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Old 04-27-2019, 08:22 AM
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Which US Presidents were on the political left/right?


This interesting Quora answer discusses how the Democrats' and Republicans' political ideologies have essentially flipped over the last century or so. The map of Democrat and Republican states of the Fourth Party System, the period in American political history from about 1896 to 1932, makes clear how things have changed.

Which presidents in US history can be considered to be the left/liberal/progressive candidate in the presidential elections, and which can be considered the right/conservative candidate? How have the concepts of political left and right changed since the foundation of the United States?

Here's a list of US Presidents:

1. George Washington (1789–1797)
2. John Adams (1797–1801)
3. Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)
4. James Madison (1809–1817)
5. James Monroe (1817–1825)
6. John Quincy Adams (1825–1829)
7. Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)
8. Martin Van Buren (1837–1841)
9. William Henry Harrison (1841)
10. John Tyler (1841–1845)
11. James K. Polk (1845–1849)
12. Zachary Taylor (1849–1850)
13. Millard Fillmore (1850–1853)
14. Franklin Pierce (1853–1857)
15. James Buchanan (1857–1861)
16. Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865)
17. Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)
18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877)
19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)
20. James A. Garfield (1881)
21. Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885)
22. Grover Cleveland (1885–1889)
23. Benjamin Harrison (1889–1893)
24. Grover Cleveland (1893–1897)
25. William McKinley (1897–1901)
26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)
27. William Howard Taft (1909–1913)
28. Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)
29. Warren G. Harding (1921–1923)
30. Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)
31. Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945)
33. Harry S. Truman (1945–1953)
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961)
35. John F. Kennedy (1961–1963)
36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)
37. Richard Nixon (1969–1974)
38. Gerald Ford (1974–1977)
39. Jimmy Carter (1977–1981)
40. Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)
41. George H. W. Bush (1989–1993)
42. Bill Clinton (1993–2001)
43. George W. Bush (2001–2009)
44. Barack Obama (2009–2017)
45. Donald Trump (2017–present)
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Old 04-27-2019, 08:47 AM
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This is far too open ended. Whatever individual policy positions we consider left or right today are in no way set in stone. Would Washington be considered a Leftist because of his pro-democracy views, or right wing becuase of his owning people views? There is debate about each president and debate about each policy, you should probably set some parameters for what positions you define as leftist positions, and what you consider to be right wing positions.
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Old 04-27-2019, 09:07 AM
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The current "Left/Right" dichotomy does not map to historical personages well at all.

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Old 04-27-2019, 09:14 AM
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Maybe start with the Whiskey Tax. Was it leftist, because taxes, or right wing because it's a consumption tax? Was it left wing because it's a luxury tax, or right wing because it's a sin tax? Was putting down the rebellion left wing because it flies in the face of the right wing fantasy that the founding fathers supported any and all armed insurrection, or right wing because law and order?
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by l0k1 View Post
There is debate about each president and debate about each policy, you should probably set some parameters for what positions you define as leftist positions, and what you consider to be right wing positions.
I think it can boil down to the left believing in a more egalitarian society and giving a helping hand to the disadvantaged, while the right believes in a more stratified society and has a more "survival of the fittest" mentality. The small government power vs large government power is largely a consequence of these beliefs, as helping the disadvantaged requires that the state take away from the advantaged, in addition to getting more actively involved in the nation's social and economic affairs in order to manage the distribution of wealth.
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Would Washington be considered a Leftist because of his pro-democracy views, or right wing becuase of his owning people views?
While support for slavery would be an anathema to modern left/progressive/Democrat thinking, and would be disqualifying, this debate is about judging the presidents by the standards of the time in which they lived, as well as the beliefs of the candidate they faced in presidential election.

A broad concept of political left and right has existed for a long time, for example the Populares and the Optimates of the Roman Senate, or the Roundheads vs Cavaliers of the English Civil War.

For this debate, let us ask which president, of the two (or more) candidates that competed in each election, could be more closely identified as representing the political left or right. So for each election there will be a left and right candidate, even though they might not match up perfectly to the ideologies of the modern political left and right.
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Old 04-27-2019, 10:13 AM
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Kinda hard to read but does this help?

http://media.factmyth.com/2016/05/po...ted-states.jpg

From here: http://factmyth.com/comparing-the-po...of-presidents/
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Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 04-27-2019 at 10:14 AM.
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Old 04-27-2019, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
That's a really interesting page, and it provides for more detailed political definition than binary left or right.

