Another Clinton

A first glance at American politics would suggest decades of dominance by the Republicans, with only the 1990s providing any relief for the Democrats. Those of us too young to remember Lyndon Johnson can recall just two Democrat presidents - the ill-fated lone term of Jimmy Carter, and the two terms of Bill Clinton.

But America is more diverse, more decentralised, and much larger than such a focus on the White House can reveal.

Throughout Carter's presidency the Democrats held both houses of Congress and a majority of state governorships, losing the Senate only on the day that Carter himself was defeated. At a deeper level, the Democrat dominance was even greater: twice as many state legislators as the Republicans and twice as many registered voters.

During Bill Clinton's presidency, his party lost all these advantages. The Republicans won Congress in 1994, and still hold both houses. They won a majority among state governors, and despite huge turnover, still hold that majority today. By the late 1990s the GOP had overtaken the Democrats among state legislators and party registrations. On both measures, the parties remain fairly even today. The huge Democrat advantage has been wiped away.

And these leads which the pre-Clinton Democrats held were deeply engrained. The Republicans had been out of power in the House for 40 years. But more than that, Republican control of the House in post-war years comprised two lone terms, following the elections of 1946 and 1952. The last period of sustained Republican rule was when the current President's father was growing up (1919 to 1929). Denny Hastert is the longest serving Republican Speaker ever.

Some conservative Republicans believe the party needs to lose power to renew itself. They are rightly disgusted with the way government has grown on Bush's watch, while reform of social security has foundered.

There are many things to be said against a renewed Clinton administration: the last was the mostly deeply corrupt administration of modern times; the damage a Clinton presidency could inflict on the courts would last for decades; removing focus from the war on terror could cost countless lives. But, if the last experience of a Clinton presidency is anything to go by, the damage to the Democrat party could be even more devastating.

I am nowhere near concluding that it would be good for America or the world if the GOP loses power in 2008, but there is a bright side to almost everything.

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