Welcome to the Fourth Republic

19 Feb

With the signing of the federal stimulus bill, Barack Obama now has his first major legislative accomplishment of his term.  A $787 billion stimulus package is not as big as he wanted, but it is a step in the right direction.  And the stimulus shows the dawning of a new era far different from the post-Reagan/Nixon conservative course of American history.  For instance, Bill Clinton in his first year in office tried to get a $16 billion stimulus bill through a Democratic Congress and it failed.

A group of historians have divided American history into three phases that begin with a strong president that creates a lasting political order but then end with a very bad president after decades of decline.  Then a new president arrives to re-found American government.

There are three “republics” as they call them (echoing French history).  The First Republic (1788-1860) was started by George Washington and ended with President Buchanan who sat on his hands as the South began to secede from the Union.  The Second Republic (1860-1932) began with Abraham Lincoln saving the Union and ended with a bewildered Herbert Hoover sitting on his hands during the Depression.  Franklin Roosevelt birthed the Third Republic (1932-2004) while George Bush ended it around the time he sat on his hands while New Orleans drowned.

Is Barack Obama the first president of the Fourth Republic?  Historian Michael Lind believes so, and I don’t dispute the idea that the age of American conservatism died in 2006 when the Democrats swept Congress.  We are at a unique juncture in time and history, perhaps only comparable to 1932.  But will we make anything of it?  Here are three proposals for what American needs in the new era by this same historian.

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