The ideologies of the Fourth and Fifth Party System listed in the link seem easy to split on left/right lines, "Wilsonian" and "Kennedy-ian" being political left and "Nixonian" being political right.

It gets a bit harder looking at the earlier Party Systems, but I'm not sure how much of that is due to my lack of knowledge about earlier presidents.

"Lincolnians" looks like political left. What about Taft, though? Wikipedia says his administration "was filled with conflict between the conservative wing of the Republican Party, with which Taft often sympathized, and the progressive wing, toward which Roosevelt moved more and more." Furthermore, the candidate that Taft defeated in the 1908 election, William Jennings Bryan, "was also nominated for president by the left-wing Populist Party" (Wikipedia).

Are "Jacksonians" all on the political right? What about "Clevelanders" "Clevelandians"?
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Kinda hard to read...
Yeah, it's a shame there's a problem with the table width, although one can hold and drag the table to reveal the obscured text. Is there a way someone like @BigT can fix it?
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Old 04-27-2019, 04:12 PM
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This is just off the cuff, but for each era in American history:

First Party: Jefferson/Democratic Republicans-right, Hamilton/Adams/Federalists-left, Washington-center-left

Second: Jackson/Democrats-right, Whigs-Left

Third: Democrats-right, Lincoln-center left, Radical Republicans-far left

Gilded Age to 1910: Republicans-right, Democrats-left

1910 to 1920: Democrats-right, Republicans-left

1920 to present: Republicans-right, Democrats-left
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Old 04-27-2019, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by l0k1 View Post
This is far too open ended. Whatever individual policy positions we consider left or right today are in no way set in stone.
True. Bill Clinton arguably governed from a position somewhere to the right of Richard Nixon. And yet Clinton is considered a liberal and Nixon a conservative.
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Old 04-27-2019, 06:42 PM
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This is perhaps only useful going back to Carter and not beyond. Beyond him it gets fuzzy.

So yeah, the obvious ones:


Carter - left
Reagan - right
Bush - right
Clinton - left
Bush - right
Obama - left
Trump - right
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Old 04-27-2019, 07:18 PM
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True. Bill Clinton arguably governed from a position somewhere to the right of Richard Nixon. And yet Clinton is considered a liberal and Nixon a conservative.
In this 2011 article, Nate Silver discusses Ezra Klein's claim that Obama was actually a "moderate Republican". Silver instead concludes that:
Quote:
Rather than being an early 1990s moderate Republican, Mr. Obama is a prototypical, early 2010s Democrat. And although a 2010s Democrat shares more in common with a 1990s Republican than with the Republicans of today, they are still far from alike.
Silver also notes a system, called DW-Nominate, developed by a group of political scientists that rates each member of Congress based on their roll-call votes. Applied to recent presidents, going back to FDR, the scores clearly differentiate the politically-left Democrats and politically-right Republicans.

The system also shows that:
Quote:
[While] both parties have been on a trajectory toward more “extreme” positions since roughly 1970... Republicans have moved about twice as much to the right as Democrats have to the left.
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Old 04-27-2019, 07:51 PM
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I do wonder about this at times when my mind is wandering on long drives. I usually tend to think of it in terms of what the president in question would believe if they were transported to the current world. I don't know enough about all of the POTUSs, but here is my partial list. My decisions tend to be based on how they approached things based on the standards of their own time, which is why I think that a modern day Lincoln would be a liberal and a modern day Woodrow Wilson would likely be a conservative. I'll make some comments on a few that I think are noteworthy. I think Ike is the last POTUS before we reached our current standard, so I won't include any POTUS since him.

Washington - liberal
John Adams - liberal
Jefferson - liberal, would probably be a Democrat but end up like Al Franken or Anthony Weiner when it comes to his approach to women
Jackson - conservative
Tyler - conservative
Buchanan - conservative
Lincoln - liberal
Andrew Johnson - conservative
Teddy Roosevelt - most likely would be an independent that caucuses with the Democrats if he was in congress, a more populist without being racist version of Bernie Sanders*
Wilson - conservative
Coolidge - conservative
Hoover - conservative
FDR - liberal
Eisenhower - most likely would be a center left Democrat, the closest I can think of in today's terms would be Joe Manchin

* I don't think Sanders is racist. I mean that in today's climate being a populist seems to go along with being a racist. Teddy would probably be a populist without being a racist.
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Old 04-27-2019, 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
This is perhaps only useful going back to Carter and not beyond. Beyond him it gets fuzzy.

