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Old 03-10-2018, 08:54 PM
Lamoral Lamoral is online now
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Are there any notable American politicians who switched from liberal to conservative or vice versa?

What are some examples of prominent American politicians in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries - I am talking about high-profile ones, elected officials like Congressmen, Senators, or Governors - who have, over the course of their career, switched from liberal to conservative? I don't mean merely switched parties, I mean fundamentally switched ideologies?

I feel like an idiot for not knowing.
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:01 PM
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I can't think of any off the top of my head. Former Alabama governor George Wallace comes to mind, however -- I'm not sure that one can say that he changed his political orientation entirely, but he had been a hard-line segregationist during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Then, in the late 1970s, he publicly disavowed segregation, and his actions during that era, and asked for forgiveness from African-Americans.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George...rm_as_governor
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:14 PM
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Wouldn't Reagan count? Democrat, union sympathiser, became the conservative icon.
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:22 PM
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There's also the question of whether the politician themself changed, or if the background changed around them. There are some who continued to hold the same positions after those positions changed from being regarded as conservative to liberal, or vice-versa.
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:23 PM
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Wouldn't Reagan count? Democrat, union sympathiser, became the conservative icon.
He's probably a pretty good example (and I'd forgotten that he'd been a liberal early on). He never held, or ran for, office as a liberal or Democrat, though it looks like he was politically active in supporting liberal candidates and causes through the 1940s, before becoming a conservative in the early 1950s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald...litical_career
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:26 PM
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He was the first former union organiser elected President.
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:35 PM
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I'm not sure how well thought out or strongly held Donald Trump's positions have ever been, but at various times in the past (in addition to being a registered Democrat) he's been on the record as "very" pro-choice, in favor of universal health care, in favor of drug legalization, etc.
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Old 03-10-2018, 09:39 PM
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Defining liberal and conservative becomes pretty important for the question. Shifts in party can be relatively small movements or represent shifts in the party not in the individual making a change. Some of those shifts can also be on issues that don't really break cleanly along general liberal-conservative lines even though liberal or conservative parties have shaped them as areas of contention.

Defining the question is really important because there's a body of research that shows a genetic component to political attitudes and behaviors. (Cite.)
Quote:
“The data from the twin studies is strong enough now that if you don’t believe political attitudes and behaviors are genetically inherited, you can’t believe that breast cancer is genetically inherited and you can’t believe that addictions are genetically inherited,” said Kevin Smith, a UNL political scientist who co-authored the study.
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“... We find that political attitudes are influenced much more heavily by genetics than by parental socialization,” the researchers wrote in the 2005 paper.
The genetic predispositions for political attitudes, let alone early life socialization, aren't going to be hard to fight against along the course of a lifetime's addult experiences. If the question is about large shifts in the most basic questions about political disposition, finding examples is going to be tough. We just aren't that fluid.

Last edited by DinoR; 03-10-2018 at 09:40 PM.
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:00 PM
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So you mean besides our current president?

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Old 03-10-2018, 10:05 PM
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Elizabeth Warren was a republican in the early 90s.
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:07 PM
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Without getting into "debate" category, I think it's exceptionally difficult to ascertain our current president's actual political ideology, or the line between it and simple self-interest. I also do not view him as a politician, despite the fact that he is currently the president.
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:09 PM
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I suppose former Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia might qualify.

He was a war hawk in the Vietnam era, but later opposed the war in Iraq (and was against creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security for giving the executive branch too much power).

This doesn't equate to "conservative", but in his earlier days Byrd was virulently racist, organizing a Ku Klux Klan chapter (serving as Exalted Cyclops), and filibustering the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Later he supported the 1968 Civil Rights Act and eventually got a 100% rating on Senate votes from the NAACP.

He consistently was heavily pro-pork (legislation), which is neither conservative nor liberal.
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:19 PM
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Elizabeth Warren was a republican in the early 90s.
And George H.W. Bush was President in the early 90s, someone who would not be considered a conservative today.
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:55 PM
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Don't forget Earl Warren, who as attorney general and then governor of California urged the internment of Japanese-Americans, and was Thomas Dewey's running mate in 1948. As Chief Justice he presided over the Supreme Court's most liberal era.

