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Coalitions and the Making of Modern American Politics 2.0

Coalitions and the Making of Modern American Politics 2.0

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Published by Samuel Gompers

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Published by: Samuel Gompers on Oct 15, 2011
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Coalitions and the Making of Modern American Politics
  The American political landscape has changed drastically since the election of John F.Kennedy in 1960. Within those fifty years the global structural economy has transformed and theSoviet Union
 — 
so long the focus of American foreign policy 
 — 
has collapsed. None of these events,however, has meant as much to American politics as the shift in political coalitions and thesubsequent rise of a powerful conservative movement. Once in power, this movement secured itself through conscious policy choices; these choices have been supported, and indeed propagated,
through an ideology that can be called ―historical fundamentalism.‖
1
Only in the wake of the 2008financial crisis has there been a serious challenge to this conservative faction
 — 
a challenge that hastaken only tenuous steps, though meaningful ones, towards progress.
During the 1950‘s and the Eisenhower administration, many in the Republican Party 
reconciled themselves with the New Deal and consensus based politics. By the 85
th
Congress in1957, nine Republican congressmen actually voted to the left of the median legislator.
2
A vocalminority, however, stood well to the right of the political spectrum. They were led by Ohio SenatorRobert A. Taft;
3
his supporters, however, were continuously disappointed when they were repeatedly rejected by the mainstream Republican Party.
4
Eventually, after the death of Senator Taft, a new conservative figurehead was needed. Clarence Manion, a conservative activist who claimed theEisenhower administration was secretly 
influenced by ―left–wing communists,‖
5
began this processin June 1959.
6
He attempted to draft the junior Senator from Arizona for the Republicannomination in 1960: Barry Goldwater. Though the nomination effort in 1960 failed, Manion, now joined by more activists likeClifton White, created a nationwide network to wrest control of the Republican Party from theEastern establishment. When the two factions of the Republican Party met at the RepublicanNational Convention of 1964 in San Francisco, the result was a convention floor brawl broadcastfor the entire country to see.
7
When liberal Republicans like Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New 
 
2
 
 York attempted to address the crowd, they were shouted down; Goldwater himself capped theconvention with the now infa
mous quote that ―extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
8
  Terrified liberal Republicans grabbed LBJ buttons on their way out of town.
9
 
 That Goldwater‘s campaign came to an ignominious defeat surprised none but the
staunchest partisans. William F
Buckley himself spoke of ―the impeding defeat of Barry Goldwater‖
to a national convention of the Young Americans for Freedom.
10
Yet Buckley, conscious of the new conservative organizational prowess, delivered a message of perseverance in the face of defeat whichcarried the conservative movement through a period of relative powerlessness.
11
 
President Johnson‘s
actions after his 61.3 percent landslide, however, showed only arrogance.
12
The mandate delivered by the American people reflected
 Johnson‘s courageous actions in signing legislation like the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 and promising to declare War on Poverty. When Johnson also gave the UnitedStates a war in Vietnam
 — 
an ill managed war at that
 — 
he split the Democratic Party into twofactions, separating the emerging New Left and the nascent peace movement from traditionalestablishment liberals.
13
 
Lyndon Johnson‘s
handling of the Vietnam War, indeed his handling of the press in general,shattered the trust placed in him by the American people.
14
As the election of 1968 approached, theincreasing division in his party gave the Republicans a chance to exploit those divides. While theDemocratic Party reeled after the assassination of RFK and then fought a vicious floor fight at theirChicago convention,
15
Richard Nixon was cashing in the chits he had earned behind the scenesduring the past eight years.
16
When the Democrats finally nominated Vice President Hubert H.
Humphrey, Nixon‘s campaign was already well underway.
 While Humphrey eventually differentiated himself from the incumbent administration on Vietnam, he could not overc
ome Nixon‘s financial advantage. M
edia, and therefore money, hadbecome so influential in campaigns
 — 
as evidenced by the importance of the
‗64 and
 
‗68 convention
 
3
 
coverage
 — 
that
 whistle stop comebacks like Harry Truman‘s in 1948 became increasingly difficult.
Only the overwhelming support of organized labor, in the form of millions of dollars and thousandsof volunteers, narrowed the election.
17
The narrowness of the election, however, only somewhatobscured the fact that the Democratic Party was now rudderless while the Republicans were unitedbehind a master political architect.
18
 Nixon had returned from a political wasteland to lead a rejuvenated Republican Party. He was moreover, by the definitions of the day, a conservative.
19
Yet there was a difference between
Barry Goldwater‘s movement and Richard Nixon, who had called Goldwater‘s candidacy ―atragedy‖ until it was no longer politically expedient to do so.
Whereas Goldwater wanted to destroy his enemies
 — 
he famously hauled Walter Reuther before a Congressional investigation
 — 
Nixonsought to co-opt them.
20
 
He spent much of his first term building what he called a ―New Majority‖
to replace the New Deal Coalition.
21
He especially sought to pry organized labor, which had almostbeen his downfall in 1968, from its traditional allies in the Democratic Party. Though he was unableto win over labor leaders like AFL
 – 
CIO president
George Meany, Nixon‘s appeals to the ―Hard– 
Hat Rio
ters‖ and men like Peter Brennan, head of the New York building trades, helped immensely 
in securing the votes of rank and file union members.
22
 
Nixon‘s political calculus was vindicated during the election of 1972. Not only did he crush
George McGovern, but he won 54% of the union vote as well.
23
Just under two years later, however,Richard Nixon was forced to resign in the wake of the Watergate scandal; a crime which resulted inthe worst constitutional crisis since Reconstruction.
24
His resignation threw the reins of power in theRepublican Party 
to a conservative movement which had been waiting to return since Buckley‘s
speech in 1964. They were almost able to unseat an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford,at the 1976 convention.
25
Four years later, they had their apotheosis.

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