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When Bill Clinton declared in 1996 that "the era of big government is over," Republicans felt that he was stealing their thunder. But in fact, it was the culmination of a decade-long struggle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. This book tells how a group of New Democrats reformed their enfeebled party's agenda, moved it toward the center, and recaptured the White House with their first two-term president since FDR.
Reinventing Democrats is the story of the Democratic Leadership Council, an elite group of elected officials, benefactors, and strategists that let fresh air into the smoke-filled room of politics and changed the public philosophy of their party. Kenneth Baer tells who they are, where they came from, what they believe in, and how they helped elect Bill Clinton—the DLC's former chairman—to the presidency.
Drawing on DLC archives and interviews with party insiders, Baer chronicles the increasing influence of the DLC from 1985 to the present. He describes battles waged between New Democrats and party liberals after the failed candidacy of Walter Mondale, and he takes readers behind the scenes in Little Rock to tell how DLC director Al From encouraged Clinton's run for the White House. He then explains how the DLC reshaped the party's agenda into a "third way" that embraced positions such as welfare reform, a balanced budget, free trade, a tough stance on crime, and a strong defense.
In this revealing analysis of insider politics, Baer shows how a determined faction can consciously change a party's public philosophy, even without the impetus of a national crisis or electoral realignment. He also shows that the New Democrat stance exemplifies how ideas can work in sync with the political calendar to determine which specific policies find their way onto the national agenda.
If Clinton has achieved nothing else in his presidency, says Baer, he has moved his party to the center, where it stands a better chance to succeed—much to the dismay of conservatives, who feel victimized by the theft of many of their strongest issues. In a book that will engage any reader caught up in the fervor of an election year, Baer reveals the role of new ideas in shaping political stratagems and provides much food for thought concerning the future of the New Democratic philosophy, the Democratic party, and American party politics.
List of Abbreviations
1. Moving from New Dealers to
2. Changing the Rules, 1981-1984
3. "Saving the Democratic Party,"
4. Selling Super Tuesday, 1987-1988
5. Folding the Big Tent, 1988-1990
6. Pursuing the Presidency, 1990-1992
7. Counting on Clinton, 1992-1994
8. Rising from the Ashes, 1994-1996
Conclusion: Securing a Legacy
Posted June 22, 2000
This is a truly comprehensive account of the fall and rise(and then fall again?)of the Democratic party. The author accounts quite well of the tide turning to the right and how the Democratic party had to adapt to it. The book shows well how the New Deal and Great Society party had to face up to Reganism and the New Right coalition with its own new post-New Deal coalition for itself. The answer? Keep most of the New Deal coalition (minus most white Southerners - they left with the GOP's culturally conservative and racially exclusive Southern Strategy)and expand the base to include the socially conscious and inclusive tolerance middle class weary of Republican adherence to the Christian Right. In this strategy, minorities (especially African Americans and Hispanics), union members, mainline Protestant Christians, Jews, Catholics, middle income 'new economy' voters and Independent moderates would combine to form a new coalition of center-left government. The adaptor's sometimes hero? President Bill Clinton. As President, Clinton used his office to progress new and old Democratic ideals, never pleasing either side. For old New Deal, New Left, Old Left, etc. Democrats, Clinton was there for them in the form of universal health care (a failed effort), expanding Head Start, cutting taxes for those at the bottom while increase them for the richest 1%, family and medical leave and protection of existing medical and retirement programs for the elderly, poor and at-risk in general. For centrists, Clinton was there in the form of expanded trade (NAFTA, GATT, WTO, etc.), a continuation of trade policy with China, pursuing deficit reduction and, ultimately, a balanced budget, the 1993 deficit reduction act (which also cut spending by $250 billion over 5 years), Reinventing Government and the national service program under AmeriCorps. By 1994, Clinton had pleased virtually noone. His large agenda was too center-left. As a result, he ran back to the center and took the left wing of the Democratic party forgranted. He declared that 'the era of big government is over' (a lie, if anything, from the man who wants to give seniors drug prescription, expand family leave, etc.)and that a balanced budget is a must, including debt reduction. Yet, he appeased all Democrats - centrist and liberal - by protecting traditional Democratic values like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public education, the environment, civil rights, etc. He kept all of these factions together in the 1996 election and won. Now, the author, though, never does clearly ask this question: What now? How will this strategy work? As Gore's Presidential campaign shows, it may be hard to do. It is hard to appease middle income centrist Democrats who favor free trade, for example, and do the same with the labor movement. It is hard to appease Democrats who want new domestic spending with debt busters like Sen. Joseph Lieberman. It is hard to appease Jesse Jackson and Sen. John Breaux(D-LA). Gore's campaign and his ability to handle this center-left combination will ultimately test Clinton's actions with the national party. My guess is that Clinton's moving toward the near-center - while occupying traditional Democratic values of activist government (but within a fiscally responsible context) - while rejecting cultural extremism on both left and right and embracing tolerance, will be the right political step. This 'right political step' (and domestic policy step, I may add), is highlighted quite well by the author. For proud Democrats, like myself, this is a great read, if only to remember the memories of the party of FDR, Truman, RFK and Johnson in the 1980's and 1990's when it had to readjust itself. For Republicans, it's a great read in remembering how a despised President ran away with an election by carrying two ideologies with him. For all, Republican and Democratic alike (plus Independents!), it'sWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 26, 2000
This book is now out -- get it if you're in any way interested in politics. Destined to be a modern classic, like EJ Dionne's 'Why American's Hate Politics' and Kevin Philips' 'The Politics of Rich and Poor.' Lots of insider dope about the inner workings of the Democratic Party.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 27, 2000
Posted July 8, 2009
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