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Obama and America's Political Future

Obama and America's Political Future

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Barack Obama's galvanizing victory in 2008, coming amid the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, opened the door to major reforms. But the president quickly faced skepticism from supporters and fierce opposition from Republicans, who scored sweeping wins in the 2010 midterm election. Here, noted political scientist Theda Skocpol surveys the political landscape and explores its most consequential questions: What happened to Obama's "new New Deal"? Why have his achievements enraged opponents more than they have satisfied supporters? How has the Tea Party's ascendance reshaped American politics?

Skocpol's compelling account rises above conventional wisdom and overwrought rhetoric. The Obama administration's response to the recession produced bold initiatives--health care reform, changes in college loans, financial regulation--that promise security and opportunity. But these reforms are complex and will take years to implement. Potential beneficiaries do not readily understand them, yet the reforms alarm powerful interests and political enemies, creating the volatile mix of confusion and fear from which Tea Party forces erupted. Skocpol dissects the popular and elite components of the Tea Party reaction that has boosted the Republican Party while pushing it far to the right at a critical juncture for U.S. politics and governance.

Skocpol's analysis is accompanied by contributions from two fellow scholars and a former congressman. At this moment of economic uncertainty and extreme polarization, as voters prepare to render another verdict on Obama's historic presidency, Skocpol and her respondents help us to understand its triumphs and setbacks and see where we might be headed next.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674065970
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 09/04/2012
Series: The Alexis de Tocqueville Lectures on American Politics , #4
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 969,608
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 11.70(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Theda Skocpol is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. Her previous works include the prize-winning States and Social Revolutions.

Daniel Carpenter is Allie S. Freed Professor of Government at Harvard University and author of the prizewinning books Reputation and Power and The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy. At Harvard, he has led the creation of the Digital Archive of Antislavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions and the Digital Archive of Native American Petitions.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3: Obama’s Problem: Misreading the Mandate

Professor Skocpol has done her usual superb job in evaluating the successes and failures of the Obama administration to this point and in looking critically at the current state of American politics. It is my goal merely to suggest some additional thoughts that may help expand the conversation.

To consider why things might have gone wrong during the first years of the Obama presidency— Professor Skocpol’s assumption is that things did go wrong— it might help to take a brief look at what happened to another presidency that began nearly thirty years earlier and found itself after two years in much the same place President Obama is today.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan carried forty- four states and won the electoral college 489 to 49. One possible explanation for such an impressive outcome— the explanation favored by Mr. Reagan’s supporters, myself among them— was that the American people had rebelled against a government that they believed had become too big, too expensive, too intrusive. In this scenario, Reagan’s election was a mandate to move the country in a more conservative direction, with fewer government programs, lower taxes, less regulation, and in the areas of foreign and defense policy a much more muscular confrontation with the Soviet Union.

The other possibility was that voters had simply tired of Jimmy Carter; that they considered him unsuited for the office he occupied; that they were tired of his woeful countenance, that they were tired of what they perceived to be a pervasive ineptitude whether dealing with Iran or infl ation. They wanted him gone and Ronald Reagan was the only serious alternative. Besides, with a third candidate, John Anderson, a much more liberal Republican, on the ballot, Reagan, the only conservative among the three, received less than 51 percent of the popular vote. And against an opponent who first had to fend off a serious challenge in his own party. Hardly an overwhelming landslide.

There was some validity to both interpretations— by the end of November 1984, there had been 100 separate state elections for president in which Ronald Reagan was a candidate— two in each of the fifty states— and Reagan had won 93 of those 100 elections. But while he enjoyed an occasional working majority in Congress during his first two years, voters punished his party in the midterm elections after he had been in office for just two years. And while he later regained much of his lost popularity and was reelected overwhelmingly, he was never again given a Congress whose support he could count on.

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