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Wrong for All the Right Reasons

Wrong for All the Right Reasons: How White Liberals Have Been Undone by Race

Gordon MacInnes
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    Wrong for All the Right Reasons
    Book Description:

    There was a time, in this century, when liberals championed the working class, when Democrats were indisputably the party of those who worked rather than invested for a living. Today, however, most Americans have come to see liberals as drifting and aimless, somehow lacking in backbone and moral fiber, beholden to radical ideologies that have little to do with the average American's life. Few incidents cast this phenomenon into greater relief than George Bush's successful tarring of Michael Dukakis as a liberal in 1988--and, tellingly, Dukakis's subsequent flight from the liberal tradition. How has it come to this? Why have liberals allowed themselves to be so portrayed? In this book, Gordon MacInnes--state senator, fiscal conservative, frustrated Democrat, and a man who believes deeply in America's civic culture--reveals how progressive forces have retreated from the battle of ideas, at great cost. Squarely at the nexus of race, poverty, and politics, Wrong for All the Right Reasons charts the sources of liberal decline and the high costs of conservative rule. Tracing the origins of the liberal retreat to the fall-out over Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report on the black family in the 1960s, MacInnes claims that white liberals have somewhere along the way stopped taking black people seriously enough to argue with them. Continuously put on the desfensive, liberals have been unable to forge an aggressive, proactive agenda of that addresses the needs of working-class and poor Americans. This has led to a breakdown of honest dialogue which to this day continues to plague liberal Democrats, as evidenced by Bill Bradley's withdrawal from active party politics last fall. Finding room for optimism in the groundswell of grass-roots progressivism, Wrong for All the Right Reasons is a timely, necessary call to arms for liberal, progressive Democrats, outlining ways in which they can reverse their party's dangerous decline.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5967-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Richard C. Leone

    The interaction of race, poverty, and public policy has been tangled in disgraceful partisan jockeying and muddled by competing versions of reality for much of American history. Indeed, in the broadest sense, that history itself is incomprehensible without an appreciation of the deep and abiding influence of the politics of race on issues, debates, and elections. For all the talk of third parties in recent years, a look back provides us, for example, with only one real case of a permanent success: the Republican party, founded largely as a vehicle for opposition to slavery. And significantly, there can be little...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Bill Clinton’s presidency began at a confusing, transitional period in American history. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, he could not do what Ronald Reagan did: borrow enough money in the name of national security to purchase temporary prosperity. President Clinton took office with the opportunity to build a new progressive coalition of working- and middle-class whites, minorities, and liberals—traditional Democratic constituents—to restore credibility to the idea that government plays a constructive role in society and the economy, and to call the bluff of the Republican Right in its refusal to inflict the pain implicit in its...

  7. 1 The Politics of Race: Conservative Indifference Meets Liberal Timidity
    (pp. 13-22)

    In June 1992, Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy was in deep trouble. True, he had just scored big primary victories in New Jersey and California on June 2. The nomination was beginning to look more like a sentence than a prize, however. The mid-June Gallup presidential preference poll showed Clinton a distant third, with only 24 percent support against 32 percent for Republican President George Bush, and 34 percent for independent candidate Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire. Surveys suggested that voters neither trusted Bill Clinton nor showed much interest in his campaign. Clinton was better known as a draft-dodger and womanizer...

  8. 2 Race and Politics in the Johnson Years: From Moral Monopoly to Political Sideshow
    (pp. 23-48)

    President Lyndon Baines Johnson made the nation whole, at least for a short period of time. He stood on the shoulders of ten generations of black Americans to liberate their descendants in the eleventh generation from enslavement and segregation. At the time, Johnson was as powerful as an American president could get. The 1964 elections installed the 89th Congress, the first since 1936 to have the votes needed to keep the coalition of conservative Republicans and southern Democrats from blocking progressive legislation. Johnson moved with energy, relentlessness, and passion to legislate his vision for a Great Society: Medicare for older...

