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Thomas Edsall with Mary Edsall, CHAIN REACTION (1992: W.W. Norton)

From Subject
Robert Huck <rohuck@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu> Review of CHAIN REACTION
Date: Thu, 3 Mar 1994 21:53:51 -0600
From: Robert Huck <rohuck@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu>
Subject: Review of CHAIN REACTION

(Thomas Edsall with Mary Edsall)
1992: W.W. Norton
Robert Huck
Illinois State University

Without Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan is inconceivable. Thomas
and Mary Edsall's CHAIN REACTION outlines how the Republican Party has
used the issues of race and taxes to create a majority Presidential
party and break the Democrats' monopoly of political power in the
South. Beginning with LBJ's landslide victory in 1964, the Edsalls
outline how the Democrats destroyed themselves over issues of race,
poverty, equality, and taxes and how the Republicans positioned
themselves to pick up the pieces

According to the Edsalls, Johnson's 1964 landslide masked the
deep divisions within the Democratic Party. In the '64 election, Barry
Goldwater carried only six states. Aside from his home state of
Arizona, all of the states that voted for Goldwater were in the deep
South. What was even more amazing about Goldwater's strength in these
states is that support from white voters cut across socio-economic
lines. The Edsalls cite voting statistics from several Southern
cities that indicated great support for Goldwater among both poor and
rich white voters

In these cities, the vote among the lowest income whites,
which had been 22 percentage points more Democratic than in
the most affluent white precincts in 1960, became
virtually indistinguishable from the vote in upscale white
neighborhoods in 1964. (41)

Despite one of the most lopsided victories in American
Presidential politics, Goldwater's showing among Southern white voters
should have sent a message to the Democratic Party. Instead the
opposite occurred. The Democrats were not content to support the
church-led non-violent movement to end legal segragation

Johnson and a Democratic Congress put the full force of
the federal government behind the principle of racial equality,
triggering a confrontation between black and white America, and
setting off an ultimately distributional struggle that soon
went substantially beyond the goal of eliminating legal
segration in the South. (37)

Pursuing the goal of equality of outcome between the races
instead of just equality of opportunity became the Democrats' undoing

The full effect of the Democrats' pursuit of equality was not felt until
the disaster of 1968. In that year, Alabama Governor George Wallace bolted
from the Democratic Party over Johnson's race policies and ran as an
independent candidate for President. Wallace, however, did not run on
issues of race alone. Instead he tried to turn his anti-integration platform
into a platform of anti-Washington populism. As if the Wallace candidacy
wasn't enough of a problem for the Democrats, the anti-war left felt betrayed
by the nomination of Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey had entered no primary
elections yet still secured the nomination with support from party
leadership. The left's dissatisfaction with Humphrey, Johnson, and the
war exploded at the Chicago convention and left an image which haunted
the Democrats for a generation

The 1968 campaign had two major effects aside from the election
of Richard Nixon. First, party reformers led by George McGovern were
determined never to repeat the process by which Hubert Humphrey was
nominated. The McGovern reforms on delegate selection greatly expanded
the number and importance of primaries and "requir[ed] proportional
representation of blacks and women, mandat[ed] open-slating processes,
and [made] popularly elected delegates subject to a wide range of
procedural challenges" (80). This effectively ended the party bosses'
monopoly on the Presidential nominating process and opened the way for
Democrats to nominate candidates like, well, George McGovern

Secondly, the 1968 Wallace campaign became the blueprint for
conservative populism. Subsequent conservatives were careful to avoid
Wallace's blatant racism, however it taught them that the liberal
remedies to racial injustice were wearing thin with many key white
voters. These voters would eventually be called "Reagan Democrats" and
would become the cornerstone to the future Republican Presidential majority

The Republicans didn't, however, wait until Reagan came along to
tap into white resentment. Richard Nixon did not hesitate to take
advantage of white anger over forced school busing. He was even
successful at running against his own Justice Department's "more or less
'permanent' civil service" and their efforts to enforce court-ordered
busing plans (88). Not only did busing help Nixon, it completely
severed the alliance between blue collar Northerners and middle-class
liberals. "A dwindling band of northern liberals found that they were
defending a policy with no real constituency; poll after poll found
decisive white opposition to busing, and only lukewarm support in the
black community" (89)