So yeah, the obvious ones:


Carter - left
Reagan - right
Bush - right
Clinton - left
Bush - right
Obama - left
Trump - right
IMHO you have to go back to Eisenhower before it begins to get fuzzy with the possible exception of Nixon. Judged by our time, he did have some liberal positions (founded the EPA, opened trade with China, ended the Vietnam war), but if we brought him to 2019, he I suspect he would drop those and become a typical Republican.
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Old 04-27-2019, 09:31 PM
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Eisenhower - most likely would be a center left Democrat, the closest I can think of in today's terms would be Joe Manchin
Eisenhower described himself as a "progressive conservative", and used terms like "progressive moderate" and "dynamic conservatism" to describe his approach. According to Wikipedia, he was popular among the liberal wing of the Republican Party since he continued the major New Deal programs, including Social Security, yet was criticized by some conservatives for not doing enough to advance the goals of the right.

It seems to me to me that he'd be center-right politically. In today's terms, that would place him closer to modern Democrats than modern Republicans, similar to how former Republicans in the media, such as Michael Steele, Nicolle Wallace, Joe Scarborough, Rick Wilson, or Elise Jordan, seem much more aligned with Democrats, although I expect they'd probably consider themselves as "independents".

To quote from the Nate Silver article again:
Quote:
Whereas Democratic presidents usually have scores fairly close (but just slightly to the left of) the median Democratic member of Congress, Republican presidents — with the very clear exception of Eisenhower — articulate legislative positions that are equivalent to those held by one of the most conservative members of their party.
He also notes that:
Quote:
[T]he presidents who have had the most domestic policy success — like Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Johnson — have generally held DW-Nominate scores closer to the median than to the extremes.
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Old 04-28-2019, 12:48 AM
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True. Bill Clinton arguably governed from a position somewhere to the right of Richard Nixon. And yet Clinton is considered a liberal and Nixon a conservative.
Keep in mind that Nixon dealt with fairly large congressional Democratic majorities and Clinton (mostly) with Republican ones.
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Old 04-28-2019, 01:40 AM
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JFK is considered the gold standard for liberalism, even though he had a hawkish Cold War foreign policy, and most of the civil rights legislation he's magically credited with actually got passed before or after his term. He was mindful of the consequences of driving white southern Democrats overwhelmingly into the Republican party, and he picked his battles accordingly. I'd be hard-pressed to name a modern president who was both a social and fiscal liberal.
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Old 04-28-2019, 01:53 AM
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none on the left. We are a far right nation
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Old 04-28-2019, 11:08 AM
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We might just track political parties, rather than Presidents. Were there Presidents who deviated sharply from their party's policies? Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind; with his trust-busting, environmentalism and regulations of railroads, food and drugs, he was far more progressive (left-wing) than McKinley. Examples other than Teddy?

Support for or opposition to a strong federal government has been a major political difference, but how should this be mapped to "left" and "right"? The Federalists supported a strong federal government, but it was in support of businessmen and urban areas. Jefferson opposed central power and favored the interests of "the common man," but in those days that often meant farmers.

The development of banking laws and a central bank (here's a pdf summary) was a divisive issue. The Federalists chartered a First Bank of the United States modeled after the Bank of England, but its charter was allowed to expire when Jefferson's Democrats got control. This was soon seen as a mistake; a Second Bank was chartered; but was destroyed by the populist Andrew Jackson, who regarded the Bank as a vehicle for the rich moneyed class to subjugate the common people. These "leftist" sentiments led to the "free banking era," now the wet-dream of hyper-libertarians.

And Jackson's persecution of Native Americans would not endear him to today's liberals. Opposition to such excesses spurred the growth of the Whig Party. The Whigs and later the Republicans also wanted to reconstitute a Central Bank. This didn't happen, but Lincoln did enact legislation to regulate banking.

