In attributing Republican losses in the midterm elections on a "six-year curse" that has "plagued every president, Republican and Democrat alike, since Ulysses S. Grant," Glenn Beck ignored that Democrats gained seats in Congress in 1998, the sixth year of Bill Clinton's presidency. Beck also mischaracterized a study making the "six-year curse" claim, ignoring the author's statement that "[n]ot all presidents experience difficulties in every category."
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On the November 16 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck pledged that "[t]his isn't sour grapes" while falsely claiming that the "six-year curse," in which events "unfold during a president's sixth consecutive year in the White House that result in the president's party losing seats in the midterm election," has "plagued every president, Republican and Democrat alike, since Ulysses S. Grant." In fact, as Media Matters for America noted, in 1998, during former President Bill Clinton's sixth year in office, according to data* from the website of the Office of the Clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats gained five seats in the House. In the same year, according to data* from the Senate website, neither party made gains in the Senate. Moreover, in citing "150 years of evidence to prove" his claim, Beck mischaracterized a study by George Mason University assistant professor Colleen Shogan. While Shogan's essay did note what Beck referred to as "an undeniable pattern of ill-fated events" that result in a "six-year curse," Shogan acknowledged that the curse did not always result in "the president's party losing seats in the midterm election."
By attributing his false claim that electoral losses "have plagued every president" in their sixth year to Shogan, Beck misrepresented Shogan's essay, "The Contemporary Presidency: The Sixth Year Curse." Beck listed "the components of the 'curse': scandals, weakened political coalitions, and midterm electoral defeat," but ignored the next sentence in Shogan's essay where she wrote that "[n]ot all presidents experience difficulties in every category." From Shogan's essay:
An overview of the past 150 years of presidential history reveals that the problems occurring in the sixth years of reelected, consecutive term presidents can be divided into three categories: scandals, weakened political coalitions, and midterm electoral defeat. Not all presidents experience difficulties in every category, but each chief executive from Ulysses S. Grant to Bill Clinton endured at least two of the three types of challenges in their sixth years. Although midterm electoral losses are a significant part of the sixth year curse, they are not the whole story. The president's party typically loses seats in the House and Senate in sixth-year midterms because the previous ten months have been a political disaster. In this sense, focusing attention on sixth-year electoral losses fails to examine the heart of the problem, which resides in the political disasters that portend any midterm losses.
Later in the segment, Beck claimed the Democrats won the election because they "brilliantly inched over to the right and beat the Republicans with their own conservative platform locally." However, a Media Matters review of House candidates who, as of the morning of November 8, had defeated Republican incumbents or been elected to open seats previously held by Republicans found that these incoming lawmakers agree on a set of issues central to the Democratic platform, including raising the minimum wage, changing course in Iraq, and protecting Social Security. Moreover, as Media Matters noted, the actual legislative agenda offered by Democrats boasted initiatives that draw broad support from the American public. Beck's comments echoed those he made on November 8 when he cherry-picked ballot initiatives to baselessly claim that "the majority of Americans seem in favor of classically Republican points of view."
From the November 16 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck:
BECK: Now, I know the election's over, and it's quite clear that the Democrats are firmly in control of the House and the Senate. By now, that's an old story, but here's the real story behind their triumphant return to the majority. It had nothing to do with the quality of their candidates or the auspicious Democratic agenda. Stay with me. This isn't sour grapes. I've actually got 150 years worth of evidence to prove it.
Well before the election, a research paper was written by Colleen Shogan. She is an assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University. She found that there is an undeniable pattern of ill-fated events that unfold during a president's sixth consecutive year in the White House that results in the president's party losing seats in the midterm election.
Professor Shogan calls it the "six-year curse," and it has plagued every president, Republican and Democrat alike, since Ulysses S. Grant. Here are the major components of the "curse": scandals, weakened political coalitions, and midterm electoral defeat.
BECK: The Democrats saw an opening and brilliantly inched over to the right and beat the Republicans with their own conservative platform locally. The president's party forgot who it was. I'd call that a weakened coalition, wouldn't you?
As for the third part of the curse, the huge midterm losses? Yeah, kinda know how that one played out.
So, Democrats, before you all get hoarse singing "Happy Days Are Here Again," remember, over the last century and a half, these political cycles have been playing themselves out and will continue to do so. So enjoy your time there while it lasts, and be sure to send the Republicans a thank-you note because, whether you like it or not, the election was more their loss than Howard Dean's win.
* The data are approximate because the House and Senate websites list data about party division only at the beginning of each Congress. The Senate website includes the following disclaimer: "Note: Statistics listed below reflect party division immediately following the election. The actual number of senators representing a particular party often changes during a congress, due to the death or resignation of a senator, or as a consequence of a member changing parties."