The Lesser Evil? The Left, the Democrats and 1984


In the summer before the 1984 presidential elections, Michael Harrington and Irving Howe, in a widely noted interview in the New York Times Magazine, boasted that ‘by now practically everyone on the left agrees that the Democratic Party, with all its faults, must be our main political arena’.[1]In recent historical context there was a peculiar irony in this assertion, with its smug self-limitation of the ‘Left’. During the 1960s, American social democracy had been debilitated, almost discredited, by its advocacy of reform through the Democratic Party. The right wing of the old Thomasite Socialist Party, ‘Social Democrats, USA’, had broken away to become courtiers of Scoop Jackson and lobbyists for military victory in Vietnam. Meanwhile, a centrist current led by Harrington and Howe formed a small circle around Dissent with negligible influence on a burgeoning New Left which spurned their faith in the transformability of the Democratic Party. Indeed, the key radical organizations of the 1960s, SNCC and SDS, understandably regarded the Cold War liberalism incarnated by the Humphrey/Jackson wing of the Democratic Party (to which both camps of social democrats oriented) as the enemy, primarily responsible for genocidal imperialism in Southeast Asia as well as for the repression of the Black liberation movement at home.

From the McGovern candidacy of 1972, however, sections of the former New Left, together with a younger cohort of 1970s activists, began to slip back into Democratic politics, initially on a local level.[2] At first there was no sharp ideological break with the sixties’ legacy. The ‘New Politics’, as it was typed, seemed just another front of the anti-war movement or another tactical extension of the urban populism espoused by SDS ’s community organizing faction. By 1975, with the sudden end of the Vietnam War, a strategic divergence had become more conspicuous. On the one hand, an array of self-proclaimed ‘cadre’ groups, inspired by the heroic mold of 1930s radicalism, were sending their ex-student members into the factories in the hope of capturing and radicalizing the widespread rank-and-file discontent that characterized the end of the postwar boom. On the other hand, another network of ex-SDS ers and antiwar activists—of whom Tom Hayden was merely a belated and media-hyped example—were building local influence within the Democratic ‘reform movement’: the loose collocation of consumer, environmental and public-sector groups, supported by a few progressive unions, that had survived the McGovern debacle.

Although its significance was only vaguely grasped at the time, this increasing polarization between workerism and electoralism coincided with, and was immediately conditioned by, the decline of the Black liberation movement that had been the chief social motor of post-war radicalism. A dismaying, inverse law seemed to prevail between the collapse of grassroots mobilization in the ghettoes and the rise of the first wave of Black political patronage in the inner cities. While Black revolutionaries and nationalists were being decimated by J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO programme of preemptive repression and infiltration, Black community organization was being reshaped into a passive clientelism manipulated by the human-services bureaucracy and the Democratic Party. Although the civil rights movement remained an unfinished revolution with an urgent agenda of economic and political demands, its centrality to the project of a popular American left was tragically, and irresponsibly, obscured in the late 1970s. The ranks of the white, ex-student left, preoccupied with academic outposts and intellectual celebrities, showed a profound inability to understand the strategic implications of the halting of the civil rights movement. For all the theoretical white smoke of the 1970s, including the endless debates on crisis theory and the nature of the state, the decisive problem of the fate of the Second Reconstruction was displaced beyond the field of vision. With minimal challenge or debate, leading journals like Socialist Review and Dissent tacitly demoted Black liberation—the critical democratic issue in American history—to the status of another progressive ‘interest’, coeval with sexual freedom or ecology.

The crisis of Black radicalism, and its attendant white incomprehension, was soon followed by the disintegration of the workerist left. With the important but solitary exception of the International Socialists, who continue to play a vital role in Teamsters for a Democratic Union (the onlysurviving rank-and-file caucus from the 1970s), none of the workplace-oriented offshoots of the New Left proved to have the stamina or internal stability to weather the decline in union militancy that followed the 1974–75 recession. The bizarre implosion of the ‘new communist movement’, as the Maoist left moved from the factory floor to frenzied party building and street confrontations, reinforced, if only by harrowing negative example, the growing claim of the electoralists to represent the sole rational hope for a mass American left.

But it is unlikely that the transition towards the orbit of the Democratic Party could have occurred so rapidly without the intervention and coordination undertaken by the Harrington–Howe group, now reorganized as the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). The charter concept of DSOC, according to a Harrington editorial written in the wake of the McGovern defeat, was the belief that ‘the left wing of realism is found today in the Democratic Party. It is there that the mass forces for social change are assembled; it is there that the possibility exists for creating a new first party in America.’[3] To pursue this realignment, Harrington and Howe proposed a two-storey organizational strategy. DSOC was intended to provide a kind of social-democratic inner sanctum within a larger liberal coalition, built from the top down through the selective recruitment of ‘influentials’: trade-union full-timers, local Democratic luminaries and well-known academics. These ‘influentials’, in turn, helped sponsor the Democratic Agenda, the ‘party within the party’, that aimed to coalesce progressive forces within the national Democratic Party. In this fashion, the Harrington–Howe group contrived to obtain a political leverage disproportionate to DSOC’s modest membership or its meagre contributions to day-to-day struggles.

The Democratic Agenda enjoyed a brief heyday during the first half of the Carter Administration. It exerted influence at national and regional party conferences, as well as providing one of the main rallying points for supporters of the labour law reform campaign of the AFL-CIO. However, after the 1978 rightward turn of the administration (i.e., the rejection of détente, the firing of Andrew Young, the savaging of the domestic budget, the abandonment of health reform, the curtailment of urban jobs programmes, and the defeat of labour law reform), the progressive pole notionally represented by the Democratic Agenda steadily lost ground in the face of the rise of ‘neo-liberalism’. Traditional liberals, influenced by business PACs and insurgent middle-class constituents, deserted the labour and civil rights organizations in droves, recanting previous commitments to the legacy of the Great Society and Keynesian reformism. Ironically, it was precisely at this moment of crisis for the ‘left wing of realism’, as the old liberal coalition began to break up, that significant additional sectors of the ex-New Left began to gravitate towards DSOC ’s centrist and electoralist positions. This convergence was abetted by the shift in editorial and theoretical perspectives within the group of periodicals, mutually descended from the seminal Studies on the Leftof the 1960s, that bore most of the intellectual mantle of the US New Left: Socialist Review (ex-Socialist Revolution), Kapitalstate, and In These Times. All three had originally proclaimed the advocacy of ‘explicit socialist politics’ and the building of a ‘new American Socialist Party’; on the eve of Reaganism, each had retreated to pragmatic endorsements of reform Democrats and to the embrace of a pseudo-phenomenal ‘New Populism’.[4]

Social Democracy’s surprising conquest of the New Left in the teeth of the old liberalism’s demise culminated in 1982 with the merger of the majority of the 2,500-member New American Movement with DSOC to form the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), largely on the basis of political conditions (support for Israel, centrality of the Democratic Party, etc.) dictated by the DSOCleadership. Any serious, detailed analysis of the rightward transformation of the Democratic Party and the new internal power balances that it entailed was completely obscured by the rhetorical intoxication that became a hallmark of the new organization. ‘Unity against Reagan’ and unqualified support for the AFL-CIO Executive became the twin motivating slogans for DSA ’s headlong rush, first to Edward Kennedy, and then to Walter Mondale.

Although the invocation of ‘practically everyone on the Left’ was a sectarian exaggeration, Harrington and Howe could certainly savour their success in having brought a considerable fraction of the extant socialist left ‘home’ to the Democrats. Moreover, as other left groups, including significant numbers of repentant Maoists, became increasingly involved in Democratic politics from the 1982 mid-term elections onward, a new orthodoxy arose. The principal object-lesson of the militant 1960s, reliance on independent mass politics outside of and against the national Democratic Party, was stood on its head. Participation in bourgeois electoral politics was redefined as the admission ticket to serious popular politics tout court. Not since the meridian of the Popular Front during World War Two, when the Browderite Communist Party attempted to dissolve itself into the left wing of the New Deal, had the majority of the American left been so fully submerged in the Democratic Party.

In 1984, the spectrum of progressive groups who ultimately rallied behind the Mondale banner included CISPES and the Nuclear Freeze, as well as DSA and its ‘influentials’. All calculated that entry into the campaign would strengthen their grassroots base as well as their influence over liberal Democrats. All believed the spectre of Reagan’s second term was most effectively combated through support of the national Democratic candidate. All assumed that four years of cutbacks and takebacks had jolted the Democratic electorate to the left, creating a new receptivity to progressive ideas and providing an incentive for millions of anti-Reagan non-voters to enter the rolls. The 1984 elections, therefore, provide a decisive test of the political realism of the strategic shift to electoralism. At the same time, the election results also offer important, if not completely unambiguous, evidence about the changing sociology of the electorate and the future of the party system in the post-New Deal era.


The most original phenomenon of 1984 was the unexpected and dramatic demonstration of Black voters and their allies in favour of Jesse Jackson and the programme of the Rainbow Coalition. The emergence of the Jackson campaign posed the electoralist left with the unexpected dilemma of choosing between insurgent Black politics or the traditional trade-union leadership. In the event, a majority of DSA, including the ex-DSOC leadership and most of the ‘influentials’, remained meekly aligned behind the AFL–CIO Executive in its pre-packaged support for Mondale. On the other hand, almost all the Black and Hispanic left together with white ‘Marxist–Leninists’, dissident members of DSA, and, discreetly, the CPUSA, supported the Rainbow candidacy, some with the avowed intention of building a left-wing ‘party within the party’. The old social-democratic goal of a ‘progressive realignment’ under institutional labour–liberal auspices was suddenly confronted with the fait accompli of a progressive electoral groundswell outside the franchised limits of official liberalism. To understand how this came about it is necessary to retrace, in their respective turns, the different reactions of the trade-union bureaucracy and the Black political establishment to the general crisis of reformism provoked by the domestic right turns after 1978.

A Counterfeit Labour Party?

