It’s always interesting to analyze how Democrat or Republican a President is because it can really give you a glimpse in the general politics of the era that they inhabited. The era of Obama, for example, signaled a rebirth in the far left that was fed up with George W. Bush’s hawkish foreign policy and social conservatism. Since this site is “Blue Dog Democrat” I will make a list of our six most recent Democratic Presidents. And by analyzing the time period these administrations oversaw one can (very generally) extrapolate the views of Americans during that time.
To construct said list, I relied mostly on Inside Gov, which is a trustworthy site that outlines the policies and views of our Presidents. We will start with the most left leaning of the Democrats and end with the most right leaning.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1980)
Putting Carter on the far left is unlikely to be a controversial choice. The only thing keeping Carter from being 100% Liberal is his opposition to abortion rights, an unsurprising position given his religious background. Besides that, though, Carter bucks the system, being surprisingly progressive for his age, background, and origin. Carter has always been ahead of curve, pushing for clean energy in the 70s before it was “in fashion.” He even installed solar panels on the Whitehouse, which were unfortunately promptly removed by his successor, Ronald Reagan.
Barack Obama (2009-2016)
Obama is not far behind Carter in regards to being the most far left. Essentially everything Obama does is at least slightly to the left, excluding his support for free trade. Although, in regards to free trade that no longer seems to be an issue clearly split down party lines as our current Republican President, to Paul Ryan’s dismay, has made the Republican Party no longer the party of free trade. One advantage Carter has over Obama is that Carter was more fearless in his promotion of Democratic values. Carter was ahead of the Democrats of his time, while Obama seems to sometimes be playing catch up, as evidenced in his original opposition towards gay marriage. Obama seems content to stick within the parameters of the Democratic Party while Carter, for good or for worse, was known for pushing the boundaries.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1968)
While Liberal, Johnson is not as Liberal as Obama or Carter. His war on poverty introduced an increase of welfare legislation unseen since the FDR era and his civil rights legislation was very Liberal for his time. There are many issues that keep Johnson from being a “pure” Liberal though. His relatively tough stance on crime and support of military expansion are conservative. Despite such positions, make no mistake, Johnson is still solidly to the left.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
Kennedy finds himself solidly on the Left for most issues. He supported women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, and government economic intervention. A few things, though, serve to push him to the right making him not quite a pure blooded Liberal. Economically he was a moderate Liberal. He adhered to the practice of Keynesian economics, but also pushed for lower tax rates, something even conservatives to this day praise him for. Furthermore, Kennedy is in a similar boat with Johnson in that his support for military expansion and foreign entanglements both of which are solidly modern conservative ideas. Furthermore, Kennedy was fervently anti-Communist, something those on the left seem to often forget about when they praise him. Kennedy was still a Liberal, but definitely a moderate one.
Bill Clinton (1993-2000)
As we approach the center it is no wonder we find Clinton here. Unlike the previous people on the list there are few defining issues that push Clinton to the right, rather Clinton’s all around moderation is what put him here. Yes, Clinton’s support of free trade and tough crime stance were a conservative aspect of his administration, but besides that he was a liberal. His inability to really take a solid liberal stance on most issues, though, angered the far left and annoyed the far right who found it hard to pin down his stance on particular issues. Once he was out of the presidency he revealed himself to be more far left than many believed, but while President he was, for the most part, very moderate.
Harry Truman (1945-1952)
When you ask someone who was the most moderate Democratic President, Clinton often comes to mind. In reality, though, Truman takes the spot for the most moderate Democrat; allow me to explain. Under Truman’s belt are a number of conservative policies, including anti-environmental legislation, his push to keep god in the public sphere, his pro-military outlook, his support of free trade, and his anti-immigrant stance. One could argue that such viewpoints were merely a product of Truman’s time. While that is a good point, it is important to note that this list was constructed on the premise of comparing said Presidents on where they would stand today. To further adapt this list to how left leaning the President were only in relation to the time period they inhabit would serve only to introduce a further level of subjectivity in an already very subjective list. One should not get the wrong impression, though. Truman is still a Democrat, carrying forward his predecessor, FDR’s, social welfare legislation and even advancing civil rights despite his Missourian background. He was the President that signed the famous executive order 9981, which finally desegregated the United States military. Combining it all together, Truman was the most moderate, recent Democratic President we have had: a good or bad thing, depending on whom you ask.