Late in the 19th century, the Democrats under W.J. Bryan supported Free Silver, with the intent of inflating the dollar for the benefit of the countryside but against moneyed Wall Street. After the Panics of 1907 and 1929, the need for a Central Bank become clear (at least to some); it was two Democratic Presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, who enacted the legislation that led to our present system.
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Old 04-30-2019, 05:29 PM
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JFK is considered the gold standard for liberalism...
He may be nostalgically viewed by some older Democratic voters, but I really take issue with/need a cite for “gold standard.” On what metrics would he set any standard? (Screwing Marilyn Monroe? Beautiful wife? I’d argue Obama beats him on the latter, and gets extra points for not being a cheater.)
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Old 05-01-2019, 04:44 AM
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He may be nostalgically viewed by some older Democratic voters, but I really take issue with/need a cite for “gold standard.” On what metrics would he set any standard? (Screwing Marilyn Monroe? Beautiful wife? I’d argue Obama beats him on the latter, and gets extra points for not being a cheater.)
Not sure what cite would possibly satisfy you. If I'd claimed that he was factually known to have eleven toes, I'd understand your bristling reaction.
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Old 05-01-2019, 07:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Walken After Midnight View Post

To quote from the Nate Silver article again:

Quote:
Whereas Democratic presidents usually have scores fairly close (but just slightly to the left of) the median Democratic member of Congress, Republican presidents — with the very clear exception of Eisenhower — articulate legislative positions that are equivalent to those held by one of the most conservative members of their party.

He also notes that:
Yes Nate Silver seems very confused about what legislative positions Republican presidents have “articulated”. If he is talking about rhetoric, fine. The simple fact is that Republican presidents have advanced statism just as much if not more than Democrats.

Nixon expanded the regulatory power of the government by leaps and bounds and intervened heavily into monetary affairs.

Reagan voiced opposition to statism while expanding spending at an unprecedented pace, saving SS, and appointing Greenspan. Greenspan transformed the Fed into the bubble machine it is today, greatly expanding the power of the central government to manipulate the economy.

Bush played footsy with market solutions but went on a regulatory spending binge and expanded transfer of wealth to Boomers. All this while launching a Wilsonian crusade for democracy in Iraq and later committing the most egregious economic intervention since the New Deal.

Trump exploded deficit spending and has intervened in trade affairs. He is on the verge of partnering with the Dems on a $2 trillion infrastructure handout, as I predicted would happen.

If someone is trying to call Nixon, Trump, and Bush conservative, there is a good chance they are simply trying to smear conservatives. These are hated figures, so they must be conservative in order to service the liberal fanboys of Silver.

Last edited by WillFarnaby; 05-01-2019 at 07:09 AM.
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Old 05-01-2019, 02:15 PM
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Yes Nate Silver seems very confused about what legislative positions Republican presidents have “articulated”. If he is talking about rhetoric, fine. The simple fact is that Republican presidents have advanced statism just as much if not more than Democrats.

Nixon expanded the regulatory power of the government by leaps and bounds and intervened heavily into monetary affairs.

Reagan voiced opposition to statism while expanding spending at an unprecedented pace, saving SS, and appointing Greenspan. Greenspan transformed the Fed into the bubble machine it is today, greatly expanding the power of the central government to manipulate the economy.

Bush played footsy with market solutions but went on a regulatory spending binge and expanded transfer of wealth to Boomers. All this while launching a Wilsonian crusade for democracy in Iraq and later committing the most egregious economic intervention since the New Deal.

Trump exploded deficit spending and has intervened in trade affairs. He is on the verge of partnering with the Dems on a $2 trillion infrastructure handout, as I predicted would happen.

If someone is trying to call Nixon, Trump, and Bush conservative, there is a good chance they are simply trying to smear conservatives. These are hated figures, so they must be conservative in order to service the liberal fanboys of Silver.
I think that Nixon was definitely not conservative by the modern definition, which I pointed out earlier. Bush Sr. was a bit of a mixed bag. Some things he did were conservative, with the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the SCOTUS being his most lasting legacy in this regard. This is offset by things like signing tax increases and the way he managed the first Iraq war.

As far as Trump, I'm going to come right out and say any argument that Trump is not conservative is fast becoming something that doesn't have to even be argued against. Trump has basically convinced enough conservatives that whatever he supports is the correct position, basically making Trump position = conservative by definition.

Last edited by FlikTheBlue; 05-01-2019 at 02:18 PM.
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Old 05-01-2019, 02:32 PM
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I think that Nixon was definitely not conservative by the modern definition, which I pointed out earlier. Bush Sr. was a bit of a mixed bag. Some things he did were conservative, with the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the SCOTUS being his most lasting legacy in this regard. This is offset by things like signing tax increases and the way he managed the first Iraq war.

As far as Trump, I'm going to come right out and say any argument that Trump is not conservative is fast becoming something that doesn't have to even be argued against. Trump has basically convinced enough conservatives that whatever he supports is the correct position, basically making Trump position = conservative by definition.
Trump = Republican, not conservative. Anyone of the very few people still calling themselves conservatives may support Trump for tactical reasons.

