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Governing America

Governing America: The Revival of Political History

Julian E. Zelizer
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Governing America
    Book Description:

    In recent years, the study of American political history has experienced a remarkable renaissance. After decades during which the subject fell out of fashion and disappeared from public view, it has returned to prominence as the study of American history has shifted its focus back to politics broadly defined. In this book, one of the leaders of the resurgence in American political history, Julian Zelizer, assesses its revival and demonstrates how this work not only illuminates the past but also helps us better understand American politics today.

    Governing Americaaddresses issues of wide interest, including the rise of the welfare state, the development of modern conservatism, the history of Congress, the struggle over campaign finance, changing views about presidential power, and national security. Throughout, it addresses four big questions: How have interpretations of American political history changed over time? How have taxes and budgets constrained policymakers? How have changes in the political process defined historical eras? And how have policy and politics interacted on decisions like going to war?

    Zelizer's answers to these questions are fresh and often surprising, providing compelling new perspectives on modern American politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4189-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Governing America: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the spring of 1995, I attended a session at the Organization of American Historians Conference at the Washington Hilton, which focused on the state of political history. When I walked toward the conference room I expected to find a small crowd, and one with little hope for the future.

    At the time, the political history field seemed bleak. Senior practitioners, who, for at least two decades, felt that their work had been relegated to the academic dustbin, were demoralized and pessimistic. Graduate students such as myself entered the profession with a sense of trepidation, concerned about how our interests...

  5. PART I Thinking about the Field

    • ONE Beyond the Presidential Synthesis: Reordering Political Time
      (pp. 11-40)

      In 1948, the historian Thomas Cochran attacked the “presidential synthesis,” the prevailing framework that had structured most narratives about the history of the United States.* Cochran (1948) pleaded with colleagues to broaden their analysis beyond Washington, DC, in order to examine the larger social and economic forces that shaped history, as well as developments at the local level. In most areas of history, Cochran’s plea would be answered as social, cultural, and economic historians reconstructed our understanding of the past. Even political historians, who found themselves at the margins of the profession after the 1960s, developed complex interpretations of the...

    • TWO Clio’s Lost Tribe: Public Policy History Since 1978
      (pp. 41-59)

      Policy history has straddled two disciplines—history and policy analysis—neither of which has taken it very seriously.¹ What unites those who study policy history is not that they are “policy historians,” but that they organize their analysis and narrative around the around the emergence, passage, and implementation of policy.* Rather than being a subfield, as the historian Paula Baker recently argued, policy history has resembled area studies programs.² Policy history became an interdisciplinary arena for scholars from many different fields to interact. While founders hoped that policies would become an end in themselves, rather than something used to understand...

    • THREE History and Political Science: Together Again?
      (pp. 60-67)

      There was a period in America when the political science and history disciplines were not that far apart.* Both approaches to analyzing civil society had evolved out of an old Anglo-American tradition where these two subjects, along with philosophy and literature, were all considered in relationship to one another. During the formative years of the American research university, which took place at the turn of the twentieth century, both disciplines shared common founding fathers. A classic example was Charles Beard, whose influence spanned both areas of scholarship.¹ Indeed, it was a breakaway faction of the American Historical Association that formed...

    • FOUR Rethinking the History of American Conservatism
      (pp. 68-89)

      In 1994, the Columbia historian Alan Brinkley stimulated an intense debate within the historical profession when he published an article in theAmerican Historical Reviewthat focused on the history of American conservatism.* Brinkley argued that historians had not devoted sufficient attention to the evolution of conservatism in contemporary politics. Historians, he said, had treated conservatism as a marginal, irrational, or irrelevant force since these arguments were first put forth by liberal consensus historians in the 1950s and 1960s. Most scholarly attention focused on the history of liberalism.¹

      The political bias and intellectual orientation of the profession, Brinkley said, had...

