The elections of and also came under scrutiny, and many felt that a mistake here, a lack of focus there, might have produced quite different results. But I offer this as a start. Upon this foundation FDR constructed an electoral coalition of social groups with disparate, even antagonistic, interests. But this would not last. Given the power of southern Democrats to block New Deal legislation, FDR carefully avoided references to racial issues in most of his talks to the nation.
Yet the realignment Roosevelt desired never materialized. Yet, even during the s, this liberal appeal lacked a core vision that transcended immediate issues. A letter from Mrs. Thompson, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, written to FDR on April 29, —one of more than 15 million letters written by Americans to FDR during his long term as president—is worth examining in this context, even though one letter culled from so many cannot be called representative. She reported that she had worn but one house dress for the last three years, and that the family was in desperate need of bedding, clothes, rugs, and other household goods.
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Thompson suggested, she had some comments. But the retreat, as James Dombrowski called it, was not a withdrawal from a position once held unambiguously. Rather, the meaning of individualism, the importance of religious faith, the imbedded values associated with racial difference, an anger at the devaluing of civic worth in a society regulated by giant governmental and corporate bureaucracies—these issues never found a comfortable home in liberalism as it was experienced by many. Some activists then and many historians since have considered these CIO members as integral parts of that progressive liberal coalition, as in some ways they were.
Yet, these men and women were always more complex than a singular focus on their union activity might suggest. Satisfactory figures are hard to obtain, but the most careful estimate suggests that 30 percent of CIO members were ethnic Catholics, and perhaps 40 percent occupied leadership positions in local and state union organizations. In addition, of course, Philip Murray, who succeeded John L. A local bishop made two central points.
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Catholics, Lawrence Shehan cautioned, should not attack the Russian people, for they have been manipulated by a very small group of leaders. Protestants and Catholics had their sharp tensions, but they would discover that growing numbers of them shared a critique of modernism, mass culture, and the underlying assumptions of progressive liberalism.
Among them were many union members, and even more unorganized working people. Thompson suggests, this was not simply a southern problem. In the height of the New Deal, white northern working people frequently battled African Americans to prevent integration of desirable jobs. In time, white workers made an accommodation on the job, but fiercely resisted black efforts for additional housing. In Detroit, Chicago, New York, and elsewhere, whites defended the racial purity of their neighborhoods with political power, mob action, and violence.
Frequently, white neighborhood groups organized and held planning meetings in the social rooms of their local parish churches. Here then was another nexus of belief that marked its adherents as apart from progressive liberalism. That many thought they were defending their home, the one financial investment a working man might possess, and their neighborhood in the face of liberal criticism of their racism was perhaps poignant, but only underscored the narrowed political limits liberalism could successfully engage.
It also had another consequence. As crime surged and births to unmarried black women rose, "the conservative message - that government was the problem, not the solution, began to resonate". Richard Nixon's "silent majority" became a vocal majority. It's a tidy story, but things did not happen quite this way. American politics remained fairly moderate during the s and s. Until , Congress was mostly controlled by Democrats and still harboured a number of liberal Republicans.
Even under Ronald Reagan, civil rights and social programmes were extended, Medicaid for the poor was expanded, and environmental protections grew.
Foreign policy remained largely under the sway of liberal internationalists. Meanwhile, the targets of conservative ire began to disappear. By the s, crime rates were dropping, illegitimate births indeed, all births were declining and the black middle class was growing.
Thomas Frank offers a contrasting and, to my mind, more convincing view. The right-wing backlash, he writes, is "a story of the recent". His template is his native state of Kansas, America's geographic, economic and cultural middle - the proving ground for test marketers, chain restaurants and suburban shopping centres.
Like the rest of America, Kansas remained basically middle-of-the-road through the s. It passed legislation to permit abortions even before the Supreme Court acted.
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In , a Democratic majority was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. But then something strange happened:. The heartland of America was in revolt against elites which wanted to impose their own cultural values - who, in Frank's words, "commit endless acts of hubris, sucking down lattes, driving ostentatious European cars, and trying to reform the world".
A great burst of righteous indignation was focused on God, guns and gays. The official platform of the Kansas Republican Party was a jeremiad against abortion, homosexuality, gun control and evolution "a theory, not a fact" , warning that "the signs of a degenerating society are all around us".
The next year, the state education board voted to delete all references to evolution and the age of the earth from science textbooks. Frank does not dwell on it, but the same revolt happened all over America. The heartland which, after the election, came to be known as "red America" was fed up of being dictated to by supposed East and West Coast elites "blue America".
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Small towns, the alleged custodians of "family values", did not want to be pushed around by urban centres. Inhabitants of large cities voted for Al Gore by 71 to 26 per cent, while small towns and rural areas voted for Bush by 59 to 38 per cent. Across America, right-wing radio personalities and TV pundits railed against coastal media, Ivy League universities, intrusive government bureaucrats, snobby professionals and Washington do-gooders.
As Frank emphasises, this backlash has been cultural rather than economic. Yet it took place around the same time that the heartland's economy was unravelling. During the late s and s, chain stores such as Wal-Mart crushed local retail businesses, while giant agribusinesses drove tens of thousands of small farmers into ruin. What was left of America's factory jobs skipped off to Latin America and China.
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Meanwhile, a steadily smaller number of wealthy Americans grew even wealthier. No wonder the heartland has felt oppressed and angry.
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But why is the resentment expressed in cultural, not economic, terms? In its drive to stop liberal elites from "intruding", the backlash has embraced even free-market ideology - the very ideology responsible for its economic free fall. Publishers Weekly described the book as an "engaging study of American conservatism" and a "penetrating analysis. Micklethwait and Wooldridge were, respectively, the U. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Bush 's psychology, and an outline of the fortunes of the GOP during the second half of the 20th century.