To consider the plight of the trade-union bureaucracy first, the ‘unified labour’ strategy was born directly out of the failure of the AFL–CIO Executive in Meany’s last years to find political or juridical redress for the organizational decline of union membership. The stunning defeats of labour law reform and situs picketing in the overwhelmingly Democratic 95th and 96th Congress were interpreted by the Federation’s leadership, not as failures of rank-and-file mobilization or grassroots alliances, but rather as deficits of rightful influence within the Democratic Party apparatus. The rise of neo-liberalism in the suburban outlands of Democracy was taken as tantamount to a disinheritance of Labour’s accumulated good work for the Party cause. So, upon succeeding Meany in 1979, Lane Kirkland defined his principal brief as the concentration of labour’s resources to recapture a dominating position within the Democratic power structure. In the chain of substitutions by which the AFL–CIO leadership had successively bargained away the role of shopfloor mobilizations for the sake of a variety of ‘insider’ positions within the industrial relations and legislative systems, its clout within the Democratic National Committee was reckoned to be the most precious asset of all. As Harold Meyerson put it, for the trade-union bureaucracy ‘the DNC was to be the Archimedean point from which it would begin once more to move the world its way’.[5]

It is helpful to recall the peculiar form of labour’s subordination within the New Deal coalition. From 1936 onward, the trade unions achieved an interest-group (non-class) representation as junior partners alongside the big urban patronage machines with their captive ethnic constituencies, and the Solid South of courthouse cliques and local ruling classes. This last component, of course, was guaranteed by Jim Crow and sweeping disfranchisement of Blacks, Hispanics and poor whites: national Democratic power was purchased by the addition of the working-class votes in the North and their substantial subtraction in the South. Although the national Democratic Party was also crisscrossed by ideological alignments, they were relatively ephemeral compared with the triad of socio-political blocs. Labour and liberal forces were frequently distempered by machine and Southern outrages—especially the latter’s role in the informal conservative bipartisan coalition that blocked social reform from 1938 to 1964—but neither moved decisively against their erstwhile partners in the Cold War Democratic ‘consensus’. To take the most famous apparent case to the contrary, Truman’s brief struggle with the Dixiecrats in 1948 over civil rights planks in the party platform was immediately followed by appeasement, culminating in Adlai Stevenson’s ignominious contrition to the citadels of segregation in 1953.[6] Similarly, the AFL under Green and then Meany paid respect to civil rights on ritual occasions, only to wheel and deal with the bosses and kingfisher on a day-to-day legislative basis.

During the 1960s, however, this unholy configuration of Rooseveltian unity began to collapse of its own weight in face of the social recomposition of the big cities, the challenge of the civil rights movement in the South, and the mass opposition to the Johnson administration’s escalations in Vietnam. The national Democrats fractured along three axes. First, the declining big city machines, personified by Daley in Chicago, fought delaying actions alongside their white craft union allies against the federalized welfare and clientage networks constructed by LBJ, which attempted to incorporate public-sector professionals and a section of the Black leadership as a new pillar of the national Democratic Party. Secondly, the Solid South crumbled, as Blacks and conservative Republicans assaulted the Democratic ancien régime from opposite sides amid great radical polarization. Finally, Vietnam splintered first the liberal wing of the party, then the AFL–CIO itself, as the Reuther–Meany feud became a schism. All three sets of contradictions condensed into the fractious infighting of 1968–72, as anti-war liberals refused to support Humphrey, Cold War liberals repudiated McGovern, and Wallace bolted with the white backlash.

With the collapse of the machines and the Solid South, the trade-union bureaucracy, hitherto the minor actor of the trio, increasingly became the main institutional support for the continuity of party leadership and the maintenance of Cold War liberalism (with its implicit relegation of social reforms behind anti-Communism). Simultaneously, however, the fight over the recomposition of the Democratic Party became complexly entangled with the power struggles within the AFL–CIOExecutive itself. In particular, the Reutherites and their allies in the ex–CIO and public-sector unions seized upon the new social forces of civil rights, antipoverty and peace as potential levers to challenge the ascendency of the ex-AFL craft unions in the merged federation. Reuther’s UAW, key proponent of a new liberal–labour alliance from the late 1950s, was in the forefront of efforts to reorient the AFL–CIO towards the reform forces in the Democratic Party who were pressing for a retreat from Vietnam and a greater sharing-out of power to minority and ‘new-middle-class’ constituencies. Through its generous financial support to SNCC and SDS community projects, the UAW attempted to coax the most serious organizers of the new left into the radius of liberal democracy. At the opposite extreme, of course, were the locals of the old AFL construction crafts. These last-ditch defenders of white job trusts in urban employment remained the foot-soldiers of bossdom and the mindless supporters of whatever regime in Washington was currently bombing Southeast Asia.

Meany’s role in this turbulent period was often more devious than the public image of cigar-chomping truculence suggested. In the chain of events leading to Reuther’s exit in 1969 (partially as a result of deep disagreements over the Federation’s political orientation) and then to the Executive’s boycott of the McGovern campaign in 1972, Meany attempted to play the role of a conservative reformer. On the one hand, he unwaveringly defended the Gompersian labour-patriotism that wedded the AFL–CIO to the militarism of the Scoop Jackson faction of the party hierarchy.[7] The protection of precious union jobs in the military–industrial complex demanded no less. On the other hand, Meany was a cautious renovator who saw as clearly as Reuther, and perhaps more forcefully, that the disintegration of the Democratic ruling bloc might be labour’s historic opportunity to claim a dominating position within the councils of the national party. The old Albany lobbyist grasped from the beginning the significance of the Johnson Administration’s attempt to use the Great Society to regenerate the social base of the Democratic Party, and repeatedly overrode the sectional interests of his own craft union supporters to ensure the AFL–CIO’s influence across the breadth of emerging civil rights and urban legislation. Under the generalship of Meany and COPE director Barkin, the AFL–CIO ’s operatives on the hill claimed a central role in funneling and moderating the demands of Black, welfare and old-age groups through the Johnson Congress.[8] By making the new social movements dependent on the Federation’s financial resources and legislative skills, Meany hoped to amplify the role of the trade-union bureaucracy in national politics. Although Reuther was willing, where Meany was not, directly to patronize the 1960s protest movements, their strategic aims were not dissimilar. Both thought the AFL–CIO’s institutional political role could be powerfully expanded through skilful brokerage between the civil rights movement and national bourgeois politics.

But where Reuther and his successors were capable of conceding that the logic of incorporation of the new social forces required some opening up and reform of the party’s nomination process, Meany remained obdurate in his opposition to the post-1968 Democratic reform movement. Again his response was that of a grizzled old politico. In the first place, he foresaw that Blacks, anti-war liberals and women were all too likely to be natural allies of the ‘progressive’ wing of the AFL–CIO, tilting the balance against his business union base. Secondly, Meany perceived that party reform was decentralizing and fragmenting an already weak and tenuous national party apparatus, dispersing power to increasing numbers of middle-class Democrats who were unbeholden to COPEand insensitive to the union’s traditional economic demands. Finally, Meany was appalled by the prospect that a bureaucratized Black municipal power might succeed to the role of the old white urban machines. His tolerance of middle-class civil rights leadership was always conditional on its deference to the trade-union hierarchy. As civil rights forces entered politics and gained influence within the national Democratic Party, they threatened to undermine the AFL–CIO’s claim to represent and hegemonize all popular constituencies. Under Meany, and continuing under Kirkland, the Federation became the major, implacable opponent of the reform process, fighting against open primaries and delegate quotas, then, after their adoption by the reform commissions of 1968–72, lobbying vigorously to repeal their implementation. Throughout this period, as William Crotty has emphasized in his study of the reform process, the AFL–CIO ’s overriding goal was ‘to mute the effects of the quotas’ that increased Black and female representation within the party.[9]

The rollback of Democratic reform, initiated in 1976 by the AFL–CIO-influenced Winograd Commission, was consummated in 1981 by the work of the Hunt Commission. The Hunt Commission was a temporary alliance between the Federation, the Kennedy and the Mondale camps to shore up simultaneously the roles of Democratic office holders and the union bureaucracy, minimizing the chance that an ‘outside’ candidate, like McGovern or Carter, could again use the primary path to win nomination. Originally Kirkland had wanted a third of convention delegates to be selected ex officio, a move that would have automatically returned the nomination process to the smoke-filled rooms of yore (as in 1968, when Humphrey won two-thirds of delegates with two per cent of the primary vote). Unnerved at the prospect of such a flagrant anti-democratic restoration, the Kennedy representatives secured a compromise: 14 per cent of the convention or 568 ‘super-delegates’ would be ennobled from among Democratic officeholders. Then, after reducing the required number of primaries (returning Michigan, for example, to the party caucus system), the commission restored the ‘winner take all’ rule in congressional district primaries and ‘frontloaded’ the now shortened primary season so that the ‘official’ candidate—presumably Kennedy or Mondale—would be guaranteed early success. Last but not least, the commissioners stripped the mid-term Democratic convention of the policy-making power it had briefly exercised during the 1970s, and substantially relaxed the quota requirements for sexual and racial balance.

Although labour’s leading role in the Hunt Commission has been retrospectively justified by some DSA writers as a ‘social democratization’ of the Democratic Party, increasing the role of ‘responsible’ elected officials representing lower-class groups as against increasing numbers of ‘new class’ interlopers, this is, most charitably, a convoluted rationalization.[10] In rolling back most of the ostensible new democracy within the party (as well as opposing reform of the seniority system in Congress), the AFL–CIO under Meany and Barkin struck directly at the representation of Black and minority Democrats. One aim was to blunt the emergence of a Black Democratic establishment as a power in its own right (the UAW, by contrast, welcomed the rise of Black electoral power). Another was to prepare the way for the nomination of an AFL–CIO-backed presidential candidate. It was Kirkland’s personal gambit to secure the pre-nomination of Mondale as a ‘labour candidate’, calculating that the early and massive concentration of AFL–CIO resources behind the winning nominee would maximize the Federation’s influence over appointments and legislation in the next Democratic administration.

This scheme to counterfeit a surrogate labour party out of the Mondale candidacy depended—apart from the candidate’s own, unlikely complaisance—upon the unity of the trade-union bureaucracy. In the face of relentless pressure from employers’ concessionary demands, and with George Meany conveniently gone, the rebel unions that had been sporadically operating outside COPE since the McGovern schism now rejoined the majority. Although this reunion behind Kirkland’s electoral strategy was celebrated as the triumph of ‘labour unity’, it in fact implied a recantation of the ‘progressive alliance’ with civil rights and feminist leaderships that the UAW under Fraser had explored in the late 1970s. Previously dissident voices on the Executive, like Wimpinsinger of the Machinists, were now more effectively muzzled than would have ever been possible in Meany’s day, while Kirkland licensed a mind-numbing cant that turned election day into ‘Solidarity Day II’, and Mondale into a working-class hero. Although crusty old piecards knew that Kirkland (whom A. H. Raskin apotheosized as ‘a leader of supreme intelligence’)[11] was really an emperor without clothes, a discreet, bureaucratic silence froze the doubts and suspicions about how an unconsulted rank and file might actually vote in the 1984 primaries.

Black Democrats under Siege

An even more profound crisis has reshaped Black politics since 1978. The incorporation of Blacks into the Democratic Party, and the deradicalization of the civil rights movement, have depended on the precarious material infrastructure of expanding federal employment programmes and urban grants-in-aid. The new Black professional–managerial strata of the 1970s have been disproportionately employed in the management of the social services and educational complexes of the inner city, as well as in administering the network of Great Society programmes that provided temporary employment and minimal welfare to the ghetto poor. Similarly, the ability of Black Democratic city halls to pacify the cities and ameliorate their decay on behalf of their corporate landlords has been in direct proportion to the federal funding of urban budgets.

