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President Barack Obama is engaged in a feverish effort to shepherd the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a free trade treaty between the U.S. and 11 other nations) through the U.S. Congress. The preponderance of the opposition to the pact comes from the Democratic Party base. Obama is battling environmental advocacy groups, labor unions, and his own party’s Congressional leadership, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

If passed, this agreement will be a major legacy item for the president. Ironically, for a president who won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination with the support of the left wing of the Democratic Party, much of his presidency has been spent battling and trying to persuade liberal Democrats into supporting his policies.

Obama’s flagship legislative achievement was the Affordable Care Act of 2010. To get the measure through the Democratic Congress, Obama importuned liberal members of Congress who favored a single-payer health insurance system to support the act, which did not even include a public option. In fact, it provided subsidies to private health insurance companies and granted them 31 million new customers.

Obama put out a full-court press to get liberal stalwart U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to vote for the bill. A reluctant Kucinich agreed to support the proposed legislation, affirming: “I have doubts about the bill. I do not think it is a step toward anything I have supported in the past. This is not the bill I wanted to support.”

During his first year in office, Obama withstood opposition from the left when he ordered an additional 68,000 troops to Afghanistan. He recently announced that nearly 10,000 troops would remain in the country into 2016. Obama has also faced excoriation from the left for his expanded and ambitious use of predator drones in the Middle East.

Interestingly, many presidents are defined in history by the times they stood against the bases of their own parties.

There are eerie parallels between Obama and the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. One of Clinton’s signature legislative achievements was the passage of The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Though Clinton had not focused on the issue during his presidential campaign, he spent much of his political capital promoting the treaty. Liberal Democrats wanted him to spend that political capital on health care reform rather than on getting NAFTA passed. The president and his team worked feverishly against the Democratic House leadership, including Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) and Majority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), to get the votes of enough rank-and-file Democratic members to get the treaty passed. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen quipped: “I courted some of these congressman longer than I courted my wife.”

Furthermore, in 1996, to the consternation of the liberal base, Clinton signed legislation which ended welfare as an entitlement program. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called the legislation “the moral equivalent of a Dear John letter to poor people.” U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) bemoaned “My President — he’s a winner — and the kids are the losers.” Mary Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, said: “President Clinton’s signature on this pernicious bill makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children.”

A year later, Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which his team negotiated with the Republican Congressional leadership over the objection of the Democratic Party’s base, including Gephardt. The act cut discretionary spending by $77 billion and reduced taxes by $135 billion.

Republican Presidents have also defied their political bases on occasion. Though Ronald Reagan cut taxes in 1981, the federal budget deficit skyrocketed, and the next year, to the chagrin of conservatives, Reagan signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, which raised taxes by $37.5 billion annually. A year later, Reagan, working with the liberal U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA), signed legislation raising the payroll taxes and truncating Social Security benefits to wealthy recipients in an effort to preserve the program.

Reagan’s greatest legislative coup was the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with the Soviet Union. The treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched intermediate range ballistic and cruise missiles. At the time, there was vociferous opposition from the Republican base. U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), a long-time ally of the president, averred: “The President doesn’t need to discard the people who brought him to the dance.” In fact, sixty conservative organizations signed a petition admonishing that the treaty would bring the United States “Into strategic or military inferiority.” In fact, conservatives ran newspaper advertisements comparing the treaty to the 1938 agreement in Munich, Germany between Adolph Hitler and British Chancellor Neville Chamberlain. The ads read: “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”

Republican Gerald R. Ford was ridiculed by hardliners in his own party for signing the Helsinki Accords. Under this agreement (also signed by the Soviet Union and 33 other nations), each country agreed to respect the autonomy of every nation-state in Europe and not encroach upon their territory. Ford withstood a redoubtable challenge in the Republican primaries by former California Governor Ronald Reagan who said the Helsinki Accords put a “stamp of approval on Russia’s enslavement of the captive nations.”

In the spirit of détente (relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union), Ford accrued a firestorm of indignation for refusing conservative overtures to meet with soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of Gulag Archipelago. The conservative Wall Street Journal blasted the decision as “the most unworthy decision of his tenure.”

