Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grover Cleveland's Admonition

For my fortieth blog post, I would like to reference an excellent quote from one of my favorite presidents, Grover Cleveland, which I believe very strongly pertains to the situation faced by our current chief executive, Barack Obama.

The context was the election of 1892. Cleveland had served a single term as president from 1885 to 1889, but had been defeated in his first re-election bid by former Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. Normally that would have marked the end of Cleveland's presidential career, as it had for the previous three presidents who had sought a second term and lost (John Adams, John Q. Adams, and Martin Van Buren). In Cleveland's case, however, there were three extenuating circumstances that ultimately worked to his political benefit:
1) He had actually won the popular vote, albeit by a very small margin (0.7%), and could thus lay claim to a moral if not actual victory (which in a democracy is a very powerful argument indeed).
2) Cleveland's four years in office had been marked by a strong dedication to reform that was in high acclaim at the time - he had put a stop to the corrupt spoils system that had contaminated politics for so many years, insisted on fiscal restraint and an end to pork barreling, vetoed legislation that he viewed as profligate or only serving the interest of individual special interest groups, and strengthened the policy-making and politcal landscape-shifting prerogatives of the presidency for the first time since Andrew Johnson by coming out in favor of tariff reduction (even though he could have easily skirted the issue) and thereby forcing the upcoming 1888 elections to be fought on the terms that he dictated. In short, Cleveland's first term in office, though not perfect, had been a very definite success.
3) Benjamin Harrison's presidency was as unsuccessful as Cleveland's had been accomplished. During his four years the spoils system was put back in place, the cause of reforming against corruption was stymied, tariffs were raised and thus American trade damaged, the currency was undermined vis-a-vis a bill that led to the injection of silver into our monetary system, and worst of all, Harrison's Republican-dominated Congress ran up for the first billion dollar budget in the nation's history.

As such, Cleveland was able to win re-election handily in 1892, making him the first and so far only president to serve two inconsecutive terms. Given the high esteem in which Cleveland was held, Harrison's own deep unpopularity, and the fact that the Democrat had been elected by the widest popular margin in sixteen years, the jubilation that greeted Cleveland's victory was especially pronounced. Yet even as Cleveland's supporters celebrated, the soon-to-be-restored leader was somber, for reasons that he soon articulated to his friends:

While we find in our triumph a result of popular intelligence which we have aroused, and a consequence of popular vigilance which we have stimulated, let us not for a moment forget that our accession to power will find neither this intelligence nor this vigilance dead or slumbering. We are thus brought face to face with the reflection that if we are not to be tormented by the spirits which we ourselves have called up, we must hear, above victorious shouts, the call of our countrymen to public duty, and must put on a gar befitting public servants.

The parallels between Cleveland's election in 1892 and Obama's election in 2008, though hardly precise, are nonetheless close enough in many important aspects to be relevant today. Both candidates were elected at times when the incumbent Republican administration had become unpopular for wreaking havoc on the nation's economy (Harrison's policies had caused a recession late in his term that ultimately culminated in a depression which lasted through 1897-98); both were Democrats taking power after decades in which the Republican party had dominated the American political process (Republicans had held the presidency for twenty-eight of the thirty-two years preceding Cleveland's election in 1892, and for twenty-eight of the thirty-six years preceding Obama's election in 2008); and most significantly, both Cleveland and Obama were the benefactors of enormous enthusiasm and trust, not only from the grassroots of their own Democratic parties, but from the American people as a whole.

Grover Cleveland entered the White House on March 4, 1893, with the highest of expectations surrounding his impending leadership. Because of his inability to address the terrible economic crisis in which the nation was plunged, he would leave it four years later as a pariah. Barack Obama entered the White House on January 20, 2009, amidst equally great expectations. Can he follow the advice that Cleveland himself, despite having vocalized it, was unable to live up to, and in so doing avoid the fate of his predecessor?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sotomayor's Shaky Record on Abortion Rights

The Republican's hard right has many clever psychological tricks in its book of political chicanery, many of which have had such a detrimental impact on American discourse that their destructive consequences are still felt today. One such trick is to accuse Democrats whose views on a given topic are quite obviously centrist and accuse that individual of being excessively liberal. The effect of this tactic is to push the nation's ideological spectrum as far to the right as possible - when people and positions that are decisively moderate or even conservative are falsely accused of being too liberal, the knee-jerk reaction among Democrats is to defend themselves by making the individual in question even more conservative, thereby not only reinforcing the idea that being too liberal is a "bad" thing, but also increasing the volume of liberal positions that can be branded as "radical" and likewise making more and more of the conservative movement's ideas seem not dogmatic, but rather "mainstream". In short, by knowingly exaggerating the extent to which individual Democrats are "liberal", Republicans make it harder for left-wing positions to be given the respect they deserve, while simultaneously making it easier for right-wing beliefs to be taken for granted as simple "assumptions" about what is and isn't permissible in American political life.

Such is the tactic being used by Republicans now to combat Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. Anti-abortion groups and right-wing pundits everywhere are decrying her as radical when in fact her position on some key abortion rights issues are not only decisively un-liberal, but should be worrisome to abortion rights advocates who understand the Supreme Court's vital role in preserving a woman's right to choose. Take this succinct article from the Christian Broadcasting Network's blog (there are many other sources that have reported the same information, but I thought for the purposes of this piece material from a right-wing venue would be most fitting):

Back in 2002, Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor wrote an opinion AGAINST a pro-choice group. It involved the controversial Mexico City policy. Read a summary of the case below from  the the SCOTUS Blog.

The case was called, "Center for Reproductive Law and Policy vs. Bush.

"Although Sotomayor has not had a case dealing directly with abortion rights, she wrote the opinion in Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, 304 F.3d 183 (2d Cir. 2002), a challenge to the “Mexico City Policy,” which prohibited foreign organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or supporting abortions.  An abortion rights group (along with its attorneys) brought claimed that the policy violated its First Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights.  Relying on the Second Circuit’s earlier decision in Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. v. Agency for International Development, which dealt with a virtually identical claim, Sotomayor’s opinion rejected the group’s First Amendment claim on the merits.  Turning to the plaintiffs’ due process claim, Sotomayor held that they lacked standing because they alleged only a harm to foreign organizations, rather than themselves.  Sotomayor held that the plaintiffs did have standing with regard to their equal protection claim, but she ultimately held that the claim failed under rational basis review because the government “is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position” with public funds."

Even Sotomayor's defenders admit that she hasn't made any rulings on abortion-related matters during her lengthy career on the bench. This single case constitutes the sole example of how Sotomayor may be expected to rule on reproductive rights should that issue be brought to the desk of the Supreme Court, and it not only disproves the dissembling rants of the right-wingers who accuse her of being rabidly pro-choice, but outright contradicts it.

This should be very worrisome to liberals, and particularly to supporters of a woman's right to choose. Let us remember that there is a long history of presidents making Supreme Court appointments with the idea that they would adhere to one ideological agenda, only to be shocked when they make an about-face and ascribe to a completely different set of views. The most famous example is Earl Warren, the conservative California governor and 1948 Republican vice presidential candidate who was appointed Chief Justice of the court by President Eisenhower in 1953 with the idea that he would push that judicial body to the right, only to go on and lead the Court in making some of its most progressive legal rulings ever on issues ranging from civil rights to free speech (Eisenhower later rued his selection of Warren, citing it as one of the worst mistakes of his presidency). Other examples include Sandra Day O'Connor, selected by President Reagan because he knew the Senate would feel compelled to make her the first female Supreme Court judge regardless of her supposed conservatism, only to discover after being confirmed that she was more moderate, and David Souter (the judge Sotomayor will be replacing if she gets through), who was chosen by President Bush Senior for his reputed rock-ribbed New Hampshire conservatism before siding with liberals on most major points.

It is true that these three examples all wound up benefiting the liberal movement, and through it the country as a whole. Yet what is to say that this same principle can't work in reverse? What makes liberals believe that the same errors of judgment which caused lefties-in-right-wing clothing to get appointed couldn't also cause a conservative to slip by under the guise of being a liberal?

This is what should give pause to liberals who are otherwise eager to support the first Latina ever to be nominated to the Supreme Court, particularly when it comes to Sotomayor's shady record on abortion rights. A woman's right to choose has been upheld by the court by the narrowest of margins over the years, and with deep red states continuing to overturn those rights, it is inevitable that we will soon see an abortion rights case brought to the attention of this country's most powerful bench. If Sotomayor is confirmed, and if the anti-abortion ruling she rendered in 2002 is any suggestion of how she will rule on abortion rights as a whole, there is every reason to worry that her replacement of Souter (who was pro-choice) could ultimately jeopardize Roe v. Wade. Liberals would be well-advised to learn from history.

The History of the Jewish Vote

Do you know which presidential candidate has received the most Jewish votes (it's actually a three-way tie between Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964, each with 90%)? Can you tell me which third-party candidate has fared best among Jewish voters (Socialist Eugene Debs in 1920, with 38% of the Jewish vote compared to only 3% of the overall popular vote, and running for president from prison, no less)? Did you know that the two presidents who managed to get elected while receiving the fewest Jewish votes were Richard Nixon (in 1968 with 17%) and George W. Bush (first in 2000 with 19% and again in 2004 with 25%)?

As a Jewish American, I have always taken special pride in the tendency of my demographic to support liberal candidates in presidential elections. This is not a recent trend either, for as the following data shows, Jews have gravitated toward left-wing politicians for as long as Jewish voting patterns have been recorded.

The statistics below encompass Jewish voting results in every presidential election from 1916 (where the first data regarding the Jewish vote exists) to the present. There are several noteworthy statistics from this chart that I feel are worth expounding upon:

1) The Jewish vote did not become reliably Democratic until the election of 1928, when the nominee was an outspoken progressive from New York City, Governor Alfred E. Smith. Although the Democratic party had been dependably "liberal" (by the modern definition of the term) since William Jennings Bryan's nomination 1896, it wasn't until Smith was tapped thirty-two years later that the party's left-wing ideology adopted a flavor that was especially appealing to the urban culture with which Jews throughout modern history have been strongly associated. This explains why, prior to 1928, there were such noteworthy phenomena as Socialist Eugene Debs receiving only 3% of the national vote but 38% of the Jewish vote (whereas Harding received 60% of the national vote and only 43% of the Jewish vote and his Democratic opponent received 38% of the national vote but only 19% of the Jewish vote). Jews in the past two hundred years of Western history have tended to strongly associate with a distinctly cosmopolitan brand of progressivism, and it was the Democratic party's adoption of that ideology in 1928, with the nomination of Alfred "Al" Smith, that officially brought them into the fold. Indeed, one could safely assert that Al Smith was to Jewish voters and the Democratic party the same thing that Barry Goldwater was to Southern voters and the Republican party, or what Franklin Roosevelt was to African-American voters and the Democratic party - i.e, the candidate directly responsible for making them into a dependable voting bloc and integral part of that political organization's coalition.

2) With one exception, no fewer three out of every five voting Jews (60%) have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since Alfred Smith's nomination in 1928. Indeed, this number is almost always much larger, with Democrats being able to depend upon anywhere from 70% to 79% of the Jewish vote in normal elections, and as much as 80% to 90% of the Jewish vote in elections where either the Democratic candidate was unusually popular among Jews (Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Bill Clinton) or the Republican adversary was uniquely disliked by Jews (Barry Goldwater). The number has only hovered between 60% and 69% (which is still considered a large enough figure for a group to be considered a "bloc" for a given party) when the Democratic candidate is either unusually unpopular with the general public and thus has residual effects on Jewish voting patterns (George McGovern in 1972, Michael Dukakis in 1988) or when the Republican candidate is popular with the general public to a transcendant degree (Adlai Stevenson against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan in 1984), with likewise residual effects among Jews.
The sole exception to this rule occurred in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter's widespread unpopularity and rumored anti-Semitism caused an unprecedented number of Jewish voters to abandon him. Even then, though, a surprisingly small number of those voters supported his Republican opponent (the arch-conservative Ronald Reagan), with a substantial number of the defectors instead casting their ballots for third-party candidate John Anderson, a liberal former Republican from Illinois Indeed, not only did Anderson receive twice as many votes from Jews (14%) as he did from the general American public (7%), but he actually did better among Jews than he did from any other voting constituency in that election.
Most noteworthy of all about Jewish voting patterns in 1980, though, was the fact that once the allegedly anti-Jewish candidate (Jimmy Carter) was off the Democratic ticket - as occurred in the subsequent election in 1984 - Jews gravitated back to their traditional home in the Democratic party. Indeed, the very fact that Mondale - who fared much worse with the general public in 1984 then Carter did in 1980 - managed to significantly out-perform Carter among Jewish voters further demonstrates the nature in which Jews' temporary defection from the Democratic party in 1980 was due to specific animus against Jimmy Carter, rather than any deep-rooted alteration of partisan allegiance.

3) It is worth noting that Israel does not play nearly the pivotal role in determining Jewish voting patterns as many pundits assert. In 1948, the year President Truman recognized the State of Israel, he received only 75% of the Jewish, down 15% from the amount received by Democrats in the previous two elections and the lowest number received by any Democrat in twenty years (although still high enough to count as a bloc). That said, this didn't happen because of any mass defection to the Republican ticket; Truman's opponent, Thomas Dewey, only received 10% of the vote, the exact same percentage Republican presidential candidates had received in the previous two elections.
So where did the remaining 15% go? To Henry Wallace, a Progressive candidate with poorly-concealed ties to the Communist party. Although Wallace's support of Israel was suspect, one-sixth of the Jews who supported Roosevelt in the previous two elections defected to Wallace because he was more liberal than Harry Truman, despite that Democrat's key role in helping create the State of Israel. This, by the way, is in stark contrast to the overall American public, among whom Wallace won only 2% of the popular vote.

4) Jewish voters also seem remarkably unaffected by candidates who are of specific interest to the Jews as an ethnic community. In 1916 - the year a Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, made history by putting his political neck on the line to appoint the first Jew to the Supreme Court (the venerable Louis Brandeis) - President Wilson received a mere 55% of the Jewish vote, only slightly larger than the percentage he received in total from the rest of the country. Likewise, even though Al Gore made Jewish history in 2000 by selecting Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, the first time a Jew was ever nominated by a major party for the vice presidency, he received 79% of the Jewish vote in the general election - a massive figure, no doubt, but only 1% higher than that received by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, in the previous election (1996), and actually 1% lower than the amount received by Clinton in the election before that (1992). Perhaps most significant of all was the election of 1964, in which 90% of all Jewish voters voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater, thereby giving President Johnson one of their largest margin in American history (tied only with Franklin Roosevelt's percentages in 1940 and 1944), even though Goldwater was of Jewish descent on his paternal side, making him the first major party presidential candidate to have Jewish blood in him (the only other one was John Kerry in 2004, although the fact that he had a Jewish paternal grandfather was not well-known).
The common thread in all three of these elections (1916, 1964, and 2000) was the Jewish preference for liberalism irrespective of any additional ethnic identification. The Democratic and Republican candidates in 1916 (Wilson and Hughes respectively) were both well-known liberals, the Republican in 1964 was unusually conservative even for his own party, and the Democrat in 2000 was a standard liberal running against a Republican who was a standard conservative. Hence the Jewish community was essentially split in 1916, unusually forceful in its opposition to the Republican in 1964, and as dependably Democratic (without being uniquely more so or less so) in 2000 as ever before - all without regard to the issue of Jewish self-identification.

5) Third-party candidates that are extremely conservative either fail to receive any Jewish votes (such as segregationist Strom Thurmond in 1948 or any of the fascist parties) or a significantly smaller percentage than from the mainstream (segregationist George Wallace received 14% of the general vote in 1968, but only 2% of the Jewish vote).
Liberal third-party candidates, however, generally fare much better; third-party candidate Eugene McCarthy - who earned just under 1% of the total vote in 1976 - received 2% of the Jewish vote, due to his well-known liberalism. The same trend can be spotted among most other left-wing third-party contendes, such as Robert La Follette in 1924, who received 16% of the general vote but 22% of the Jewish vote, and the figures posted by Socialist Eugene Debs in 1920 (38% of Jews compared to 3% of the general public), Progressive Henry Wallace in 1948 (15% of Jews compared to 2% of the general public), and Independent John Anderson in 1980 (14% of Jews compared to 7% of the general public), all of which were mentioned above. Indeed, the sole exception to this rule was Ralph Nader in 2000, who received a lower proportion of Jewish votes than he did those of the general public (1% of the Jewish vote compared to 3% of the general public). Why Nader fared so much more poorly among Jewish voters is difficult to say, although I personally suspect it's because - unlike other left-wing third-party candidates - there was very little ideological difference between Nader and the Democratic alternative, Gore.
Finally, third-party candidates who are essentially non-ideological in nature (namely Ross Perot) tend to do less well among Jewish voters than among the general public, although they do not crash and burn to the same degree that extremely conservative third-party candidates do.

6) Of the fourteen presidents who were elected between 1928 and 2008, the most popular (when incorporating both averages and statistical modes) among Jewish voters was Franklin Roosevelt, and the least popular (using the same method) was George W. Bush. The distinction of most popular Democrat among Jewish voters is actually a tie between Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, while the least popular Democrat was Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, the most popular Republican among Jewish voters was Dwight Eisenhower, while the least popular Republicans were (in a three-way tie) Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, and Barry Goldwater. That said, the Jewish preference for Democrats over Republicans is so noteworthy that even the least popular Democrat (Jimmy Carter) still received more Jewish votes than the most popular Republican (Dwight Eisenhower). Just as interesting: Socialist Eugene Debs received more Jewish votes in his 1920 campaign (38%) than all but three Republicans in the entire ninety-two year period in which Jewish votes have been counted (he was surpassed by Warren Harding in 1920, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, and Ronald Reagan in 1980).

Before I begin, I want to further add that I am separating the data into two categories - that which applies before the integration of the Jewish community into the Democratic party in 1928, and that which applies afterward. Here are the statistics from the elections of 1916, 1920, and 1924:

Woodrow Wilson (Democrat): 55% of Jewish vote, 49% of total vote
Charles Hughes (Republican): 45% of Jewish vote, 46% of total vote

Warren Harding (Republican): 43% of Jewish vote, 60% of total vote
James Cox (Democrat): 19% of Jewish vote, 38% of total vote
Eugene Debs (Socialist): 38% of Jewish vote, 3% of total vote

Calvin Coolidge (Republican): 27% of Jewish vote, 54% of total vote
John Davis (Democrat): 51% of Jewish vote, 29% of total vote
Robert La Follette (Progressive): 22% of Jewish vote, 17% of total vote

Here are the Jewish voting patterns since 1928, in what can rightly be referred to as the modern history of the Jewish electorate:

Herbert Hoover (Republican): 28% of Jewish vote, 58% of total vote
Alfred Smith (Democrat): 72% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 82% of Jewish vote, 57% of popular vote
Herbert Hoover (Republican): 18% of Jewish vote, 40% of popular vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 85% of Jewish vote, 61% of popular vote
Alfred Landon (Republican): 15% of Jewish vote, 37% of popular vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 90% of Jewish vote, 55% of popular vote
Wendell Willkie (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 45% of popular vote

Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat): 90% of Jewish vote, 53% of popular vote
Thomas Dewey (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 46% of popular vote

Harry Truman (Democrat): 75% of Jewish vote, 50% of popular vote
Thomas Dewey (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 45% of popular vote
Henry Wallace (Progressive): 15% of Jewish vote, 2% of popular vote
Strom Thurmond (Dixiecrat): 0% of Jewish vote, 2% of popular vote

Dwight Eisenhower (Republican): 36% of Jewish vote, 55% of popular vote
Adlai Stevenson (Democrat): 64% of Jewish vote, 44% of popular vote

Dwight Eisenhower (Republican): 40% of Jewish vote, 57% of popular vote
Adlai Stevenson (Democrat): 60% of Jewish vote, 42% of popular vote

John Kennedy (Democrat): 82% of Jewish vote, 50% of popular vote
Richard Nixon (Republican): 18% of Jewish vote, 50% of popular vote

Lyndon Johnson (Democrat): 90% of Jewish vote, 61% of popular vote
Barry Goldwater (Republican): 10% of Jewish vote, 39% of popular vote

Richard Nixon (Republican): 17% of Jewish vote, 43% of popular vote
Hubert Humphrey (Democrat): 81% of Jewish vote, 43% of popular vote
George Wallace (Independent): 2% of Jewish vote, 14% of popular vote

Richard Nixon (Republican): 35% of Jewish vote, 61% of total vote
George McGovern (Democrat): 65% of Jewish vote, 38% of total vote

Jimmy Carter (Democrat): 71% of Jewish vote, 50% of total vote
Gerald Ford (Republican): 27% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote
Eugene McCarthy (Independent): 2% of Jewish vote, 1% of total vote

Ronald Reagan (Republican): 39% of Jewish vote, 51% of total vote
Jimmy Carter (Democrat): 45% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote
John Anderson (Independent): 14% of Jewish vote, 7% of total vote

Ronald Reagan (Republican): 31% of Jewish vote, 59% of total vote
Walter Mondale (Democrat): 67% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote

George H. W. Bush (Republican): 36% of Jewish vote, 53% of total vote
Michael Dukakis (Democrat): 64% of Jewish vote, 46% of total vote

William Clinton (Democrat): 80% of Jewish vote, 43% of total vote
George H. W. Bush (Republican): 11% of Jewish vote, 38% of total vote
Ross Perot (Independent): 9% of Jewish vote, 19% of total vote

William Clinton (Democrat): 78% of Jewish vote, 49% of total vote
Robert Dole (Republican): 16% of Jewish vote, 41% of total vote
Ross Perot (Independent): 3% of Jewish, 8% of total vote

George W. Bush (Republican): 19% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote
Albert Gore (Democrat): 79% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote
Ralph Nader (Green): 1% of Jewish vote, 3% of total vote

George W. Bush (Republican): 25% of Jewish vote, 51% of total vote
John Kerry (Democrat): 74% of Jewish vote, 48% of total vote

Barack Obama (Democrat): 78% of Jewish vote, 53% of total vote
John McCain (Republican): 21% of Jewish vote, 46% of total vote

Jewish Support for Major Presidential Candidates (1928-Present)*:
1) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1940) - 90%
1) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1944) - 90%
1) Lyndon Johnson (Democrat-1964) - 90%
2) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1936) - 85%
3) Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1932) - 82%
3) John Kennedy (Democrat-1960) - 82%
4) Hubert Humphrey (Democrat-1968) - 81%
5) William Clinton (Democrat-1992) - 80%
6) Albert Gore (Democrat-2000) - 79%
7) William Clinton (Democrat-1996) - 78%
7) Barack Obama (Democrat-2008) - 78%
8) Harry Truman (Democrat-1948) - 75%
9) John Kerry (Democrat-2004) - 74%
10) Alfred Smith (Democrat-1928) - 72%
11) Jimmy Carter (Democrat-1976) - 71%
12) Walter Mondale (Democrat-1984) - 67%
13) George McGovern (Democrat-1972) - 65%
14) Adlai Stevenson (Democrat-1952) - 64%
14) Michael Dukakis (Democrat-1988) - 64%
15) Adlai Stevenson (Democrat-1956) - 60%
16) Jimmy Carter (Democrat-1980) - 45%
17) Dwight Eisenhower (Republican-1956) - 40%
18) Ronald Reagan (Republican-1980) - 39%
19) Dwight Eisenhower (Republican-1952) - 36%
19) George H. W. Bush (Republican-1988) - 36%
20) Richard Nixon (Republican-1972) - 35%
21) Ronald Reagan (Republican-1984) - 31%
22) Herbert Hoover (Republican-1928) - 28%

23) Gerald Ford (Republican-1976) - 27%
24) George W. Bush (Republican-2004) - 24%
25) John McCain (Republican-2008) - 22%
26) George W. Bush (Republican-2000) - 19%
27) Herbert Hoover (Republican-1932) - 18%
28) Richard Nixon (Republican-1960) - 18%
29) Richard Nixon (Republican-1968) - 17%
30) Robert Dole (Republican-1996) - 16%
31) Alfred Landon (Republican-1936) - 15%
32) George H. W. Bush (Republican-1992) - 11%
33) Wendell Willkie (Republican-1940) - 10%
33) Thomas Dewey (Republican-1944) - 10%
33) Thomas Dewey (Republican-1948) - 10%
33) Barry Goldwater (Republican-1964) - 10%
* - Candidates in bold won the election in question, whereas candidates who remain in plain text did not.

Jewish Vote by Party (1928-2008):
Average Democrat - 75%
Median Democrat - 78%
Average Republican - 22%
Median Republican - 19%

Preferred Democrats Among Jews (1928-2008):
1. Franklin Roosevelt (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944) - 82%, 85%, 90%, 90%, Avg. 87%
2. Lyndon Johnson (1964) - 90%
3. John Kennedy (1960) - 82%
4. Hubert Humphrey (1968) - 81%
5. William Clinton (1992, 1996) - 80%, 78%, Avg. 79%
6. Albert Gore (2000) - 79%
7. Barack Obama (2008) - 78%
8. Harry Truman (1948) - 75%
9. John Kerry (2004) - 74%
10. Alfred Smith (1928) - 72%
11. Walter Mondale (1984) - 67%
12. George McGovern (1972) - 65%
13. Michael Dukakis (1988) - 64%
14. Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956) - 64%, 60%, Avg. 62%
15. Jimmy Carter (1976, 1980) - 71%, 45%, Avg. 58%

Preferred Republicans Among Jews (1928-2008):
1. Dwight Eisenhower (1952, 1956) - 36%, 40%, Avg. 38%
2. Ronald Reagan (1980, 1984) - 39%, 31%, Avg. 35%
3. Gerald Ford (1976) - 27%
4. George H. W. Bush (1988, 1992) - 36%, 11%, Avg. 24%
5. Richard Nixon (1960, 1968, 1972) - 18%, 17%, 35%, Avg. 23%
6. Herbert Hoover (1928, 1932) - 28%, 18%, Avg. 23%
7. George W. Bush (2000, 2004) - 19%, 24%, Avg. 22%
8. John McCain (2008) - 22%
9. Robert Dole (1996) - 16%
10. Alfred Landon (1936) - 15%
11. Wendell Willkie (1940) - 10%
11. Thomas Dewey (1944, 1948) - 10%
11. Barry Goldwater (1964) - 10%

The Future:
I would like to end this article with a prediction. It is very clear that the Jewish vote has consistently been 74%-80% Democratic within the last five presidential elections, regardless of how those candidates have fared with the general public, and the obvious question is how Barack Obama will fare among Jewish voters in 2012. Although Republicans will almost certainly attempt to characterize Obama as being anti-Israel and potentially anti-Semitic (doubtless in an effort to capitalize on lingering animosity against Jimmy Carter), their efforts against President Obama in 2012 will likely be as unsuccessful as their similar efforts against President Clinton in 1996. Although Obama has been critical of certain aspects of Israeli policy, Republicans forget that most American Jews are equally disapproving of what they perceive as human rights abuses by the Jewish State, and as previous historical trends have shown, they tend to support Democratic presidents who criticize Israel so long as their comments aren't perceived as possessing anti-Semitic overtones. Considering the large number of Jews Obama has appointed to positions of power in his administration (Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Mona Sutphen as Deputy Chief of Staff, Elena Kagan as Solicitor General, Lawrence Summers as Director of the National Economic Council, Peter Orszag as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, James Steinberg as Deputy Secretary of State, et cetera), his association with the liberal causes most often championed by the Jewish community, and the dearth of potential Republican adversaries in 2012 who are held in high regard by Jews, the probability is that Obama will be able to depend upon at least the 78% of the Jewish vote that he received from 2008. The question of whether that number will increase depends on who the Republicans choose to oppose him. As I see it, with the sole exceptions of Rudy Giuliani and Charlie Crist, the Republicans not only lack any candidates with specific appeal to the Jewish community, but are chock full of potential nominees who rather distinctly tun off Jewish voters. Of the three frontrunners, two of them - Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin - are so strongly associated with their party's right-wing extremists that it is fair to assume that they will fare as poorly as Thomas Dewey in 1944 or Barry Goldwater in 1964, both of whom were strongly opposed by Jews due to that community's fear of right-wing zealots (Dewey was actually far from a right-wing zealot, and indeed quite liberal, but his perceived association with that group is what matters insofar as the point being discussed here is concerned). This, in turn, would promise Obama between 85% and 90% of the Jewish vote. Even the least offensive of the frontrunners, Mitt Romney, is such a generic Republican that while it is doubtful he will be viewed as especially onerous to Jewish voters, he is very unlikely to turn them on either, thus making it probable that Romney would receive between 15% and 20%, the total received by other Republicans perceived as being dull, generic, and unoffensive (such as Landon with 15% in 1936, Nixon with 17% in 1968, and Dole with 16% in 1996), and giving Obama between 80% and 85%. In short, regardless of how Obama fares with the general public in 2012, I would not be surprised to see him do better among Jewish voters than any Democrat since the 1960s.

