The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton
Kenneth S. Baer
When Bill Clinton declared in 1996 that "the era of big government is over," Republicans felt that he was stealing their thunder. But in fact, it was the culmination of a decade-long struggle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. This book tells how a group of New Democrats reformed their enfeebled party's agenda, moved it toward the center, and recaptured the White House with their first two-term president since FDR.
Reinventing Democrats is the story of the Democratic Leadership Council, an elite group of elected officials, benefactors, and strategists that let fresh air into the smoke-filled room of politics and changed the public philosophy of their party. Kenneth Baer tells who they are, where they came from, what they believe in, and how they helped elect Bill Clinton—the DLC's former chairman—to the presidency.
—The American Prospect
“A thorough study of the DLC phenomenon.”
—Richmond Times-DispatchSee all reviews...
“A detailed, accessible, and useful account of how an important political institution made friends and influenced people.”
“Easily the meatiest new book on the Democrats.”
“The first formal history of how the Democratic Party transformed itself. . . An important contribution to the literature on American politics.”
—The Indianapolis Star
“Baer provides important new research analyzing the rise and fall and rise again of the DLC, an important party within a party. . . . The book is a thorough study of the DLC phenomenon. . . .”
—Congress & the Presidency
“Baer tells the story of the formation and development of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC). The story is worth telling for its political implications alone: The DLC served as a springboard for the Clinton presidency and as a source for the rejuvenation of the Democratic Party after the 1994 Democratic nightmare. Baer is an adept storyteller, offering a rich supply of historical detail, insider observations and interviews, and analyses of DLC political strategies. As history the book is engaging and well worth reading. It would serve as an excellent supplemental text in courses on U.S. political parties. . . . Baer has written an excellent and insightful book. Anyone who wants to understand the contemporary Democratic Party would do well to read his informative and engaging text.”
—Perspectives on Political Science
“Compelling and important. . . Provides valuable insight into the party’s recent past and what it might mean for the future.”
—Bob Kolasky, IntellectualCapital.com
“An important and artfully told story about the intersection of personalities, political ambition, and the world of ideas. Baer shows us how they fit together. His history of the New Democrats is essential to understanding the dynamics of the 2000 election campaign.”
—E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of They Only Look Dead and Why Americans Hate Politics
“Anyone who wants to understand the origins of the Clinton presidency, and, more broadly, the development of a political ‘third way’ between the old liberalism and conservatism, will want to read Baer’s important book. It’s indispensable for understanding politics today.”
—John B. Judis, senior editor of The New Republic and author of The Paradox of American Democracy
“This fascinating analysis is of international as well as domestic significance.”
—Martin Kettle, U.S. bureau chief, The Guardian
“Lucidly written and meticulously researched, Reinventing Democrats could well be the Democrats’ road map to power—and a guidebook for anyone who wants to understand politics in the new century.”
—Howard Fineman, Chief Political Correspondent, Newsweek
“In this book we finally have a definitive—and sympathetic—account of how the Democratic party retreated from the liberalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s and became the more centrist party capable of winning the White House in the 1990s.”
—Michael Barone, senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics
“This is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the stunning political success of Bill Clinton. Baer makes a convincing case that the New Democrats, with Clinton at the helm, pose a challenge not only to Republicans but also to the liberal ethos that has guided the Democrats since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.”
—Steven M. Gillon, author of The Democrats' Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal LegacySee fewer reviews...
Drawing on DLC archives and interviews with party insiders, Baer chronicles the increasing influence of the DLC from 1985 to the present. He describes battles waged between New Democrats and party liberals after the failed candidacy of Walter Mondale, and he takes readers behind the scenes in Little Rock to tell how DLC director Al From encouraged Clinton's run for the White House. He then explains how the DLC reshaped the party's agenda into a "third way" that embraced positions such as welfare reform, a balanced budget, free trade, a tough stance on crime, and a strong defense.
In this revealing analysis of insider politics, Baer shows how a determined faction can consciously change a party's public philosophy, even without the impetus of a national crisis or electoral realignment. He also shows that the New Democrat stance exemplifies how ideas can work in sync with the political calendar to determine which specific policies find their way onto the national agenda.
If Clinton has achieved nothing else in his presidency, says Baer, he has moved his party to the center, where it stands a better chance to succeed—much to the dismay of conservatives, who feel victimized by the theft of many of their strongest issues. In a book that will engage any reader caught up in the fervor of an election year, Baer reveals the role of new ideas in shaping political stratagems and provides much food for thought concerning the future of the New Democratic philosophy, the Democratic party, and American party politics.