Then again the thing about conservatism is that it is supposed to be non-ideological. There is no real agreed upon principles.
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Old 05-01-2019, 02:44 PM
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Trump = Republican, not conservative. Anyone of the very few people still calling themselves conservatives may support Trump for tactical reasons.

Then again the thing about conservatism is that it is supposed to be non-ideological. There is no real agreed upon principles.
Very few people still call themselves conservative? I could be wrong, but my guess is that you're thinking about old school conservatives like Bill Kristol, George Will, and William Buckley. Sure, those guys identifie(d) themselves as conservative, but so do Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, etc. I'm pretty sure that most fundamentalist and evangelical religious people would probably say they were conservatives, and they make a lot more than a "very few people" and most of them support Trump.

ETA: What I'm saying is that the old school conservatives that I assume you're thinking about have basically had the term stolen out from under them.

Last edited by FlikTheBlue; 05-01-2019 at 02:45 PM.
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Old 05-01-2019, 03:13 PM
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Are you asking about how we today would view each of the 45 presidents? Or about how voters at the time they were elected would have viewed them?

I think the first question quickly loses meaning once you go back into the 19th Century, as their political issues don't map to our left/right spectrum.

The second would be interesting to know, but early Americans didn't think of politics in terms of left vs right. The left/right dichotomy was invented when Washington was still in office, but in France during their revolution. It originally meant you either supported a monarchy (right) or supported a republic (left). And at this point in time it basically means you support Team Red or Team Blue, and represents very little in ideological terms. I think the concept of left/right in American politics was born during the 20th Century, and can't really be extended back much further than that.
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Old 05-05-2019, 08:33 PM
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Are you asking about how we today would view each of the 45 presidents? Or about how voters at the time they were elected would have viewed them?
Both can be discussed, as well as any matters that arose or may arise directly from the discussion.

I suppose one can think of Presidents in absolute terms - "Which US Presidents were on the political left/right?" [according to our view today of left and right]" - and also in relative terms - "Which US Presidents represented the political left and right of their time?".

I was looking through the maps of presidential election results over the past few decades on Wikipedia.

The results of the 1956 election (Eisenhower vs Adlai Stevenson) and the 1964 election (L.B. Johnson vs Barry Goldwater), just eight years apart, show an almost complete flip in red and blue states. Republican Eisenhower won almost everything except the Deep South, and then eight years later, Democrat Johnson won almost everything except the Deep South.

From reading his Wikipedia page, Eisenhower's Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson, seems like a moderate liberal, but with the albatross around his neck of having to try and retain support of the Southern Democrats, a link which was broken by desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by Johnson.

Maps of later presidential elections, from Johnson onwards, tend to show Democrats' heartland in the North and Republican heartland in the South. There's one exception, though, which is 1976, Carter vs Ford, in which Carter took most of the South for the Democrats. Why did Carter do so well in the South in this election? Previously, the Deep South had voted for uber-conservatives like Barry Goldwater, George Wallace and Harry F. Byrd, and have generally voted Republican in recent decades. Was it because Carter was from the South?
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Old 05-07-2019, 03:25 AM
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This is just off the cuff, but for each era in American history:

First Party: Jefferson/Democratic Republicans-right, Hamilton/Adams/Federalists-left, Washington-center-left

Second: Jackson/Democrats-right, Whigs-Left
Um no. The Federalists and later the Whigs tended to supported by the wealthy merchant class of New England as well as the great planters of the South (hence Cotton Whigs) and as a result supported highly hierarchical forms of government with restricted suffrage rights. By contrast, the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian stream of American politics tended to favour civil liberties and universal (white male) suffrage. Nor were the Federalists and Whigs particularly likely to be abolitionist given many of their number were from the South and thus slaveonwers. It was only well into the 19th Century that American politics split along pro and antislavery lines thus bringing many former Democrats into the antislavery coalition that was the Republican Party.

This isn't to romanticize Jefferson and Jackson as enlightened modern liberals given their obvious hypocrisy on slavery as well as Indian Removal and silly notions of an agrarian America that would have crippled her rise to world power. We can be thankful today that the modern American polity takes the best elements of the Jeffersonian (democracy, civil liberties, belief in the common man) and the Hamiltonian (State driven developmental capitalism, a strong federal government, a strong military) traditions.
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Old 05-07-2019, 08:58 AM
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A very interesting site but the formatting sucks big time. I copied the data to excel but even then what a fucking pain.
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