    • FIVE What Political Science Can Learn from the New Political History
      (pp. 90-104)

      One of the most exciting developments in recent years for students of American politics has been the growing number of scholars who are interested in and willing to cross the disciplinary divide.* The field of American political development (APD) has offered a meeting point for political scientists, sociologists, and historians whose research focuses on the political evolution of the United States. Although the disciplines approach their subject from very different analytical, and sometimes methodological, perspectives, considerable room has emerged for productive interaction. We should not miss this opportunity.

      Whereas historians are very cognizant of the contributions that historically oriented political...

  6. PART II Paying for Government:: Taxes, Money, and Fiscal Restraint

    • SIX The Uneasy Relationship: Democracy, Taxation, and State-Building Since the New Deal
      (pp. 107-123)

      Most politicians sense that Americans hate taxes.* We are a nation with a long tradition of tax revolts. Yet, despite an abundance of historical studies about state-building in the twentieth century, few have confronted the reality of tax resistance and fiscal constraint. Even research on American anti-statism has emphasized the intellectual history of liberalism and republicanism rather than opposition to federal taxes, the most concrete manifestation of anti-statism. Hostility toward federal taxation has remained extremely strong in all income brackets, ranging from blue-collar workers who were central beneficiaries of New Deal programs to elite financial investors. Resistance to local taxation...

    • SEVEN The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal: Fiscal Conservatism and the Roosevelt Administration, 1933–1938
      (pp. 124-152)

      When President William Clinton elevated deficit reduction to the top of his domestic agenda in 1993, he tapped into a long-standing Democratic tradition that was rooted in the 1930s.* Liberalism and fiscal conservatism have been interwoven since the construction of the New Deal state. Liberal Democratic presidents never felt that they could or should exclude fiscal conservatism from their agenda. Harry Truman, for example, fought with the military establishment to balance the budget, while John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson adhered to modest levels of spending and only hesitantly accepted temporary deficits. Jimmy Carter emphasized deficit reduction more than a decade...

    • EIGHT “Where Is the Money Coming From?” The Reconstruction of Social Security Finance
      (pp. 153-167)

      Social Security has achieved a privileged status in American politics.* As a result of the Social Security tax, supporters claim, recipients have not received unearned benefits, nor has Congress felt as if it were building a massive welfare state. Indeed, the Social Security tax system has legitimated the program in the minds of policy experts, politicians, and recipients. Through Social Security, the American state has forged a strong alliance with the elderly and their descendants, both with retirees who received cash payments and with working families who did not have to finance their parents’ retirement years.

      Today, however, the future...

    • NINE Paying for Medicare: Benefits, Budgets, and Wilbur Mills’s Policy Legacy
      (pp. 168-192)
      Eric Patashnik

      During the past few years, dramatic proposals have been introduced for restructuring Medicare’s financing.* The current financial structure of Medicare features two distinct federal government trust funds and three major revenue sources. Medicare Part A, which covers hospital stays, is financed by the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, which in turn obtains its revenue primarily from a 2.90 percent payroll tax. Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient care, is financed by the Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund, three-quarters of which is now funded from general revenues and one-quarter from beneficiary premiums.¹ At the time of Medicare’s...

  7. PART III The Rules of the Game:: The Politics of Process

    • TEN Seeds of Cynicism: The Struggle over Campaign Finance, 1956–1974
      (pp. 195-220)

      “It is a cesspool, it is a source of infection for the body politic,” Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) warned his fellow senators in 1973 about the private financing of elections.* “[I]f it doesn’t stop, there are going to be good men in this hall right here today who are going down the drain, not that you are guilty, not that you have done anything wrong, but that the public is disenchanted with all of us, and they are going to want somebody new and say I want a fresh one here.”¹ From 1971 through President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Congress...