3) "The Jews of the United States" by "The New York Times"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Landon Lesson

Alfred M. Landon was the only Republican governor to be re-elected in 1934. That was the year of one of the greatest triumphs in the history of midterm elections, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successful New Deal programs caused the Democratic Party to win sweeping victories in the Senate, House of Representatives, and virtually every gubernatorial race. Because Governor Landon of Kansas was the only Republican who seemed capable of withstanding the tide, the Grand Old Party chose to ignore his relative progressivism (he supported the New Deal in concept, and opposed only what he viewed as its fiscally wasteful execution) and selected him as their presidential candidate to oppose Roosevelt, then seeking his second term, in 1936.

Landon was by all accounts an intelligent, hard-working, and decent man. Roosevelt bore no ill will against him, either during or after the campaign, and his record of admirable achievement as Governor of Kansas was disputed by none. Yet near the end of the election, when Landon realized that his prospects for victory were dim, he betrayed the very progressivism that had helped stimulate his political activity in the first place, and instead made a hard turn to the right. While most Americans were well-known to oppose extreme conservatism (particularly after the zenith of its agenda brought about the Great Depression), Landon was nevertheless deluded by his zealous campaign manager, John Hamilton, into believing that the path of the core right was the right one to victory. The consequences of Landon's reactionary turn were most aptly summed up in the succinct conclusion of Irving Stone's Landon biography in "They Also Ran":

He said, in effect, "If you want a social visionary, count me out." They counted him out.

Landon's refusal to be the social visionary America so desperately needed in the 1930s led him to the losing end of the second greatest landslide in presidential election history. In the popular vote it was 60.8% (27,752,648) for Roosevelt compared to 36.5% for Landon (16,681,862). In the electoral college the results were even more one-sided - 523 electoral votes for Roosevelt compared to only 8 for Landon (he picked up the states of Maine and Vermont, while Roosevelt won the rest).

How is this story relevant today? I bring it up to illustrate one main point:

The Republican Party has a long history of liberalism. The guiding philosophies of great Republican leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, Robert La Follette, Theodore Roosevelt, Fiorello La Guardia, Margaret Chase Smith, and John Anderson (who eventually left the party and ran as a liberal Republican third-party candidate against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter) are far more consistent with progressive ideologies than the plutocratic, xenophobic, theocratic, racist, and socio-culturally reactionary beliefs which define the Republican Party today. Landon is an excellent example of a man who, at his political peak, was able to blend forward-thinking with the fiscal restraint and insistent on orderly progress that remain the finest distinctive attribute of the GOP. In order to win an election, he temporarily abandoned those values, and in an ironic bout of poetic justice wound up losing the election precisely because he abandoned said values. The same fate was suffered by his two successors, Wendell Willkie and Thomas Dewey, both of whom ran against Franklin Roosevelt in his subsequent bids for re-election, both of whom were well-known liberals when first nominated, and both of whom made turns to the right so hard that they were abandoned by the very public which realized that it had been abandoned by them.

The grand old Republican tradition that spans from Lincoln to Anderson, and today includes a few wayward souls (see Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe), still has a place in the American political world. Let us hope that they will remember the Landon Lesson so that they can reclaim it, not only for their own sake, but for that of the country.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Great Society (45th Anniversary)

Today happens to be the forty-fifth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society Speech". Delivered at the University of Michigan precisely six months into his presidency, it wonderfully articulates the essential philosophy behind the progressive social and economic program Johnson had planned for the nation (more details about that can be found in my article on FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Great Society, and Obama's New Foundation). One of the great tragedies of modern history is the way in which the beneficent aspects of Johnson's presidency - the Great Society and its correlates, the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Legislation - were overshadowed by the war in Vietnam, a bloody and heinous conflict of which President Johnson wanted no part in the first place. I think the forty-fifth anniversary of the speech in which Johnson best articulated the ideas behind the Great Society is as good a time as any to re-evaluate the legacy of this oft-maligned president - not to overlook his errors, but to recognize the many virutes of his programs, and to start to re-embrace the good even as we make a point of steering clear from the bad in the future.

The Great Society speech is posted below:

President Hatcher, Governor Romney, Senators McNamara and Hart, Congressmen Header and Staebler, and other members of the fine Michigan delegation, members of the graduating class, my fellow Americans:- It is a great pleasure to be here today. This university has been coeducational since 1870, but I do not believe it was on the basis of your accomplishments that a Detroit high school girl said, "In choosing a college, you first have to decide whether you want a coeducational school or an educational school."

Well, we can find both here at Michigan, although perhaps at different hours. I came out here today very anxious to meet the Michigan student whose father told a friend of mine that his son's education had been a real value. It stopped his mother from bragging about him.

I have come today from the turmoil of your Capital to the tranquility of your campus to speak about the future of your country.

The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.

For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.

It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.

But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.

So I want to talk to you today about three places where we begin to build the Great Society - in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms.

Many of you will live to see the day, perhaps 50 years from now, when there will be 400 million Americans - four-fifths of them in urban areas. In the remainder of this century urban population will double, city land will double, and we will have to build homes, high-ways, and facilities equal to all those built since this country was first settled. So in the next 40 years we must rebuild the entire urban United States.

Aristotle said: "Men come together in cities in order to live, but they remain together in order to live the good life." It is harder and harder to live the good life in American cities today. The catalog of ills is long: there is the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs. There is not enough housing for our people or transportation for our traffic. Open land is vanishing and old landmarks are violated.

Worst of all, expansion is eroding the precious and time honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference.

Our society will never be great until our cities are great. Today the frontier of imagination and innovation is inside those cities and not beyond their borders. New experiments are already going on. It will be the task of your generation to make the American city a place where future generations will come, not only to live but to live the good life.

I understand that if I stayed here tonight I would see that Michigan students are really doing their best to live the good life.

This is the place where the Peace Corps was started. It is inspiring to see how all of you, while you are in this country, are trying so hard to live at the level of the people.

A second place where we begin to build the Great Society is in our countryside. We have always prided ourselves on being not only America the strong and America the free, but America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution. Our parks are overcrowded, our seashores overburdened. Green fields and dense forests are disappearing.

A few years ago we were greatly concerned about the "Ugly American." Today we must act to prevent an ugly America.

For once the battle is lost, once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.

A third place to build the Great Society is in the classrooms of America. There your children's lives will be shaped. Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.

Today, 8 million adult Americans, more than the entire population of Michigan, have not finished 5 years of school. Nearly 20 million have not finished 8 years of school. Nearly 54 million more than one-quarter of all America - have not even finished high school.

Each year more than 100,000 high school graduates, with proved ability, do not enter college because they cannot afford it. And if we cannot educate today's youth, what will we do in 1970 when elementary school enrollment will be 5 million greater than 1960? And high school enrollment will rise by 5 million. College enrollment will increase by more than 3 million.

In many places, classrooms are overcrowded and curricula are outdated. Most of our qualified teachers are underpaid, and many of our paid teachers are unqualified. So we must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty.

But more classrooms and more teachers are not enough. We must seek an educational system which grows in excellence as it grows in size. This means better training for our teachers. It means preparing youth to enjoy their hours of leisure as well as their hours of labor. It means exploring new techniques of teaching, to find new ways to stimulate the love of learning and the capacity for creation.

These are three of the central issues of the Great Society. While our Government has many programs directed at those issues, I do not pretend that we have the full answer to those problems.

But I do promise this: We are going to assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of White House conferences and meetings-on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. And from these meetings and from this inspiration and from these studies we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.

The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities.

Woodrow Wilson once wrote: "Every man sent out from his university should be a man of his Nation as well as a man of his time."

Within your lifetime powerful forces, already loosed, will take us toward a way of life beyond the realm of our experience, almost beyond the bounds of our imagination.

For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation.

So, will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin? Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty?

Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace - as neighbors and not as mortal enemies?

Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?

There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will, your labor, your hearts, if we are to build that kind of society.

Those who came to this land sought to build more than just a new country.

They sought a new world. So I have come here today to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.

Thank you. Goodbye.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another Great Supreme Court Pick

This article has come very close to persuading me that Barack Obama should nominate Diane Wood to the Supreme Court.

Idealism: The Practical Imperative

Contemporary liberals find it disturbingly vogue to eschew idealism. In personal conversations I constantly find myself surrounded by friends who insist that they avoid speaking of what ought to be and focus instead on what they believe has a practical chance of actually being; Democrats in the Senate often tout “centrism” as the path toward the future because anything farther to the left is viewed as “unrealistic”; even President Obama has recently taken to proudly asserting that he is a “pragmatic”, as opposed to an abstract thinker or, heaven forbid, an outright dreamer. Even though liberals have taken control over America’s policy-making apparatus for the first time in three decades, most of them have adopted what can best be described as the outlook of defeatists who are willing to be as optimistic as their cynical mental framework will permit – they know what is ideal, but have already conceded in their own minds (and thus to the world) that that ideal is impossible, and therefore impose limitations on their own vision before their enemies have the opportunity to do so and shoot only for what they have collectively deemed to be possible.

That philosophy can already be seen to have contaminated the Obama administration. When they proposed their first economic stimulus package to Congress (weeks before Obama was even inaugurated), they did so by demanding far less in the way of funds then would be necessary to make it viable. This isn’t to say that the basic premises of the package itself were faulty; quite to the contrary, Obama’s ideas on how the economy could best be fixed were absolutely correct. The problem, rather, was that Obama was unwilling to ask Congress for the full amount of money that would be necessary to take his excellent ideas and actually make them work. He had already conceded, before Congress had even taken session, that he Congress would never grant the amount of money his program required, and so settled for something second-rate without ever having made an honest effort toward what was best. That same attitude can now be seen in Obama’s policies toward health care reform, housing relief, and even the war in Iraq, which had served as one of the central issues of his presidential campaign.

