Given the emotionally charged election cycle, I thought a review of the past performance of our political parties might be useful.
Since 1932 the Democrats have dominated. Throughout 44 midterm elections, the Democrats have controlled the House 77% of the time, the Senate 70% of the time, and the White House 57% of the time. The Democrat’s reign has been so one-sided that they have controlled both Houses of Congress 68% of the time versus only 18% for the Republicans.
And that pales in comparison to the advantage the Democrats have enjoyed in simultaneously controlling Congress and the White House. The Democrats have had complete control 43% of the time versus 5% for the Republicans.
It would be logical to conclude that the Democrats have exerted a greater degree of influence on our government. But much of that control came before 1980. In the 50 years preceding 1980, the Democrats only relinquished control of Congress for two two-year stints.
Since 1994 though, the Republicans have enjoyed a slight edge in Congressional control. The same pattern holds true for the White House. The tandem presidencies of FDR and Truman ruled 18 straight years. Since then, the Republicans have enjoyed a modest 38 to 28-year edge in the presidency.
This begs the question: Is our current state the result of the Democrat’s previous dominance or the Republican’s more recent mismanagement?
Though the “control” numbers provide moderate insight, context is required to evaluate the effectiveness of either Party.
To provide some context, I examined gross national product (GDP) — a macro measure of economic health. In doing so, I made one timing assumption: The departing president would get credit or blame for the first year of the subsequent president’s term. The logic behind this is that economies don’t turn quickly. The prior president’s policies would have a large impact on his successor’s first 12 months.
For example, Roosevelt inherited the Great Depression from Herbert Hoover. The low point occurred in 1932 when GDP retracted by 12.9%. Things were markedly better in 1933, but GDP still declined by 1.2%. That decline is on Hoover.
Applying this assumption, since 1930, the Republicans have presided over 11 annual downturns to the Democrats seven. Not good for the Republicans considering how dominant the Democrats have been in political “time of possession.” However, four of those downturns encompassed the Great Depression. Hence the label. Since then, economic downturn-wise, it’s been a dead heat between the parties.
Another useful economic measure is the deficit. Deficit spending started with Roosevelt, and our illustrious leaders have never looked back. Every president since FDR has added to the deficit. Some more than others. Some way more than others.
FDR recorded the largest percentage increase in the national debt — 1,048%. But he was dealing with a historic economic trauma, and prior to his presidency, the national debt was a mere $23 billion. The $236 billion he added would almost be a rounding error by today’s standards.
In terms of absolute dollars, Republicans own six of the 10 largest deficits, and three of the top five.
Nixon started the surge in deficits increasing the national debt by $121 billion. By the time Ford finished Nixon’s term, another $224 billion was added. Since Nixon/Ford, every president has increased the national debt by at least 30%.
Reagan — being a bigger than life personage — set a new standard by nearly tripling the national debt. Clinton — who is often credited for being the only president to run a surplus — amassed a total deficit of almost $1.4 trillion. By the way, the only reason Clinton enjoyed a single year of surpluses was due to the stock market bubble that our leaders help create, and then ignored until it burst.
Not to be outdone, the Bush administration doubled the debt by putting us close to another $6 trillion in the hole. And Mr. Obama one-upped “W” by generating $8.6 trillion of red ink. Of course, as the greatest president in the history of presidents, Mr. Trump is showing his predecessors how it’s done. Assuming two-terms (lord help us), he’s on pace to hit the $10 trillion deficit mark.
But lest you think that Democratic control of the White House would change things — slap yourself right now. It won’t, which is the point. Despite all the good FDR may have accomplished, his administration was the genesis of today’s economic woes. Subsequently, Washington has become progressively less effective with every administration, either ignoring or adding to our economic problems.
Having had the majority of control, the Democrats bear a good chunk of the responsibility. Nonetheless, the Republicans have made the most of their time by screwing things up at an accelerated pace. It hasn’t been a matter of Democratic versus Republican philosophy for some time. Both parties are incompetent. Both parties care more about power than serving the country.
Tom Styer was the only candidate who discussed the root cause of almost all our problems: that the decision-making apparatus is completely broken. Special interest, money, greed and the political parties’ lust for power have rendered any morsel of dedication to public service impotent. Become a party lemming — or see your access to cash and influence disappear.
Notwithstanding the need to bring civility back into the White House, we need to shift our focus from the myriad symptoms that our leaders are fond of flashing before us. We must take control of the process by relieving the political parties of the power to manipulate that very process. If we don’t, it won’t matter who calls 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. T