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Reinventing Democrats Hardcover – February 9, 2000

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Just in time for the 2000 presidential election, Baer, a former Oxford scholar now living in Washington, DC, has produced an excellent account of the making of the new Democratic Party. He argues that the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), working behind the scenes but within the party, developed an alternative political philosophy to replace the one that appeared to be failing--a liberalism based on social justice and the redistribution of wealth. The irony here is that this "new" philosophy closely resembles that of FDR's New Deal. By chronicling the events leading from the formation of the DLC (with much-deserved attention given to the role of Al From) through Clinton's nomination in 1992 and the election of 1998, Baer ably demonstrates that a major shift in a party's identity (and its voters' allegiance) can occur in the absence of a national crisis or a realigning election. This excellent book blends history and politics with careful political analysis. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the new Democratic Party and to gauge its potential for future success.
-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"A detailed, accessible, and useful account of how an important political institution made friends and influenced people." -- Washington Monthly

"A thorough study of the DLC phenomenon." -- Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Compelling and important. . . Provides valuable insight into the party's recent past and what it might mean for the future." -- Bob Kolasky, IntellectualCapital.com

"Indispensable." -- The American Prospect

"The first formal history of how the Democratic Party transformed itself. . . An important contribution to the literature on American politics." -- The Indianapolis Star

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (February 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 070061009X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700610099
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kenneth Baer explains how the Democratic party lurched to the right after the series of losses it endured from McGovern to Dukakis. Strategists like Al From asserted that Democrats had drifted too far out of the mainstream of American values, and put several initiatives in place to bring the party back to the mainstream. Thus began the 20-year journey to pull Democrats to the right-- a journey which continues today in the center-right policies of Barack Obama.

Al From and his allies, including Sam Nunn, Joseph Lieberman, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton, sought to de-emphasize the party's stand on polarizing social issues like civil rights, abortion, and welfare. Instead, they urged Democrats to follow Republican ideas about the primacy of the market, the need to reform welfare, and the importance of the traditional family structure. The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 seemed to vindicate the reformers, but their historical record is a mixed bag.

One sympathizes with From: how could the Democrats start winning presidential elections again? Surely, some trimming of the party's left-wing elements was in order, especially following McGovern's 1972 campaign. But once in power, Democrats wreaked more havoc in rushing to the right than any Republican administration could have done. By de-regulating the banks, they created the conditions that led directly to the 2008 economic crisis. By opening military operations to private contractors, they led to terrible abuses by private companies like DynaCorps. And by slashing welfare, they pushed the poor into a growing disability system which today stands in need of massive reform.

A meticulous, if sometimes dry, account of how Democrats veered to the right.
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Format: Hardcover
This intelligent and exhaustively researched book outlines -- in a style that both political junkies and normal readers alike will find engaging -- how Bill Clinton and like-minded Democrats, for all of their foibles, truly became the political "comeback kids" of the late twentieth century. George W. Bush and Bill Bradley would do well to stop ignoring the lessons Baer teaches, and aspiring leaders from around the world undoubtedly will turn to this book as an answer key for the tests voters put before them on election days.
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Format: Hardcover
Reinventing Democrats chronicles the efforts of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to shift the Democratic Party from its liberal orientation to a more centrist position. It details the DLC's strategies, its successes and its failures up to the 2000 primaries, before the Democratic Party had selected a candidate. It makes a compelling case that the Democratic Party needs to (1) select public policies that are fiscally responsible, business friendly, and, in short, consonant with middle-class values and (2) eschew or de-emphasize policies that are attractive primarily to the party's issue-activists -- this being necessary to occupy the mainstream of American political thought and avoid becoming politically marginalized. This message is particularly relevant now (2003) that some Democrats are panicking over the 2002 mid-term election results and calling for a shift back to the left, effectively seeking to reverse the successful course set by Clinton after the disaster of the 1994 mid-term elections.
Clinton was elected on a New Democrat (i.e. DLC) platform, but he commenced to govern, or was perceived to govern, with a liberal agenda. This led to his plummeting popularity and the mid-term disaster of 1994, and at the time it appeared he would be retired after one term. Since a good scare is always more valuable than good advice, he embraced a New Democratic agenda in his second two years and, with a little help from the Republicans, he won a handy victory in 1996, vindicating the DLC in the process. In all likelihood the New Democratic philosophy (embodied in Al Gore) would have achieved further electoral vindication in 2000 but for unfortunate lapses in the Oval Office and mis-steps thereafter -- the 2000 election was close; Clinton-exhaustion seems to have been a factor.
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Format: Hardcover
Baer challenges you to think about politics in a way the media doesn't want you to -- a constructive way. With information that only an insider could love, and logic that even the most non-political of readers can enjoy, he moves beyond the accusations and division that sour our politics of today to the source of the changes in the Democratic Party over the past decade. He traces how the party that brought us Jefferson and Jackson re-invented itself(to use his wording) back into the party of mainstream values and progressive politics. Politicians and policy-wonks alike will use Baer's manifesto as a roadmap for how to reach voters and capture a message that will bring about both electoral success and the ability to govern for years to come.
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