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Friday, November 07, 2008

Michael Lind's striking post at Salon argues that the historic election of Barack Obama this week represents the start of a fourth American Republic to match the First (1788-1860), the Second (1860-1932), and the Third (1932-2004ish), a 72-year structural pattern that will likely catapult Obama into the pantheon of truly great American presidents: Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, each in their own way founders of the nation.

Policy shifts, more than public opinion polls or election results, suggest that a truly transformative moment may be upon us. The first three American republics display a remarkably similar pattern. Their 72-year life span is divided into two 36-year periods (again, give or take a year -- this is not astrology). During the first 36-year period of a republic, ambitious nation-builders in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton strengthen the powers of the federal government and promote economic modernization. During the second 36-year phase of a republic, there is a Jeffersonian backlash, in favor of small government, small business and an older way of life. During the backlash era, Jeffersonians manage to modify, but never undo, the structure created by the Hamiltonians in the previous era.
In this calculus Obama is the new, progressive Hamiltonian, whose reinvigorating vision the nation will dominate American politics for decades. And Bush is likewise the last Republic's final Jeffersonian:
George W. Bush was not only the final president of the Jeffersonian backlash period of Roosevelt's Third Republic, but the last president of the 1932-2004 Third Republic itself. The final president of a republic tends to be a failed, despised figure. The First Republic, which began with George Washington, ended with James Buchanan, a hapless president who refused to act as the South seceded after Lincoln's election. The Second Republic, which began with Abraham Lincoln, ended with the well-meaning but reviled and ineffectual Herbert Hoover. The Third Republic, founded by Franklin Roosevelt, came to a miserable end under the pathetic George W. Bush.
Provocative stuff. Now Obama just has to live up to it.