Regardless of political party, in almost every case, the presidential candidates who have been winning from 1964 onward have been the ones who campaigned for peace. Voters have rejected the presidential candidates who seemed more hawkish.
1964: Do you remember the famous TV ad in which a little girl was pulling petals one by one from a daisy, and her counting turned into the announcer’s countdown to a nuclear explosion? Lyndon Johnson (D) used this to frighten voters away from Barry Goldwater (R), who was much more hawkish overall and specifically seemed recklessly willing to start a nuclear war. In 1964 Johnson ran as the peace candidate against Goldwater, the hawk. Johnson kept promising NOT to send American boys to fight a war that Vietnamese boys should be fighting without American help. Only later did we discover that Johnson was lying. He was secretly planning a major escalation that would ultimately send half a million Americans to fight there and would kill more than 50,000 Americans. He campaigned as the peace candidate, but he escalated the war soon after he won the 1964 election.
1968: The Vietnam War became so unpopular that in March Johnson decided not to run for re-election. His loyal Vice President, Hubert Humphrey (D) had been a strong supporter of Johnson’s war, so several Democratic peace candidates (first Eugene McCarthy and then Robert F. Kennedy) started running for president. They received significant public support, but the institutional Democratic Party lined up solidly behind Humphrey, who was pigeonholed as a supporter of the unpopular Vietnam War. In sharp contrast, Nixon — who had been a Cold War hawk since the late 1940s — ran as the peace candidate. He kept claiming that he had “a secret plan” to win and stop the war. Voters elected Nixon in 1968, but Nixon kept the war running — and made it even more violent and deadly for the Vietnamese people — well into his second term as President. (It turned out later that his “secret plan” was to threaten North Vietnam with nuclear weapons.
1972: The Vietnam was still unpopular, so once again a peace candidate emerged. Within the Democratic Party, the peace faction finally won (after 1968’s disaster), and they nominated George McGovern (D). Unfortunately, Nixon was re-elected, despite his crimes for which he was later vilified. Impeachment proceedings escalated, Nixon resigned in shame, and his successor Gerald Ford (R) pardoned him. The war continued until sputtering to an end in 1975.
1976: President Gerald Ford (R) was stuck with the reputation of having supported the Vietnam War, and the public was disgusted with Republican crookedness, so the voters elected Jimmy Carter (D), who was for peace and human rights. His presidency was somewhat mixed, but he accomplished much for peace and human rights after leaving office.
1980: An exception to the overall pattern was the election of Ronald Reagan (R). He fooled huge numbers of people to get elected in 1980 and re-elected in 1984.
1988: George H.W. Bush (R) defeated Michael Dukakis (D). Both candidates were hawkish Dukakis’s most famous campaign photo was him riding in a military tank, as if he were driving it. His VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen (D) was a hawkish Texas oil tycoon. Bush launched an extremely cruel war against Iraq (with “shock and awe” and overwhelming violence and destruction). His use of Saudi Arabia (which is considered Holy Land) as a military base for this war by the U.S. against a Muslim country was one of the provocations that Osama bin Laden cited for wanting to retaliate against the U.S.
1992: Bill Clinton (D) defeated the extremely hawkish war criminal George H.W. Bush (R). Clinton promised hope and change and peace. But once elected he pursued military violence in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
1996: Bill Clinton (D) defeated the more hawkish mainstream Republican Robert Dole (R), but Clinton pursued militarism anyway.
2000: Many people don’t remember that George W. Bush (R) was actually the peace candidate in 2000. He promised a “humble foreign policy.” The Democratic candidate, Al Gore (D) was rigidly pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. As a result, a large majority of American Muslims voted for Bush instead of Gore. Boy, did we get fooled! Bush and his recklessly militaristic and cruel Vice President Dick Cheney overthrew governments in Afghanistan and Iraq and started a “war on terror” that is widely (and accurately) understood to be a war against Islam.
2004: Voters had to choose between two hawks. During the Vietnam War John Kerry (D) had strongly supported peace, but after he became part of Washington DC’s elite (as President Clinton’s Vice President for 8 years and then as a U.S. Senator), he became just another mainstream Democratic hawk. Voters re-elected Bush (R).
2008: Barack Obama (D) promised to moderate the U.S.’s militaristic foreign policy and was a clearly more peace-oriented alternative to the notoriously hawkish John McCain (R), who had laughingly sung a parody of the Beach Boys’ song “Barbara Ann” as “Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran.” McCain’s horrible VP candidate, Sarah Palin, would have been hawkish too. After the voters elected Obama to be the peace candidate, he simply adopted Dick Cheney’s extremely violent foreign policy and his many wars. Obama escalated some of the wars and started new ones (e.g., overthrew Libya’s government at the insistence of his hawkish Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and supported the illegal overthrow of Honduras’s democracy). After promising to work toward abolishing nuclear weapons, he caved in to Senate Republicans’ pressure to completely replace all of the U.S. nuclear weapons with horribly expensive new ones.
2012: George Romney (R) was a mainstream Republican without any peace credentials, so Obama’s re-election does not contradict this article’s contention that voters tend to choose peace-oriented candidates and reject hawkish ones.
2016: Despite the bizarre and inconsistent and violent statements and actions of Donald Trump (R), he did sometimes express peace-oriented opinions. He questioned why we need NATO after the Cold War ended. He questioned nuclear weapons. He wanted to reverse the Cold War’s bias against Russia and improve U.S.-Russia relations. In contrast, Hillary Clinton (D) had a long track record of supporting American Exceptionalism, militarism, unnecessary wars, etc. During the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton was clearly the hawk and Trump was a mixed bag with some peace potential. Trump’s reckless military violence after taking office is yet one more example of the persistent pattern: Campaign as if you want peace, but after taking office as President use military violence all you want.
In case after case, voters have chosen the presidential candidate who seemed more supportive of peace. But after taking office, the winner pursues war. This persistent pattern clearly rebuffs the voters and rebuffs democracy. We must figure out how to change this violent pattern.