Advancing a Free Society

Obama foreshadowed: More LBJ than FDR

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

As President Obama's administration evolved and a midterm rebuke loomed, certain historical analogies came to the fore. Would he swing to the center, like Bill Clinton? Or would he hunker down truculently, like Jimmy Carter?

Now that the election is over, it may be helpful to see Obama's situation in a different historical context. Two sequences in particular come to mind: the 1934-36 cycle that heralded the flowering of the New Deal and the Roosevelt coalition, and the 1964-66 cycle that marked the decline of Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 with overwhelming, Depression-fed congressional margins, which gave Democrats an advantage of 196 seats in the House and 23 in the Senate. Two years later, his party shattered precedent by gaining an additional nine seats in the House and 10 in the Senate. The tide of New Deal legislation, and of FDR's popularity, was in full flow, setting the stage for his unprecedented landslide reelection in 1936.

Continue reading Morton Keller at the Philadelphia Inquirer