Michael Kazin will come out with his new history of the Democratic party on March 1. The Liberal Patriot highly recommends it (pre-order today!) John Halpin is out with an early review of the book, focusing especially on what today's Democrats can--and should--learn from it.
"Only three Democratic presidents in U.S. history have been elected to consecutive terms while winning a majority of the popular vote: Andrew Jackson (1828 and 1832); Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944); and Barack Obama (2008 and 2012). Other Democratic luminaries have won the presidency consecutively with pluralities of the popular vote, including Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton, or had big impacts as one-time winners like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. But only the trio of Jackson, FDR, and Obama rise to the top level of Democrats who knew what it took to win and had the right mix of politics and policies necessary to garner a majority of American voters.
Although historian Michael Kazin’s new single volume history of the Democrats looks well beyond these three presidents, his incisive account of the entire 200-year history of the party, What It Took to Win, provides a sharp answer for why these three in particular were successful:
Democrats win when they build broad-based coalitions to advance the economic interests of ordinary workers and their families. Democrats lose when they get overly moralistic, fall into factional splits along rural, urban, and educational lines, or when they allow cultural antagonisms to dominate economic concerns....
Looking across Kazin’s well-constructed historical evidence, there are 3 main strategic and policy cleavages that have determined success or failure for Democrats: the role of government; class and race; and the primacy of cultural vs. economic policies.
Andrew Jackson and the early Democrats favored a hands-off government that sought to protect poor whites from predatory financial interests while upholding racial supremacy. FDR in contrast promoted an active government that advanced the economic interests of all working people—one that acquiesced to the reality of racist Southern Democratic power while beginning the process of creating true equality and economic inclusion for African Americans. Barack Obama also favored an active government that sought to transcend divisions between “red America and blue America” by building a multiracial coalition dedicated to a strong middle class and economic security for all.
In each of these instances, the only thing that really brought most Americans together behind Democrats was their economic agenda—either challenging monopolies and market domination or creating stronger protections and income support for workers. As Kazin rightly argues, this process of bringing competing factions and regions of the country together behind a vision of economic advancement for all workers is the core 200-year mission of Democrats.
So, what are the main lessons for Democrats today?
When Democrats advance equal dignity and rights for everyone—and focus primarily on the economic interests of working people—they win. When Democrats divide themselves and other Americans along regional, class, and ideological lines—or bicker internally over cultural divisions and downplay unifying economic policies—they lose."
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