A brief US Presidential & Political History

I recently read Bill Clinton’s auto-biography and am sharing stuff that I learnt from the book

There are 2 political parties in the US — Democratic and Republican (also called the Grand Old Party or GOP)

Democrats are considered left of the center (pro-poor, pro-middle class, pro-socialism, pro-tax, pro-big government, kind of similar to Congress in India) while Republicans are considered right of the center (pro-business, pro-small government, pro-tax cuts, kind of similar to BJP in India).

You might have heard of Blue states and Red States. Well, the official color for the Democrats is Blue and their mascot is a Donkey while the official color for the Republicans is Red and their mascot is an Elephant.

The Elephant and the Donkey mascots of the 2 parties

A fundamental change that started happening in the Republican Party since the Ronald Reagan presidency in the 1980s was that more and more Republicans started drifting away to the extreme right. The Republican party, as of today, is dominated by the extreme right faction and this has had disastrous consequences for the US economy and a complete lockdown in Washington. More on this later.

The US also has a bicameral legislature (2 Houses), similar to India’s.
House of Representatives — can be considered equivalent to the Lok Sabha
Senate — can be considered equivalent to the Rajya Sabha

The House and the Senate are together referred to as the US Congress (which would be equivalent to Parliament in India).

The Senate has 100 members (called Senators). 2 Senators from each state.
The House of Representatives has 435 members.
Each US state is divided into number of counties and a group of counties form a Congressional district.
Each Congressional district sends one member to the US House of Representatives.
So essentially, the US has 435 Congressional districts

Term limit for a US President is set to 2 terms (each term of 4 years) i.e. a person can only win 2 US Presidential elections. However, technically a person could be US President for 12 years. Consider this situation — just after the new President is sworn in, he or she dies. The veep automatically becomes the President and serves the 4 years. Then the veep can win 2 general elections on his own and hence serve as the POTUS for 12 years!

One of the prerequisites for becoming the US President is that you must have been born in the US. That is why, some people advocated a conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, saying that he was born in Kenya, as his father was a Kenyan, and repeatedly asked him to show his birth certificate. Obama actually did produce his birth certificate and put the conspiracy theory to rest.

The US has 50 states. Each state has its own legislature and is served by a Governor (equivalent to India’s Chief Minister).

The top government officials for a US state are —

Lieutenant Governor
Secretary of State …different from US Secretary of State
Attorney General …different from US Attorney General
Treasurer…different from US Treasury Secretary

Some abbreviations and terms to remember —

POTUS — President of the United States
FLOTUS — First Lady of the United States
Veep — short for Vice-President. The veep automatically becomes the President and serves the remainder of the term, in case the President dies, resigns or is impeached
FDR — Franklin D Roosevelt. The longest serving US President ever. He won 4 Presidential elections. Unfortunately, due to poor health, he died while serving his 4th term
JFK — John F Kennedy aka Jack Kennedy
LBJ — Lyndon B Johnson

The US Presidential elections are held in November each year, and the President elect takes the oath the following January.

Here is a timeline of some important events in US Presidential and political history —

1914 — World War I begins
1918 — World War I ends… ended with Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost
1920 — Warren Harding wins the Presidency, Republican
1923 — President Harding dies, veep Calvin Coolidge becomes the President
1924 — Calvin Coolidge wins, Republican
1928 — Calvin Coolidge did not stand for re-election… Herbert Hoover, Republican wins
1932 — FDR (Franklin D Roosevelt), Democrat defeats Herbert Hoover
1936 — FDR wins again
1939 — World War II begins
1940 — FDR wins again
1944 — FDR wins again, veep — Harry Truman
1945 — FDR dies due to poor health, Harry Truman becomes the President… World War II ends… Harry Truman tries to achieve health insurance for every American which nearly cost him the Presidency
1948 — Harry Truman wins, Democrat
1951 — 22nd amendment to the US constitution, sets term limit for US President to 2 terms
1952 — Eisenhower, Republican… veep was Richard Nixon
1956 — Eisenhower, Republican wins again… veep was Richard Nixon
1960 — JFK (John F Kennedy aka Jack Kennedy), a Democratic senator from Massachusetts wins, defeating Richard Nixon… These were the first elections when there was a televised Presidential debate in the US… JFK’s veep was LBJ (Lyndon B Johnson)
1963 — JFK assassinated… the veep LBJ becomes the President
1964 — Presidential elections landslide winner was LBJ (Democrat)
1968 — Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy (younger brother of JFK) assassinated
1968 — Lyndon Johnson did not stand up for re-election, Richard Nixon had a narrow victory over LBJ’s veep — Humphrey

