I am reading David Halberstam's The Fifties. I picked it up used for $0.50 at the Pay and Take sale in Gualala, and I am glad I did. It is a fun read, and I am learning a lot.
There is a lot to comment on in the book, but instead I am going to take off on a quote from columnist Joe Alsop, made during the Presidential campaign of 1952 between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower. The Democrats had held the United States presidency since 1932, including four-terms for fascist President-for-Life Roosevelt. Alsop favored Stevenson, but he wrote (in a private letter): "The real need for a change in this country arises, not from the decay of the Democrats, but from the need to give the Republicans the sobering experience of responsibility."
It seems likely that in 2009 the Democratic Party leadership will be experiencing the sobering experience of responsibility. They will inherit the War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan and the War on Terror in general. They will inherit the dilemmas of global warming, entrenched poverty, globalization of economics; they will inherit a plague of lobbyists and campaign donations.
It is interesting to watch the rapidly growing Green Party when it runs headlong into the sobering experience of responsbility. Only a few hundred members of the Green Party have held political office so far (I am one of them). Most have served on city councils or, like myself, on school boards. Most have done considerably better for the public than the bulk of Democrats and Republicans in such offices. But most of the time and energy that must be spent in any such office is sucked up by the demands of the office. The vast Green Party platform provides little real guidance for those actually holding office. In four years of office, if you can pass 2 or 3 Green statutes that are outside of the Dem/Rep spectrum you are doing well. What I've usually observed is that with a Green on an elected body to shame the Democrats, there is less in the way of the usual wholesale give-aways to business and bureaucratic interests than is normal. So far Greens have mainly forced Democrats posing as progressives to show a little spine. In the next few years I expect to seen Green Party members elected more often to state legislatures and even Congress. It will be interesting to see what effect that has on the brew of politics in the United States.
But back to the Republicans in the 1950s. I think it is important to understand why so many people are Republicans today. The main reason, of course, is the vast propaganda about people only being sane if they choose between the 2 big parties. People were and are mainly Republicans because they are disgusted with the Democrats. The first Republicans were disgusted with the Democratic Party being the party of slavery. In the 1950's, after an era of having close to a one-party system in the U.S., many people deserted the Democrats. The Republican party back then had 4 wings, so it was relatively easy to find a home in it. There was the Neanderthal, Joe McCarthy, wing. There was the conservative libertarian wing led by Senator Taft. There was the liberal, anti-segregation (pro civil rights for African Americans) wing led by Dewey and Earl Warren. And there was the fuzzy, middle-of-the-road wing that became associated with President Eisenhower.
Out in the wilderness of being out of office, much of the Republican Party at the beginning of the 1950's was out of touch with reality. The left wing of the party was accused by the McCarthy wing of being soft on Communism; even moderate Democrats were accused of being Communists. On the other hand the Democratic Party, having made a few reforms in the 1930's, had literally become the handmaiden of organized crime. Adlai Stevenson, now seen as a liberal light, was the creation of the corrupt Daly machine in Chicago. Estes Kefauver, who had exposed the deep connections between the Democratic Party urban political machines and organized crime, sought the Democratic Party nomination but was passed over.
The most influential wing of the Republican Party has always been the Wall Street wing. There is a similar wing in the Democratic Party (See my The Senator from Wall Street, for example). In the 1980's the Wall Street Republicans bought some corrupt Christian leaders and created the new Republican Party that progressive Democrats love to hate: one "dominated" by the Christian Right. But the mostly working-class and middle-class Christians were date-raped and left forlorn and pregnant. Wall Street got its tax cuts and its deregulation of business, but the Christians never got prayer in the schools or a national ban on abortions or even a ban on female nipple exposure on HBO.
Progressive Democrats are about to be date-raped big time. Promises of eternal love and "you're the only girl for me," are being made. Watch what happens when the Democratic Party politicians show us their version of the Sobering Experience of Responsibility.