The reluctance of liberals to embrace idealism is understandable, given recent history. Although the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt ushered in an era of unprecedented accomplishment for liberals and humanitarians everywhere – from the economic reforms of the New Deal and the international peacekeeping efforts of the early United Nations to the later successes of the civil rights movement and the pioneering social, economic, and even cultural reforms of the Great Society – the failure of the countercultural movement and New Left to bring its principles to political fruition created a culture of disenchantment among liberals that remains today. The Vietnam War was brought to a close, but the lessons were never learned, as seen by our current entanglement in Iraq; the sexual and cultural revolutions were successful, but managed to trigger a reactionary backlash among cultural conservatives that has yet to receive the widespread social condemnation it warrants; the civil rights movement granted legal equality to African Americans and other oppressed minorities, but social discrimination continues to spread over society like a metastasizing cancer toward not only blacks, but Latinos, homosexuals, and women; the anti-materialism championed by the Sixties Left suffered a grave blow and has since been replaced by a celebration of greed so pervasive that even our current economic plight has failed to snap us out of it; and thanks to Ronald Reagan and his successors, the one area of undeniable left-wing progress, economic policy, has been almost thoroughly reversed, leaving the nation in a state frighteningly similar to that in which it existed before the Great Depression, and with conventional thinkers still denying the obvious lessons taught to the world by Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

I point to all of these examples in order to show that while I criticize the cynicism that overwhelms modern liberals, I certainly don’t condemn it. It has borne out of terrible historical circumstances, and is not only understandable, but inevitable. Yet despite the sympathy which liberal cynicism is due, it is high time that someone pointed out a truth which we can no longer afford to ignore: The cynicism that has enveloped the left, and which manifests itself in the self-imposed limitations of “pragmatism”, is itself dangerously impractical, and conversely, idealism is the only practical approach to the future. 

I make this assertion for two reasons:

1)    We live in an era of great consequence. This is a time in which weapons of mass destruction, ecological crises, infrastructural globalization, and continued scientific development into the very workings of the human soul all raise the stakes and exponentially increase the potential consequences, beneficent and adverse, of humanity’s collective actions. In the past mankind was spread over the earth so thinly, and with so little to connect one civilization with even its geographically closest neighbors, that virtually nothing existed which could endanger the human species as a whole or the value of the human condition itself. Such is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for nearly a century.

2)    There are moral imperatives which demand immediate action, and any compromises that are made in the measures which will bring them to a speedy resolution are thus morally reprehensible. Take, to cite just one example, humanity’s ever-pervasive system of economic inequalities. The vast majority of human beings today right now have little in the way of true freedom because their economic circumstances grossly inhibit their ability to survive (such as by affording food, shelter, medical care, and other necessities), much less possess opportunities for socio-economic advancement and personal success based on their individual talents and abilities. The situation is terrible right now in the United States of America, and yet we are by and large better off than most of the rest of the world. Conservatives and naysayers like to argue that any program for economic reform has to be practical, but how do you demand slow pragmatism for the circumstances of a laid-off American worker who worries that his house will be taken away from him and his children unable to go to college? How do you demand patience from the millions of sub-Saharan Africans who must sleep each night feeling pangs of excruciating hunger, and awake the following morning with genuine fear that death may come to them if they do not find a way to acquire food? How dare any of us expect children who slave away at factories for pennies a day to understand that their plight is rendered inevitable due to abstract economic models concocted by some academician thousands of miles away? These are only a few examples (to list them all would make this blog entry a veritable encyclopedia), but the reality is that patience and “pragmatism” are luxuries reserved to those for whom worries about obtaining the necessities for survival and having a real opportunity to succeed in life based on individual merit have either never been concerns, or are at the very least a thing of their past. So long as there is one human being alive today who worries that he or she cannot have that which is necessary to survive, or that he or she will not be given the opportunity to succeed or fail based on his or her individual merits, calls for pragmatism in reforming mankind’s economic infrastructure are nothing short of unconscionable.

Like all great philosophies, every single idea behind liberalism can ultimately be reduced to a single precept. America is privileged in that it can make a rare historical claim, not merely that that precept was written by one of our own, but that our entirely nation was established as a direct result of it. That is because the entire liberal philosophy ultimately traces back to a single sentence, written by one of history’s greatest minds, Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The right to life includes the right to all which is necessary for the maintenance of biological survival and functioning health; the right to liberty includes the ability to think, speak, act, and in every other way live in the manner of one’s choosing provided only that one’s actions do not harm others; and the right to the pursuit of happiness means that all should be guaranteed a fair opportunity to succeed in bringing their professional and other personal ambitions to fruition (and note that I said opportunity to succeed, not that all should be guaranteed actual success), with the sole factor determining success or failure being their individual merit, character, and actions.

Liberals believe that these rights should be guaranteed to all, and that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” in order “to secure these rights”. As such, it is the obligation of all sincere liberals to demand that our government address every issue which threatens these rights for even a single human being to be entirely resolved as quickly as possible. That obligation should extend not only to economic policy (which I have already elaborated upon in great detail), but to international and social policy, for issues ranging from global warming and nuclear disarmament to maintaining a separation between church and state and legalizing gay marriage.

For those who say that we are unlikely to reach these ideals, I have two responses (it seems that I am incapable of limiting my reactions to the singular). One is that you can only hope to achieve as much as you are willing to aim for, and that lowering one’s sights only guarantees that you will hit a lower mark than that which was within your capabilities. The other is that, once again, considering the importance of the stakes and the severity of the moral crucible currently faced by humanity, idealism is the only solution that makes any sense.

I admit that this article is something of a rant, and as such not only fails to read well, but is unable to draw itself to a decent conclusion. I hope to refine these thoughts over the years, though, and someday make them into more than the sum of their parts. For now, a blog post will have to do.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Quote

My good friend Bradley Powles made the following observation about me, which in my egoism and love of good quotes I could not resist making public:

"You're a political anthropologist.... studying the native customs of the Asmat People of Papau New Guinea and their less civilized kin, the American hard right."

My only complaint, Mr. Powles, is that even including the Asmat People of Papau New Guinea in the same sentence as the American far right is a terrible insult to their culture and way of thinking. Tsk tsk chuckle.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Dark Sense of Humor

I cannot in good conscience include this among my list of favorite quotes, but I cannot as a connoisseur of dark humor refrain from mentioning it on my blog.

- John W. Hinckley, Jr. (Letter to Jodie Foster, March 10, 1981)

There is a fascinating historical "What if?" associated with the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Recent literature on the 1980 presidential election have revealed that the first man to whom Reagan offered the vice presidential seat on his ticket was none other than Gerald Ford, the last Republican president and a man whom Reagan had rather viciously opposed for the GOP presidential nomination in 1976 (when Ford, the favorite of the moderates within the party, managed to defeat Reagan, the recognized champion of the right-wing zealots, by the very skin of his teeth).

Such an arrangement would have been unprecedented in the history of American politics, and doubtless would have added an aura of credibility and ideologically versatility to the ticket that Reagan's eventual choice of George H. W. Bush only provided to a much lesser extent. As it were, Americans never had the opportunity to witness such an arrangement - Ford possessed a cordial loathing of who Reagan was and what he stood for (as has been made very clear in Thomas DeFrank's excellent book, Write It Whem I'm Gone), and deliberately established criteria for accepting the vice presidency that were so outlandish that Reagan would have no choice but to refuse them.

But what if Ford had accepted Reagan's offer? Could circumstances have provided Ford with an opportunity to become only the second man to serve as president in non-consecutive terms (the first being a political hero of mine, Grover Cleveland)?

There are two ways in which this could have happened. The first is through Ford seeking election in his own right, and given Reagan's successful re-election campaign in 1984, that would have placed Ford in the potential driver's seat in 1988. By then, Ford would have been 75-years-old. Would he have done it? The answer to that question will always be entirely speculative.

The second way in which Ford could have become president has an answer that is much more concrete. It has come out over the past decade or so that Ronald Reagan came much closer to death after Hinckley's failed assassination attempt than most Americans realized at the time. Had Hinckley either positioned his gun ever so differently, or had his doctors been just slightly more incompetent, then the president would have died on March 30, 1981, and Gerald Ford would have ascended to the presidency under crisis circumstances for the second time in less than seven years. While at least this time he would not have been a completely unelected president (he would have, after all, been legitimately elected to the vice presidency), he still would have earned the distinction of being the only man to ever serve more than four years in the White House without ever having been directly elected to that position (and who indeed failed, albeit by a hair's breadth, to win election in his own right when he sought it in 1976).

How would that make history different today? Most notable is the fact that the Reagan revolution, which pushed America's ideo-political paradigm to the far right for almost thirty years, never would have happened. Ford was not nearly as forceful or inspiring a leader as Reagan, and lacked his extreme right-wing convictions; thus his presidency would have lacked either the political skill or ideological inclinations to cause a permanent partisan realignment. That much is certain.

This is less certain, but still plausible enough to be worth mentioning: By 1984, Ford would have been rendered ineligible to seek another term by the 22nd Amendment, and given that he probably would have appointed George H. W. Bush as his vice president (it is known now that he thought Bush would make an excellent vice president, and considered him for the job three times - once when first becoming president in 1974, again for the Republican nomination in 1976, and a third time when he recommended Bush to Reagan in 1980) and that the economy would have been in an upward swing (which wasn't due to any president's policies), Bush probably would have sought the Republican presidential nomination, received it, and been elected. He may have even been re-elected in 1988, so that by the time his vice president lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, he would have been a two-term president instead of a one-termer. Indeed, had the Republicans posted a Reagan-Ford ticket in 1980, an entirely conceivable set of historical circumstances might have resulted that would have led to the post-1974 presidency reading Ford-Carter-Reagan-Ford-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama, instead of Ford-Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama, with sixteen years of Bushes in the White House instead of only twelve and six-and-a-half years of Ford instead of only two.

Just a thought.