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There's also the question of whether the politician themself changed, or if the background changed around them. There are some who continued to hold the same positions after those positions changed from being regarded as conservative to liberal, or vice-versa.
One of those would be Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina. He was an ardent civil libertarian who helped to bring down both Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, resisted incursions on Fourth Amendment rights and opposed a constitutional amendment for prayer in public schools. At the same time he opposed civil rights legislation and liberalization of immigration policies.

Basically, to people who define their politics by 1960s issues, Ervin is a conservative. To those who define them by 1970s issues, he's a liberal.

Others in the "depends on the era" might include Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Scoop Jackson, J. William Fulbright, and even Hubert Humphrey. (One Republican strategist reportedly said Humphrey was, "a man ten years ahead of his time, but his time was 1948.")
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:59 PM
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Hugo Black was a KKK member who became a liberal member of the Supreme Court.
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Old 03-10-2018, 11:02 PM
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Strom Thurmond was a Democrat who famously led a revolt against support for civil rights in the 1940’s, instead choosing to lead the pro-segregationist wing, popularly called the Dixiecrats. He later became a Republican in the 60’s.

Last edited by Moriarty; 03-10-2018 at 11:03 PM.
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Old 03-10-2018, 11:10 PM
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Strom Thurmond was a Democrat who famously led a revolt against support for civil rights in the 1940’s, instead choosing to lead the pro-segregationist wing, popularly called the Dixiecrats. He later became a Republican in the 60’s.
He doesn't really apply; the labels changed, he stayed the same.
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Old 03-11-2018, 12:28 AM
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John Anderson, a Republican congressman best known for running for President as an independent in 1980. As the linked article notes he started as conservative but by the time 1980 rolled around he was the most liberal of the three major candidates. For example, he won 7% of the overall vote, but 11% of liberals voted for him (only 4% of conservatives).
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Old 03-11-2018, 12:50 AM
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Wasn't Truman in the KKK in his youth?
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Old 03-11-2018, 01:07 AM
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Wasn't Truman in the KKK in his youth?
No.
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Old 03-11-2018, 01:43 AM
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Wasn't Truman in the KKK in his youth?
No. From memory, he applied to join, but abandoned his application when told he would have to undertake not to employ Catholics as well as not to employ Blacks.
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Old 03-11-2018, 01:58 AM
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Some think that the public's (and the politicians') view of the political spectrum has shifted to the right quite a lot, so that all the candidates who were once called moderate are now called left, many who were called left are now ignored for being too far left, and many who were ignored for being too far right are now getting some attention.

That is just to show that the classifications are not reliable in trying to figure out where anyone stands, because the goalposts keep moving.
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Old 03-11-2018, 03:01 AM
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It's worth pointing out that the general political foundations of the US have changed considerably over the last 50 years and probably at an increasing pace approaching the present day. Neither party is an especially "big tent" at the moment, though the Democrats are probably more so. The question of "ideology" changing is therefore a tricky one--one might be at and remain at the most "centrist" position of one party, or one might find it more congenial or more likely politically useful to change labels. I believe there is evidence to show that party-switchers do move more towards the ideology of the new party though I don't have a cite.

Off the top of my head as party switchers not mentioned above:

-John Lindsay, Republican Congressman and Mayor of NYC who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972.
-Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who first won election as a Democrat and switched to Republican in 1994.
-Former Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, elected as a Republican who switched to independent in 2001 and caucused with the Democrats.
-Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican Senator who later (out of office) became a Democrat and ran for the Dem nomination for presidency.
-Arlen Specter, former Senator from Pennsylvania, who was elected as a Democrat, switched to Republican, then switched back to Democrat.
--Most recently AFAIK, Jim Justice of West Virginia switched from Republican to Democrat in 2015, was elected governor, and just switched back to Republican.
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Old 03-11-2018, 04:25 AM
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Michael Bloomberg went from Democrat to Republican to Independent to Democrat again in less than 15 years. He endorsed for President George W Bush twice, followed up by Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton.
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Old 03-11-2018, 05:32 AM
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There's an entire Wikipedia article that lists the notable cases: Party switching in the United States
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Old 03-11-2018, 07:31 AM
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Elizabeth Warren was a republican in the early 90s.
Hillary Rodham was president of the Wellesley Young Republicans her first year at that school. This was, obviously, before she became Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Old 03-11-2018, 09:19 AM
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There's an entire Wikipedia article that lists the notable cases: Party switching in the United States
Parties does not enter into a lot of this. E.g., in the South a lot of long term conservative Democrats switched to being conservative Republicans, esp. in the 1980s.

