SHELBURNE Professor Frank Bryant, author, raconteur and political science professor at the University of Vermont and a keen student of presidential campaigns, has observed that throughout the 130 year history of the country there have been dramatic changes in the direction of the country roughly once a generation.
When he talked to Charlotte Shelburne Rotary on Wednesday, Oct. 2, he charted the times when a presidential election, influenced by some dramatic cultural or economic event, has marked a real turning point in the life of the country. He also expressed concern that today, with the nationalizing of politics, those cycles are fading.
Prof. Bryant stimulated lively conversation and serious thought when he said that the 30-year cycles that have always seemed to influence presidential election results are now overdue.
He said that throughout history of the American presidency, there has been one election every 30 years that has really mattered, an election that marked a dramatic change in the countrys leadership. These big bang elections were:
1800 the first contested election, when Jefferson challenged Adams
1828 people who were not property owners could vote
1860 Lincoln was elected and took actions that held the union together; also the beginning of geographically-linked political parties
1896 a dramatic Republican majority
1932 Roosevelt elected; creating a new urban coalition
1964 Goldwater focused on states rights and took formerly Democrat states in the south for the Republicans
Today many factors predicate against a major big bang, he said. Unlike the previous cycles, there is no current social crisis uch as the depression in the 30s or the human rights crusades of the 60s. He also said that politics have become nationalized, responsibility and local control has been pre-empted by the federal parties and the national presidential campaigns. Many policies and programs that were in the hands of states are now being controlled by the national government, specifically education and health care.
The national parties respond to focus groups that tell them that education and health are peoples main concern, and build what were state issues into their national platforms.
Prof. Bryant also said that technology is weakening the local partisan organizations because everyone can be contacted directly by the national party organization. However, he said, the Democratic Left is more active in moving to strengthen states rights.
Bryant was also critical of the mass media for focusing on trivial gaffs, such as Michael Dukakis riding in an armored personnel carrier and Howard Deans scream, and also for having an obvious and observable bias.