Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Conservatism versus Liberalism in the Presidential Campaign

In 1964 the Republican Party candidate for President, Barry Goldwater, advocated abolition of Social Security while campaigning in St. Petersburg, Florida, and elimination of the Tennessee Valley Authority on a campaign trip to Tennessee.

In 1972 the Democratic Party candidate, George McGovern, advocated a major shift in tax policy, increasing taxes on middle and upper classes and transferring the revenue to social welfare programs.
While other reasons contributed to their defeats in two of history’s greatest landslides, the advocacy of radical policy changes contributed significantly to their losses.
Elsewhere in American history, William Jennings Bryan, three times the Democratic presidential candidate (1896, 1900 and 1908), paid dearly for violating this dictum when he advocated “free silver” to replace the American gold standard and delivered one of history’s most famous Convention addresses, declaring in 1896 that "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Several decades later America went off of the gold standard, but in 1896 his proposal was too radical.

In these three instances, the Republican and Democratic Parties nominated presidential candidates whose views more closely resembled the more extreme positions of third-party candidates, which makes an important point:
Whenever a major party nominates a candidate who acts like a third-party candidate, that party will likely suffer an overwhelming defeat.
Third parties with an ideological bent, such as the Socialist and Communist Parties, advocate positions far outside the American mainstream. Other third parties, such as the Populist (1892), Progressive (1924), States Rights (1948) and American Independent (1968), promote positions that may later gain acceptance, but when first introduced, the political system finds them unacceptable.

In America change comes slowly. Only after protracted debate, often over several decades, does change occur. Successful presidential candidates and presidents advocate changes that the political system is ready to digest.

In 2008 which party -- Democratic or Republican -- and which candidate -- Clinton or Obama or McCain -- will advocate changes in public policy most acceptable to the people?

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