Going further back, Theodore Roosevelt spent much of his presidency fighting his Republican base, most notably battling with U.S. House Speaker Joe Cannon (R-IL). Cannon was a “standpatter” who thought the federal government should be a limited-purpose entity. He often remarked: “The country don’t need any legislation.” Contrariwise, Roosevelt was a progressive Republican who favored a more activist federal government. The two men clashed over much of Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, including the presidents’ successful effort to preserve conservation lands. Cannon asserted: “Not one cent for scenery.” In addition, Cannon, a strict Constitutionalist, complained: “Teddy Roosevelt has no more use for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license.”

The standpatters, distraught with Roosevelt’s progressive policies, were plotting a challenge to his nomination for a full-term by supporting U.S. Senator Mark Hanna (R-OH). Financier J.P Morgan, who mustered what in contemporaneous dollars would be about $340 billion, was offering to finance Hanna’s campaign. However, Hanna succumbed to typhoid fever, allowing Roosevelt to garner the party’s nomination unopposed.

In 1883, Republican President Chester A. Arthur, in an impavid but politically suicidal move, signed into law the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. The act requires the hiring and promotion of federal employees based on merit rather than on political connections. The law also made it a crime to raise political money on federal property.

Mr. Arthur was a member of the “Stalwart” faction of the Republican Party, which opposed Civil Service Reform. He was offered the Republican Vice Presidential nomination by James Garfield, a supporter of Civil Service Reform, to balance the ticket. When Arthur assumed the Presidency upon the untimely death of President James Garfield, Arthur made the Pendleton Act his number one priority, challenging and taking on his base and shepherding the legislation through the Congress. As might be expected, Arthur became an apostate to his former Stalwart backers. This inflamed U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-NY), Arthur’s political mentor. Consequently, Arthur did not muster “Stalwart” backing in the 1884 Presidential nomination sweepstakes and did not garner the GOP presidential nomination.

Barack Obama is certainly not the first president to challenge and even oppose the positions of his political base. The current battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership showcases a classic struggle between a president and his political base.


Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed a fortune since leaving the White House. Because of this financial windfall, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is facing charges of “elitism.” The revelation that Hillary decided to run for President at the Dominican Republic estate of fashion mogul Oscar de la Renta, and the revelation that some of the participants in an Iowa forum that she participated in were Democratic campaign workers rather than rank-and-file voters, make some Americans wonder if Hillary is “out of touch” with the Middle Class.

Even though the Clinton’s did not have a monetary fortune in their early years together, during Bills’ first gubernatorial term in Arkansas, Hillary became susceptible to charges that she was a cultural elitist. When the Clintons first married, Hillary kept her maiden name, Hillary Rodham. This was very rare in the conservative state of Arkansas and viewed by traditionalists as elitist.

In 1980, Bill Clinton lost his bid for re-election, making the 34-year-old the youngest ex-Governor in American history. Bill Clinton’s Republican opponent, Frank White, exploited the maiden name issue by continuously introducing his own wife as “Mrs. Frank White.”

In 1982, Bill Clinton regained the Governorship, defeating White. Hillary became more engaged in the campaign and changed her name to Hillary Clinton, telling a reporter: “I’ll be Mrs. Bill Clinton.” During the next nine years of her husband’s Governorship, Hillary gradually shed the elitist label, as she chaired the Arkansas Education Standards Committee and was successful in bringing a neonatal clinic to Arkansas’s Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. By 1990, there was even talk of Hillary running to succeed her husband as Governor of Arkansas. Bill instead ran and won re-election.

When Hillary ran for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination, she became a champion of blue-collar voters and lunch bucket Democrats, focusing on economic issues and championing her humble roots. Her main opponent was U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who battled charges of cultural elitism because of his professorial speaking style. These allegations were compounded when he seemed to be patronizing working class Americans by telling attendees at a San Francisco fundraiser that working class voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade.”

Historically, it is a struggle for wealthy candidates for public office to relate to voters. Whether they hail from patrician backgrounds, are self-made, or marry into wealth, most of their coefficients come from upper-income tax brackets. They take on the language and demeanor of the wealthy, making interactions with voters somewhat awkward. This leads to many Candidates developing specific strategies to downplay the inevitable elitism charges.