    • ELEVEN Bridging State and Society: The Origins of 1970s Congressional Reform
      (pp. 221-231)

      Congressional scholars have a unique opportunity to reconnect the histories of American state and society, a task central to the new generation of political historians.* As Mark Leff (1995, 852) recently argued, social and political historians have come to realize that they “ignored the other at their peril” and that “interaction was the only way to interrogate power—how it was structured and changed, where it was contested, how it was exerted, what its impact was, and what assumptions shaped the discourse that framed it” (see also Gillon, 1997). To accomplish the challenge of integrating social and political history, congressional...

    • TWELVE Without Restraint: Scandal and Politics in America
      (pp. 232-258)

      “What began 25 years ago with Watergate as a solemn and necessary process to force a president to adhere to the rule of law, has grown beyond our control so that now we are routinely using criminal accusations and scandal to win the political battles and ideological differences we cannot settle at the ballot box. It has been used with reckless abandon by both parties.”* So lamented Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) during the debate over impeaching President William Clinton in 1998. By then, scandal had become a driving force in politics. Many of Schumer’s colleagues resembled weary soldiers surveying a...

    • THIRTEEN Seizing Power: Conservatives and Congress Since the 1970s
      (pp. 259-289)

      The scene seemed as if someone writing a parody about the American Congress scripted it.* In the summer of 2003, the House Ways and Means Committee was debating legislation dealing with pensions and retirement savings. The committee started by reading the language of the bill. Suddenly, committee chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) introduced a ninety-page substitute measure that had only been released around midnight the previous evening. When New York Democrat Charles Rangel protested that the minority had not been given any opportunity to review the language of the substitute, Thomas ignored him. Condemning what they saw as another attempt by...

    • FOURTEEN How Conservatives Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Presidential Power
      (pp. 290-306)

      The vast expansion of presidential power under President George W. Bush was as troubling for many on the right as it was for those on the left.* The conservative columnist George Will lamented that “conservatives’ wholesome wariness of presidential power has been a casualty of conservative presidents winning seven of the past 10 elections.”¹

      There is certainly a grain of truth to the claims of conservatives who didn’t want to link themselves to a strong presidency, and in this respect they legitimately disassociated themselves from Bush. Twentieth-century liberals, until the 1970s, were the people who most actively promoted the importance...

  8. PART IV Politics and Policy:: The Case of National Security

    • FIFTEEN Congress and the Politics of Troop Withdrawal, 1966–1973
      (pp. 309-320)

      According to most politicians, pundits, and voters, the executive is the dominant branch of the U.S. federal government.* Despite a brief period in the 1970s when Congress reined in presidential power, the Imperial Presidency remains alive and well. National security has been the issue area where presidents have enjoyed the greatest increase in their strength. Presidents have become accustomed to sending troops overseas without obtaining from Congress a formal declaration of war and have sanctioned a vast expansion of the national security apparatus within the executive branch.

      President George W. Bush is the most recent White House occupant to have...

    • SIXTEEN Détente and Domestic Politics
      (pp. 321-334)

      During the first half of the 1970s, Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford responded to the aftermath of Vietnam by avoiding the extremes of the era: massive military retrenchment (left) and massive military escalation (right).* The presidents had different reasons for seeking a centrist national security agenda. The Republican presidents were willing to accept and actively pursue arms and trade agreements with the Soviet Union and China. Nixon concluded that appealing to moderates was essential in order to protect a muscular national security state from retrenchment in the aftermath of the 1960s and to ensure his own electoral success. His...

    • SEVENTEEN Conservatives, Carter, and the Politics of National Security
      (pp. 335-350)

      The new year of 1980 was not a happy one for President Jimmy Carter.* On December 27, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. When Carter heard the reports, he blurted out, “there goes SALT II.” The invasion seemed to confirm everything that conservatives had been saying about the president, his national security policies, and the weakness of the Democratic Party. The president’s wife, Rosalynn, had never seen him more upset. “We will help to make sure that Afghanistan will be their Vietnam,” the shaken Carter vowed to his spouse.¹ In the coming weeks, the president imposed a grain embargo against the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 351-398)
  10. Index
    (pp. 399-416)