New York Times
Democrats' Dilemmaby Steven M. Gillon, William E. Luechtenberg
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
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Using previously classified documents, unpublished private papers, and dozens of interviews -including extensive conversations with Mondale himself- Gillon paints a vivid portrait of the innerworkings of the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.
New York Times
What People are saying about this
Meet the Author
Steven M. Gillon is author of Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947-85.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
The Democrats' Dilemma is a very readable, little-known book by respected historian Steven Gillon about Walter Mondale and the Democratic party from Truman to Clinton. Although it starts off slowly, with the obligatory background information and 'early years' discourse, the reader soon gets to know a very human Walter Mondale--a man consumed, in thought, word, and deed--by political motivation. Gillon's Mondale is a completely virtuous fellow possessing less depth than one might expect. Gillon offers a thoughtful political analysis of the post-Watergate era. We learn--from Mondale's perspective--what made Jimmy Carter tick, both personally and within his White House. Discussion of the 1976 election and Carter's foreign policy are the most enlightening parts of the book, second only to Mondale's tormented time during the 'Crisis of Confidence' speech and Cabinet purge. However, there is too little discussion of Mondale's challengers for the 1984 Democratic nomination (except Gary Hart) and how they influenced his positions, and him as a candidate. Gillon completely overlooks the candidacy of George McGovern and how Mondale both differed and was influenced by McGovern, especially on foreign policy. Some attention should have been paid to the McGovern vs. Mondale dialogue during the Atlanta debate. There is no mention that the Mondale-Ferraro 'new realism' theme had been McGovern's 1984 primary theme. Hart's position on the military is not accurately stated. The man that emerges is less than courageous. Let's just say that Mondale was a less than daring statesman. The final chapter--on the liberal legacy-- should be a 'must-read' for any serious student of the Democratic party. Overall, it is a really good book.