While her tone is dispassionate, Kalman is merciless. Describing Carter's stumbling failure to ratify the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of , Kalman wonders "what moved him -- cynicism, naivete, arrogance, grandiosity, or idealism," a revolving menu that could apply to almost all the failures she recounts.
The Carter she describes was aloof and indecisive just when he needed to be decisive and engaged as in pushing for passage of his energy legislation or tax-reform plan , and then, as if to overcompensate, firm and unyielding at just the wrong moments -- for example, restarting the Cold War in overreaction to the Soviet Union's blundering invasion of Afghanistan. The one project to which he seems to have given unflinching effort, repatriating the Panama Canal, was the decent thing to do but gave the right a powerful organizing issue, while dooming other causes, such as labor-law reform, that lost priority.
Each action, inaction, or reaction seems in one way or another to have ratcheted the country toward the right. In an epilogue, Kalman says that a key historical question about is "the extent to which Reagan's victory represented a repudiation of Carter or a triumph of conservatism. As a historian and a liberal I give greater weight to the former.
As a liberal, I'm not hesitant to acknowledge that conservatism triumphed through aggressive political organizing, powerful ideas, and a remarkable figurehead. But Carter's failings made him a singularly disastrous figure for the time. Carter, though, was not an accident or some sort of usurper -- he was almost an inevitable product of the politics of the s and the widening disconnect between the Democratic Party and the white working class.
That's one of several themes in Cowie's Stayin' Alive. The breach had two causes. The expansion of rights and accompanying social changes in the position of minorities brought about a white backlash, assiduously manipulated by the Nixon administration. And organized labor had a falling out with a Democratic Party that adopted new rules empowering youth, minority, suburban, and anti-Vietnam War constituencies in a shift that these books refer to loosely as "New Politics. Cowie's book begins with nine moving snapshots of now-forgotten union insurgencies of the early s, including the deadly reform struggles in the United Mine Workers, the rebellion of young workers at the Lordstown, Ohio, General Motors plant, and efforts to organize female office and textile workers, all of which fell achingly short of their aspirations to change the labor movement.
Right Star Rising: A New Politics, | Semantic Scholar
As a result, when he turns to national politics, Cowie deals evenhandedly with the New Politics and the old union leaders. On the one hand, the New Politics leaders failed to show respect for organized labor or interest-group politics generally exemplified by Gary Hart's boast, on winning election to the Senate in , that "we're not a bunch of little Hubert Humphreys". On the other hand, an aging generation of labor leaders failed to get out of their comfortable sinecures and rejoin the fight for economic fairness.
Cowie portrays AFL-CIO President George Meany's refusal to endorse George McGovern, who had an impeccable pro-labor voting record in a conservative state, as a largely petulant response to labor's loss of control of the party. Carter was a product of the New Politics, too. Cowie writes that Carter "had always understood race much better than class, did not understand unions at all, and felt caged rather than empowered by coalitional politics that had been the backbone of the New Deal order.
Without an understanding of class or an appreciation of the New Deal order, racial misunderstandings and resentments would continue to fester. Is your question one of these?
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Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980
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Lassiter, Matthew D. MacLean, Nancy. Moreton, Bethany. Nadasen, Premilla. New York: Routledge, Nickerson, Michelle M.
Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right. Patterson, James T. New York: Oxford University Press, Phillips-Fein, Kim. Rodgers, Daniel T. Age of Fracture.
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