Game-changing elections (a history thread)

There are certain elections in US history that are obviously game-changers. The election of Lincoln is a good example. So is the '94 “Contract with America” election. On the other hand, the second election of Grover Cleveland seems like the opposite.

Which past US elections strike you as pivotal in some way?

Is there any way to look at very recent or even future elections and say if they are going to fit that category? Yes, if Obama is elected, he will be the first black president. Yes, if McCain is elected, he will be the oldest president elected to a first term and will have the first female VP. Is that enough?

I don’t think that simply being the oldest or having the first female VP would be enough to be a “game changer” if McCain is elected. I don’t know about whether an Obama win would, by itself, be a game changer - it would certainly change perceptions about who could run for and win the Presidency. But in both instances, I think that whoever is elected would have to make significant policy changes that changed the course of the country for some time to come.

A McCain win, followed by Palin taking charge due to some unfortunate situation, could be a game changer, if she does what she says and continues the Bush policies. You could argue that the real game changer in that situation was the Bush win rather than the McCain/Palin win, because of the extended ideological conservative control of the White House. The change in Supreme Court alone could make it that significant.

If Obama wins and is able to make things happen the way he has campaigned, at least in his earlier wins, could have a significant impact if he is in fact able to tone down the partisanship of Washington. IMHO, that’s doubtful, unless he’s able to get a significant fraction of the public to follow his lead and toss out those who are going to continue to play the same old games.

I guess that my thought is that whoever wins has the opportunity to make significant changes in the government - I think a lot of people are ready for increased government action and would support effective programs. But if the eventual winner simply turns back to doing things the same old way, then the novelty of a different ethnicity/gender won’t have quite as much power as it otherwise would. In that case, I’d look to the 2012 election as having the potential for being a game-changer.

I’d be very mildly impressed if this country elects a black president, rather more than a female vp ( though that is indeed somewhat significant in of itself ). I wasn’t entirely sure if it was possible in my lifetime.

I think the first Jewish or female president would be very significant historical events and I think either of these has a reasonable, if not overwhelming, likliehood of happening before I die ( I’m 40 ). The second being more likely than the first.

An even more significant milestone IMO would be the first openly gay, atheist, or non-Jewish minority religion candidate ( Muslim, Buddhist, etc. ) and those I most definitely do not expect to see.

Well, to be fair, there are a lot fewer of those groups than there are WASPs, so they’re less likely to run in your lifetime in the first place. (Don’t interpret this as me saying I think such a person could get elected right now, though.)

Vox Imperatoris

The elections of 1800, 1932, and 1980 are often cited, for good and fairly obvious reasons. The one I like to cite that’s a little less obvious is the election of 1896, because it was the election in which the modern fault lines of a conservative Republican and liberal Democratic party emerged for the first time. It was, indeed, perhaps the first election in which those words could be assigned to the candidates with anything close to their modern meaning. Before 1896, the only difference between the parties had been that Republicans supported tariffs and Democrats were passionately opposed to African American civil rights.

No, I firmly believe that you cannot. While they are fighting it, people assume that every election is Armageddon. Most of them aren’t. The few that are, are not clear for years or even decades afterward.

During the election of 1932, FDR sometimes campaigned to the right of Hoover. There was no way to know after his election that he would become a legend, or that Democrats would control the Presidency for 28 of the next 36 years, and Congress for most of the next 50, or that fault lines were being laid down that would dominate politics for the next generation. Likewise with Reagan in 1980.

Game changing elections redraw political lines and coalitions. The emerging party has to cater to new and unique set of interests, so the game of politics changes.

First game changer was in 1832 with the election of Andrew Jackson. He was the first President elected by the common man.

Lincoln was the first Republican elected in 1860.

Election of 1896 saw the first Presidential candidate (William Jennings Bryan) who championed the poor. His cause lost, and this election was essentially a mandate for big business.

In 1932 people voted that big business had to be reigned in. New Deal coalition came to power and this marked the first time a President was elected who did not go on to ignore poor people.

1960 didn’t change politics much, but it did change our culture.

In 1980 conservatives take over, changing politics and culture.

What’s going to happen in 2008? Hard to tell now. Obama is certainly the first candidate who has a shot at winning with a coalition of liberals and minorities. Mostly young urban liberals and black activist. This will surely change politics somehow.

Certainly true. Demographics was not even a word in 1932, so there were probably no signs that Democrats would end up broadening their power base so dramatically. Until then they had basically been an urban East/rural South coalition, and an uneasy one.

1979 - Margaret Thatcher. Destruction of union power internally, advance of socialism drawn back somewhat, death of Soviet Union externally. End of ‘job for life’ culture. Resurgence of British confidence with the Falklands.

1980 - Ronald Reagan. Resurgence of American confidence after Vietnam. End of Soviet Union. USA makes it back into space.

The end of the Cold War means massive military restructuring by the West.

1878 was a big election for obvious reasons. 1904 was big because it validated Roosevelt’s more modern approach to the presidency. 1936 was important because of the way FDR was able to demonstrate a way of bring machine style politics to a national level. 1964 was big because of the Vietnam war and the Great Society changed our culture. 1972 led to the post Watergate realignment. 1980 changed the way the cold war was being fought.
I don’t see this election as being game changing, but you never know.

The 1968 election was a game-changer: It was the first in which the Republicans used the Southern Strategy, and opened the way for the destruction of the Democratic “Solid South,” the migration of large numbers of white Southern and Western Democrats to the Pubs (some by way of George Wallace’s short-lived American Independent Party), and the unimaginable transformation of the Republican Party from a primarily sectional party of the Northeast and Midwest into a primarily sectional party of the South and West; concomitant with the marginalization and disaffection of the old liberal, once-dominant, Rockefeller Republican wing; and the rise of Movement Conservatism, which dates back at least to Robert Taft’s three bids for the Pub nomination, became fully self-aware with the movement to draft and run Barry Goldwater in 1964, and ultimately triumphed with Reagan’s election in 1980.