  9. 3 The Sources of Liberal Decline: Failures of Mind
    (pp. 49-72)

    Lyndon Johnson anticipated that his dream of a great society could become a reality if his administration were able to transform the black ghettos that had been created in inner city areas across the United States. In overseeing the transformation, Johnson wanted to see numbers: how many laws were passed, programs started, dollars delivered, and people enrolled. He assumed that if the numbers got high enough, the problems could be tamed. While he was trying to move the numbers up in the ghetto neighborhoods of northern cities, however, these neighborhoods blew up on him and on his Democratic party.


  10. 4 The Liberal Abandonment of Politics
    (pp. 73-96)

    As Lyndon Johnson’s presidency drew to a close, the Democrats’ moral leverage on the nation was slipping. The violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 symbolized growing divisions over Vietnam, the emerging cultural wars between traditional and new values, and the liberals’ efforts to reform the Democratic party. After Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in the November elections, liberals focused on taking over the Democratic party. Their short-lived triumph culminated in the nomination of George McGovern as their presidential candidate in 1972 and accelerated the Democrats’ loss of credibility with American voters.

    In spring 1968, I...

  11. 5 The Costs of Black Unity: Political Isolation
    (pp. 97-116)

    Black political unity is a relatively new concept in American politics. Although the Fifteenth Amendment gave blacks the right to vote in 1870, generations of black citizens found themselves disenfranchised by poll taxes, phony tests, intimidation, and violence; that is, until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Seen by many as the crowning glory of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act led to the registration of black voters on an unprecedented, massive scale. As the black voting bloc solidified, black political leadership explored the new terrain in search of a voice.

    Dr. Martin Luther King,...

  12. 6 The High Costs of Conservative Rule
    (pp. 117-144)

    Conservative Republicans were, for most of this century, a quaint group in American politics. They were tagged as the fathers of the Great Depression with telling effect by Democrats; they whined about big government and deficit spending, and terrorized the nation with tall tales about a domestic communist conspiracy. Conservatives were mostly white, Protestant residents of small towns, and they had limited political power. Even in the Republican party it was liberal Republicans who usually decided who would run for president on the GOP ticket.

    Then, in 1964 the conservatives took over the Republican party and nominated Arizona’s Barry Goldwater,...

  13. 7 Rebuilding a Progressive Vision
    (pp. 145-166)

    Liberalwas a proud label in the middle third of the twentieth century, when it described those who fought to expand opportunity to poor and working-class Americans by guaranteeing any qualified student the chance to attend college and graduate into the middle class.

    Liberalwas a proud label when it was attached to those black and white Democrats who stood up for disenfranchised southern black citizens against the Democrats’ staunchest and most reliable supporters in presidential elections, white southerners.

    Liberalwas a proud label when it described a generation of pragmatic and thoughtful politicians who guided public investment to research,...

  14. 8 Solving Problems in Poor City Neighborhoods
    (pp. 167-184)

    No serious discussion of American society can avoid the tangle of pathology found in poor city neighborhoods. Places such as East St. Louis, North Philadelphia, Camden, and Chicago’s South Side suffer from a dangerous concentration of violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and dependency. This array of afflictions, combined with an absence of jobs, continues to discourage and baffle any attempt at a solution.

    For thirty years, bold national initiatives and comprehensive schemes have been offered to relieve poverty—drug wars, education reforms, welfare reforms, years of the child, and tough anticrime talk. Withal, the quality of life in ghetto...

  15. 9 Progressive Restoration: With or Without Clinton
    (pp. 185-204)

    The American Dream is threatened for most Americans. Since 1973, nearly one-half of American families have seen their standard of living decline! The fortunes of about 60 percent of the remainder have stagnated. Only the top 20 percent of households have seen any improvement in income and wealth. These sobering facts animate the idea of building a new progressive coalition.

    The extremists who have taken over the Republican party ignore the stagnation or deterioration in living standards for 80 percent of American families. Any economic problems are blamed on government or on the failure to abide by the family values...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 205-222)
  17. Index
    (pp. 223-236)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)