The Neocons, OTOH, are definitely a group of liberal->conservative folk with a Wikipedia article.
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Old 03-11-2018, 10:33 AM
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Elizabeth Warren was a republican in the early 90s.
Warren’s positions on numerous issues today are not that distant from those of the pre-“Contract With America” Republicans who were essentially wiped off the map by Gringrich-led neocons in the mid- ‘Nineties. The Republican party used to stand for civil rights, respect for the value of science and education, and pragmatism in government finance and economics. Even abortion rights, now a highly devisive party-line issue, was not previously a defining position. Now the Republican party has essentially been co-oped by corporate interests actively working to undermine democratic institutions and eliminate regulatory oversight, and Warren, who would have once been viewed as a ‘moderate’ fiscal conservative is now characterized as a radical leftist just barely more toward the center than Bernie Sanders, which tells you everything you need to know about how skewed the political landscape is.

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Old 03-11-2018, 11:04 AM
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Robert Byrd, as mentioned upthread, is the best example I can think of. He genuinely repented from supporting racist policies to being supportive of civil rights. If I remember correctly he was frequently bashed by those on the right for being a flip flopper. I think that just goes to show he did have a genuine change of heart and that those on the right no longer felt he was one of them.
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Old 03-11-2018, 06:21 PM
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Although I suspect he was always a closet liberal, Wayne Morse was first elected to the Senate from Oregon as a Republican. Oregon was as solidly Republican as it gets in those days (around 1950). Two years later, he declared himself Independent and two years after he that he announced himself as a Democrat and won reelection as a Dem. He nearly single-handedly turned the State Democrat (with a lot of help from Richard and later Maureen Neuberger).

Lyndon Johnson was a fairly typical southern Dem who consistently resisted civil rights legislation as a senator, but as president he brought in very strong civil rights. He is said to have commented at the time, that he had pushed the south towards the Republicans for a generation. He was wrong; it is now two and heading for a third generation.
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Old 03-11-2018, 06:40 PM
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I also do not view him as a politician, despite the fact that he is currently the president.
I'm curious as to why you don't see him as a politician. He has run for President multiple times (in addition to his successful 2016 campaign, he ran in 2000 under the Reform Parry ticket). So how many times does one have to run for the highest political office in the country before they become a politician in your eyes? I think he is certainly a politician, simply a bad one (notwithstanding him winning the Presidency).
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Old 03-11-2018, 07:38 PM
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No. From memory, he applied to join, but abandoned his application when told he would have to undertake not to employ Catholics as well as not to employ Blacks.
Technically, he actually did join. The KKK was a big political force of the time, and an advisor told him to join to get their votes. He paid $5 to join. They came to him a few days later and insisted he not hire any Jews or Catholics. Truman quit as soon as he heard that and got his $5 back.
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Old 03-11-2018, 09:48 PM
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Hillary Rodham was president of the Wellesley Young Republicans her first year at that school. This was, obviously, before she became Hillary Rodham Clinton.
She only became Hillary Rodham Clinton years after she was married, and Bill ran for Governor and she was criticized for not taking his name.
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Old 03-11-2018, 09:59 PM
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deserves a mention. During the 1970s he was pro-choice, pro-union, in favor of the civil rights movement and the Equal Rights Amendment. He advocated campaign finance reform.
https://www.usnews.com/news/articles...itch-mcconnell

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/...n_3550173.html

Then he saw how well Reagan did in his home state and never looked back.

During the 1990s he earned quite respect and relief among his Republican colleagues by openly opposing campaign finance reform.
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Old 03-12-2018, 10:52 AM
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In the current congress Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was a moderate to conservative congressman who campaigned against illegal immigration, for gun rights, and voted against the Obama stimulus package. She was then elected to the Senate and is now the 5th most liberal Senator.
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Old 03-12-2018, 01:23 PM
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There is one wild-eyed theory out there that most politicians are just blank pages which their donors write on, so that these "changes of heart" are merely the changing economic winds of their donors.
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Old 03-12-2018, 01:50 PM
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There is one wild-eyed theory out there that most politicians are just blank pages which their donors write on, so that these "changes of heart" are merely the changing economic winds of their donors.
There is also the aspect of which party gets you elected more, and are you facing a primary challenge.

From what I remember, 538 did a study of Arlen Specter. When he was facing a primary from the right he moved right on the issues. When he was facing a primary from the left he moved left.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features...pecter-voting/

Hillary Clinton moved to the left to fend off a primary challenge from Bernie Sanders.

basically that is what politicians truly care about. Getting re-elected. Whether that comes from losing a primary or general election, or losing funding, they'll vote accordingly.
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Old 03-12-2018, 02:01 PM
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Sir Winston Churchill was an honorary American, wasn't he? Having been both a Liberal and a Conservative during his career.
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Old 03-12-2018, 03:03 PM
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Some think that the public's (and the politicians') view of the political spectrum has shifted to the right quite a lot, so that all the candidates who were once called moderate are now called left, many who were called left are now ignored for being too far left, and many who were ignored for being too far right are now getting some attention.

That is just to show that the classifications are not reliable in trying to figure out where anyone stands, because the goalposts keep moving.
I agree with the last sentence, but I think the endposts have shifted to the left a lot, not to the right.
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Warren’s positions on numerous issues today are not that distant from those of the pre-“Contract With America” Republicans who were essentially wiped off the map by Gringrich-led neocons in the mid- ‘Nineties. The Republican party used to stand for civil rights, respect for the value of science and education, and pragmatism in government finance and economics. Even abortion rights, now a highly devisive party-line issue, was not previously a defining position. Now the Republican party has essentially been co-oped by corporate interests actively working to undermine democratic institutions and eliminate regulatory oversight, and Warren, who would have once been viewed as a ‘moderate’ fiscal conservative is now characterized as a radical leftist just barely more toward the center than Bernie Sanders, which tells you everything you need to know about how skewed the political landscape is.

Stranger
The primary basis for Warren's progressive credentials is her anti-big business stances, which would have been very much out-of-step with the Republican mainstream in any recent era.
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Robert Byrd, as mentioned upthread, is the best example I can think of. He genuinely repented from supporting racist policies to being supportive of civil rights. If I remember correctly he was frequently bashed by those on the right for being a flip flopper. I think that just goes to show he did have a genuine change of heart and that those on the right no longer felt he was one of them.
I would guess he probably did have a change of heart on these issues (along with much of the rest of the country). But I don't think what you said proves it. At the time he changed, being a flip flopper was far far less damaging to his political career than being a racist.
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Lyndon Johnson was a fairly typical southern Dem who consistently resisted civil rights legislation as a senator, but as president he brought in very strong civil rights. He is said to have commented at the time, that he had pushed the south towards the Republicans for a generation. He was wrong; it is now two and heading for a third generation.
He's also alleged to have thought he could earn the votes of black people for 200 years. He's about 1/4 of the way there and going strong.

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In the current congress Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was a moderate to conservative congressman who campaigned against illegal immigration, for gun rights, and voted against the Obama stimulus package. She was then elected to the Senate and is now the 5th most liberal Senator.
As a member of the House, Gillibrand represented a district in upstate NY, which is a conservative area. As a senator, she represents the entire NY state, which is much more liberal. As a politician with national aspirations, she has her eyes on the Democratic primary electorate, which is much more liberal yet.
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Old 03-12-2018, 03:11 PM
Fotheringay-Phipps Fotheringay-Phipps is offline
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As to the OP, I'm not sure if you would count journalist/activists for this purpose, but if so I would nominate David Brock. Former right wing hack, current left wing hack.