With the result that now, and for the first time in American history, the two-party system represents clear ideological alternatives – the Republican Party being definitely and entirely conservative, the Democratic Party being definitely liberal (though less ideologically homogeneous than the Pubs).

Backstory to this story can be found in two fairly recent books by Rick Perlstein:

Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America


The institution of the Neo-con agenda for blatant imperialism was certainly a game changer.

Historians divide party politics in the U.S. into the following periods, punctuated in most cases by watershed or game-changer or realignment elections:

First Party System: 1792-1815; Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans

Era of Good Feelings: 1815-24: Democratic-Republicans dominant, Federalists marginalized

Second Party System: 1837-52: Democrats (grew out of Democratic-Republicans) vs. Whigs

Third Party System: 1854-mid-1890s: Republicans vs. Democrats, Republicans dominant

Fourth Party System: 1896-1932: a/k/a the Progressive Era; Republicans vs. Democrats, Republicans dominant, Republicans now a definitely pro-business party with reformist elements

Fifth Party System: 1932 - ???; a/k/a the New Deal Era; Democrats vs. Republicans, Democrats dominant. Arguably the one we’re living in now, but I would hold with those who posit we’re now in the Sixth Party System and it dates from around 1968, at outlined in post #10 above.

I would say the second example doesn’t belong in the same league as the first. '94 is significant in that it represents the ability of anti-government partisans to retain power despite limited traditional patronage by privatizing large portions of the government and turning them over to loyalists. But while the decade-long Republican control of the House looms large right now, it might not in the future. Particularly if the Democrats can ride the anti-corruption train for an equal or longer period of time.

No, it’s not enough. The election of a black or female to one of the nations highest 2 offices won’t change anything for those demographics or for politics overall. It would only highlight social changes that are already ongoing, slowly enough. McCain’s election would only signify the advances in medical technology so that an even older geezer can make it.

Whether or not the election itself will lead to major change remains to be seen. For myself, I doubt it. Sure I think an Obama victory would lead to important changes: a return to fiscal sanity, health care reform, environmental reform, sensible diplomatic policies, repairing the damage the cronyism, neglect, and deliberate sabotage has done to the functionality of the government, and so on. But I also believe that these things are inevitable in the long term.

The most significant election to me seems the Revolution of 1800. It forced a sitting president out of office for the first time. It led to a constitutional amendment. But more importantly, it led to a major change of direction in politics and socioeconomics. Because the 2nd Bank of the U.S. was chartered people often mistakenly claim that there was little difference between the Republicans and Federalists but they have missed the intent of the policies. The Republicans chartered the new bank in order to finance the War of 1812. (Yes, I know it happened in 1816- they finished the war before they figured out how to pay for it. Sound familiar?) It would benefit some Americans over others but that wasn’t its purpose, unlike the First Bank which Hamilton designed to deliberately increase the wealth disparity nationally to create more deference from the lower classes towards their betters.

A similar argument can be made concerning governmental power. While it’s easy to point to examples of Republicans of adopting the same loose interpretation of the Constitution that they criticized the Federalists so bitterly for yet their intention was not to deliberately increase governmental power. The Louisiana Purchase, for instance, is a far cry from the Alien and Sedition Acts. In sum, the election of 1800 is a major turning point. Perhaps the major turning point since the ratification of the Constitution. Instead of a government that aggressively and openly used its power to promote the rich over the rest and silence dissent we had a more democratic approach, if not as democratic as many would have liked.

Just my 2sense

Never heard that before. Cite?

I’ve read it in a few different places. The one that comes quickly to hand is Crucible of American Democracy by Andrew Shankman. I would recommend reading it if you are intersted in the period. It’s where I first encountered the argument that Republican political economy was not neo-Federalist (page 208) as well as this following paragraph on the formation of Hamilton’s bank (page 31). Please keep in mind that in discussing the “White Man’s Burden” of gentleman the author is using the term as understood at the time. That is, not as someone who is nice to others but someone who if not born into high society at least has adopted their manners and elitist outlook.

That quote doesn’t say what your summary of it did.

I have not summarized the quote. I have cited it to support my assertion. If I were to provide a summary it would go like so:

“The intent behind the bank was to stabilize the nation economically and socially by providing credit but limiting access to it to the social elite thus attaching them to the nation and ensuring the lower classes would defer to them.”

As such, I believe it bolsters the claim.

Again, I would say that that summary is incorrect. The goal, as the quote states it, was to make sure that people who would use money for noble purposes that helped the nation and general populace get it while those who would use it for unseemly purposes wouldn’t get it. There’s nothing about upper or lower classes, and the only mention of anything like one person deferring to another is the restriction of using the money for the good of the nation (i.e. the person receiving the money deferring to the greater good.)

That’s not to say that in that time and place that your birth was irrelevant to how people viewed you. Almost certainly if you were well-born you’d have been more likely to get a loan, but the way they viewed it and subsequently the way they describe it–like in your quote–is as separating crook from gentleman.

Gentlemen were the upper class, as I explained before offering the quote. Restricting credit to them denies it to the vast majority of the population. The “dignified deference” was the respect gentlemen were used to being paid to them prior to the Revolution. This was the “desirable social order”.

That strikes me as an extremely cartoonish characterization of the advocates of the First B.U.S. Stable banking and a credit-worthy government benefit all classes in society. (As we see in the current subprime mess, too-easy credit isn’t exactly a panacea for the less wealthy.) I could just as well characterize the opponents of the BUS as landed aristocrats eager to forestall competition from upstart merchants.