When, in the spring of 1977, the Carter Administration announced a virtual moratorium on further social spending, it marked not only a betrayal of its own Black loyalists, but also a watershed in the historical evolution of the party. Since that date, the majority of the Democratic national leadership has retreated from the politics of full employment and hegemonic reformism that characterized the Kennedy–Johnson revival of the New Deal. Democratic opposition to Reagan’s dismantling of the remaining Great Society programmes has been desultory at best. As Kirkland’s right-wing adviser, Richard Scammon, put it, the Congressional Democrats’ strategy has been to ‘keep their mouths shut. Developing an alternative programme is asking for defeat.’[12]

Underlying this apparent collapse of political will has been the insurgent power of middle-class voters, who, in collusion with corporate lobbyists and an avaricious Pentagon, have created a new, implicit consensus in US politics. Choosing between the vast income-transfer programmes that disproportionately subsidize the middle class (Social Security, federal aid to education, mortgage interest deductions, and so on), the new arms race, and the much smaller sector of means-tested assistance to the poor, the neo-conservatives and the neo-liberals have banded together to slash the last. For its part, as Kim Moody has shown, the AFL–CIO has also retreated, since the emasculation of the Humphrey—Hawkins employment bill in 1978, from any energetic advocacy of full employment measures, emphasizing instead the protection of its own organized sectors.[13]Left without allies or partisans, Black America has been savaged by a new immiseration. Nearly half of all Black children are growing up in poverty, and in the upswing of the Reagan ‘recovery’, the Black unemployment rate, which historically has been double that of whites, is now three times higher (at 16 per cent).[14]

Meanwhile, the Reagan administration has been using its cutbacks in social spending to do far more than simply redistribute income upward. Just as Thatcher has launched a frontal assault on the institutional integrity of the Labour Party (the attack on trade-union political funds, the dis-establishment of Labour-led metropolitan governments, etc.), the Republican Administration has pursued a strategy of disorganizing the Democratic Party. Washington’s blows have fallen with particular fury upon Black reformist leaderships. First, the Department of Justice and the Berger Court, in tandem with the similar rollback in NLRB practice, have grievously undercut the juridical supports of school integration and fair employment, foreclosing the kind of legal reformism that was the core of the ‘moderate’ civil rights activity exemplified by the NAACP ’s Legal Fund. This has occurred with the complicity of most Southern Democrats and the indifference of many Northern Neoliberals. Secondly, in the words of the American Enterprise Institute’s budget expert, Allen Schick, the Administration has attempted to ‘blow up the political infrastructure of the urban Democratic Party’ by killing programmes like Urban Development Action Grants or the Small Business Administration that ‘buy power for people who walk around with a capital D’.[15] Again, the impact has been most devastating on the patronage powers of Black Democratic apparatuses. Thirdly, by permanently shrinking the federal social budget, the Republicans hope to deepen the schism between inner-city and suburban Democrats by increasing the competition for scarce revenue sharing. Without control of federal spending, the national Democratic Party has always tended to become a political centrifuge, splintering along economic interest lines, as for example during the Stevenson years in the 1950s. Today, the cutbacks are aggravating the racial polarization within the party and sharpening the conflicts between Black Democratic mayors and white Democratic governors and legislatures.

With the unending economic depression in the Black inner cities fuelling demands for relief that far exceed the diminishing material resources of the Black political establishment, and with Black influence in the national Democratic Party reduced by the AFL–CIO-sponsored anti-reforms, it was inevitable that some elements of Black reform leadership would contemplate alternative courses of action. One option was a return to a civil rights movement format of protest mobilization—an idea favoured by Black leftists and nationalists, but predictably unpopular with most Black elected officials. Another was the periodically canvassed proposal of forming an independent Black political party, possibly around the seceding nucleus of the Black Congressional Caucus.[16] Finally, there was the notion of somehow kindling a protest movement within the Democratic Party to force it to reaffirm its commitment to a Second Reconstruction.

In the event, the strategy that emerged through the Jackson campaign was to invoke the threat of the second option as a means to realize the third; that is to say, Jackson built upon an ethos of Black self-organization while limiting its aims to a renegotiation of the ‘contract’ between Black Democrats and their national party. The ambivalence and tensions of this strategy were reflected in the elusive slogan of ‘empowerment’, which meant voter registration while simultaneously connotating more transcendent and militant images of self-activity. The dual impetus and model for this rebellion against the party from within the party was, of course, provided by the 1983 Washington campaign in Chicago. The failure of both Kennedy and Mondale to support this long-overdue uprising on the Daley Plantation radicalized the frustration of key sectors of the Black political family with the official liberal leadership of the Democratic Party. At the same time, the spectacular success of Harold Washington’s electoral united front in mobilizing 150,000 new Black and Hispanic voters awakened a new sense of Black political potential. The narrowly defeated candidacy of Black socialist Mel King in Boston a few months later was an added inspiration, showing in this case the practicality of a ‘Rainbow Coalition’ of minority communities, white progressives, and elements of the trade-union movement.

The precipitous launching of the Jackson candidacy provoked an important symptomatic split within the Black political establishment. His earliest and most important institutional support came from the Black churches—indeed his campaign carried overtones of a rebellion of the old ministerial leadership of the civil rights movement against the newer hierarchy of Black politicians.[17]Moreover, his initial political sponsors, including Congresspersons Dellums and Conyers (the two-man left wing of the Black Congressional Caucus), Mayor Hatcher of Gary, California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, and pioneer Black presidential candidate and feminist Shirley Chisholm, were most closely tied to Black working-class social bases. Their constituencies were devastated by Reaganomics, and their electoral credibility was most dependent on a willingness to strike a militant pose. Mondale’s Black loyalists, on the other hand, tended to include figure-head crisis managers with substantial white and business support, like Bradley (Los Angeles), Goode (Philadelphia) or Arrington (Birmingham), as well as representatives of the Black bourgeoisie like the National Black Leadership Roundtable and Andrew Young (Atlanta having the most politically significant Black middle class in the country). Given the widely recognized and growing socio-economic wedge between the Black poor and the new Black middle classes, the original polarization over the Jackson candidacy could not help but have certain class overtones as well.[18] Where the loyalist camp followed the line of defeating Reagan at any price, the insurgent current represented by the Jackson campaign responded that a Democratic victory might be meaningless unless the party returned to supporting full employment and the welfare state.


The Democratic primary battles turned out to be the most surprising events of the election year. After all the careful finagling of the nomination process by Kirkland and the Hunt Commission, the unbeatable Mondale machine collapsed in the first heat, as a majority of AFL–CIO members in New Hampshire bolted to Hart. Then the focus of issues in the primary competition, assumed to run along the centre–right divide between Mondale and Glenn, abruptly shifted with Jackson’s entrance and Glenn’s disappearance in the oblivion of the Iowa caucuses. Although meaningless image manipulations frequently obscured the real substance and basis for division, the bitter three-person battle among Mondale, Hart and Jackson inevitably revealed the deep ideological divisions within the Democratic Party. The programmatic differences between the candidates were, in turn, indices of underlying social realignments taking place in the Balkanized constituencies of the national party. Table One summarizes the most salient divergences in the politics of the three camps. 

The general economic strategies endorsed by the candidates, despite predictable vagueness and elision, were particularly revealing. Mondale, for instance, initially supported an eclectic industrial policy coupled with selective protectionism. The primary phase of his campaign was heavily influenced by the Industrial Policy Study Group set up in 1983 by the triumvirate of Kirkland, Felix Rohatyn (ex-financial overlord of New York City), and Irving Shapiro (former CEO of Dupont, the second largest non-union employer in the United States). The Study Group was essentially a continuation of the Carter Administration’s ill-fated efforts to sponsor a feeble American version of corporatism, and its membership, unsurprisingly, overlapped with the Labour-Management Conference as well as the Carter Cabinet including Lee Iacocca (Chrysler), ex-Secretary of Treasury Blumenthal (Burroughs), ex-Secretary of State Vance (IBM), and Robert McNamara. Shorn of its more grandiose pretensions, the Study Group plan was an attempt by leading Democratic capitalists and their trade-union counterparts to find common ground for a federal rescue of the declining industrial base of the Northeast. Modelling themselves on the precedents of Rohaytn’s austerity regime in New York from 1975 (the Municipal Assistance Corporation or ‘Big MAC ’) and the Chrysler bail-out of 1979, the Study Group proposed a reindustrialization strategy based on tripartite consensus, a federal investment bank, incomes policies, and industry-specific protectionism.

In attempting to nail the Study Group’s recommendations to the masthead of the Mondale campaign, Kirkland was implicitly committing the AFL–CIO to two extraordinary precedents. First, he was virtually promising to institutionalize concessionary bargaining when he accepted that the unions would trade off wage freezes or ceilings in return for federal loans to industry, in spite of the absence of any proposed reciprocal pledges by employers to ensure the maintenance of employment levels. Secondly, the Kirkland–Rohatyn–Shapiro plan was specifically targeted to preserve the unionized industrial base with scant concern for the plight of workers in low-wage industries, the public sector and the rapidly growing Sunbelt regions, or, least of all, for the inner-city unemployed. In fact, the Study Group proposals assumed continued fiscal austerity and cost containment in the public sector: in fiscal 1989, Mondale projected only a $30 billion increase over 1984 levels of funding for social programmes, with most of the increase to be offset by savings elsewhere in the domestic budget.[19] In this sense as well, Kirkland was ready to codify the AFL–CIO ’s retreat from serious full-employment politics.

Hart’s economic proposals shared in this benign neglect of the unemployed and the working poor. The Senator from Colorado had been one of the principal gravediggers of the Great Society during the Carter congresses, rising in 1978 to propose sweeping reductions in social spending, tax cuts, an expanded arms budget, tax-based incomes policy, and the deregulation of natural gas. Like Mondale’s corporate-labour supporters, Hart also advocated an ‘industrial policy’, but his version had opposite regional and sectoral orientations: utilizing market-based mechanisms, like fiscal and manpower training incentives, to favour sunrise industries and the Sunbelt. (Where Mondale had sponsored the Chrysler bailout, Hart had sponsored legislation to rescue Johns Manville, a Denver corporation, from the costs of its asbestos litigation.) Vowing that he ‘would not guarantee people something unless they are really down and out’,[20] Hart fetishized capital formation over welfare in almost identical formulae to Kemp and the supply-side Republicans. His core vision seemed to be the belief that if state spending were rigorously restructured to subsidize the occupational and entrepreneurial mobility of the professional and scientific middle classes, the ensuing boom would take care of the rest of society.

