Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Timothy Stanley's "Kennedy vs. Carter"

Timothy Stanley is Leverhulme Research Fellow, Royal Holloway College, University of London, and coauthor of The End of Politics: Triangulation, Realignment and the Battle for the Centre Ground.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Kennedy vs. Carter: The 1980 Battle for the Democratic Party’s Soul, and reported the following:
Kennedy vs. Carter offers a re-evaluation of the career of Edward Kennedy and the liberalism he espoused. It argues that he was a serious contender for the presidency in 1980, and was regarded as a shoe-in as late as November 1979. What doomed his candidacy, and prevented him taking the nomination from incumbent president Jimmy Carter, was a series of historical accidents. The hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan revived Carter’s administration and gave him some early crucial primary victories. But as the contest dragged on, Kennedy forged a unique coalition of angry whites and dispossessed minorities to win states as diverse as New York, California, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Arizona. I argue that the Kennedy coalition is a model for Democratic strategists, while Carter’s shoddy treatment of core liberal constituencies is an example of what not to do in office. Arguably, Obama is repeating many of the Georgian’s mistakes - failing to set an agenda, reneging on promises made and playing by political rules set by the right.

Page 99 discusses Kennedy’s ability to pull together bits of the old Democratic electoral coalition. “This was linked to the Senator’s unique personality and the glamour of his name. But it was also an expression of the healing potential of ‘universalist’ ideas.” Universalist goals that offered full employment or comprehensive health insurance to all - goals that Kennedy defended boldly and without equivocation - helped reunite a Democratic base that had been divided by cultural issues like abortion, race and sexuality. In that narrow sense, page 99 gets to the heart of the argument - liberalism, well sold, has something to offer everybody.

But this page has wider relevance too. It talks about Jerry Brown, then governor of California, who also ran in 1980. Back then Brown was on the “no-growth” right of the Democratic Party and offered himself as a fiscally conservative alternative to Kennedy. He was “right-on” on social issues and enjoyed the support of celebrity beatniks Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. But he called the 1970s an “age of limits” and argued - with soaring deficits, taxes and inflation - that the poor would have to suffer as much as the rich if America were to recover. Brown is running again for office right now. This time round his message is purposefully vague - but Brown has always been a ruthless Dominican at heart: charitable, yes, but frugal and quick to judge too. I hope that the voters of California realise what they’re in for.
Learn more about Kennedy vs. Carter at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue