The Democrats' Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy / Edition 1

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Overview

What does Walter Mondale's career reveal about the dilemma of the modern Democtratic party and the crisis of postwar American liberalism? Steven M. Gillon 's answer is that Mondale's frustration as Jimmy Carter's vice president and his failure to unseat the immensely popular President Reagan in 1984 reveal the beleaguered state of a party torn apart by generational and ideological disputes.

The Democrats' Dilemma begins with Mondale's early career in Minnesota politics, from his involvement with Hubert Humphrey to his election to the United States Senate in 1964. Like many liberals of his generation, Mondale traveled to Washington hopeful that government power could correct social wrongs. By 1968, urban unrest, a potent white backlash, and America's involvement in the Vietnam war dimmed much of his optimisim. In the years after 1972, as senator, as vice president, and as presidential candidate, Mondale self-conciously attempted to fill the void after the death of Robert Kennedy. Mondale attempted to create a new Democratic party by finding common ground between the party's competeing factions. Gillon contends that Mondale's failure to create that consensus underscored the deep divisions within the Democratic Party.

Using previously classified documents, unpublished private papers, and dozens of interviews -including extensive conversations with Mondale himself- Gillon paints a vivid portrait of the innerworkings of the Carter administration. The Democrats' Dilemma captures Mondale's frustration as he attempted to mediate between the demands of liberals intent upon increased spending for social programs and the fiscal conservatism of a president unskilled in the art of congressional diplomacy. Gillon discloses the secret revelation that Mondale nearly resigned as vice president. Gillon also chronicles Mondale's sometimes stormy relationships with Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, and Geraldine Ferraro.

Eminently readable and a means of access to a major twentieth-century political figure, The Democrats' Dilemma is a fascinating look at the travail of American liberalism.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Herbert Mitgang
What recommends this well-researched book is . . . that it emerges as a study of the American political scene and electorate in the last quarter-century.
New York Times
Thomas F. Eagleton
The era should be labelled: Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Walter Mondale, A Half Century of Enlightened Thought. Steve Gillon makes a vital analysis of Walter Mondale's pivotal role in this historic political saga.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Walter Mondale, Minnesota's attorney general at the age of 32, transformed a ceremonial office into a center for activist government. In another epoch, suggests Yale historian Gillon in this brisk, hard-hitting political biography, the ambitious senator who helped shape national policy on education, welfare, civil rights and child care would have been a sure bet to win the presidency. Yet, in Gillon's appraisal, Mondale failed to develop a political strategy for reaching middle-class voters, and Reagan's gospel of individualism had far greater appeal to the electorate than the philosophy of shared responsibilities that guided Mondale's disastrous presidential bid in 1984. Gillon discloses that Mondale, frustrated as Carter's vice president, flirted with the idea of resigning in 1979. He credits Mondale as the major force in building a consensus among warring factions of the Democratic Party, but faults his increasingly irrelevant political vision. Photos. (Aug.)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Steven M. Gillon is author of Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947-85.

Columbia University Press

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