At first, in the name of Kennedy, he instituted domestic programs.  And he expanded Kennedy’s limited support of South Vietnam.  The latter venture soon became a growing and draining one; Johnson attempted to manage it in too much detail.  But, Johnson won election to the office that he had inherited by one of the most overwhelming margins in American history. And, accompanying his own election, he got some of the largest congressional advantages in our history.

 

At this point one transformational change in American politics began to be obvious. Neither the President nor a commission drawn from the top levels of both parties could quiet media repeated stories that the Kennedy assassination was part of a major and foreign supported conspiracy.  Johnson’s War on Poverty developed a large and devoted following, especially among more youthful and educated Americans.  His war in Vietnam grew rapidly.  Together they strained the nation’s budgets, and neither brought the anticipated good results.  Johnson was discouraged, largely by members of his own party, from running again.

 

MORE ON REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTS WITH DEMOCRAT CONGRESSES

Twelve years after the Eisenhower anomaly of 1956 the next Republican President also got a Democrat Congress.  But, Richard Nixon had not won a popular majority.  It was largely a split among Democrats that enabled him gain office.  Nixon pledged that that he would devolve most of the ground combat in Vietnam upon the South Vietnamese, and he proceeded to do just that.  By the time of a new election, 1972, our war effort consisted almost entirely of supplying air support and materiel to the ARVN.  And, the South Vietnamese were holding their own land defenses.  Nixon won reelection, and by the largest popular majority in American history.  With that he got a heavily Democrat Congress that was especially hostile to him.

 

The partisan disjunction between Presidency and Congress had become critical.  Nixon was driven from office by an impeachment threat that was making it impossible for him to govern effectively.  Soon after he resigned, the Democrat Congress cut off our limited and declining aid to the South Vietnamese and lesser help also to Cambodia.  The greatest genocide in Southeast Asia, and a substantial Communist victory followed.  Our heavily Democrat information system played down any American responsibility for the loss to our worldwide standing.  But, the two most prominent foes that we would soon face, Saddam and bin Laden, both made public statements that in war they could outlast us.

 

Subsequently, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the Presidency with a popular majority of 50.1%.  With that he got a Democrat majority of 149 votes in the House.  Those 149 majority House votes happen to be just about twice as many as all the Republican House majorities enjoyed by the five Republican Presidents elected since Herbert Hoover.  And, three of those Republican Presidents won their own reelections by landslides of 57% to 60.1%.

 

Spending, budgets, and their balancing are now an issue--with most Democrats and many who are not Democrats trying to place equal blame on the parties.  By terms of the Constitution tax proposals must originate in the House of Representatives; early in the twentieth century budgeting was centralized in the Executive Branch; soon after driving Nixon out the Democrats claimed more budgeting functions for Congress.  Should we really believe that Democrat Presidents, working mainly with large majorities of their own party in Congress, and Republican Presidents, who have been forced to operate mainly with large majorities of their opponents in Congress, are likely to have been equally responsible for our budgets and their usual imbalance?

 

President Clinton, the only recent Democrat President who has faced a Republican majority, a slim one, in Congress is sometimes credited with four balanced budgets.  They all occurred after Newt Gingrich and his Republicans had gained a narrow majority in the House.  In fifty years, the Republican have been responsible for 80% of all our balanced federal budgets.  Source Statistical Abstract

DESPERATE OFFENSIVE

Column, April 5, 1972, Daily Times-News

Only now after  many years this article still relates to the misreporting of the media.

By Ivan W. Parkins

     This communist offensive, because of its intensity, is being compared to Tet, 1968.  The differences between the two are vast; a couple of examples may be extremely significant.

     While the Tet offensive in 1968 attempted to infiltrate and overwhelm the defenses of Saigon and other major cities throughout South Vietnam, this offensive is concentrated in the one province closest to North Vietnam and farthest from Saigon.  American strength in early 1968 was half a million and still building; it is now about twenty percent of that and declining.  American casualties in early 1968 occurred at a rate one hundred times as high as at the present time.  On the enemy’s side, the 1968 offensive was spearheaded by tens of thousands of guerrillas native to South Vietnam.  Today, locally-born guerrillas are no large threat to the security of South Vietnam, and the enemy is a more or less conventional invasion carried out by regular units of the North Vietnamese Army.  Thus, in his method of warfare, as well as in the scope of his offensive, the enemy has changed radically.  Why?

     Even early in the war the enemy was not particularly favored in his capacity for matching large units with the South Vietnamese in pitched battles.  Why should he try now that the ARVN is larger, better trained, and better equipped than ever before?  Our own press hails this as a test of the ARVN and of our Vietnamization policy.  Since the enemy’s propaganda emphasizes that time is on his side, why should he be in any hurry for this larger test?

      I am suggesting that the current enemy offensive is a product of desperation, a Vietnamese Battle of the Bulge.  Except for the elements of enemy desperation and initial success, that analogy does not go very far. . . . .

     The most probable goal of the current offensive is to hasten a negotiated peace.  This is not to imply that the Communists are either peace-loving or humane.  Evidently, the Communists’ capacity to make huge sacrifices of human beings is their most significant military advantage, in Vietnam and elsewhere.  But, after having sacrificed many hundreds of thousands of lives, the North Vietnamese face more and better prepared opposition in S.E. Asia today than they did a decade ago.  Now, they want to halt the fighting, but they also want to claim some sort of accomplishment. . . . . .

     With only limited military gains in prospect, it requires an unstable mixture of desperation and reliance upon political sympathizers within America to explain why the enemy would concentrate his dwindling forces within range of South Vietnamese firepower and American aircraft.

 Partisan Advantage

And Debate in the U.S. Senate

This is a reprint from Feb. of this year

This article points out the Cloture Rule and the serious advantages that the Democrats have had.

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

   Under cloture, the Senate rule requiring 60 votes to close off debate, the Democrat Party has had the advantage.

 

   Under FDR, five Congresses, for 10 years, the President had a majority of more than twenty Democratic votes, not always loyal but partisan.

 

   Democrats held a similar advantage in the Senate during Republican President Eisenhower’s last 2 years, and for 8 additional years under JFK and LBJ. Also, for 4 years that ended Republican President Nixon’s tenure and included the first part of Democrat President Carter’s term. 

 

   Now Democrats must struggle to keep partisans in line, and hold two independent votes in order to reach the magic number of 60. 

 

   Republican’s? No Republican President in more than seventy-five years has had such an advantage!

 

REVISED:  I failed in the above piece to allow for the change in the Senate's cloture rule, made in 1975 (after Nixon's resignation).  As a consequence my computations of Democrat advantages prior to that
change were in error.  FDR and Democrats had 8 rather than 10 years of  the cloture advantage.  Democrats had none under Eisenhower or Kennedy and only 4 under Johnson.  The 4 years of their advantage under Ford and Carter came after the  rule change.  The final count is
Democrats 16 years of advantage, Republicans 0;

Not, Democrats 24 years, Republicans 0.  

I.W. Parkins, 2/20/10