I grew up in Southern Missouri which, like most of the old South, is a region where the Democratic Party dominated politics during the first half of the 20th century. During the 50’s there was a saying that went like this: “Roosevelt proved that a man could be President forever. Truman proved that any man could be President. Eisenhower proved that we didn’t need a President at all.” Roosevelt and Truman were Democrats and Eisenhower was a Republican.

The U.S. has had a two-party system in place for most of its existence. From time to time a third party shows up but each time it functions for a time and then is absorbed into one of the dominant parties. The Dixiecrats, which ran Strom Thurman for president in 1948, are a good example of a third party movement that was absorbed into the Democratic Party four years later. More recently we had Ross Perot who ran as a third party candidate in 1992 and 1996. He carried 18 percent of the vote which was enough to keep George H.W. Bush from a second term and to make President Clinton president despite not having 50% of the vote of the American people. History tells us that most of the time the presidency is won by a majority as was true with President Obama in 2012 when he polled just over 53 percent of the vote.

Traditionally, the Republican Party has been more conservative than the Democratic Party. The dictionary says that a conservative is one who favors preserving the existing order. A liberal is defined as one who favors civil liberties, democratic reforms, and the use of public resources to promote social progress.

Our electorate and the government it re-creates every two and four years moves back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats. Envision a large pendulum swinging back and forth with conservatism on one side and liberalism on the other and neither faction satisfied with the pendulum stable in the middle.

Beginning in the early 1930s we moved from Roosevelt and Truman (D) to Eisenhower (R) to Kennedy and Johnson (D) to Nixon and Ford (R) to Carter (D) to Reagan and G.H.W. Bush (R) to Clinton (D) to G.W. Bush (R) to Obama (D). This periodic change makes the pendulum swing back and forth between more liberal and more conservative approaches to governance. Those “swings”, from conservative to liberal, foster important “check and balance” necessities. These include such issues as the make-up of the Supreme Court and Congress. The fight shaping up between the Republicans and Democrats over President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Scalia should be an interesting case study in the late spring and summer.

The political party not in power is always most vocal in election years. That is why we are hearing all of the negative rhetoric now from Republicans. No one out of office ever gets elected by telling us how well the incumbents are running the country. Just before President Obama’s election in 2008 South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, “If Obama wins we will fight him tooth and toenail”. Following that election, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Our top priority should be to deny President Obama a second term.” That obstructionist effort has been constant over the past eight years.

Let me leave you with several questions and a final thought. Do we have a representative democratic system? Oh yes. Does it always suit us, personally? No. May we anticipate change in a future election? Yes, again. Until then, what should we do? A friend told me following the last election, “Well, I didn’t vote for President Obama but
now that he is my president I will support him.”

May we expect the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction in a future election?Yes, as sure as God made little green apples.

Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.