Presidential Landslides, Nailbiters, and Everything Between

Before beginning this essay, I will need to clarify some of the terms I intend to use:

- Re-election: According to semantic literalists, a presidential candidate can only be referred to as having sought re-election if he ran once before, won, and is now on his party’s ballot for the second (or, in the case of Franklin Roosevelt, third or fourth) time. The problem with this is that it ignores those individuals who ascended to the presidency because of the death or resignation of their predecessor and then sought election in their own right – namely, Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Harry Truman in 1948, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and Gerald Ford in 1976. Each of these men, though having never run in a presidential election before, was the incumbent at the time that he sought office. This is important for two reasons: (1) It means that the people who participated in those presidential elections voted for or against these men as actual presidents whose performances could be accepted or discontinued, and not merely as potential presidents whose future conduct could only be speculated upon; (2) It means that the presidents themselves were able to use all of the powers of incumbency to aid their attempt to win another four years in office, even though they had technically not been elected to a term of their own. In short, because the campaigns in which these presidents ran bore far more similarities to other re-election campaigns then they did with campaigns in which neither candidate had ever served in the White House, it is more accurate to refer to them as “re-elections” than simply “elections”.

- Landslide: There are two possible ways of defining a landslide (a.k.a., blow-out, wipe-out, watershed, one-sided contest, etc.). The first is by measuring the difference in the popular vote percentage between the top two candidates. While this seems logical enough at first, it quickly loses value once elections in which more than two major candidates appear are taken into consideration. For example, the 1912 election saw Woodrow Wilson defeat his chief opponent, Theodore Roosevelt, by a whopping 14.4% of the popular vote. Under normal circumstances this would be considered a landslide victory, except for the fact that Wilson’s victory came primarily because there were three instead of two major candidates in that election, with Wilson gaining only 41.8% of the popular vote, Roosevelt receiving 27.4%, and the third candidate, President William Howard Taft, receiving a measly 23.2% of the popular vote. Even though Wilson thus had a significant margin of victory over both his opponents, he himself received well under a majority, and thus could not be considered by any reasonable standard to have won a landslide; indeed, in the previous presidential election, William Howard Taft had defeated William Jennings Bryan by a margin of only 8.6%, but received 51.6% of the popular vote, which is more than a majority. As such, the best way of determining which elections are landslides is by measuring the popular vote total received by the winning candidate, with those receiving the highest percentages of popular votes being deemed the winners of the greatest landslides. The cut-off that I will use, for the purposes of convenience, is 56.0%. This is more reflective of what the spirit of a landslide truly is in the first place – that is, an election in which an extraordinarily large number of voters rally behind one man to lead their country.

- Close Elections: Unlike landslides, the best way of measuring which elections were the closest is by looking at the difference in popular vote percentage between the top two candidates. That is because, unlike landslides, close elections are determined by just how evenly split the American people were between the top two candidates. The smaller the margin, the more it reflects the inability of the American people in that election to decide which of the two candidates was superior. That best captures the essence of what people think of when they hear the term “closest elections”.

Having elaborated on all of this jargon, I need only point out two more facts:
1) Popular vote margins in presidential elections were not recorded until 1824, which means that we have no data as to how many actual voters supported each of the major candidates during our first nine elections (from 1789 to 1820). This excludes the contests which elected George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, and starts us off with the election of John Quincy Adams.
2) I do not consider the Electoral College results to be reflective of the spirit of the American people during each of these political contests, and since that is the factor which I hope to measure, I am dismissing all Electoral College figures as being fundamentally irrelevant to this project.

Now, to the data…

Lyndon Johnson (1964) – 61.1%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Barry Goldwater
Franklin Roosevelt (1936) – 60.8%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Alfred Landon
Richard Nixon (1972) – 60.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat George McGovern
Warren Harding (1920) – 60.3%, Republican, Defeated Democrat James Cox
Ronald Reagan (1984) – 58.8%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Walter Mondale
Herbert Hoover (1928) – 58.2%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Alfred Smith
Franklin Roosevelt (1932) – 57.4%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Herbert Hoover
Dwight Eisenhower (1956) – 57.4%*, Republican, Defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson
Theodore Roosevelt (1904) – 56.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Alton Parker
Andrew Jackson (1828) – 56.0%, Democrat, Defeated National Republican** John Q. Adams
* - Eisenhower’s 1956 margin was lower than Roosevelt’s 1932 margin by four-hundredths of one percent.
** - The National Republican Party was a one-shot national organization that has no relationship to the modern Republican Party.

1880: James Garfield (Republican) vs. Winfield Hancock (Democrat) – Garfield wins popular vote by 0.1%
1960: John Kennedy (Democrat) vs. Richard Nixon (Republican) – Kennedy wins popular vote by 0.2%
1884: Grover Cleveland (Democrat) vs. James Blaine (Republican) – Cleveland wins popular vote by 0.3%
2000: Albert Gore (Democrat) vs. George W. Bush (Republican) – Gore wins popular vote by 0.5%
1968: Richard Nixon (Republican) vs. Hubert Humphrey (Democrat) – Nixon wins popular vote by 0.7%
1888: Grover Cleveland (Democrat) vs. Benjamin Harrison (Republican) – Cleveland wins popular vote by 0.8%
1844: James Polk (Democrat) vs. Henry Clay (Whig) – Polk wins popular vote by 1.4%
1976: Jimmy Carter (Democrat) vs. Gerald Ford (Republican) – Carter wins popular vote by 2.1%
2004: George W. Bush (Republican) vs. John Kerry (Democrat) – Bush wins popular vote by 2.4%
1892: Grover Cleveland (Democrat) vs. Benjamin Harrison (Republican) – Cleveland wins popular vote by 3.0%
SO…What conclusions can we yield from this information?

When it comes to the landslides, each of the elections fall into one of the four following categories:
1) Elections in which the winning candidate received an overwhelming popular majority because he has an unusually high personal popularity due to the perceived successes of his previous term (which by default makes him an incumbent);
2) Election in which the winning candidate received an overwhelming popular majority due to his status as a war hero (which can affect his popularity regardless of whether he is an incumbent).
3) Elections in which the losing candidate has an unusually severe low personal popularity due to the perception of ideological extremism.
4) Elections in which the losing candidate represents an incumbent administration that is widely perceived to have failed, thereby creating a general desire for change regardless of what the alternative candidate may represent.
There are three presidents whose landslides fall into the first category – Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, and Ronald Reagan in 1984. On each occasion, the candidate had first come into office at a time of great crisis – Theodore Roosevelt ascended to power after his popular predecessor, William McKinley, had been assassinated by an anarchist at a time when radical political movements were most feared; Franklin Roosevelt came into power at the height of the Great Depression, for which the man he defeated, Herbert Hoover, was widely blamed; and Ronald Reagan came into power at the height of the economic recession of the late-1970 and early-1980s, as well as during the Iran hostage crisis and oil embargo, for which the man he defeated, Jimmy Carter, was also widely blamed. On each occasion, the president spent his first term addressing each of the major problems he faced with what was widely perceived as great success, was characterized by a willingness to make bold decisions that deviated significantly from conventional political wisdom (and such boldness often pays off regardless of its ideological content), and both men successfully used the power of the presidency in those first terms to reshape the nation’s political landscape on the basis of their personal ideology, thereby forging lasting coalitions that helped their party dominate America’s political scene for a generation. In short, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were all elected by record landslides due to an enormous personal popularity which resulted from the perception that their administrations had been extremely successful. They were also aided by the fact that their opponents, though generally well-respected by the American public, were perceived as being milquetoast figures who had been selected primarily because their painful dullness made them least likely to offend opponents of the incumbency (Alton Parker in 1904, Alfred Landon in 1936, and Walter Mondale in 1984).
There are two presidents who fall into the second category – Andrew Jackson in 1828 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Although Jackson was elected to his first term in 1828 and Eisenhower was re-elected to a second, both won by large margins primarily because of the high esteem in which they were held as a result of their heroism in war. Jackson’s election in 1828 was also aided by the fact that he had won a plurality of the popular vote in the previous election (1824), but had lost in the Electoral College when the House of Representatives (which is Constitutionally responsible for deciding elections in which no single candidate received more than 50% of the Electoral College vote) chose John Quincy Adams over him, a “theft” led many to view Jackson as the victim of a great injustice. Eisenhower, meanwhile, had the benefit of incumbency in 1956, since at that time he was completing his first four years as president. That said, most polls from the time indicate that the American people were mixed in their opinion of whether Eisenhower had been successful as president during that first term; their decision to keep him in power came predominantly from their affection for his record in World War Two, with the prevailing sentiment being that his first term was mediocre, which was at least acceptable.
There are three presidents who fall in the third category – Herbert Hoover in 1928, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and Richard Nixon in 1972. On each occasion, those candidates won because the opposing party nominated a candidate widely perceived to have been an extremist. In 1928, Herbert Hoover ran against Alfred Smith, a New York Governor whose progressivism, though decisively left-wing in nature, did not deviate considerably from the liberalism of previous Democrats, but whose Catholicism caused a large percentage of the American population to view him as being too ideologically extreme and untrustworthy for the presidency (Smith was the first Catholic to ever receive a major party’s nomination for the presidency, and unlike John Kennedy in 1960 and John Kerry in 2004, was destroyed by widespread social distrust of the people of his faith). In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater, a candidate who was widely perceived as being an extreme right-winger and was thus distrusted with the same vehemence with which people feared Alfred Smith. In 1972, Richard Nixon ran against George McGovern, who was widely perceived as being an extremely left-winger and was thus viewed with equal fear and distrust by large majorities of voters.
In each of these elections, there were other factors that contributed to each candidate’s defeat; Hoover was running as the political heir of incumbent Calvin Coolidge at a time when America was prosperous at home and at peace abroad, Johnson was extremely popular due to his deft handling of American anxieties after the brutal assassination of his predecessor, John Kennedy, less than one year earlier, and George McGovern made several serious mistakes in his campaign that called his integrity and competence into question as well as his ideology. Even so, most polls suggest that, although Hoover and Johnson would have won had their opponents not been perceived as extremists, their margins of victory would have been considerably smaller, while another Democrat running against Richard Nixon in 1972 (most notably Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey) had a strong chance of actually defeating him, which McGovern never did.
There are two presidents in the fourth category – Warren Harding in 1920 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Although Harding’s opponent in 1920, James Cox, was a former newspaper publisher and Ohio governor who had never served as president, Cox had the bad luck of being viewed as the successor to incumbent President Woodrow Wilson, a man whose foreign and domestic policies had made him a pariah throughout America by 1920. While Cox himself was not viewed with any particular animus, Americans by 1920 were extremely dissatisfied with President Wilson, and thus rejected Cox unilaterally due to his outspoken support of Wilson’s policies. Franklin Roosevelt, meanwhile, had the good luck of running against the very man who was so unpopular with the public; as mentioned before, Hebert Hoover was widely blamed for the Great Depression, so that all Franklin Roosevelt had to do to win in 1932 was avoid scandal and stay alive.