In contrast to Mondale’s warmed-over corporatism or Hart’s yuppie conservatism, Jackson’s domestic programme was arguably the first social-democratic alternative seriously offered to the American electorate in a presidential campaign (Debs’s campaigns of 1912 and 1920 had been waged around a revolutionary programme). Whereas Mondale and Hart insisted that significant social spending had to be sacrificed to an expanding arms buildup (Mondale would have preserved most of Reagan’s baroque arsenal with his projected $418 billion arms budget in 1989), Jackson straighforwardly proposed to shift massive resources from defence to human services, emphasizing the central role of public employment growth in the economy. He promised the restoration and expansion of Great Society levels of welfare expenditure together with aggressive enforcement of voting rights and affirmative action in employment. Moreover, he was the only candidate who actually fought for the full agenda of traditional labour movement demands (as distinct from Kirkland’s Study Group concessions). It was Jackson, not Mondale, who insistently denounced plant closures, supported labour law reform, attacked the open shop and stood up for the organizational rights of undocumented workers.

Foreign Policy

In foreign policy, the divergence among the three campaigns was equally profound. The positions of Mondale and Hart descended in large part from the foreign-policy split within the Carter administrations. Hart’s views were closest to, if never completely identical with, the ‘neorealist’ policies advocated within the Carter ranks by Cyrus Vance, George Ball and Andrew Young. The gist of neo-realism was the belief that it was in the best interest of the United States to ‘de-link’ the socioeconomic crisis in the South from the Cold War, and that revolutionary challenges in the Third World could be managed by US diplomatic and economic power alone. The ‘liberal interventionists’, on the other hand, whose views suffused Mondale’s campaign statements, clung to the Truman Doctrine paradigm that had guided the Democratic Party for forty years: military counter-insurgency combined with cosmetic reform. Within the Carter Administration, Brzezinski and Brown, from their respective power-bases in the National Security Council and the Pentagon, had crusaded against the Vance–Young ‘human rights’ approach, and, after the fall of the Shah, forced the neo-realists out of office. Mondale, of course, had presided over this purge, just as he had played a crucial role in determining the rightward shift in the administration’s domestic policy.

During the 1984 primary campaign, these splits in the Democratic foreign-policy establishment reverberated in the respective attitudes of Mondale and Hart towards Reagan’s creeping military intervention in Central America. Mondale, sharing the New Right’s preoccupation with the Cuban threat, dissented only from Kirkpatrick’s and Helms’s abrazo of such fascists as D’Aubuisson and the Somoza palace guard. He did, however, hail the quiet US invasion of Honduras and give discreet but influential support to the bipartisanization of aid to El Salvador. (Duarte was given a hero’s welcome by the Democratic Congressional leadership in May, and effective opposition to Reagan’s intervention in El Salvador collapsed). Hart, in contrast, categorically rejected the US military presence in Central America, urged negotiations with the Sandinistas and closer coordination with Mexico and Venezuela. His stance seemed principled and courageous, a continuation of his original dedication to the antiwar purpose of the McGovern campaign. Unfortunately, Hart’s neo-realism became indistinguishable from Mondale’s interventionism in other sectors of the Cold War. In their embarrassing efforts to outbid each other for the support of Begin’s American admirers in the New York primary, they embraced positions on the Middle East more bellicose and extravangantly pro-Israeli than those of Reagan.

Meanwhile, the Jackson campaign first befuddled, then enraged its erstwhile liberal critics (who, like the New Republic, had a priori dismissed it as a demagogic exercise in Black sectionalism) by unveiling a coherent, alternative foreign policy—more comparable to a Nonaligned Movement manifesto than to any hitherto imagined Democratic platform. This foreign policy, with its central emphases on ‘support for liberation struggles’, US non-intervention, and nuclear disarmament, was elaborated through an extensive dialogue that involved the Hispanic community, the peace movement, the Catholic left, and the oppositional foreign policy establishment (notably the Institute for Policy Studies), as well as Black pan-Africanists and nationalists. Jackson personally underwrote the priority of these planks in his campaign by audacious meetings with Ortega and Castro, as well as by his visible participation in left-led demonstrations against the invasion of Grenada and intervention in Central America. These initiatives far exceeded the functional requirements of the primary campaign as a simple Black protest against Democratic neglect. As Maulana Karenga has pointed out, Jackson’s defiance of the rules of the Cold War courted repudiation by the ‘new Black patriotism’ that had been ostentatiously endorsed by various Black sports and entertainment celebrities. Instead he won an overwhelming voter support, seconded by significant sections of the Hispanic electorate, that can only be interpreted as a popular mandate for the Rainbow Coalition’s strategic linkage of full employment, disarmament and anti-imperialism.[21] Given the generally dismal historical record of international social democracy on imperialism (from the capitulation of the Reichstagdeputies, to Prussian militarism in 1914, to the supine support of the British Labour government for US genocide in Southeast Asia), the combination of Jackson’s economic and social aims with his foreign-policy positions was extraordinary indeed.

In sum, there was a political chasm between the radical positions of the Jackson campaign and the varieties of ‘Reaganism with a human face’ offered by Mondale and Hart. Whereas the crisis of the trade-union leadership had propelled it rightward, away from its traditional commitment to full employment and into the dead-end embrace of concessionary corporatism, the crisis of the Black reformist leadership produced the leftward, populist schism of the Jackson campaign. In an electoral marketplace overstocked with conservatives, it offered the only reformist agenda that encompassed the actual immediate needs of every section of the US working class. Faced with this fortuitous emergence of a ready-made social-democratic programme and mass constituency during the 1984 elections counterposed against the Cold War liberalism of the Democratic establishment candidates, what was the response of the electoralist left? The US affiliate of the Socialist International spurned its own destiny. Instead of recognizing the Rainbow as the harbinger of progressive realignment, DSA clung to Mondale and the labour bureaucracy—except in California where the local DSA initially supported the Senator from B-1, Alan Cranston. Despite some rank-and-file and local chapter sympathy for Jackson, the DSA leadership deflected any serious consideration of his campaign. Reading Harrington, Howe and Denitch, one would have scarcely known that the Rainbow Coalition even existed.[22] But where they merely ignored Jackson, a swarm of other white social democrats and liberal pundits were rushing to calumniate him. One of the most hysterical attacks was Paul Berman’s article in the Nation, in which Jackson was compared to George Wallace and accused of running a ‘rightwing populist’ campaign that was ‘anti-labour’ and ‘a threat to progressive politics’.[23] Later, Jack O’Dell, a key Rainbow staffer and former Martin Luther King aide, incisively criticized the under-lying attitudes of the Jackson-baiters: their implicit self-identification of the Left as ‘white’; their minimalization of the Black social base; and their refusal to accept that the progressive movement’s ‘majority leadership, not exclusive leadership, will be coming from the Afro–American community’.[24]

Mondale’s Corporate Strategy

Having grandfathered Mondale’s nomination through the obstacles of political principle, Kirkland and his COPE chieftains were forced to watch haplessly as their ‘labour strategy’ was sex-changed into a ‘corporate strategy’ after the Democratic Convention. The last months of the labour-backed Mondale campaign were spent in a quixotic crusade to win big business to the Democrats. Mondale’s appeal to the corporations and financial markets was based on twin proposals to raise taxes by $70 billion and to place the new revenue in a special ‘deficit reduction fund’ to ensure that it would not be used for anything other than balancing the budget. In deference to Wall Street’s general qualms about industrial policy, he refused to endorse the LaFalce Bill (HR 4360), the crucial industrial policy legislation sponsored by House Democrats to establish a latter-day RFC or ‘bank for industrial competition’. Since his proposed budget provided for only marginally slower growth in military spending (approximately five per cent per annum) than Reagan’s, he planned to restore only about half of the 1981 cuts in social spending, emphasizing those programmes most beneficial to the white middle class. Lest there remain any doubt about which party stood for anti-Keynesian fiscal restraint, Stuart Eizenstat, Mondale adviser and architect of the Carter budget retrenchment, urged businessmen to ‘look at the platform Mondale insisted upon: There are no specific spending commitments for the first time; its central focus is on deficit reduction rather than stimulus of the economy.’[25] Other Mondale advisers broadly hinted to the business press that a Democratic Administration would be ready to undertake even more drastic pruning as it became necessary. Ex-Secretary of Treasury Blumenthal told Business Weekhe was convinced that Mondale would trim entitlement programmes and get social security under control.[26] A plan to impose a general spending freeze, championed by Bert Lance and Felix Rohatyn, only failed to become a major Mondale plank because of the fear of alienating Jackson and the Black vote.[27]

By pandering to the Business Roundtable in the illusory hope that business might rally behind his campaign, Mondale repeated Carter’s gigantic blunder of 1980: clothing the Democrats in the mantle of Hooverian fiscal conservatism while the GOP, invoking Roosevelt and Kennedy, crusaded as the party of economic growth. This relentless domestic right turn—largely unopposed by trade unionists and social democrats trapped in the logic of their ‘lesser evilism’—was further complemented by a parallel attempt to outflank Reagan as the champion of Cold War toughness. ‘Firmness’ and ‘resolution’ became the key Mondale virtues, as his managers, advised by a coterie of ex-Kissinger and Brzezinski aides (Robert Hunter, Barry Carter, Madeleine Albright, etc.) tried to project a new set of campaign themes: a ‘quarantine’ of Nicaragua, retaliation against terrorism, increased military support for Israel, funding for ‘Midgetman’ and Stealth bombers, and so on. In September two leading hawks, James Schlesinger, Ford’s Secretary of Defense, and Max Kampelman, sometime Reagan envoy, were brought into the campaign with remarkable ostentation in an apparent attempt to counter the roles of the ex-(Scoop) Jackson Democrats, like Kirkpatrick, on the Republican side.[28] Just as industrial policy had been summarily killed off as a campaign theme, so too were the nuclear freeze and Central America clouded over with ambiguous rhetoric and pushed into the background of foreign policy debate. As a result, peace and Central America activists were increasingly disorganized and muted where they had chosen to make support of Mondale their focus.

While the Democratic campaign was being reshaped for the benefit of the bankers and the hawks, Blacks, whether Mondale loyalists or Jackson supporters, were being frozen out of the campaign leadership and the media spotlight. The treatment was so contemptuous that even Andy Young exploded at the ‘smartassed white boys’ on the Mondale staff who treated all Black Democrats as campaign liabilities. Again, it was only the conciliatory intervention of Jesse Jackson that headed off a rupture. A meeting of Jackson supporters in Chicago, debating the potential for Rainbow candidates at the congressional and local levels, had urged Jackson to run as an independent in the South Carolina senatorial race. Precisely because such an initiative might have had incalculable consequences—creating a third party precedent as well as radically challenging the political submission of the Black Southern electorate to lesser-evil conservative white Democrats—it was successfully squelched by Jackson’s moderate advisers and the Democratic National Committee. This effectively marked the end of the nascent Rainbow Coalition’s independent role in the 1984 elections.

