The 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth leads me to post an observation that has percolated in the back of my mind for some time: the enormous similarity between Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan. In terms of personality they were miles apart. Although it could be said that both played popular perceptions of them to their best political advantage. In Jackson's case it was his violent temper. For Reagan it was the idea of him being an amiable dunce. But there are many similarities between the two presidents. Both men saw their vice presidents, Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush, succeed them in office. Both Van Buren and Bush served one term during which they battled economic tough times that were in part due to the economic policies of their popular predecessors. Each of these successful vice presidents was followed by a term of office served by opposition party. In this case, there is a little variance in the Jackson and Reagan parallels. The William H. Harrison and John Tyler combination served 4 years after Van Buren, while Bill Clinton served 8 after Bush. But that is not a major difference. Then each of these sets of oppositional leaders was followed by what I called a super successor, James K. Polk for Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush for Ronald Reagan. Each one of these super successors followed an orthodox economic policy of their model leader to an almost puritanical degree. For Polk it was tariff reduction and a subtreasury plan to house federal deposits. For Bush it was a series of tax cuts. Moreover, each of these successors followed a militant foreign policy that borrowed much from their predecessors rhetorical exuberance, but lacked Jackson's and Reagan's corresponding pragmatism. The result was two wars, Mexico and Iraq, fought on questionable justifications.
There is one last very important parallel between Jackson and Reagan. Jackson cast a political shadow over his Democratic Party from the moment he left office in 1837 until William Jennings Bryan broke it with the adoption of populist ideas in 1896. Reagan has exercised a similar hold over his party since 1988. One wonders if Reagan's hold will match Jackson's in duration. What does this tell us, if anything, about the relationship between the electorate, leaders, parties, and ideology?