Been There Done That

U.S. History Shows Us Dems Give Us Wars and GOP Recessions

But Republicans Lead Both Big Time Since 1968
By RICK MELLERUP | Sep 21, 2016

It was way back in 1968 when my father, a committed independent, gave me my first political advice.

“Democrats,” he said, “get us into wars. Republicans get us into recessions.”

In other words, voting was basically choosing between a rock and a hard place.

I had already learned enough American history at the age of 13 to know of two prime examples, that FDR, a Democrat, was president during World War II while Herbert Hoover, a Republican, had been in office at the start of the Great Depression. As I studied more I found out that my father’s two-sentence assessment was essentially correct – at least in 1968.

The Democratic Party was founded in 1828. Originally its opponent was the Whig Party; the Republicans entered the scene in 1854 after their main predecessor had faded from view. Let’s take a look at which party was in the White House in America’s subsequent major foreign wars. I say major because we won’t consider smaller actions like repeated incursions into Mexico, Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 or Bill Clinton’s actions in Somalia in 1993 and in Kosovo Province, Yugoslavia, in 1999. I say foreign because unfortunately there was never a political party in the U.S. that had a problem making war against Native Americans.

The Mexican-American War started in 1846 under President James K. Polk, a Democrat.

1861 brought us the American Civil War. Yes, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. But the first shots were fired by the South, and the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was a Democrat.

Democrat Woodrow Wilson was president in 1917 when the U.S. entered World War I.

As already stated, Franklin Roosevelt was the president who led us into World War II.

Democrat Harry Truman was president at the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.

Republican Dwight Eisenhower sent 900 American military advisers to Vietnam in the 1950s. But Democrat JFK increased that number to 16,000 before his assassination. Then, of course, came Democrat Lyndon Johnson, and eventually U.S. troop strength would increase to 536,100 in 1968. It is pretty clear Vietnam was a Democratic war.

The only U.S. major foreign war between 1828 and 1968 that was a Republican affair was William McKinley’s Spanish-American War of 1898 and the resulting Philippine insurrection. Dad was right about Democrats getting us into war – by a 6 to 1 count.

Recessions are a more complicated matter. First of all, they have been more frequent than major wars. Second, statistics such as unemployment rates and Gross Domestic Product weren’t standardized until after WWII.

Still, the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit, non-partisan economic research institution, compiled a list of 26 U.S. recessions since between 1857 and 1968. My father was right once again, although not nearly so dramatically – Republicans were in the White House when a recession started 15 times to 11 for the Democrats.

Since my father’s political lesson in 1968, however, things have changed dramatically, with Republican administrations leading us into both wars and recessions.

George H.W. Bush brought us the Gulf War, a.k.a Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, from 1990 to 1991. George W. Bush gave us the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Iraq War in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, having witnessed the downfall of LBJ, haven’t started a major war since his time. As for “minor” events, yes: 19 Americans were killed in the Battle of Mogadishu of “Black Hawk Down” fame in 1993, and 17 sailors were killed on the USS Cole in 2000 under Bill Clinton’s watch. But remember, Ronald Reagan was the president in 1983 when 220 U.S. Marines, 18 American sailors and three soldiers died in the Beirut barracks bombings.

NBER says there have been seven recessions since 1968. Six began under a Republican administration with Richard Nixon giving us two, Ronald Reagan contributing one, the senior Bush one and his son two. The only post-1968 recession that started under a Democratic administration was in 1980 under Jimmy Carter.

For sure, wars can be forced upon a president – FDR had to respond to Pearl Harbor, and Bush II probably would have been crucified politically if he hadn’t responded to Sept.11, 2001, with Afghanistan. And presidents, both Democratic and Republican, don’t control economies nearly as much as they’d like to think and like to brag about when things are breaking good. Still, the raw numbers bear my father out, with the Dems “up” six to four in the war department since 1828 while the Republicans lead in recessions 21 to 12. But the Republican record on both counts has been troublesome since 1968.

Of course, as disclaimers at the end of mutual fund advertisements often say, “past performance is not an indication of future results.” On the other hand, betting against past results is a dangerous proposition.

I’m a Red Sox fan. For about 20 years I’ve been making a friendly $20 bet with a Yankees fan (yes, such a friendship can happen) at the beginning of each season that the BoSox would have a better regular season record than the Bronx Bombers. It is a good thing I was basically betting for bragging rights and not trying to build a retirement fund.

From 1903 – the first year the heated rivals coexisted in the American League, although they were known as the Boston Americans and the New York Highlanders in those days – through 1995, the Yankees had better seasonal records than the Sox 61 times versus 31 with one tie. But I went ahead and bet the Sox anyway. So what happened from 1996 through 2015? The Yanks went 16-3-1.

I’m down $260.

Rick Mellerup is a writer for The SandPaper.

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