As the last liberal vestiges of the Mondale platform disappeared in white smoke, his left supporters sought refuge in a wonderland of ever more fantastic scenarios. While noting the rightward deflection of their candidate, DSA argued that this was all the more reason to ‘transform the election from an ordinary campaign into a bold progressive crusade’—as if grassroots mobilization could somehow compensate for right-wing policies. Mondale was officially invested with ‘exceptional left-liberal credentials’ and crowned as the next ‘people’s president’.[29] An extraordinary tableau was unveiled to show how the ‘party within the party’ might be activated to defeat Reagan and reshape the Democratic Party leftward. Hopefully christened after Truman’s famous come-from-behind effort of 1948 (despite the fact that Mondale’s economics were now to the right of Dewey’s), this fantasy of the ‘people’s campaign’ presumed the dramatic activation of a ‘silent majority’ of anti-Reagan voters. A Mondale victory—it was imagined—would be secured by the coincidence of five strategic factors: 1) the AFL–CIO ’s capacity to deliver at least 65 per cent of the vote of union households (compared with 48 per cent in 1980); 2) a continuation of Black voter registration at the unprecedented levels of 1983 and early 1984, with an equally high Black turnout to assure Democratic victory in at least some of the seven Southern states that Carter lost by less than 3 per cent of the vote; 3) a widening gender gap—at least 15 per cent—and increased female voter turnout; 4) the inability of the Republicans to exploit comparable reserves of conservative ‘hidden voters’; 5) a dramatic leap in voter participation, reversing the twenty-year decline and assuring an overall turnout of at least 100 million out of a voting-age population of 174 million.


Every one of these hopes was drowned in the Reagan tide of November 8. Although the Black vote contributed a historic share of the total Democratic presidential vote—over half in the South and nearly a quarter nationally (compared with 7 per cent in 1960)—it shrunk by one point as a percentage of the total popular vote (from 9 per cent to 8 per cent) as did the women’s vote (from 50 per cent to 49 per cent).[30] At the same time, the ‘labour strategy’ central to Mondale’s campaign debouched in an uneven union effort, ranging from enthusiastic to dispirited depending on union, region and degree of previous rank-and-file electoral organization. The unions delivered only a slim majority of union households to Mondale (53 per cent), instead of the 65 per cent that had been vouchsafed to the Democratic National Committee, and the NBC exit polls in Michigan actually showed UAW households sliding to Reagan, 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Although the AFL–CIO would later claim posthumous victory by referring to the percentage of union members, rather than households, voting for Mondale (60–65 per cent, exclusive of the pro-Reagan Teamsters and the unaffiliated NEA), the Federation’s own polls indicated a decisive Reagan majority among their younger white male members.[31] The really catastrophic statistic, however, was the Gallup Poll’s discovery one month after the elections that a plurality of skilled workers indicated allegiance to the Republicans for the first time since the 1920s. 

It is difficult to resist comparing this tendential Reaganization of the white craft working class in the United States with the similarly massive defection of skilled English workers from the British Labour Party over the past four years. It would seem that in political terms, if not also in socio-economic status, the working class in both countries is becoming increasingly disunited in a way that repeals the solidaristic achievements of earlier decades of labour struggle and drastically reduces the claims of either the Democratic Party or the Labour Party to represent most of the industrial proletariat—never mind the growing numbers of effectively disenfranchised low-wage service workers.

In the larger working-class electorate, non-union and unorganized as well as union, the AFL–CIO labour strategy was clearly and unambiguously defeated. From the beginning of the campaign, Mondale’s pollsters and strategists had been aware that the crucial battle of the election would be the competition for the hearts and minds of the third income quintile: the fifth of the population midway up the income ladder with average annual earnings of $19,000. This quintile includes both organized semi-skilled and many skilled workers; it was the least affected, positively or negatively, by the 1981 tax redistribution, but is highly sensitive to changes in the employment level or to threats of tax increases. In December 1983, Mondale seemed to enjoy a comfortable margin among this fifth of the population, as various polls showed him with a majority of votes from families earning $20,000 or less per annum (Hart also won this group from Reagan). Less than a year later, following the Democrats’ move to fiscal conservatism and the acceleration of the Reagan recovery, the Mondale threshold dropped below $10,000 (compared with $15,000 for Carter in 1980). Reagan’s support in the crucial $12,500 to $24,999 income range rose 13 per cent and in November he won a clear majority of the overall blue-collar vote (even increasing his union vote by 2 per cent over 1980).[33]

There still might have remained some comfort for the Democrats if the gender gap had widened or held to its 1980 level. Instead, it unexpectedly narrowed, as 10 per cent more women voted for Reagan and the global male/female differential (vis-`-vis the Democratic vote) declined by half. In the South, the only region in the country to give Carter a majority of the female vote in 1980, the gender gap simply disappeared, as women shifted sides by a massive 16 per cent.[34] Similarly, in key Western and Northern industrial states where the Democrats had hoped for a powerful confirmation of 1980 trends, they were stunned to see their advantage amongst women voters tumbling, with only New York remaining an exception.[35]

This national reversal of political gender differentiation is undoubtedly linked, particularly in the South, but also elsewhere, with the increasing racial polarization among women voters. Indeed, a racial disaggregation of the female vote reveals one of the most glaring gaps in the electorate: the 65 per cent of white women (compared with 68 per cent of white men) who voted for Reagan versus a bare 6 per cent of black women.[36] Without slighting the long-term political implications of the continuing incorporation of white women into the economy as low-wage workers, it would appear incontestable that much of what remained of the gender gap in 1984 (approximately 7 per cent differential) was an epiphenomenon of the remarkably Democratic vote of black and minority women. This is a fact that must be related to the refusal of the National Organization of Women (presigned by the AFL–CIO for Mondale) and most feminist groups to give a serious hearing to the Rainbow Coalition.[37]

As with workers and women, the sun again failed to rise for the Democrats with new voters. The broadly shared expectation on the left that opposition to Reaganism was drawing millions of new Democratic voters into polling booths was cruelly disappointed. In the first place Democratic registration drives became ensnared in a tangle of rivalries between candidates and constituencies. During the primaries, for example, when Black voter interest was most intense, the national Democratic apparatus refused to finance registration efforts for fear that they would enhance the Jackson vote. Later in the campaign, Black voter groups retaliated, refusing to share names with some white-led registration campaigns.[38] Meanwhile, the trade-union voter drives which had been expected to be the backbone of the surge of new voters frequently failed to meet minimal quotas. One major campaign in Los Angeles, crucial to Democratic chances in California, registered barely 10,000 new voters despite large expenditures over many months. After its New Hampshire debacle, the AFL–CIO had made a last-minute attempt to launch ‘one-on-one’ canvassing and registration on the shopfloor. Successful in a few progressive unions, this theoretically plausible approach more typically ran afoul, as Harold Myerson has chronicled, of the atrophied, depoliticized state of shop-steward organization across the country.[39]

In unhappy contrast, the National Republican Committee, which since 1974 has functioned as kind of super-consulting firm, coordinated a streamlined registration driver that drew awe-inspired accolades from jealous Democratic operatives. With a $30 million budget, as well as the corroborative efforts of the Moral Majority’s separate registration crusade among born-again Christians, the Republicans were able to match the Democratic registrars voter by voter, and better.[40] Where the ‘Human Serve’ campaign—inspired by radical social scientists Piven’s and Cloward’s idea of ‘movement-building’ through aggressive assertion of voter rights—sought to use social service employees as registrars of the poor, the Republicans countered by deputizing members of the Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce.[41] Where the AFL–CIO attempted to mobilize union households and public employees, the Republicans, with their unassailable mastery of direct mail techniques, successfully targeted millions of employees of non-union businesses and military personnel. Using high-tech survey methods pioneered by GOP poll-master Richard Wirthlin and his cadre of Mormon computer hackers, the Republicans were able to identify and register pro-Reagan voters, avoiding duplication or the registration of Democrats. It was in the South, where Reagan’s 1980 margins had been thinnest, that this logistical disparity between the two campaigns became truly decisive. The almost nonchalant attitude of the DNC toward Black voter registration was parried by the Republicans’ vigorous enlistment of fundamentalists, military families and anti-Castro Cubans, who helped tilt the South one-sidedly to Reagan by unexpected margins of 18 per cent and more.[42]

Just as the 1964 Goldwater debacle had dashed belief in a ‘hidden conservative majority’, so 1984 destroyed the analogous left-wing hope of reshaping the electoral balance of power with millions of progressive new voters. In the event, Reagan’s margin among first-time voters was identical to his majority amongst previous voters. Although the ‘people’s campaign’ may have registered as many as two million new Democrats, the combined total of the Republican National Committee and the Moral Majority was probably twice as great.[43] Even more importantly, the Republicans were able to motivate their new voters to turn out on election day. Although the Jackson primary campaign had inspired Southern Black voters to register in historic numbers, almost closing the gap with Southern whites (71 per cent versus 77 per cent), 62 per cent of the whites actually voted (overwhelmingly for Reagan) as against only 41 per cent of eligible Blacks (7 per cent less than in 1980)—a vivid indication of their disenchantment with Mondale.[44] Nationally, the overall turnout was only 0.7 per cent higher than the postwar low point of 1980; although 12 million new voters had been registered since 1980, only 4 million bothered to vote. The final total of 92 million voters fell disastrously short of the 100 million minimum targeted by the Democrats and their allies, and most of the increase over 1980 seems to have consisted of new Republican voters.[45] Despite the ‘labour candidacy’ and four years of Reaganomics, almost as many workers occupied barstools intead of polling booths in 1984 as in 1980.

