Niall Ferguson: 1958 and today's GOP





... The latest USA Today/Gallup poll has the Democrats leading the Republicans by 53% to 38% among registered voters, as large as any Democratic lead since 1982. Gallup analysts say there is a "significant probability" that the Democrats could win the 15 seats they need to take control of the House. Some pessimistic Republicans fear that they could lose as many as 30 seats. There are even those whose recurring nightmare is the loss of the Senate too, though here the Democrats have a steeper hill to climb (a net gain of six seats out of 33 that are being contested).

But history certainly does suggest that a Democratic triumph is possible. President Bush's job approval rating is a miserable 37%. The last time a president was that unpopular on the eve of the midterms was when Harry Truman was in the White House. Public approval of Congress is even lower, at 26%. Two-thirds of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. These figures recall the oft-cited midterm elections of 1994, when it was the Democrats who lost control of the House to Newt Gingrich's rampant Republicans.

A better analogy may be 1958, when the Republicans lost 48 House seats (giving the Democrats an unassailable majority) during Dwight Eisenhower's second term.

The parallel is especially intriguing because it was a combination of security concerns and economic woes that did the damage then. There had been a severe recession in the winter of 1957-58. But it was foreign policy that was on many people's minds. The previous year, the Soviets had successfully launched their Sputnik satellite, causing consternation among Americans, who had assumed their country had a built-in technological advantage in both the Cold War and the space race. Civil war was raging in Cuba; Fidel Castro was just a few months from victory. And in July, a coup d'etat had overthrown King Faisal II of — guess where? — Iraq, the prelude to the Baathist takeover of power in that country in 1963. American troops had been dispatched to Lebanon in response.

Ring any bells?

What's more, as happened in 1958, the combination of foreign policy setbacks and economic disappointments could set the stage not merely for Democratic gains at the midterms but for a Democratic victory in the presidential election two years down the line. Intriguingly, there is already a John F. Kennedy figure on the scene who, he recently admitted, has "thought about the possibility" of a bid for the White House. Youthful, charismatic and the personification of the American dream, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has been this autumn's media sensation, his face on every talk show, his name in every column, his book rivaling Woodward's in the charts.

You think the U.S. is not ready for a black president? Well, back in 1958 you'd probably have said the same about an Irish Catholic. ...



comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


DeWayne Edward Benson - 11/12/2006

The FIX is in, as soon as the election results showed disaster, Bush sacked Rumsfeld. Was Rumsfeld given the bums rush because Bush saw the light, no the Bush-REGIME had to get another front-man into control of the Pentagon while they still had the (old) GOP Rubber-Stamp.

Couldn't the Bush-PNAC Regime have gotten Richard Gates in without GOP Control, Sure, but remember the (UPPER LEVEL of CONTROL) in a DEM CONGRESS must (APPEAR) to be working for US-Citizens for a change.

TRY to remember this, when it comes to US-EMPIRE Business, there is ABSOLUTELY no difference between DEM and GOP (UPPER LEVEL) Congress. Also note the NEW DEM-Speaker has already advised "THE CRIMES of THE BUSH-ADMIN WILL NOT BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE... aka IMPEACHMENT."


Steven Horn - 11/12/2006

"we have historically economic highs in employment, GNP, stocks, etc"

Unfortunately those categories don't even begin to tell the story relative to the experience of middle class Americans and below, witness record personal debt, record health care costs, etc. Unemployment numbers may be low, but that doesn't speak to stagnated wages, underemployment, etc.


Bill Heuisler - 11/11/2006

Mr. Ferguson,
"The Pity of War" is one of the best on WWI. How could you - a great and literate historian and researcher - write of economic woes in the US when we have historically economic highs in employment, GNP, stocks, etc?
Bill Heuisler


Jason Blake Keuter - 11/10/2006

All interesting parallels, but would Obama campaign on a Kennedy platform of being more militarily muscular than Bush? He would probably argue for being more "effective" and "competent", which is a nice way of arguing against confronting radical Islam and, more importantly, our "allies" who do not want us to confront it.

Kennedy took office after competing with Nixon, more fervent anti-commuist than Ike. And when he took office, he had an almost Rumsfeldesque fascination with small, elite, covert military units that could take care of problems it usually took wars to solve with just a little bit of dash mixed with training and superior technology.

The Asia first Republicans were happy as Vietnam became the spot to try all this out. Obama would certainly lead a Europe first foreign policy, which is code for not ruffling the anti-American sensibilities of the Western portion of the continent.

The compaarisons here are valid, until the Obama's presidency begins, at which point they all fall apart.

Subscribe to our mailing list