Sordoni Art Gallery hosts political Art in Context lecture


The Beacon/Sarah Matarella

Dr. Thomas Baldino explained what a realigning election was and detailed the consequences in United States contemporary history when such elections occur.

Wilkes University’s Dr. Thomas Baldino, professor emeritus of political science, lectured at the Sordoni Art Gallery on Oct. 23. His lecture was entitled, “Reagan and Obama: Two Presidents, Many Differences, Yet Similar in Important Characteristics.”

The lecture focused on two former United States Presidents, Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, as depicted in the gallery’s current exhibit by Pete Souza.

Baldino began his lecture by talking about the importance of both presidents and how the differences between them reflected social change during their campaigns. He also explained that they both had realigning elections.

According to Baldino, a critical or realigning election features three criteria.

“In a critical or realigning election, there is a massive shift in voter allegiance from the party that was in control of the White House to the party that was not in control.”

He discussed that the shift occurs not just in the presidential office but also throughout all of Congress. These elections cause a political shift to other parties on a local, state and national level.

Third, these realigning elections give political parties staying power. Political parties, after realigning elections, stay in power for longer durations compared to other elections.

Baldino elaborated on the history of realigning elections by discussing the five key elections in the history of the United States. Realigning elections can be traced back to the election of President Thomas Jefferson in 1800. After Jefferson’s election, the Democratic-Republican party dominated national and state politics for the next 28 years.

The next realigning elections were in 1828 with Andrew Jackson (Democrat), 1860 with Abraham Lincoln (Republican), 1896 with William McKinley (Republican), 1932 with Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat), and 1968 with Richard Nixon (Republican).

Other possible realigning elections mentioned were 1980 with Ronald Reagan (Republican), 2000 with George W. Bush (Republican), 2008 with Obama (Democrat), and 2016 with Donald Trump (Republican). However, all of them did not fit all three criteria that Baldino listed.

“As we consider whether or not, for example, Obama’s 2008 election was a realigning election, we really need to see a greater time pass. If there is another Republican President elected in 2024, it may signal that 2016 was a realigning election. But if a Democrat is elected in 2020 and 2024, that will be further evidence that Obama’s election was a realigning election.”

He explained how voters over the years have been affected by these realigning elections. One example he noted was voters who were alienated by politicians they voted in. Many of those voters affected the shift politically to the other political parties.

Reagan was elected in 1980. During his presidency, Baldino described the shift in the political parties and voters. Reagan used his platform to balance what was happening in the economy to help the working class. Baldino addressed that Reagan took the stance of the working class and the public to run a progressive campaign while bringing in the more conservative religious elements to his voters.

Obama had young voters, minorities, LGBTQ+ community and more in his coalition. On the flip side, Reagan’s coalition consisted of working-class voters and progressive individuals who demanded primaries. Baldino explained that primary elections have been derived from the voters who wanted more of a say in their political parties’ candidate, as Reagan was the first president to be ‘fully nominated by the people.’

Baldino discussed the effects that primary elections and nominations have had today and that the person who wins out of this process is often the person who best defines the basis of their political party’s current platforms. The progressive movement changed the way that politics were conducted, and more importantly, began to change the presidency.

He justified that the modern presidency ideals came from Roosevelt and his administrative style to use a powerful national government to progress the needs of the general public. He used the powers of the president to create programs to help the American people.

Baldino illustrated that executive orders became commonplace during Roosevelt’s presidency. These executive orders became a useful tool during presidencies because they gave the president a greater degree of legislative power which traditionally went through Congress.

Baldino said that Obama and Reagan were similar in their election campaign plans and presidential focus types. However, they differed greatly in their main supporting constituents, policies and more.

Gregory Chang, senior political science major, asked about the effects that economic downturn on these types of elections and if they were a defining factor in this modern era for realigning elections.

Baldino responded that economic voting based on the decision of the economics of the time does explain why Reagan was more popular than his opponent Jimmy Carter. Carter’s repeated failures as a president left much to be desired.

“He could not inspire people the way that Reagan could,” Baldino said. “Reagan promised to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes. It is true that the economy bounced back, just not because of the tax cut. Reagan accumulated over a trillion dollars in national debt. In 2008, Obama offered something reasonably appealing.”

Baldino’s lecture developed the differences and similarities between the two presidents, as the presidency has become a modernized position.

“I really enjoyed the lecture,” said Jennifer Boch, sophomore history and international studies major, “I think Dr. Baldino does an excellent job of getting his points across. I enjoyed his commentary on the two presidents and the history behind it. I thought he did a good job of presenting the two men who are so different in policy as two men who are very similar in the quality of character.”

The “Two Presidents: One Photographer” exhibit by Pete Souza is open to the public until Dec. 8.

The next Art In Context lecture will be hosted by Assistant Professor of Digital Design and Media Arts Lisa Reynolds. The lecture is titled “Designing a Presidency: How Graphic Design Influences the Political Narrative,” and will be on held Nov. 13 at 4:30 p.m.

For more information please follow the Sordoni Art Gallery on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or contact Heather Sincavage at [email protected].