Finally, rampant crossover voting ensured that the relationship between the Reagan landslide and the national congressional vote was the most disarticulated in history. Despite a near tie in the aggregate congressional popular vote, the House remained Democratic by a three to two margin thanks to an all-powerful incumbency effect (95 per cent of incumbents were reelected) and the partisan reapportionment of congressional districts carried out by majority Democratic statehouses since 1980. Although House minority leader Michels complained about the selfish fit of Reagan’s coattails, he might more fairly have blamed the business PACs which, by and large, refused to subsidize Republican congressional challengers. The election was a pyrrhic victory for Mondale’s corporate strategy insofar as Tony Coelho and his Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had attracted business contributions to Democratic incumbents.[46] To an increasing extent, opposite trends are operating within what James MacGregor Burns once characterized as the American ‘four party system’ of autonomous Democratic and Republican congressional and presidential coalitions.[47] In the case of the Democrats, while the presidential coalition has become more dependent upon the contribution of Blacks, minorities and labour, the congressional wing, as Thomas Edsall has emphasized, is increasingly reliant upon business PACs and middle-class interest groups.[48]

Revenge of the Neo-Liberals

Well before Mondale’s November doomsday, his impending defeat was being celebrated by leading neo-liberals. At the end of July, Senator Tsongas of Massachusetts, a pioneer neo-liberal and Hart confidant, was already boasting that ‘the next crop of candidates will all come out of our wing of the party. For that reason, several of us would be just as comfortable if Mondale loses as if he wins.’[49] An even more brazen advocate of sending Mondale and old-style liberals to hell in a handbasket was Mayor Koch of New York. He had been barnstorming since the fall of 1983 to turn the Democratic Party away from the ‘left-wing special interests’ (read ‘Blacks’) and toward the middle class: ‘The Party’s left wing doesn’t give a rap about the middle class. Koch’s alternative was a clone of Kemp’s and Gingrich’s prescription to the Republicans: flat-rate tax reform, victim’s rights, the curbing of entitlements, urban enterprise zones, and so on.)[50]

On the morning after the election, Tsongas’s and Koch’s views were echoed by a vast chorus of depressed Democratic office-holders. At a meeting of the AFL–CIO-backed Coalition for a Democratic Majority, LBJ’s son-in-law, Governor Charles Robb of Virginia, minced no words about the need to return the party to the middle class, against the ‘special interests’. He articulated the consensus of Western and Southern Democratic leaders that the Democrats must be the ‘party of business leaders, doctors, pharmacists, stockbrokers, and professionals’. Robb was immediately seconded by the strikebreaking Democratic Governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt, who had shown his independence of special interests by twice sending in the National Guard to terrorize locked-out copper miners.[51] As a programmatic contribution towards such a middle-class reorientation, the New Republic urged the Democrats immediately to dump the nuclear freeze, election campaign reform, comparable worth, affIrmative action, and bilingual education.[52]

Meanwhile, Black Democrats, far from reaping new influence because of their stalwart loyalty to the party ticket, were scapegoated by virtually the entire white Democratic establishment for losing the election. Former Johnson aide Harry McPherson, testifying before the Center for National Policy, warned that ‘Protestant male Democrats are becoming an endangered species . . . (since) Blacks now own the Democratic Party.’[53] Robert Strauss, the former DNC chairman, talked darkly to Timemagazine about the ‘hunger’ of ‘women, Blacks, teachers, Hispanics’ and Jesse Jackson’s grip on the party.[54] He was upstaged, however, by Morton Kondracke’s shrill warning that ‘Jackson could . . . use this Black base, the largest single bloc in the party, to push his agenda of drastic cuts in defense spending, large new social expenditures and identification with third world liberation causes . . . This is a script for making the Democrats into an American version of the British Labour Party, with Mr Jackson playing the role of Tony Benn.’[55] Kondracke’s New Republic, the site of a particularly virulent strain of Democratic neo-liberalism, underlined the threat to Western Civilization posed by the Black electorate with a raving editorial in near Goebbelssprache.Submerged in ‘pathologies of crime, violence, arson and drugs’, Blacks ‘were more stunted politically than at any other point in a generation’. This collective criminal class—‘exceptional’ in its political immaturity and irresponsibility—would no longer be indulged by white liberals or other Democratic constituencies. ‘In another time and under another ethos, perhaps we would all feel morally burdened by these humiliating pathologies of so many of our fellow citizens; but we would have to live a more spacious conception of citizenship than the one we now live by.’[56]

The chic racism that had invested liberal critiques of the Jackson campaign in the spring came flooding down the spillways after November in even more strident forms. Nor was the putatively left press immune to such fulminations. In January, In These Times published a retrospect of the Rainbow Coalition’s role in the election by James Sleeper that sounded, even if more gently and paternalistically, many of the same themes of the New Republic. Jackson’s rallies ‘were group exercises in therapeutic self-assertion, bonfires that failed to illuminate the larger political landscape because they generated few constructive programmes for American society as a whole . . . Jackson’s up-front appeals for racial solidarity in the election arena violate(d) traditional American political culture . . .’[57] Dissent, for its part, brought an ex-Black revolutionary turned born-again Jew, Julius Lester, to denounce Jackson as a racist and anti-Semite, of ‘questionable morality’, who had tried to pretend that he was a Black ‘Wizard of Oz’. Lester blamed the Rainbow for attempting to build a futile coalition of ‘rejected groups’ instead of looking towards the broad middle classes, the true source of ‘empowerment’.[58] Meanwhile, for Social Democrats USA, Bayard Rustin was on hand at Norman Podhoretz’s birthday to denounce Black extremism and to praise the great man for ‘refusing to pander to minority groups’ in his fight against quotas and Black studies.[59]

Black Democrats and Jackson supporters were stunned by the vitriolic intensity of these attacks on themselves as an anarchic special interest. Jackson lashed back at what he described as a ‘cultural conspiracy against Blacks’, and criticized the Democratic leadership for its failure to provide ‘a rational analysis of why it lost.’[60] He also specifically condemned the AFL–CIO Executive for its role in scapegoating his campaign. Yet at the same time, the New York Times reported that he ‘was chastened by the reaction of party regulars’ and once again made conciliatory moves towards the DNC. A friend was quoted as saying, ‘Jesse doesn’t want to leave the party. He’s afraid the party’s leaving him.’[61]

Jackson’s apprehension is probably correct. Mondale’s incontestable defeat has dramatically accelerated the succession process through which younger neo-liberals, with scant loyalty to labour or minorities, are replacing the leadership of older New Dealers and Southern conservatives at all levels of the Democratic Party. During 1984, two new power poles emerged to contest the party’s future. First, Kennedy liberals and Mondale regulars lost the leadership of the House Democratic Caucus to an aggressive group of young neo-liberals, sportingly known as the ‘Wednesday night bridge club’, led by Richard Gephardt, who succeeded Gillis Long as Caucus chair, and Tony Coelho, the corporate fundraiser extraordinaire of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.[62]Frontrunner to become the next Democratic whip, Coelho has tended to supply the tactical skills, while Gephardt has provided the ideological direction. Indeed, this latter congressman from the white, segregated and heavily Catholic suburban fringe of St. Louis, who earned his seniority opposing programmes for the poor, school busing, and women’s rights, has become something like the Doctor Faustus of congressional neo-liberals. In 1982, he drafted the Democratic Caucus’s economic blueprint that shoved aside traditional Democratic welfare priorities to argue for a high-tech industrial policy along lines that anticipated Hart’s platform in 1984. Since then he has been a passionate lobbyist for a Democratic realignment away from Blacks and labour, and towards the upwardly mobile middle classes.[63] He and Coelho have several times succeeded in defeating older New Dealers and Kennedy liberals, notably in their sabotage of a proposed American Defense Education Act that would have forced Reagan to provide $9 billion in aid to local schools. Long before November, his ‘bridge club’ was discussing how to turn a Mondale defeat to its advantage and impose ‘a major overhaul of both the party’s ideological image and the way its leaders communicate with the public’.[64] This ‘new Democratic agenda’ has been spear-headed by the ‘tax simplification’ bill which Gephardt has co-sponsored with neo-liberal Senator Bill Bradley, in an obvious attempt to head the Reaganites off at the pass with a tax reform that offers even more to high-tech industries and to the professional middle classes.

Confronted with the onslaught of the Gephardt–Coelho current and their Senate allies, Kennedy liberals have given ground or changed their stripes altogether. In the House, lame-duck Tip O’Neill has agreed to devolve power to the thirty to forty younger Democratic subcommittee chairs and caucus leaders. At the same time, O’Neill has virtually conceded that effective Democratic congressional opposition to Reaganomics is now impossible, given the overlapping of ideological perspectives between the neo-liberals and the administration. In what the Washington Postcharacterized as an ‘extraordinarily conciliatory statement’ about not blocking Reagan’s budget proposals’,[65] O’Neill sounded many of the neo-lib themes himself, saying he was ‘willing to slash billions from revenue sharing and grants to local governments for community development and urban projects. He has told fellow Democrats they must shed the image of being “knee-jerk defenders of spending and weak on defence”.’[66] No one has shed faster, however, than the ‘West Side’ machine of Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman in Los Angeles. This predominantly Jewish political network, which is the coming power in the California Democratic Party, has made a hard turn to neo-liberalism in the wake of the Mondale defeat, jettisoning its historic alliance with Los Angeles’s Black Mayor, Tom Bradley, whose political aspirations and social base are now seen as a hindrance.[67]

A second centre of neo-liberal succession has emerged among Democratic officeholders in the Sunbelt, particularly the Democratic governors. It is one of the ironies of recent American history that the middle-class tax ‘revolt’ of the late 1970’s has been responsible for a great reinvigoration of the power of governors, as fiscally crippled cities have been forced to throw themselves on the mercy of statehouses and legislatures. In the Democratic Party, this has taken the specific form of strengthening the intra-party influence of governors against big city mayors. Since early 1983, when they scrapped the Democratic Governors Conference—a subordinate arm of the DNC—to form the independent Democratic Governors Association, Southern and Western Democratic governors have been in the forefront of demands for a ‘return’ to the white middle class. Business Week was probably prophetic when it observed that the fundamental political direction of the governors is ‘moving further right from neo-liberalism’.[68] Although Robb and hawkish Georgia Senator Sam Nunn are prominent spokesmen, the real ideologue of the Sunbelt governors, and functional counterpart to Gephardt in Congress, may be Babbitt. An exponent of ‘radical centrism’ (as well as scab-herding), he has connived to combine Gary Hart themes with consistent support for major Reagan programmes like tax simplification (‘a superb proposal’), merit pay, and anti-urban federalism. At San Francisco he was the leading proponent of Iacocca for vice-president.[69]

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Babbitt and Robb led their confederates from the Sunbelt in a blocking action against any diminution of the power of white-dominated state party machines in the South or any increase in the influence of Black Democrats. In San Francisco, the Jackson delegation had demanded the reform of the nomination process towards a proportional representation system that would prevent the kind of disfranchisement which occurred in 1984. Similarly, Hart wanted a reduction of the power of elected officials in the selection process. Mondale had purchased Jackson’s pledge not to bolt the convention and Hart’s support of most of his programme by agreeing to establish a ‘fairness commission’ to review the nomination process. But under ferocious counter-attack by COPE and labour delegates, Mondale postponed the appointment until after the convention, when Hart and Jackson would have reduced leverage. In November 1984, the Association of State Democratic Chairpersons, meeting in the Virgin Islands, unanimously voted to pack the membership of the commission with party regulars.

