Monday, October 30, 2006

2006 = 1958?

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson says this year's politics looks a lot like the politics of 1958, when the Republicans lost 48 House seats during Dwight Eisenhower's second term:

The parallel is especially intriguing because it was a combination of security concerns and economic woes that did the damage then. There had been a severe recession in the winter of 1957-58. But it was foreign policy that was on many people's minds. The previous year, the Soviets had successfully launched their Sputnik satellite, causing consternation among Americans, who had assumed their country had a built-in technological advantage in both the Cold War and the space race. Civil war was raging in Cuba; Fidel Castro was just a few months from victory. And in July, a coup d'etat had overthrown King Faisal II of — guess where? — Iraq, the prelude to the Baathist takeover of power in that country in 1963. American troops had been dispatched to Lebanon in response.

Ring any bells?

What's more, as happened in 1958, the combination of foreign policy setbacks and economic disappointments could set the stage not merely for Democratic gains at the midterms but for a Democratic victory in the presidential election two years down the line. Intriguingly, there is already a John F. Kennedy figure on the scene who, he recently admitted, has "thought about the possibility" of a bid for the White House. Youthful, charismatic and the personification of the American dream, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has been this autumn's media sensation, his face on every talk show, his name in every column, his book rivaling Woodward's in the charts.

You think the U.S. is not ready for a black president? Well, back in 1958 you'd probably have said the same about an Irish Catholic.