Nelson Rockefeller, in his first campaign for Governor in 1958, would tell voters who praised him: “Thanks a thousand” rather than his customary “thanks a million” so that voters would not associate Rockefeller with his vast inherited wealth.

In a rare case of taking the issue of Elitism head-on, Massachusetts Republican Governor Bill Weld, after losing a hard-fought U.S. Senate race in 1996 to incumbent Democrat John Kerry, made light of his patrician pedigree and cultural elitism. He told New York Times reporter Sara Rimer: “It was not my first defeat. There was the Rhodes scholarship, the Marshall scholarship, the Harvard Law Review. My life is a tangled wreck of failures.”

George H.W. Bush, the son of a U.S. Senator, learned to take the offensive when it came to his wealth. Before being branded as an “elitist,” Bush would suggest the same of his opponents. Bush was reared in Greenwich Connecticut, was educated at the prestigious Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and then graduated from Yale University.

Despite Bush’s own privileged background, when he ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1988, he derisively referred to one of his opponents, Pierre (Pete) S. du pont (a fellow ivy leaguer from a patrician background) as “Pierre.” Mr. DuPont always referred to himself as “Pete,” knowing that “Pierre” triggers elitist connotations. His other opponents referred to DuPont as “Pete.” Despite Bush’s background, his first name did not denote elitism in voter’s minds like the name “Pierre.”

After mustering the Republican nomination that year, Bush successfully countered his patrician heritage, including his accent and demeanor, by framing his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis as a “cultural elite.” Bush often referred to him as “that liberal Governor from Massachusetts.” Interestingly, though Bush was an Ivy leaguer himself, he bashed Dukakis, who graduated from Harvard Law School, asserting: “His foreign policy views born in Harvard Yard’s boutique, would cut the muscle of defense.” These charges helped Bush turn a seventeen- point deficit into a ten-point victory over Dukakis. Although Dukakis tried to suggest Bush was a “financial elitist,” his charges gained him little political traction. Dukakis averred: “George Bush plays Santa Claus to the wealthy and Ebeneaser Scrooge to the rest of us.” In the end, the American people chose the “financial elitist” over the “cultural elitist.”

Bush’s son, George W. Bush, is a rare breed of politician. Despite his Ivy League education and immense inherited wealth, he was successfully able to style himself as “an old boy from West Texas.”

In 1978, when Bush ran for an open Congressional seat, his Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, was successful in branding Bush as an “Ivy Leaguer.” Hance used his own humble background to lambast Bush’s elite upbringing. Hance lamented: “Yale and Harvard don’t prepare you as well for running for the 19th Congressional District as Texas Tech [Hance’s alma mater] does.” Hance also said “My daddy and granddad were farmers. They didn’t have anything to do with the mess we’re in right now, and Bush’s father has been in politics his whole life.” Hance won the race.

However, George W. Bush learned his lesson, and when he ran for Governor of Texas in 1994,he turned the tables by presenting himself as the antithesis of his background. He even succeeded in talking in colloquialisms, calling parents “moms and dads” and calling voters “folks.”

In his race for Governor in 1994, Bush beat popular incumbent Governor Ann Richards despite her personal approval ratings, which exceeded 60%. He did this with a disciplined message, focusing on issues which struck a resonant chord with socially conservative Texans, including welfare reform, tort reform, and juvenile justice reform. Moreover, Bush excoriated Richards for vetoing a concealed carry handgun bill. Lone Star state voters came to see Bush as one of their own, not as some “phony Texan” from Yale.

In 1999, as Bush was beginning his Presidential campaign, he purchased a ranch in Crawford, Texas. This was a strategic and political tour de force. The Bush team successfully effectuated a master narrative of Bush as a rugged individualist and a rhinestone cowboy clearing brush from his ranch while the Eastern elite sit in their ivory tower air-conditioned offices mocking working class Americans. Bush exploited the undercurrent of virulence in Middle America toward the people he had gone to school with, and he did it brilliantly.

Bush knew that Harvard and Hollywood don’t play well in America’s heartland. By emphasizing his slight Western accent, his love for the outdoors, and his devout Christianity, Bush became public enemy number one in the eyes of the coastal establishment. They mocked him as obtuse, ignorant, and anti-intellectual. In both 2000 and 2004, Bush ran against two fellow patricians, Ivy Leaguers Al Gore and John Kerry, respectively. In both cases, Bush won the election, in part by creating a master narrative where he was a plain-talking Texan challenging “intellectual out-of-touch elites.”