The liaison with Gephardt that was crucial to pulling off this Virgin Islands coup soon led Babbitt and Robb into a full-scale alliance with the House neo-liberals. In February 1985 they defied the Democratic National Committee by establishing, under Gephardt’s chairmanship, their own dual-power Democratic executive, the Democratic Leadership Council. The initial membership of the DLCincluded ten governors, led by Babbitt and Robb, fourteen senators, led by Sam Nunn, and seventeen representatives, led by Jim Jones, the powerful chair from Oklahoma of the House Budget Committee. Only four of the founders were from the Northeast, there were no women, and only two Blacks (one of whom, however, is the potential spoiler of the Black Caucus: William Gray III of Philadelphia, highest-ranking Black Committee chair).

This concert of the House neo-libs with the Sunbelt statehouses has thrown the former followers of Ted Kennedy on the defensive, spoiling whatever hopes the younger dynast might have had of turning the Mondale defeat to his own advantage. Not only was the new DNC chair and ex-Kennedy aide Richard Kirk forced to acquiesce in the Democratic Leadership Council’s coup de main, but within days of his difficult election, he was signalling his own distance from the labour movement (‘I am not a captive’) and his Great Society past (‘The Democrats must return to traditional values’; they must ‘earn anew the political respect of mainstream America’, etc.).[70] Concurrently the AFL–CIO virtually went to ground, fighting rear-guard actions over tax policy but generally avoiding any sharp confrontation with the ascendent neo-lib Sunbelt alliance. The most energetic exercise of labour’s lobbying power in the six months following the election was its combination with these same forces to attack minority caucuses. With the AFL–CIO leading the charge, the DNC voted to revoke the seats that the convention had allotted to caucuses on all standing committees, allowing only Blacks, women and Hispanics to maintain a residual presence on the Executive, while disestablishing the gay, liberal and Asian-American caucuses. Then, according to the New York Times, labour ‘helped punish one of its political enemies’ by mobilizing to defeat Mayor Richard Hatcher, Jackson’s campaign manager, as a vice-chair of the DNC.[71] Since Hatcher was the official nominee of the Black Caucus, his rejection was a signal that the Jackson forces and their allies could expect to ride in the back of the bus of the Neo-liberalized Democratic Party. As Hatcher himself put it, this was ‘a message to white, male America that Blacks, Hispanics and women aren’t going to control the Democratic Party.’[72]


Although some left-liberals profess to find a silver lining in the ascendancy of the neo-liberals,[73]and a few social democrats even propose what amounts to a strategy of ‘constructive engagement’,[74] the post-election power struggles, following in the wake of the sociological verdicts of the election itself, do not offer much solace to advocates of the ‘left wing of realism’. Given the considerable investment of hope and resources by most of the left during the election, if not also in the long-range strategy of realigning the Democratic Party, it seems particularly urgent to debate the lessons of 1984. For my own part, I think a provisional balance-sheet on the left and the Democrats would have to include the following points:

(1) The turn of the ex-new left toward the Democratic Party coincided, almost to the exact moment, with the liberal retreat from the Great Society programme and the beginning of the abandonment of a hegemonic reformism that included the Black poor. Almost every major theme of Reaganism was prefigured in the 1977–78 domestic and foreign policy shifts of the Carter administration (thereby inviting one to reverse Ted Kennedy’s description of Carter as ‘Reagan’s clone’).

(2) The ascendancy of electoralism on the left, far from being an expression of new popular energies or mobilizations, was, on the contrary, a symptom of the decline of the social movements of the 1960s, accompanied by the organic crisis of the trade-union and community-service bureaucracies. Rather than being a strategy for unifying mass struggles and grassroots organization on a higher, programmatic level, electoralism was either imagined as a substitute for quotidian mass organizing, or it was inflated as an all-powerful catalyst for movement renewal.

(3) Most of the pro-Democratic left generally misread the direction of the class and racial polarization taking place in the United States and its impact on traditional electoral alignments. Starting from the misconception that a ‘left’ politics (whether hyphenated with liberalism or socialism) could be re-established directly on the basis of anti-Reagan populism, it seriously underestimated the power of the petty-bourgeois insurgency which is sweeping both parties and recomposing their leaderships. By the same token, it wildly overestimated the attraction of the Democrats, who lack any serious alternative economic programme, to a divided and socially dispirited working class.

(4) The naive belief in a hidden left majority indicated a deeper incomprehension of how the electoral arena is socially structured and technically manipulated. Refusing to recognize the implacable fact that the power of US capital is reinforced by a field of property interests millions strong, the electoralist left acted as if middle-class and corporate domination of the institutions and media of the political system could be equalized merely by mass voter registration—at times appearing to give credence to the parliamentary cretinism that believes the electoral system to be a level playing field between social classes. In fact, the American electoral system, historically the most structurallyantagonistic to radical or independent politics, has virtually become an extension of the advertising and television industries.

(5) The role of the trade-union movement in 1984 demonstrates all too clearly the contradictions of attempting to manipulate the system through its own elite apparatuses. The AFL–CIO Executive mobilized a great deal of organizational and financial clout, with only paltry political result. The logistics of power-brokerage within the DNC, and of packaging a candidacy for sale in the national TV marketplace, led labour successively to minimize and then contain its own objectives. As a result, the AFL–CIO failed to defend the Second Reconstruction or to advance a serious jobs programme. Its Gompersian option for an alliance with finance capital, founded upon an abortive reindustrialization policy, abandoned any pretence of acting in the name of the entire working class. In retrospect, it would have been better in 1984 for the unions to have remained politically divided along previous lines (as from 1972 to 1980). At least some of the more ‘progressive’ unions, including the public-sector unions with large Black and third-world memberships, might have been freer to express the will of their memberships, particularly toward the Jackson primary campaign.

(6) The ‘top down’ strategy of DSA and its various influentials was guaranteed to keep them minor pawns in the political machinations of the trade-union bureaucracy. Behind the rhetoric of ‘labour unity’, the Kirkland policy represented not a progressive opening, but a recrudescence of the political right wing of the union movement. By binding themselves to Mondale in advance of any programmatic agreement, and generally without any consultation of their memberships, the unions lost crucial room for manoeuvre around their own demands (like plant closure legislation) as well as any leverage at the convention. The last act in this charade was Mondale’s ability to forge his own corporate alliance and make a definitive right turn immediately after the convention.

(7) The decision of the Nuclear Freeze and sections of the anti-intervention movement to make the Democrats the main priority in 1984 was an unmitigated disaster. Far from creating a mass arena for antinuclear, anti-interventionist politics, participation in the Democratic camp seriously disorganized these movements, as they allowed themselves to be trapped in the process of accommodation and ‘consensus management’ that defeated the Freeze at the convention and made Central America a non-issue in the fall. Ironically, the most effective electoral actions were carried out by local anti-war and peace groups on the West Coast who remained completely independent of the Mondale campaign and relied on traditional referenda.

(8) Because, as James Weinstein has pointed out, the historic social-democratic leadership has conceived itself playing an essentially ‘courtier’ role vis-à-vis the trade-union and Democratic leaderships,[75] it was unwilling to ally with the one mass left constituency in American politics: the Black electorate. Indeed, with its explicit anti-imperialism, the Jackson campaign probably invited an impossible leap from DSA leaders like Harrington or Howe who have given life-long dedication to liberal zionist and anti-Communist causes. Moreover, the absence of any serious debate about the election in DSA, except from a passionate group of Black members, leaves open (and unlikely of positive resolution) the question of whether even the ‘Debsian’ grassroots of that organization are capable of challenging its traditional mortgage to Israel and the Cold War, or of realigning the organization toward mass political currents that do not have the endorsement of liberalism.

(9) At its worst, the backlash among sections of the white left against the Jackson campaign exposed an ugly neo-racism. More generally, the patronizing reactions to the Rainbow Coalition revealed how profoundly ‘white’ the self-concept of many left-liberals had become, and how unwilling they remain to accept even a modicum of non-white leadership. The contrasting reactions to Ferraro and Jackson are sobering in that regard. Moreover, as the shrinkage of the gender gap in the election indirectly showed, no matter how important feminist consciousness must be in shaping a socialist culture in America, racism remains the divisive issue within class andgender. There can be no such thing as a serious reformist politics, much less an effective socialist practice, that does not frontally address the struggle against racism and defend the full programme of a Second Reconstruction.

(10) The Jackson campaign had a complex, ambiguous significance. On the one hand, it tested the waters for a left politics of jobs and peace based on a multi-racial coalition of the most oppressed groups in American society. Among Black people especially, it revealed a profound yearning to revive the liberation struggles of the 1960s—a desire that flowed easily and self-confidently into channels of independent political action and protest against the Democratic establishment. On the other hand, the Jackson candidacy remained circumscribed by its self-defeating goal of renegotiating the terms of Black subordinacy in the Democratic Party. In this sense, Jesse Jackson acted as the Father Gapon of Black reformist politics, leading a supplication of inner-city office-holders to the ‘little father’, Walter Mondale.

(11) In the event, of course, the galvanization of the Black primary vote by the Jackson campaign cut directly across the path of the neo-liberal succession in the Democratic Party. The clearest aftermath of November 1984 is the bitter message that the white yuppie establishment-information has sent to Black Democrats. Self-effacing loyalty to the party has only brought hypocritical charges that Blacks are a power-hungry ‘special interest’; unprecedented contributions to the national Democratic vote have brought the accusation of causing the white backlash. Far from having won a new deal within the party, Black Democrats now face the prospect of becoming pariahs in the post-New Deal party of Gephardt, Babbitt, Koch and Hart.

[1]New York Times Sunday Magazine, 17 June 1981, p. 24.

[2]The first major trial run for new left electoralism, however, was Robert Scheer’s unsuccessful anti-war congressional campaign in Berkeley in 1966. This experience rehearsed in miniature all the problems and contradictions of trying to build a movement from inside the Democratic Party and under the constraints of a campaign schedule.

[3]Newsletter of the Democratic Left, March 1973, p. 5.

[4]For a debate on the class-political trajectory of neighbourhood movements—whether a rebirth of Populism or an insurgency of right-leaning, middle classes—see Harry Boyte’s essay in Socialist Review, 40–41, July–October 1978, and my critique in the same issue.

[5]Meyerson, ‘Labor’s Risky Plunge into Politics’, Dissent, Summer 1984, p. 286.

[6]For an unsparing discussion of Stevenson’s assuasive cultivation of the Dixiecrats, see Herbert Parmet,The Democrats: The Years After FDR, New York 1976. Stevenson’s ‘Southern strategy’ was a major impetus behind Reuther’s attempts to reconstruct a new liberal–labour alliance committed to serious civil rights enforcement.

[7]According to John Herling, during the 1972 primaries the AFL–CIO provided a staff man as speechwriter for Jackson, who compiled a fifty-page ‘white paper’ that ‘so distorted McGovern’s record (nearly perfect COPE voting score) that it was distributed by Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President’. (See ‘Change and Conflict in the AFL–CIO’, Dissent, February 1974, p. 4801.) Jackson led an anti-détente fraction of the Democratic Party that included, besides Meany and COPE, leading defence firms, major Jewish organizations and much of the party officialdom.

