Republicans -- Good At Winning, Not So Much At Governing

05/25/2011 12:50 pm ET

On Sunday, John McCain guaranteed he would win the election. It's understandable why he may think victory is still within his grasp.

In recent history, Republicans have proven most adept at winning elections. They do it by following a simple formula. They prey on voters' fears. And, it turns out, though you can't fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool a whole bunch of them fairly often.

McCain's latest campaign tactic is a mainstay of the GOP repertoire; accuse your opponent of being a "big spending" Democrat. Yet, in truth, both parties are big spenders. In fact, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush expanded federal spending more than any other presidents in history. But while the Republicans spent the money on war and on handouts to rich folks, today's Democrats would like to provide middle class tax breaks and health care. So, when Republicans say, as they often do, that people shouldn't rely on the federal government, is it just true in their case? Is "big government" bad? Or is it merely Republican government that's bad?

Best of a bad lot
John McCain calls himself a "Teddy Roosevelt" Republican. It's no surprise that he needs to reach so far back into the past. In the 100 years since Roosevelt was president, rarely has a member of the GOP led with distinction. Dwight Eisenhower was probably the best of the lot. But his list of accomplishments (expanding Social Security, creating the Interstate Highway System, promoting civil rights legislation and warning us of the dangers of the "Military Industrial Complex") would have Republicans screaming "socialist" today.

In the past century, Republicans have produced arguably three of the worst presidents in history: Herbert Hoover (who led the nation into the Great Depression), Richard Nixon (the only president ever forced from office in disgrace) and George W. Bush (where do I begin?).

Then there's Ronald Reagan. His "trickle down" economics, since copied by George W. Bush, led to two recessions, two of the largest banking melt downs in history and at least two stock market crashes. Harding, Coolidge and Ford? Hardly worth a mention. Indeed, a Republican federal government has done little for the people.

Best of the best
On the other hand, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the greatest presidents in history. He pulled America through the Great Depression, promising we had "nothing to fear but fear itself," and led us through World War II. He brought us Social Security, unemployment insurance, the FDIC and the SEC and expanded worker's rights. And he had something in common with Barack Obama. Republicans accused him of being a Marxist too.

Two other 20th century Democrats are considered by historians to be among our greatest presidents. Woodrow Wilson guided the nation through World War I and created the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System. Harry Truman, led the nation through very difficult times, including the end of World War II. He helped to rebuild postwar Europe, began the fight to stop the spread of communism, pushed for civil rights legislation and helped establish the CIA, NATO and the United Nations.

Though John Kennedy was in office less than three years, he was an inspirational leader who encouraged Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." He created the Peace Corps, pushed for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and civil rights legislation and scored a major victory in the cold war when he stared down Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also sent America to the moon, igniting an era of technological innovation.

Even two of the most troubled Democratic presidents had significant policy successes that impact us even now. Lyndon Johnson brought us the Civil Rights Act of 1964, appointed the first African American Supreme Court Justice and gave us Medicare and Medicaid. Jimmy Carter achieved peace between Israel and Egypt, two nations that had been at war for 30 years and haven't fought since.

Bill Clinton wasn't half bad either if I recall correctly.

Republicans are eager to get elected. Democrats are eager to lead. John McCain has been using the worn out, though once effective, Republican campaign book. If he gets elected, unfortunately he'll be using the ineffective Republican leadership one.