The most outstanding fact about these elections is how, with one exception, they are all concentrated within three short periods in American history: Four of them took place in the 1880s-1890s (1880, 1884, 1888, and 1892), three of them took place in the 1960s-1970s (1960, 1968, and 1976), and two of them took place in the 2000s (2000 and 2004). What defined each of those periods?
- The Gilded Age: Four of our nation’s closest elections occurred right in a row – the elections of 1880, 1884, 1888, and 1892. Not coincidentally, these elections correspond exactly with the period known in American history as the Gilded Age, or the interim period separating the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction (which continued the political climate of the Civil War even after the armed conflict had ended) from the rise of the progressive movement and conservative reaction (which began with the nomination of William Jennings Bryan by the Democratic party in 1896). In short, these close elections occurred at a time when, due to a lack of divisive ideological issues (such as divided the parties in the Civil War and Progressive eras), there were no meaningful differences between the philosophies, policies, and candidates of the two major parties. As such, Americans were divided evenly between them, with most people supporting one of the two parties because of geographic loyalty (with the North favoring Republicans and the South favoring Democrats) or due to convictions on uninspiring issues such as civil service reform or tariff rates.
- The Countercultural Era: Unlike the Gilded Age elections, these elections (1960, 1968, and 1976) took place at a time when there were very significant differences between the ideologies of the two major parties. That said, the candidates running from each major party during these elections were widely perceived as moderates, even centrists, and thus failed to inspire enthusiastic support from their bases or convince the American people that there was a meaningful difference between the two of them. It is interesting that the two elections which took place between these three were the contests of 1964 and 1972, both of which were defined by one of the parties nominating an ideological zealot who appealed very strongly to their base. Whereas those elections were lost by landslides, elections in which the nominated candidate was a lackluster centrist were inevitably quite close. Although their reputations today are quite different from what they were at the time they ran, the six candidates who ran in these three contests (Democrats John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and Jimmy Carter, and Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford) were all widely perceived at the time as being centrist tweedle-dees.
- The Bush Era Elections: Although I am too close to these contest to be as objective as would otherwise be ideal, I suspect historians looking back at these elections will find that they are very similar to their counterparts from the 1960s and 1970s. In spite of what liberals think of him, George W. Bush was never so much liked by the conservative base of the Republican party as he was viewed as a palatable second-choice, while Albert Gore and John Kerry were perceived as lifeless centrists who did not speak for the liberal movement but inspired passion simply because they weren’t Bush (Gore’s image among the left has changed since his 2000 election, while Kerry’s has not). I suspect that those two elections will be viewed as contests in which each candidate received support not because of what he was for, but rather because of who he was against – supporters of Bush in 2000 and 2004 didn’t feel passionate for him but despised liberals, while supporters of Gore and Kerry didn’t care for either of them but were adamantly opposed to everything Bush stood for.

Here is the data on the popular vote received by every victorious presidential candidate in the elections between 1824 and 2008:
1) Lyndon Johnson (1964) – 61.1%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Barry Goldwater
2) Franklin Roosevelt (1936) – 60.8%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Alfred Landon
3) Richard Nixon (1972) – 60.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat George McGovern

4) Warren Harding (1920) – 60.3%, Republican, Defeated Democrat James Cox
5) Ronald Reagan (1984) – 58.8%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Walter Mondale
6) Herbert Hoover (1928) – 58.2%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Alfred Smith
7) Franklin Roosevelt (1932) – 57.4%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Herbert Hoover
8) Dwight Eisenhower (1956) – 57.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson
9) Theodore Roosevelt (1904) – 56.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Alton Parker

10) Andrew Jackson (1828) – 56.0%, Democrat, Defeated National Republican John Q. Adams
11) Ulysses Grant (1872) – 55.6%, Republican, Defeated Democrat/Liberal Republican Horace Greeley
12) Dwight Eisenhower (1952) – 55.2%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson
13) Abraham Lincoln (1864) – 55.0%, Republican/Union, Defeated Democrat George McClellan
14) Franklin Roosevelt (1940) – 54.7%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Wendell Willkie
15) Andrew Jackson (1832) – 54.2%, Democrat, Defeated Whig Henry Clay
16) Calvin Coolidge (1924) – 54.0%, Republican, Defeated Democrat John Davis
17) Franklin Roosevelt (1944) – 53.4%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Thomas Dewey

18) George H. W. Bush (1988) – 53.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis
19) Barack Obama (2008) – 52.9%, Democrat, Defeated Republican John McCain
20) William Harrison (1840) – 52.9%, Whig, Defeated Democrat Martin Van Buren
21) Ulysses Grant (1868) – 52.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Horatio Seymour
22) William McKinley (1900) – 51.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat William Bryan
23) William Taft (1908) – 51.6%, Republican, Defeated Democrat William Bryan
24) William McKinley (1896) – 51.0%, Republican, Defeated Democrat William Bryan
25) Franklin Pierce (1852) – 50.8%, Democrat, Defeated Whig Winfield Scott
26) Martin Van Buren (1836) – 50.8%, Democrat, Defeated Whig William Harrison
27) George W. Bush (2004) – 50.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat John Kerry
28) Ronald Reagan (1980) – 50.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Jimmy Carter
29) Jimmy Carter (1976) – 50.1%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Gerald Ford
30) John Kennedy (1960) - 49.7%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Richard Nixon
31) Harry Truman (1948) - 49.6%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Thomas Dewey
32) James Polk (1844) - 49.5%, Democrat, Defeated Whig Henry Clay
33) Woodrow Wilson (1916) - 49.2%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Charles Hughes
34) William Clinton (1996) - 49.2%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Robert Dole

35) Grover Cleveland (1884) - 48.5%, Democrat, Defeated Republican James Blaine
36) James Garfield (1880) - 48.3%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Winfield Hancock
37) Rutherford Hayes (1876) - 47.9% Republican, Defeated Democrat Samuel Tilden
38) George W. Bush (2000) - 47.9% Republican, Defeated Democrat Albert Gore
39) Benjamin Harrison (1888) - 47.8% Republican, Defeated Democrat Grover Cleveland
40) Zachary Taylor (1848) - 47.3%, Whig, Defeated Democrat Lewis Cass
41) Grover Cleveland (1892) - 46.0%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Benjamin Harrison
42) James Buchanan (1856) - 45.3%, Democrat, Defeated Republican John Fremont
43) Richard Nixon (1968) - 43.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey
44) William Clinton (1992) - 43.0% Democrat, Defeated Republican George H. W. Bush
45) Woodrow Wilson (1912) - 41.8%, Democrat, Defeated Republican William Taft
46) Abraham Lincoln (1860) - 39.8%, Republiican, Defeated Democrat Stephen Douglas
47) John Q. Adams (1824) - 30.9%, Democratic-Republican, Defeated Andrew Jackson

Here are the four presidential candidates who received the presidency without winning more votes than their opponents (either by plurality or majority). They were italicized in the above list. It is worth noting that two of them managed to win as the result of legitimate (albeit morally questionable) Constitutional procedures, while the other two stole their elections.
1) John Q. Adams (1824) - 30.9%, Democratic-Republican, lost by popular plurality to Andrew Jackson, Democratic-Republican, who had 41.3% of the popular vote; received presidency honestly, through the House of Representatives.
2) Rutherford Hayes (1876) - 47.9%, Republican, lost by popular majority to Samuel Tilden, Democrat, who had 51.0% of the popular vote; stole the election.
3) Benjamin Harrison (1888) - 47.8%, Republican, lost by popular plurality to Grover Cleveland, Democrat, who had 48.6% of the popular vote; received presidency honestly, but won in the Electoral College despite receiving fewer votes through the mathematical fluke of having lost smaller states by large margins while winning a few big states by very small margins.
4) George W. Bush (2000) - 47.9%, Republican, lost by popular plurality to Albert Gore, Democrat, who had 48.4% of the popular vote; stole the election.