[8]Thus the AFL CIO quietly bankrolled the National Council of Senior Citizens and helped it shepherd the Medicare plan through Congress in 1965. At the same time, it pressed for civil rights legislation through the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights headed by Andrew Biemiller, the Federation’s chief lobbyist, Joseph Rauh of Americans for Democratic Action, and Charles Mitchell of the NAACP. The LCCR was designed as an alternative to the mass civil rights movements led by SNCC, CORE and the SCLC—the AFL CIO refusing to endorse the great 1963 March on Washington. In pressing for the inclusion of a fair employment practices provision (Title VII) in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Meany hoped to obtain ‘an umbrella of law’ to enforce the compliance of his own craft unions with job integration without having to confront them head-on. Yet at the same time by opposing the inclusion of affirmative action or super-seniority in Title VII, Meany aimed to ensure that integration of the workplace was basically token, leaving intact seniority structures and nepotistic apprenticeship practices. (See Joseph Goulden, Meany, New York 1972, p . 310 passim.)

[9]William Crotty, Party Reform, New York 1983, p. 132.

[10]‘Many of the more progressive unions, particularly the UAW, whose president, then Douglas Fraser, co-chaired the Hunt Commission on rules, entertained a more Europeanized model of party structure. Their goal was to restrict the prenomination franchise to party members, a transformation that could be accomplished de jureby having 30 state legislatures rewrite the laws or de factoby switching from primaries to caucuses . . . The UAW also had a longstanding concern over the lack of accountability of the Democratic Congressional Delegation to the party platform. What better way to promote their accountability than make them automatic convention delegates?’ Meyerson, ‘Labor’s Risky Plunge’, pp.286–87. In this account of the UAW’s move, after Reuther’s death, to an anti-reform position kindred to Meany’s and Kirkland’s, Meyerson elides the fact that without formal constituency organization and/or official trade-union bloc votes, an unreformed Democratic Party would be most likely accountable only to officeholders, apparatchiksand business interests.

[11]Raskin, ‘Labor Enters a New Century’, The New Leader, 30 November 1981, p. 13.

[12]Quoted in In These Times, 2 February 1982, p. 7.

[13]Moody, ‘Not Just Four More Years’, Labor Notes, 20 November 1984, pp. 8–9.

[14]Economist, 26 January 1985.

[15]Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, 4 February 1985, p. 4.

[16]For a history of modern attempts from the Gary Convention of 1972 onward to found an independent black politics, see Manning Marable, Black American Politics, Verso, London 1985.

[17]See Frances Beal, ‘US Politics Will Never Be the Same’, Black Scholar, September–October 1984.

[18]See the Black Economist, January 1985. It is important, however, not to overstate the new class contradictions within the Black community. Unlike the white social structure, the Black middle strata are predominantly based in the public sector, far more dependent upon two wage-earners (the wife in a Black middle-income household contributes about 60 per cent more than her white—equivalent see Ibid., p. 49), and generally more vulnerable to downward mobility. It is essential to distinguish between the small, but expanded, Black middle class of private-sector managers and entrepreneurs on one side, and on the other, the new ‘state middle class’ of public-sector managers and professionals. This latter group, including Black teachers, welfare workers and lawyers, comprised some of the most vociferous supporters of the Jackson campaign.

[19]See Timothy Clark, ‘New Ideas Versus Old’, NATIONAL JOURNAL, 17 March 1984.


[21]Karenga, ‘Jesse Jackson and the Presidential Campaign’, Black Scholar, September–October 1984, p. 59. Karenga also emphasized the exemplary role of Jackson’s campaign in combating the trivialization of Black culture, ‘the focus on sports, vulgar careerism, music and music idols . . .’.

[22]For one of the finest polemics of the election year, see Alexander Cockburn’s and Andrew Kopkind’s fiery denunciation of the white left’s flight from the Jackson campaign, ‘The Left, The Democrats and The Future’, The Nation, 21–28 July 1984.

[23]‘The Other Side of the Rainbow’, The Nation, 4 July 1984, pp. 408–09. For Berman, the ‘real Rainbow Coalition is Blacks and liberal Jews’ which Jackson has ‘done most to disrupt’. Since anti-Semitism was the invariable pretext of left Jackson-baiters in the period following his unfortunate ethnic slur in a private conversation, it is useful to consider briefly what the Black-Jewish coalition has actually entailed. Although typically presented as selfless political altriusm by which liberal Jewish organizations have sustained the civil rights movement with money and legislative support, Black electoral support has in fact been a principal means by which Jewish Democratic politicans have magnified their representation and power out of any proportion to the size of their ethnic base, as well as a means to reinforce the veto of the pro-Israel lobby on US policy. As the following table demonstrates, Jewish representation in the House is almost equal to that of Blacks and Hispanics combined. 

[24]Interview in Black Scholar, September–October 1984, pp. 55–56.

[25]Quoted in Business Week, 30 July 1984, p. 35.

[26]Quoted in ibid.

[27]See Felix Rohatyn, ‘The Debtor Economy: a Proposal’, The New York Review of Books, 8 November 1984.

[28]See Mondale interview, New York Times, 23 September 1984, B–9.

[29]Timothy Sears, Democratic Left, September–October 1984, pp. 4–6.

[30]For the Black vote see National Journal, 11 October 1984, p. 2132; 1960 figure from Richard Rubin, Party DynamicsNew York, 1976, pp. 92–93; decline of relative vote, Thomas Edsall, ‘Politics and the Power of Money’, Dissent, Fall 1985, p. 150.

[31]See AFL CIO News, 1 December 1985, p. 6; and discussion of union vote by David Moberg in In These Times, 21 November–4 December 1984, p. 7. COPE was also battered by deindustrialization and the loss of 2.5 million manufacturing jobs between 1980 and 1984. In West Virginia, traditionally the most tightly organized state in the nation, union membership has declined from half to a third of the labour force since Reagan’s inauguration, with devastating results for the state COPE and Democratic Party.

[33]Washington Post/ABC Poll, December 1983 and November 1984; also data from Everett Carll Ladd, ‘On Mandates, Realignments and the 1984 Presidential Election’, Political Science Quarterly, 100, 1, Spring 1985.

[34]CBS, ABC and NBC exit polls; Seymour Martin Lipset, ‘The Elections, the Economy and Public Opinion’, PS, Winter 1985, p. 36.

[35]See Laurily Epstein, ‘The Changing Structure of Party Identification’, PS, Winter 1985.


[37]Jackson was the only candidate who campaigned for the restoration of social service programmes for women and children, linked the passage of the ERA to the defence of the Voting Rights Act, pledged a female running mate, and, despite his personal beliefs, advocated the legal right to abortion.

[38]For a detailed account of these rivalries, see Joan Walsh in In These Times, 26 September 1984, p. 9.

[39]See Meyerson, ‘Labour’s Risky Plunge’.

[40]See National Journal, 29 September 1984, p. 1812; Guardian, 5 December 1984.

[41]See Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, ‘Towards a Class-Based Realignment of American Politics: a Movement Strategy’, Social Policy, Winter 1983.

[42]Lipset, ‘The Elections, The Economy and Public Opinion’.

[43]Edsall, ‘Politics and the Power of Money’, p. 149; Lipset, ibid.

[44]From a study by William Kimmelman, University of Alabama at Birmingham, quoted in Seattle Times, 8 February 1985

[45]Washington Post, 8 January 1985, p. A5.

[46]Cf. Kuttner, ‘Ass Backwards’; Edsall, ‘Politics and the Power of Money’; and Maxwell Glen, ‘Corporate PAC Pie’, National Journal, 19 January 1985.

[47]The Deadlock of Democracy, Englewood Cliffs 1963.

[48]Edsall, ‘Politics and the Power of Money’.

[49]Tsongas, quoted in Business Week, 30 July 1984, p. 71.

[50]New York Times, 7 August 1983, p. 1.

[51]International Herald Tribune, 30 November 1984, p. 3.

[52]‘Now What?’ New Republic, 26 November 1985, pp. 7–9.

[53]McPherson, quoted in Washington Post, 17 December 1984, A–6.

[54]Quoted in Time, 19 November 1984, p. 29.

[55]Quoted in Wall Street Journal, 15 November 1984, p. 33.

[56]‘How Not to Overcome’, New Republic, 21 January 1985, pp. 7–9.

[57]16–22 January 1985, p. 8.

[58]Julius Lester, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’, Dissent, Fall 1984.

[59]See the account in New York Times, 1 February 1985, p. 13.

[60]Washington Post, 11 February 1984, A13.

[61]New York Times, 1f5 February 1984, p. 11.

[62]Richard Cohen, ‘House Democratic Leadership’, National Journal, 2 July 1984, and ‘Damaged House Democrats’, National Journal, 1 December 1984.

[63]Profile in Washington Post, 5 December 1984, A4.

[64]Cohen, ‘Damaged House Democrats’, p. 2288.

[65]23 January 1985.

[66]Quoted in New York Times, 10 January 1985, IV, p. 1.

[67]See Bill Boyearsky, ‘Democrats Divided by an Old Idea’, Los Angeles Times, 17 February 1985, IV 1, 2.

[68]21 January 1985, p. 86.


[70]Quoted in New York Times, 15 February 1985, p. 6.

[71]15 February 1985, p. 12.

[72]National Journal, 9 February 1985, p. 325.

[73]Mother Jones’s political columnist David Osborne, ignoring the Rainbow Coalition and the fate of minorities, argued that New Deal liberals ‘deserved their beating’ and urged a marriage of ‘Hart’s new ideas and Mario Cuomo’s soul’. (Mother Jones, January 1985, p. 60.)

[74]Within DSA, Joseph Schwartz and National Political Director Jim Schoch appear to have gone furthest in suggesting that left politics must accept part of the terrain offered by Neo-liberalism. As Schwartz has put it, ‘the neo-liberal ideologues are at least taking on some tough questions about the transformation of the American political economy. Our role will likely be limited to struggling to get into the public arena a more sensitive, feasible and democratic alternative to their romance with “high-tech” and “picking winners”.’ (See ‘The role of DSA in the coming period’, Socialist Forum6, p. 54.) In a similar vein, political scientist David Plotke, a former editor of Socialist Review, criticized Mondale’s supposed over-identification with the poor, and taking the perspective of the Democratic Party’s practical needs to sustain an electoral majority, called for ‘combining Hart’s themes with Jackson’s means’. (‘Democratic Dilemmas’, The Year Left 1985, London 1985, p. 125.)

[75]Editorial, In These Times, 8–21 August 1984, p. 14.