Richard Nixon, the only POTUS to have ever resigned from office

During Nixon’s first tenure — Watergate scandal (The Nixon administration was accused of abusing the office of the President and recording telephone calls of potential rivals and high officials)
1972 — Richard Nixon won again.. his veep was Gerald Ford
1974 — Richard Nixon resigns over the Watergate scandal, the only POTUS to have ever resigned, veep Gerald Ford becomes the President. He gave Nixon, a presidential pardon
1976 — Jimmy Carter wins, Democrat.. defeating Gerald Ford
1980 — Ronald Reagan wins, Republican.. defeating Jimmy Carter.. his veep is George H W Bush

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, during a televised debate

1984 — Ronald Reagan wins again… veep is George H W Bush
1988 — George H W Bush wins, Republican
1992 — Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, defeats George H W Bush to become the 42nd POTUS. His veep is Senator Al Gore.

During the last 12 years of Republican presidency, before Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the US debt quadrupled from US $1 trillion to US $4 trillion. The Republicans are all about tax-cuts, supply side and trickle down economics, something that just doesn’t work.

Bill Clinton with his predecessor George H W Bush

1996 — Bill Clinton is re-elected, defeating Bob Dole, who was a member of Senate in his first term… veep is Senator Al Gore again

Bill Clinton left the Presidency in 2001 with 4 consecutive years of budget surplus (Government Income > Government Spending). His economic policies were fiscally responsible and helped the middle class grow. As an example, during Clinton’s presidency, the US achieved

Lowest unemployment rate
Lowest crime rate
Lowest inflation
He signed the welfare reform bill, to put people from welfare to work
Growth of middle class incomes and a lot more

Clinton left the US in prosperity and is considered one of the best US Presidents ever.

2000 — George W Bush, the governor of Texas and the elder son of George H W Bush, defeats Al Gore in a controversial election… his veep is Dick Cheney

Al Gore went on to achieve worldwide fame with his presentation and movie — An Inconvenient Truth— about environmental problems and global warming. As of June 2015, he also sits on the board of Apple Inc.

2004 — George W Bush wins again, defeating Senator John Kerry (who went on to become the US Secretary of State in Obama’s 2nd term)… The Veep is again Dick Cheney

George W Bush with his veep Dick Cheney

After Clinton left in January 2001, the next 8 years of Republican rule reversed all the gains he had accomplished. The Republicans went back to the same old policies of Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush — tax cuts for the wealthy, increasing defense spending and ultimately doubled the US debt in these 8 years (from US $6 trillion to US $12 trillion)

2008 — Barack Obama, senator from Illinois, defeats Senator John Mc Cain, a Vietnam War veteran... Obama’s veep is Joe Biden... The runner up for the Democratic Presidential nominee was Hillary Clinton and Obama made her the US Secretary of State in his administration

The US Secretary of State is equivalent to India’s Foreign Minister (External Affairs Minister).

2012 — Barack Obama defeats Mitt Romney, the ex-governor of Massachusetts and former head of Bain Capital… the veep again is Joe Biden and the new US secretary of State is John Kerry

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State during Obama’s first term and John Kerry, the current US Secretary of State

The Republican party has moved to the extreme right and are known for literally hating Obama and some Democrats. They have blocked the President’s efforts to create more jobs in the US and many other reforms as well. They are not willing to do anything about the US debt, if it includes even $1 of tax increase for the wealthy.

The Republican party has now become a party of the corporates and the super-rich and has been a blockade in the efforts to get US back on track. Liberal Republicans are a virtually extinct group today. As a matter of fact, the Republican Senate majority leader said the following in 2010 — “Our first priority is not to get America back to work. It is to get the President out of work!”

What makes things worse is that Republicans have a majority in both the House as well as the Senate. In other words, it is a Republican Congress!

2016 — Hillary Clinton is the front runner to become the Democratic Presidential nominee, while the Republicans have more than 15 Presidential hopefuls (including Jeb Bush, the younger brother of George W Bush, and the ex governor of Florida).

NOTE — The US has never had a female President. Hillary Clinton referred to the US Presidency as the highest glass ceiling.