During his successful 1992 Presidential campaign, Hillary’s husband Bill emphasized his humble background and pledged to be a voice for the plight of “the forgotten middle-class.” During a primary debate, former California Governor Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of using his power as Governor to funnel money to the Rose Law Firm, where Hillary worked. In response, Clinton portrayed Brown as an elitist, retorting: “Jerry comes here with his family wealth and his $1,500 suit, making lying accusations about my wife.”

In the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary must counteract charges of both cultural and financial “elitism.” She must prove to voters that despite her recent fortune, she is still the same woman who grew up in a middle-class household in Park Ridge, Illinois, moving to Arkansas after college.

One way to showcase this would be to dispatch her contacts from Parkridge and Arkansas to the early primary states to make the case that Hillary has not changed. This will counteract the inevitable charges by critics that Hillary only associates with the rich and famous. In Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 Presidential campaign, he dispatched the family’s Arkansas friends to campaign for him around the nation. They came to be known by the moniker: “Arkansas Travelers.” Hillary must show voters that despite her wealth and elite friends, she still views the country through the prism of everyday Americans, not through the prism of the nation’s economic and cultural elites.


The Invasion of the Party-Switchers in Presidential Politics

April 28, 2015

The 2016 Presidential election might go down in history as the year of the party-switchers. Republican Rick Perry was once a member of the Texas Democratic State Legislature. Potential Democratic Presidential candidate Jim Webb was once a Republican. Lincoln Chafee became a Democrat in 2013. He had initially been a Republican, then registered as an […]

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Unlike Father, Rand Paul Is Willing to Alter His Positions to Win

April 28, 2015

Some Libertarians who supported then U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) in his two failed quests for the Republican presidential nomination are irritated with his son, Rand Paul. Rand Paul, who recently entered the sweepstakes for the GOP presidential nomination, has moderated his positions on some key issues. For example, Rand asserted in 2007 that Iran’s […]

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One Galvanizing Issue Can Rocket Launch a Potential Presidential Candidacy: Scott Walker Is One Example

March 20, 2015

On election night 2010, Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin Gubernatorial sweepstakes flew under the national radar. More national focus was thrust upon Texas Governor Rick Perry’s successful re-election bid, and the election of Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate in Florida. Yet today, Walker sits in the first tier of 2016 Republican Presidential aspirants, […]

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No Political Ideology Has a Monopoly on Patriotism

March 20, 2015

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani created a firestorm by publicly stating: “I do not believe the President [Barack Obama] loves America.” Giuliani also suggested that Obama developed negative feelings toward America from Frank Marshall Davis, a member or the Communist Party USA, who was introduced to Obama by his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, at […]

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How Will Chris Christie’s Unfiltered Style Play in the Presidential Sweepstakes?

February 11, 2015

Prospective Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is known for his confrontational style. Unlike most politicians, Christie has no problem telling-off hecklers and giving candid responses to questions. For example, during a town hall meeting, Christie told a heckler: “Sit down and shut up!” He publicly said of New York Daily News sportswriter Manish Mehta, who […]

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Is Jeb Bush Channeling Henry “Scoop” Jackson?

February 11, 2015

The positions of political parties are not static. In fact, they sometimes change rapidly. Ideological shifts usually begin at the grassroots level, and then trickle up to the political leadership. Those who do not change with their party on major issues often become heretics. Two prime examples of this are U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson […]

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Is Mitt Romney the Political Reincarnation of Hubert Humphrey?

February 11, 2015

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, is making noises about another run for president. He is contacting past financial benefactors and supporters, and telling them that he is concerned with the direction of the country and inquiring about future support. A 2016 Romney candidacy would have seemed a bit farfetched in the immediate aftermath […]

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Neurosurgeon May Perform Exploratory Operation on Presidential Candidacy

January 6, 2015

At the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, the keynote speaker was Dr. Ben Carson, a retired renowned neurosurgeon. In his address, Carson excoriated political correctness, supported health savings accounts, and advocated for the implementation of a federal flat tax. The oration occurred in an unorthodox non-partisan setting with President Barack Obama at the head table. The […]

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