We’re really getting into recent memory here, so I’ll just be hitting some highlights here as I finish reviewing the national scene and the Presidents.
George W. Bush was, of course, the son of George H.W. Bush. If the spoon in H.W.’s mouth was silver, I guess that makes W’s spoon platinum or something. Nevertheless, he was able to campaign as an aw-shucks Texan to some degree. The commentariat was maybe tired of the Clinton years to some degree because they pounded on his opponent, Al Gore, for nonsense like wearing earth tones and sighing during a debate and insisting on using math. In the end, Gore was the people’s choice, but Bush was the beneficiary of the Electoral College’s affirmative action for voters in less populous states. And he had the advantage of having his brother oversee the election in Florida where Bush won by an apparent margin of 537 votes. However, the United States Supreme Court stopped the recount, so whether that was the true margin is unknown.
Eight months into Bush’s term, the U.S. was attacked by Osama bin and his group, al-Qaeda when four planes were hijacked. Two were flown into the Twin Towers in New York, one into the Pentagon, and one crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to overpower the hijackers. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 3,000 people, but — as is the intent of terrorist attacks — the psychological impact outstripped the actual loss. The divided country rallied around the President in the aftermath, and the Bush administration reacted by invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan had a relationship to the attacks. Iraq did not.
In 2004, Bush once again won the electoral college. And, in what is becoming a rarity for Republican Presidential candidates, he won the popular vote over John Kerry by 2.4%. As we know because of our recent 2016 election, that 2.4% majority will represent the only such popular vote victory for the GOP for a period spanning 30 years. However, the goodwill strengthened by post-9/11 unity would not last. In the midterm elections of 2006, Democrats took control of the House, the Senate, and the majority of governor’s seats. That momentum would largely continue into the 2008 elections.
During the Bush administration, deficit spending resumed after a brief hiatus during the Clinton administration. The stock market stagnated. In 2008, the market collapsed in the biggest recession since the Great Depression. However, its effects appear to have been mitigated by spending measures implemented at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration.
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya. He became our first black president. Obama’s father and mother split up soon after he was born. When Obama was 3, his mother remarried a man from Indonesia. Obama lived in Jakarta from age 6 to 10. When he was 10, he returned to Hawaii and lived with his maternal grandparents. After high school, he moved to the continental U.S. and, among other things, attended college at Columbia, became a community organizer in Chicago, attended law school at Harvard, and taught constitutional law at the Chicago Law School. From 1996 – 2004, he served in the Illinois state senate. In 2004, he decisively won a crowded Democratic primary field for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat. The anticipated Republican opponent, Jack Ryan dropped out of the Senate race due to the breaking of some scandalous news related to his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan. Instead, Obama ended up facing conservative activist Alan Keyes and won easily. His Senate victory and his well-received keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention made him a rising star. He soon made the decision to run for the Presidency in 2008.
After a long and contentious primary battle, Obama beat Hillary Clinton who had been the frontrunner. In the 2008 election, he went up against John McCain who was fighting some pretty serious anti-Republican headwinds following the Bush administration and exacerbated by the collapse of the financial markets due to sketchy housing market practices on Wall Street. Obama won that race decisively.
Using the Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency, Obama passed a stimulus bill that did much to mitigate the financial collapse. He was also able to pass a healthcare bill modeled on the Massachusetts program passed by future GOP candidate, Mitt Romney. Republicans were united in political opposition to a health care success by Obama and did not participate in meaningful negotiations for their votes. Conservative Democrats also gummed up the works; the upshot being what is, by almost all accounts, an unwieldy system. However, it did result in the availability of health insurance for 11.4 million more Americans and has, in particular, been beneficial to those Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.
On May 1, 2011, an operation under the Obama administration was successful in killing Osama bin Laden.
In 2012, Obama was able to defeat Mitt Romney by a smaller margin than in 2008, but still with 51.1% of the popular vote and 332 electoral votes. He appointed two Supreme Court Justices – Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotamayor. A third vacancy opened up upon the death of Antonin Scalia, but the Senate Republicans blocked consideration of his appointment for a year, using the specious argument that 25% of a Presidential term was too close to the end to allow his nominee to receive consideration.
During Obama’s second term, significant progress was made in recognizing that gay Americans should not be second class citizens. The Supreme Court recognized their right to marry.
In 2016, the Republicans nominated reality star and alleged billionaire Donald Trump to represent them. As in 1876, 1888, and 2000, the Republicans won enough electoral votes to win the White House but did so with a minority of the total votes. What this means for the future of the country remains to be seen.