Also, while Ramsey Clark was a progressive Democrat when serving as AG under LBJ, at that time he was very much in the mainstream, while he moved into the radical left after leaving office.
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Old 03-12-2018, 03:14 PM
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I agree with the last sentence, but I think the endposts have shifted to the left a lot, not to the right.
Take, for example, the actual policies (not who opposed who, just what was written in the legislation) when Eisenhower was president. The majority of the Republican party today would never vote for Eisenhower-style bills. Republican policy at that time was to the left of even where Democratic policy is today.
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Old 03-12-2018, 03:24 PM
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Take, for example, the actual policies (not who opposed who, just what was written in the legislation) when Eisenhower was president. The majority of the Republican party today would never vote for Eisenhower-style bills. Republican policy at that time was to the left of even where Democratic policy is today.
I don't think this is correct.

I think it's only true if you look at direction and not actual policy. So if you say "Eisenhower expanded civil rights and the Republicans today are not in favor of expanding civil rights" or similar, then it's true. But if you look at "the actual policies" that Eisenhower enacted in the course of expanding civil rights, they're things that would be taken for granted by Republicans of all stripes nowadays (e.g. desegregating schools).
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Old 03-12-2018, 03:34 PM
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Mark Warner of VA was Republican and is now Democrat. Moderate both. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Warner
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Old 03-12-2018, 03:37 PM
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Where do you see that Mark Warner was once a Republican? (Are you sure you're not confusing him with John Warner?)
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Old 03-12-2018, 04:09 PM
DavidwithanR DavidwithanR is offline
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I don't think this is correct.

I think it's only true if you look at direction and not actual policy. So if you say "Eisenhower expanded civil rights and the Republicans today are not in favor of expanding civil rights" or similar, then it's true. But if you look at "the actual policies" that Eisenhower enacted in the course of expanding civil rights, they're things that would be taken for granted by Republicans of all stripes nowadays (e.g. desegregating schools).
That makes sense, and it seems to me to open the question of which is more important in a politician - their immediate situation, or the direction that they're trying to influence their situation.
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Old 03-12-2018, 05:06 PM
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I'm not sure what you mean by "important", and more significantly, whether someone is taking a stance on a given issue because he believes in that specific position on that specific issue versus trying to influence things in that general direction seems to be highly speculative for the most part.

But at any rate, in the context of this specific discussion I would think the actual stance on specific issues is what counts. Suppose you have someone who was strongly in favor of integration but strongly opposed to all immigration and affirmative action back in the 50s, and he maintained those exact stances over the ensuing 6 decades. That guy would move from being a liberal to being a conservative on race without having changed his position on a single issue, by virtue of the country having moved to the left while he stayed in position.
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Old 03-12-2018, 05:20 PM
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There is one wild-eyed theory out there that most politicians are just blank pages which their donors write on, so that these "changes of heart" are merely the changing economic winds of their donors.
There's another wholly reasonable theory that most politicians are blank pages that will adapt themselves to their constituency and base. Some politicos are fairly explicit about this if in the mood.

I once combed through 1980s voting records to discover the rep that best matched my views: I even had a spreadsheet. I then figured out that what I liked was... high tech urban districts. Pro-choice, pro free trade, technocratic.
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  #48  
Old 03-12-2018, 05:46 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
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Do political pundits count?

If so, Arianna Huffington and Ed Schultz both made a meaningful change on their views.
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  #49  
Old 03-13-2018, 10:47 AM
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puddleglum puddleglum is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidwithanR View Post
Take, for example, the actual policies (not who opposed who, just what was written in the legislation) when Eisenhower was president. The majority of the Republican party today would never vote for Eisenhower-style bills. Republican policy at that time was to the left of even where Democratic policy is today.
There is almost no truth to this at all. Eisenhower believed in a very interventionist foreign policy, much more so than any party today. On Spending he was a deficit hawk and spending as percentage of GDP went down 2% in his presidency. On immigration he launched Operation Wetback to round up and deport illegal Mexican immigrants. The biggest policy difference with todays Republicans would be taxes since Ike wanted balanced budgets before tax cuts.
  #50  
Old 03-13-2018, 11:21 AM
control-z control-z is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
Where do you see that Mark Warner was once a Republican? (Are you sure you're not confusing him with John Warner?)
I think you're right. He was a "Virginia Democrat" governor, he really seemed like a Republican but apparently was always a Democrat. I stand corrected.
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