Thursday, April 14, 2011

Parmet - The Democrats

Parmet, Herbert S. The Democrats: The Years After FDR. New York: Macmillan, 1976.

The book begins with the funeral of LBJ. Though it was published in 76, Parmet is fully aware that LBJ's demise represented the decline of the New Deal coalition. This book tells how that coalition changed and maintained after FDR.

Truman - Moved right in foreign affairs (Cold War), and never able to put his Fair Deal into practice because of foreign distractions. Parmet also argues that the splintering of the Democratic party in 1948 actually helped Truman. Wallace's Progressive party actually placated moderates, making Truman look moderate. Thurmond's Dixiecrats made Truman look good in Civil Rights.

Eisenhower years - Adlai appealed to intellectuals and liberals, and while the Democrats managed to retake the House and Senate, the public showed a preference for the apparently non-politician President who was willing to work with the Democrats and didn't take on the New Deal.

JFK - Upon election, seen as the Democratic version of Nixon: the product of a slick political package, rather than a true Liberal. Style over substance. Even his inaugural address was mostly style with very little specifics

New Frontier - education, Civil Rights, housing

LBJ - Thought to be conservative but turned out to be quite Liberal, in Civil Rights and Great Society.

Doenecke - Journal of Southern History

Parmet portrays Stevenson as a conservative, a man whose "stature
impressed just about everybody but a majority of the electorate" (p. 102).
The Illinois governor had a probusiness bias, endorsed FEPC with obvious
reluctance, refused to take a militant pro-Israel stance, and stressed education
as the primary solution to racial tensions. During the Eisenhower
years the party leadership-concentrated in the Congress-shied away
from attacking McCarthyism, presented few alternatives to the President's
programs, and avoided the liberal Democratic Advisory Council.
The Kennedy leadership, so the author continues, was personal, not
partisan, as the party machine had little to do with policy making. Unlike
historians who stress the inertia in America during the early 1960s, Parmet
sees the new administration as remarkably successful, and he cites as
evidence congressional acceptance of a series of proposals ranging from
liberalized trade to the Peace Corps. Problems lay rather in JFK's overreacting
to such international crises as Cuba and Berlin and in a political
style that stressed rhetoric over reality.
In his coverage of the Johnson years Parmet stresses that the executive
department assumed patronage and fund-raising activities, thereby virtually
dismantling the Democratic National Committee. Turning to the
party defeats of 1968 and 1972, he calls Robert F. Kennedy's bid to power
"one of the most . .. clumsy moves in American political history" (p. 249)
but notes that Eugene McCarthy was "regarded as a moderate liberal at
best . . ." (p. 265) and that George McGovern was "certainly not a
radical" (p. 297). After Nixon's second presidential victory the party
hardly possessed anything resembling a program.
The book is particularly strong in its coverage of the South. Like V. 0.
Key, Parmet finds that the South was never monolithic. He shows that
poll-tax proponents were afraid of "undesirable" whites as well as of
blacks and that regional fears of racial equality emerged from a desire to
preserve the economic status quo. He notes how many prominent southern
politicians helped keep most of the South for Truman in 1948, how
Stevenson's detente with the South secured his nomination in 1956, and
how Kennedy depended upon the South to get important bills through

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