It's Getting Real Blog

It's Getting Real

The case against conservatism


Barry Craig Thompson


It's the Racism, Stupid

Back in the early 1990's, America found itself at the dawn of a new age.  The Cold War with the USSR was over, the internet was in its infancy as was the 24-hour, 7 days per week news cycle of the burgeoning cable television business.  

In the 1988 presidential election, George H.W. Bush defeated Democrat and Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, becoming the first incumbent vice president to be elected president since Andrew Jackson's VP, Martin Van Buren became president in 1836!  This was the only election in my lifetime (so far) that was not a swing election.  What I mean by "swing election" is in every election -including mid-terms- since 1988, the electorate has swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans when they choose their representatives and president.  It's almost a yin/yan kind of thing.  You've probably heard the quip that in each election "the pendulum swings back"   Sometimes those swings are somewhat muted, but they still happen. 

George H.W. Bush, as Commander in Chief for the armed forces who pushed Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait in the operation known as "Desert Storm" enjoyed an 89% approval rating during and in the immediate wake of that very brief conflict. But a confluence of factors that were largely out of his control led to his defeat in 1992 by the charismatic southern Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.  Clinton would preside over the largest economic expansion in history and road that booming economy to a second term despite a raft of investigations into questionable (at best) and probably in some cases, criminal behavior.   But Republicans got way, way out ahead of their skis by forcing Clinton to admit to an extramarital affair that he had tried to conceal.  He was impeached in the House of Representatives on a largely party line vote and then acquitted in the Senate.  

For their troubles, Republicans created one of the most popular second-term presidents in history as Clinton's approval ratings soared in the wake of impeachment to 73% and he finished his term with a 65% approval rating which was higher than any president since Harry Truman.  

However, the pendulum did, in fact, swing back to the right because despite those high popularity ratings Al Gore was unable to capitalize on the booming economy and Clinton's popularity and he ended up losing a very close election to Texas Governor, George W. Bush who had promised to stop using American troops as nation builders.  When the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened, Bush had only been in office for about 9 months and he had been consistently making a fool of himself with mangled words, tone deaf speeches and a kind of arrogant swagger that seemed to trigger liberals.  But in the wake of those horrific attacks, he showed what a leader can do in times of crisis by rallying our country and pulling us together.  As he stood on a pile of rubble with a megaphone, talking to a crowd of frightened and angry New Yorkers he said, "I hear you.  And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us, very soon!"  His popularity shot through the roof.  He was over 90% in some polls.

George W. Bush skillfully pulled together what he called a "coalition of the willing" and he took a lot of criticism for setting everything up as a very black and white binary decision by declaring to the world at the UN General Assembly, "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists." 

The Republicans won unified control of government in the 2002 midterm elections and they went to work doing what they do best: cutting taxes for the wealthy while reducing services and benefits for those most in need, with one notable exception.  They also enacted a Medicare prescription drug benefit that has helped seniors ever since with making prescriptions more affordable for those on Medicare.  Of course all of this was funded with deficit spending because as Vice President Darth Dick Cheney put it in 2003 during the campaign for reelection in 2004, "deficits don't matter."

Well, the swing happened again in 2006 when when pendulum swung back to the left and despite what many thought were extremely long odds, the Democrats took back control of both chambers, Senate and House in the 2006 midterms. In the Senate, Democrats won a net gain of six seats to take a narrow majority in that chamber. Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House of Representatives, and after the election Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House. In the gubernatorial elections, Democrats won a net gain of six seats. Nationwide, Republicans failed to win any congressional or gubernatorial seat that was held by a Democrat going into the election.  Again, that swing.

And the swing that began in the 2006 midterms carried over to the 2008 quadrennial election when liberal newcomer, Barack Obama, the first-term Senator from Illinois shocked the world when he was elected as the first African American president in United States history.  An election he won over a 10-term senator from Arizona an bona fide war hero, John McCain.  But we shouldn't leave out the fact that McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate proved to be a disastrous decision as she went on to become the butt of a million jokes after actually winking at the camera during a debate with Joe Biden.  The 2006 elections and 2008 elections represented the first time since the 1930s that one party made substantial gains in Congress in two consecutive elections - I call it an expanded swing after the tumultuous years of the George W. Bush presidency.  

But this is America.  A country that was built largely on the backs of African American slaves.  A country that fought a bloody civil war over slavery.  A country that -even to this day- honors soldiers from the Confederate (i.e. traitorous enemies) army with statues and buildings named after them.  A country that took almost 100 years to give those former slaves civil rights.  A country that -at least in the southern states that had tried to form their own slave-state- perpetuated a racist system that lynched African Americans for fun, and forbade them to share the same bathrooms, water fountains or any public spaces or services.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who is willing to take an objective look at the history of our nation that the swing back from two elections in which America affirmed its approval and acceptance of an African American leader should put one of the most well-documented and openly racist public figures in the White House.  

But after nearly 4 years of constant race-baiting, wanton cruelty towards immigrants, open misogyny and a waterfall of lies about everything from "hand" size to nuclear disarmament, there is about to be another BIG electoral swing back in the Democrats direction.  Trump has animated voters on the left like no candidate in my lifetime.  Not necessarily because everyone is itching to vote for Joe Biden.  Most people I encounter who are Democrats or liberal-leaning independents tell me they are not voting for a specific candidate but they are voting against Donald Trump, no matter what.



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