Profile: The Democratic Party

Al Jazeera profiles the US Democratic party.

    Democrats are hoping to regain momentum
    after the 2000 election loss [GALLO/GETTY]

    As the eight years of the Bush administration draw to a close, the Democratic party is determined not to permit the Republicans to retain the White House.

    The Democratic party states in its manifesto a commitment to economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government and civil rights.

    It was, after all, Democratic president Lyndon Baines Johnson who passed the nation's landmark civil rights bill.

    Nonetheless, the party has moved to a more centrist agenda in recent years, and some have questioned whether the party's latest crop of presidential candidates differ that greatly from Republicans in terms of domestic and foreign policy.


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    The Democratic party, or Democratic-Republican party as it was originally named - was founded in 1792 in opposition to the Federalist Party by Thomas Jefferson, one of the so-called "founding fathers" of the US who co-wrote the US constitution.

    Jefferson became the first Democratic-Republican president in 1800, serving two terms, and emphasising the party's core beliefs of small government and states rights.

    Initially the more conservative faction of US politics, the past 150 years has seen a slow move towards centre-left policies.

    By the 20th century, two Democratic presidents  - Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt - had led the country through the two world wars and Roosevelt in particular remains one of the Democratic party's most renowned presidents for instigating the economic and social "New Deal" pull the US and its population out of the 1930's recession.

    The recession had largely been blamed on the failed policies of Herbert Hoover, the Republican president.

    Building on this foundation of strong social and economic support earned the party votes from the nations ethnic minorities - particularly African Americans - and the poor and the Democrats largely dominated the presidency throughout the mid-20th century.

    Following the massive US effort in World War Two it was the Democrat administration of Harry Truman that built the foundations of the 40-year Cold war with the Soviet Union.

    Shadow of Vietnam

    However, infighting erupted within the party over the Vietnam conflict in the 1960's and casts a shadow over the party's foreign policy to this day. 

    Vietnam's unpopularity cost the party
    dearly [GALLO/Getty]

    Elected in 1960, John F Kennedy, one of the US's most revered presidents, committed up to 16,000 military "advisers" to the South Vietnamese, fearing that if Vietnam became communist other southeast Asian nations would follow.

    Nonetheless he remained reluctant to commit US combat troops and many have argued that, had he not been assassinated in 1962, he would have withdrawn from the conflict.

    Following his death the conflict spiralled into all out war under Lyndon Baines Johnson, leading to the deaths of more than 50,000 US military personnel and anything between one and six million Vietnamese.

    The war's increasing unpopularity at home led to Johnson serving only one term as presidency despite passing the US civil rights bill.

    This infighting was exploited by the Republicans and the Democrats failed to hold considerable power for decades, with the brief exception of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970's.

    Carter governed during a period when US military and economic power was increasingly challenged following Vietnam and culminated in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, where US diplomats were in held captive in Tehran. 

    However, if the 1980's belonged to the Republicans and to Ronald Reagan, then the 1990's belonged to Bill Clinton.

    His presidency was marked by ongoing battles with the Republicans, who wrested control of congress from the Democrats, but Clinton had some foreign policy successes, particularly in Northern Ireland.

    His Democrat administration, however, was marked by a series of interventions in the Balkans, and by increasing military and economic pressure on Iraq.

    The Clinton bid to find an end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also stalled after the two sides failed to reach agreement at Camp David in 2000.

    Partisan politics

    Arguably the relationship between the two parties, always fractious at best, reached its nadir following the 2000 election, in which the US supreme court ultimately awarded Republican George Bush the presidency following one of the most bitter elections in US history.

    The Iraq war deeply divided the Democratic party and although several Democrats voted in favour of military action, many now also say they believe they were misled by the Bush administration and intelligence agencies over the extent of Iraq's weapons programmes.

    Despite seizing control of congress in mid-term elections last year, the Democrats have struggled to forge a coherent position on Iraq.

    Some analysts argue this struggle to find a position has damaged Democratic attempts to assert control over Congress and national politics as a whole.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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