Nixon's stand on busing allowed the Republicans to perform their
most amazing feat. The Arab oil embargo of 1973 put the U.S. economy in
a tailspin. For the first time in our history, our economy experienced
both inflation and unemployment. Those who were not unemployed saw
inflation devalue their paychecks and savings. Additionally, the highly
progressive tax structure often caused pay cuts when salaries were
adjusted for inflation. This bad economic news could have spelled
trouble for the G.O.P. However, the Republicans found a way to deflect
crticism from themselves. They blamed the blacks. Not directly, however,
Republican response was intended to pit working class whites against their
black counterparts

As low and middle-income voters began to view the taxes
deducted from their paychecks with rising anger, the
number of welfare and food stamp clients continued to grow at
record rates, forcing a conflict between Democratic
constituencies that would lead, by the end of the
decade, to a racially-loaded confrontation between taxpayers
and tax recipients. (101)

The stage was now set for Ronald Reagan. Reagan's 1980 campaign
combined white backlash against affirmative action and welfare with the
taxpayer revolt of the late '70s. Added to that was public frustration
over Jimmy Carter's foreign policy failures vis-a-vis Iran and the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Twenty-percent interest rates certainly
didn't hurt Reagan either

The Edsalls succeed admirably in outlining Republican strategies
to destroy the Democratic coalition. They also succeed in showing how
the Democrats let their coalition crumble. The Edsalls fail, however,
in saying how the Democrats can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
They briefly mention Clinton's victory in 1992, but focus on Clinton's
welfare policy as the key to his win. Admittedly, Clinton broke from
traditional Democratic ideas on welfare policy, but he won because of
"the economy, stupid." He also won because Bush ran a terrible campaign

Clinton seems to offer new thinking on race issues. He
intentionally keeps as much distance as possible from Jesse Jackson.
His support of the death penalty and other "tough" anti-crime measures
are a welcome relief to many middle-class Democrats. The Edsalls don't
seem to feel that the Democratic Party is capable of producing
candidates like Clinton. This probably explains their lack of solutions
to the Democrats' Presidential dilemmas. Perhaps they see no hope for
the Democrats. They may be right. Clinton's Presidency may be an
aberration and we may be in store for another quarter-century of
Republican dominance

Unless the Democrats learn to play to their strengths, Republican
rule is inevitable. The Democrats can be very good at appealing to the
voters' sense of fair play. But the operative word is "fair." This
means not advocating special privileges for people because of their
race, gender, or sexual orientation. Most voters are white and
straight. Clinton realized this, his successor in 1996 or 2000 must do
so also. Despite Reagan's claim to populism, Republicans still
represent the interests of the wealthy and privileged. Democrats must
tar and feather the Republicans with the "elitist" label. Republicans
must be defined as being out of touch with the concerns of middle-class
America. This is very easy. I am not advocating class warfare, but
voters proved in 1992 that if a candidate "just doesn't get it", his
tenure will be short-lived. The Democrats must turn the family values
issue against the Republicans. They must show how G.O.P. economic
policies have contributed to the breakdown of both black and white
families. Furthermore, they must offer proposals (not just more federal
programs) that will help alleviate some of the economic difficulties of
ordinary families. Finally, Democrats must promote economic and tax
policies that promote real investment. They can't go back to the Reagan
tax plans that produced nothing but hostile takeovers. Clinton's trade
policy is an excellent example, but the Democrats can't stop with NAFTA

It will not be easy for the Democrats to rebuild their
coalition. Some voters have been irretrievably lost. However,
Clinton's victory has shown that Democratic strategies of the past have
failed miserably. The Republicans set out to destroy the Democratic
Party and the Democrats let them. Clinton now has a chance to create a
new Democratic Party. If he succeeds, American politics will return to
the equilibrium that preceeded 1964. If he fails, I don't see how the
various Democratic factions can continue to work together. If he fails,
the Republican plan to Balkanize the Democratic Party will have succeeded

Robert Huck |rohuck@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
314 Walker Hall |"In the entire history of Western Civilization,
Illinois St. Univ. | not one poet, playwright or novelist ever wrote
Normal, IL 61761 | a great work about marriage. Did Anna Karenina
(309) 436-9887 | have a happy marriage? Did Romeo and Juliet
| have a happy marriage? They didn't write about
| happy marriages. What the poets celebrate is
| LOVE! The overwhelming passion

| Blair Whitney

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