Michael Barone
"More tears are shed over answered prayers," the 16th century nun St. Teresa of Avila is supposed to have said, "than over unanswered ones."

So it may be appropriate to shed a tear for two or three generations of American political scientists whose prayers have been answered -- in a way that most political scientists today regret.

The prayers of the political scientists in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s was that our party system would evolve into one with one clearly liberal party and one clearly conservative party.

This was a common enough argument at the time. The Gallup poll used to periodically ask voters if this was a good idea, and about half of them thought it was.

The political scientists had a point. In the wake of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, American politics seemed horribly scrambled.

The Republican Party had its progressives and liberals who wanted to accept the New Deal. Indeed, in the 1930s some of the strongest advocates of big government programs were Republican Sens. Bronson Cutting and George Norris and New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (who was once elected to Congress on the Republican and Socialist tickets).

But there were also plenty of conservatives who detested the New Deal, like Sen. Robert Taft ("Mr. Republican") and Col. Robert McCormick, proprietor of the Chicago Tribune, then the largest circulation broadsheet newspaper in the country.

New York-based lawyers and media tycoons nominated relatively liberal Republican presidential candidates like Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower, amid much teeth-gnashing by conservatives.

The Democrats were, if anything, even more deeply split. White Southerners who remembered the Civil War wanted nothing to do with the party of Lincoln. They accepted New Deal farm programs that were carefully crafted to exclude blacks from benefits.

Northern liberal Democrats backed civil rights, but Roosevelt refused to endorse a federal anti-lynching law. Interestingly, the New Dealers most strongly for black rights were former Republicans -- Vice President Henry Wallace, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Many big-city machine Democrats were leery of unions and direct federal benefits. They wanted to hand out the goodies themselves.

And many Democrats, North and South, believed in Jeffersonian small government and opposed crony capitalism in the tradition of the party's founder, Andrew Jackson.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM