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Our Bipolar Presidential Election History

January 19th, 2019 by dk

Those who care most about a horse race are not the ones who win or lose money on the results. The most invested are those who feed and train the horses when others aren’t looking. The horses are usually not racing. With that in mind, before the 2020 presidential race shapes up, let’s consider how the racers have shaped us.

Since Eisenhower’s victory in 1952, the White House shifts between parties every eight years. The only two interruptions of this rhythm can be attributed to Ronald Reagan. He swept Carter from office after one term. His vice president, George H.W. Bush, followed him, but for only one term.

Apart from Reagan’s magnetism, our presidential elections have swung from left to right with metronomic regularity for 64 years. Rather than picking winners for the next horse race, let’s look more closely at the track, and how the curves affect our daily lives.

What happens to daily life when the ideals of one party are left to be regulated and enforced by the other party? The disconnects are sharpest when power shifts from Democratic to Republican.

Democrats love to make rules that will better people’s lives. Republicans love to cut taxes and trim the budgets of those charged with enforcing rules. The ideal that informed the original rule fades as societal norms shift in response without attendant regulations.

Our recent political history paints a nation that is less polarized than bi-polarized.

Carter had a plan to de-institutionalize the mentally ill. He cut construction funds for large mental hospitals. He was voted out of office before he could fully fund community-based solutions that were deemed more humane than warehousing patients. Reagan came into office with other priorities, so the money set aside for housing the mentally ill was used elsewhere. But by then, nobody wanted to return to mental hospitals. So nothing was done, and homelessness slowly grew into the epidemic it has become.

Clinton believed that Wall Street had demonstrated its unique power to create wealth in America, so he loosened the regulations on banks and investment firms. His administration kept watchdogs in place, but those watchdogs found their leashes tightened or their teeth removed when George W. Bush came to office.

It’s too soon to know what big changes Obama will be forced to watch undone by his Republican successor. Attempts to weaken the Affordable Care Act continue, but its fate is not yet in any clear jeopardy. A smaller initiative may offer more immediate clarity.

Obama loosened regulations for service dogs to in certain cases include pets that provide other sorts of help, including emotional support. It didn’t take long for people to misunderstand the ideal of equal access and assert for themselves a government-sanctioned right to non-human companionship everywhere they go.

Who will interpret and enforce the federal government’s new regulations about service animals? Not this president. Trump is the first White House resident without a dog since William McKinley died in office in 1901. President McKinley kept several kittens, roosters and a parrot.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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