Here is a ranking of popular vote results for candidates seeking initial election. Those who won and received the most popular votes are left in plain text; those who won without receiving the most popular votes are left in plain text but with an asterisk; those who lost are italicized and did not receive the most popular votes are italicized, while those who lost but did receive the most popular votes are italicized and emboldened.
1) Warren Harding (1920) – 60.3%, Republican, Defeated Democrat James Cox
2) Herbert Hoover (1928) – 58.2%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Alfred Smith
3) Franklin Roosevelt (1932) – 57.4%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Herbert Hoover
4) Andrew Jackson (1828) – 56.0%, Democrat, Defeated National Republican John Q. Adams
5) Dwight Eisenhower (1952) – 55.2%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson
6) George H. W. Bush (1988) – 53.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis
7) Barack Obama (2008) – 52.9%, Democrat, Defeated Republican John McCain
8) William Harrison (1840) – 52.9%, Whig, Defeated Democrat Martin Van Buren
9) Ulysses Grant (1868) – 52.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Horatio Seymour
10) William Taft (1908) – 51.6%, Republican, Defeated Democrat William Bryan
11) William McKinley (1896) – 51.0%, Republican, Defeated Democrat William Bryan
Samuel Tilden (1876) - 51.0%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Rutherford Hayes
12) Franklin Pierce (1852) – 50.8%, Democrat, Defeated Whig Winfield Scott
13) Martin Van Buren (1836) – 50.8%, Democrat, Defeated Whig William Harrison
14) Ronald Reagan (1980) – 50.7%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Jimmy Carter
15) Jimmy Carter (1976) – 50.1%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Gerald Ford
16) John Kennedy (1960) - 49.7%, Democrat, Defeated Republican Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon (1960) - 49.6%, Republican, Lost to Democrat John Kennedy
17) James Polk (1844) - 49.5%, Democrat, Defeated Whig Henry Clay
18) Grover Cleveland (1884) - 48.5%, Democrat, Defeated Republican James Blaine
Albert Gore (2000) - 48.4%, Democrat, Lost to Republican George W. Bush
19) James Garfield (1880) - 48.3%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Winfield Hancock
John Kerry (2004) - 48.3%, Democrat, Lost to Republican George W. Bush
Winfield Hancock (1880) - 48.2%, Democrat, Lost to Republican James Garfield
James Blaine (1884) - 48.2%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland
Henry Clay (1844) - 48.1%, Whig, Lost to Democrat James Polk
20) Rutherford Hayes* (1876) - 47.9% Republican, Defeated Democrat Samuel Tilden
21) George W. Bush* (2000) - 47.9% Republican, Defeated Democrat Albert Gore
22) Benjamin Harrison* (1888) - 47.8% Republican, Defeated Democrat Grover Cleveland
23) Zachary Taylor (1848) - 47.3%, Whig, Defeated Democrat Lewis Cass
Horatio Seymour (1868) - 47.3%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Ulysses Grant
William Bryan (1896) - 46.7%, Democrat, Lost to Republican William McKinley
Charles Hughes (1916) - 46.1%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Dewey (1944) - 45.9%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Franklin Roosevelt
John McCain (2008) - 45.7%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Barack Obama
Michael Dukakis (1988) - 45.6%, Democrat, Lost to Republican George H. W. Bush
William Bryan (1900) - 45.5%, Democrat, Lost to Republican William McKinley
24) James Buchanan (1856) - 45.3%, Democrat, Defeated Republican John Fremont
Thomas Dewey (1948) - 45.1%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Harry Truman
George McClellan (1864) - 45.0%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Abraham Lincoln
Wendell Willkie (1940) - 44.7%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Franklin Roosevelt
Adlai Stevenson (1952) - 44.3%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Dwight Eisenhower
Winfield Scott (1852) - 43.9%, Whig, Lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce
Horace Greeley (1872) - 43.8%, Democrat/Liberal Republican, Lost to Republican Ulysses Grant
25) Richard Nixon (1968) - 43.4%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey
26) William Clinton (1992) - 43.0% Democrat, Defeated Republican George H. W. Bush
William Bryan (1908) - 43.0%, Democrat, Lost to Republican William Taft
Hubert Humphrey (1968) - 42.7%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Richard Nixon
Lewis Cass (1848) - 42.5%, Democrat, Lost to Whig Zachary Taylor
Adlai Stevenson (1956) - 42.0%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Dwight Eisenhower
27) Woodrow Wilson (1912) - 41.8%, Democrat, Defeated Republican William Taft
Andrew Jackson (1824) - 41.3%, Democratic-Republican, Lost to Democratic-Republican John Q. Adams
Alfred Smith (1928) - 40.8%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Herbert Hoover
Walter Mondale (1984) - 40.6%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Ronald Reagan
Robert Dole (1996) - 40.7%, Republican, Lost to Democrat William Clinton
28) Abraham Lincoln (1860) - 39.8%, Republican, Defeated Democrat Stephen Douglas
Barry Goldwater (1964) - 38.5%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Lyndon Johnson
Alton Parker (1904) - 37.6%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Theodore Roosevelt
George McGovern (1972) - 37.5%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Richard Nixon
Henry Clay (1832) - 37.4%, Whig, Lost to Democrat Andrew Jackson
William Harrison (1836) - 36.6%, Whig, Lost to Democrat Martin Van Buren
Alfred Landon (1936) - 36.5%, Republican, Lost to Democrat Franklin Roosevelt
James Cox (1920) - 34.1%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Warren Harding
John Fremont (1856) - 33.1%, Republican, Lost to Democrat James Buchanan
29) John Q. Adams* (1824) - 30.9%, Democratic-Republican, Defeated Andrew Jackson
Stephen Douglas (1860) - 29.5%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Abraham Lincoln
John Davis (1924) - 28.8%, Democrat, Lost to Republican Calvin Coolidge

Here is a ranking of popular vote results for candidates seeking re-election, who were placed in bold above. The ones who won their re-election efforts are left in plain text, but those who sought re-election and were defeated are included in italics. Since there are five presidents who sought re-election during the period before popular votes were counted (George Washington in 1792, John Adams in 1800, Thomas Jefferson in 1804, James Madison in 1812, and James Monroe in 1820), I have included their data below those of the candidates for whom we do have popular vote data. I find it interesting that of the thirty-four times when a president has sought re-election, only twelve of them were unsuccessful - and three of those efforts failed because the president seeking an addition term did so as a third-party candidate, while one of those failures (Grover Cleveland in 1888) actually won the popular vote but lost the election nonetheless (see above). It is equally noteworthy that of the forty-two men who have served as president (excluding Barack Obama), only ten of them never sought re-election: Four failed to do so because they died during their first term in office (William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, and Warren Harding), two attempted to receive the nominations of their political parties and were denied (Franklin Pierce in 1856 and Chester Arthur in 1884), and four declined to seek re-election for individually specific reasons (John Tyler, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes). The thirty-two presidents who did try to seek re-election (of whom all but nine were successful at least once) are listed below:
1. Lyndon Johnson (Democrat-1964) - 61.1%
2. Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1936) - 60.8%
3. Richard Nixon (Republican-1972) - 60.7%
4. Ronald Reagan (Republican-1984) - 58.8%
5. Dwight Eisenhower (Republican-1956) - 57.4%
6. Theodore Roosevelt (Republican-1904) - 56.4%
7. Ulysses Grant (Republican-1872) - 55.6%
8. Abraham Lincoln (Republican-1864) - 55.0%
9. Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1940) - 54.7%
10. Andrew Jackson (Democrat-1832) - 54.2%
11. Calvin Coolidge (Republican-1924) - 54.0%
12. Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1944) - 53.4%
13. William McKinley (Republican-1900) - 51.7%
14. George W. Bush (Republican-2004) - 50.7%
15. Harry Truman (Democrat-1948) - 49.6%
16. Woodrow Wilson (Democrat-1916) - 49.2%
17. William Clinton (Democrat-1996) - 49.2%
18. Grover Cleveland (Democrat-1888) - 48.6%
19. Gerald Ford (Democrat-1976) - 48.0%
20. Martin Van Buren (Democrat-1840) - 46.8%
21. Grover Cleveland (Democrat-1892) - 46.0%
22. John Q. Adams (National Republican-1828) - 43.6%
23. Jimmy Carter (Democrat-1980) - 41.0%
24. Herbert Hoover (Republican-1932) - 39.7%
25. George H. W. Bush (Republican-1992) - 37.4%
26. Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive-1912) - 27.4%
27. William Taft (Republican-1912) - 23.2%
28. Millard Fillmore (Know Nothing-1856) - 21.7%
29. Martin Van Buren (Free Soil-1848) 10.1%
George Washington (No Party-1792)
John Adams (Federalist-1800)
Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican-1804)
James Madison (Democratic-Republican-1812)
James Monroe (Democratic-Republican-1820)

Some interesting trivia:
- When there were three sets of candidates who received the same percentage of the popular vote (Roosevelt in 1932 and Eisenhower in 1956, Reagan in 1984 and Bush in 2004, and Hayes in 1876 and Bush in 2000), I calculated down to the hundredth of a percentile to find out which candidate had technically received more than the other, and ranked them accordingly.
- The president to be elected with the smallest popular vote was John Q. Adams in 1824 (30.9%), followed by Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (39.8%) and Woodrow Wilson in 1912 (41.3%). The president to be elected with the largest popular vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (61.1%), followed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 (60.8%) and Richard Nixon in 1972 (60.7%).
- Only three of the candidates who received popular majorities had to do so in races in which there were more than two major candidates running - Martin Van Buren (1836), Calvin Coolidge (1924), and Ronald Reagan (1980).
- Twelve of the candidates to receive popular majorities (50% or more) were Democrats, seventeen were Republicans, and one was a Whig.
- Although there have been four candidates in American history who have won popular pluralities without receiving the presidency in that election, only one of those candidates received an actual majority - Samuel Tilden, the Democrat of 1876. Equally interesting is the fact that the two popular vote winners who lost their elections through legal means defeated the candidate who beat them in the following contest, and were thus able to serve as president (Jackson and Cleveland), while the two who were victims of political theft (Tilden and Gore) never got to serve. Finally, it is worth noting that no Democrat has ever been elected without winning the most popular votes, while three Republicans have been elected that way as has one Democratic-Republican (the party established by Thomas Jefferson and dissolved after ruling in a one-party system during the 1820s).
- Only three candidates have ever won the popular vote more than twice - Andrew Jackson (1824, 1828, 1832), Grover Cleveland (1884, 1888, 1892), and Franklin Roosevelt (1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944).
- Only six men have ever received a popular majority more than once - Andrew Jackson (1828 and 1832), Ulysses Grant (1868 and 1872), William McKinley (1896 and 1900), Franklin Roosevelt (1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944), Dwight Eisenhower (1952 and 1956), and Ronald Reagan (1980 and 1984). Of course, if Barack Obama wins more than 50% of the popular vote in 2012, he will become the seventh president on that list.