Only American superhero George Washington was strong enough to transcend party politics—even if there were technically no political parties yet. In the very first presidential election, that of 1789, Washington ran essentially unopposed. Indeed, his fast-track to the presidency was jump-started when he was unanimously chosen president of the Constitutional convention, that occurred in Philadelphia in 1787.
In 1789, the states chose their electors, and in their first vote, they all voted for Washington. The second vote was for vice president, won by John Adams, who would probably have received many more votes than he did, if the electors were not so concerned that his total could not come close to matching Washington’s. Talk about rising above petty politics!
All this sweetness and light would be short-lived. After Washington’s second term, the election of 1796 became the first contested one in our history, pitting John Adams of the Federalist party against Thomas Jefferson of the Republican Party (not to be confused with the present day Republican party). Adams was the victor.
In those early days, the Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonian Republicans, favored states’ rights and a more limited central government. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, advocated a strong national government, and a more mercantile, less agricultural economy. It should be noted that Hamilton’s notion of a strong national government pales in comparison to today’s Federal leviathan, and was primarily concerned with developing a powerful military and a national bank. In fact, Hamilton’s vision of the United States is probably as close as one could come to ideal.
The Republicans (also called Democratic-Republicans) were allied with France, whose king had been a great friend during our War of Independence, although they were fervently anti-monarchist. For many Republicans, this loyalty would not change much after the French Revolution, nor after the Reign of Terror that saw a goodly number of American allies executed, including Comte D’Estaing, commander of the first French fleet sent in support of the Americans. In these days, Lafayette would be exiled, and selfless patriot Thomas Paine, who supported the basic cause of the French Revolution but fought to save the king’s life, was thrown into a French jail.
Notwithstanding, the Republicans would defame Hamilton, Adams, and even Washington himself as being too friendly with Britain, as secret monarchists, and as enemies of consensus American values. By the 1820’s they would become known as the Democratic Party.
As to the present day GOP Republican Party, it was formed by antislavery politicians from the Democratic, Whig, and Free-Soil parties in 1854. Thus, Team “D” and Team “R” were now firmly established.
While serious students of American history may disagree on the precise timing, my contention is that rational issues (even if misrepresented) were a significant part of all presidential campaigns until 1976. At this point, the major platform plank—albeit unspoken—became loyalty to Team “D” or Team “R.” In 1976, Ford, already tarred with Nixon, ran a miserable campaign, while Carter had nothing going for him save that he was an outsider. Carter barely won and hardly distinguished himself in office.
In 1980, given high inflation, outrageous interest rates, and the Iran hostage situation, the extremely unpopular Carter was crushed by Reagan. My challenge to you is why ANYONE would have voted for him other than party loyalty. Reagan was spot on when he said, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”
To be sure, millions of Dems did cross party lines to vote for Reagan, but that’s the point. By this time, those remaining seemed loyal only to the “D.” Fast forward to the present, and many so-called conservatives are ready to apologize for big spender and soft on illegal immigration George W. Bush, presumably to keep in line with Team “R.”
Part of sports fandom is to be loyal to a logo, since team personnel and even team cities can change. Heck, even the logo can change, as the Baltimore Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns, and the new Cleveland Browns retained the old Cleveland Browns’ logo, city, and fan base. Earlier, the Baltimore Colts became the Indianapolis Colts.
While such mindless loyalty in sports in harmless enough, its consequences when applied to the nation’s future are ominous, and are being experienced right now.