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The Democrats' Dilemma Paperback – April 15, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Walter Mondale, Minnesota's attorney general at the age of 32, transformed a ceremonial office into a center for activist government. In another epoch, suggests Yale historian Gillon in this brisk, hard-hitting political biography, the ambitious senator who helped shape national policy on education, welfare, civil rights and child care would have been a sure bet to win the presidency. Yet, in Gillon's appraisal, Mondale failed to develop a political strategy for reaching middle-class voters, and Reagan's gospel of individualism had far greater appeal to the electorate than the philosophy of shared responsibilities that guided Mondale's disastrous presidential bid in 1984. Gillon discloses that Mondale, frustrated as Carter's vice president, flirted with the idea of resigning in 1979. He credits Mondale as the major force in building a consensus among warring factions of the Democratic Party, but faults his increasingly irrelevant political vision. Photos.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


The era should be labelled: Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Walter Mondale, A Half Century of Enlightened Thought. Steve Gillon makes a vital analysis of Walter Mondale's pivotal role in this historic political saga. -- Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History
  • Paperback: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; Reissue edition (April 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231076312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231076319
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,291,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By on June 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book on the life and times of Walter Mondale is, simply put, a grand tale. Here, Walter Mondale is seen as what he is, a man whose ideological conflits tell us all too much about our political situation.
Here we see the ideology of traditional labor liberalism. This is the 'hard hat' liberalism which sought to implement labor protections, universal health care, free public education and progressive taxation on the rich. Yet, this 'old liberalism' was taken by the New Left which made Mondale feel uncomfortable.
Yet, as the author does not note all too much, the conflict within the Democratic party over the issues and ideology does go much further than simply 'new' and 'old' left. There are a variety of Democrats within the left or left leaning spectrum. There are Labor Democrats and New Deal Democrats, who are culturally conservative or moderate but economically left leaning. There are civil libertarian Democrats, who tend to emphasize social issues and civil liberties. There are "New Left" Democrats, as the book notes. Within the center, there are Moderate Southern Democrats, who are New Democrats, who tend to be conservative on cultural issues than slightly progressive on economic issues and then there are New Democrats of the North and East who are more liberal on social issues but fiscally conservative or right of center. Then, alas, there are truly Southern Democrats, who are conservative on most issues, and Blue Dog Democrats as well. This is a huge party with many conflicts - yet, the party is united on the agenda of activist government to the benefit of the masses. That is Mondale's ultimate agenda. The author paints it quite well.
Very recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard M. Marano on August 19, 2005
Format: Unknown Binding
The Democrats' Dilemma is a very readable, little-known book by respected historian Steven Gillon about Walter Mondale and the Democratic party from Truman to Clinton. Although it starts off slowly with the obligatory background information and early years discourse,the reader soon gets to know a very human Walter Mondale--a man consumed, in thought, word, and deed, by political motivation. Gillon's Mondale is a completely virtuous fellow with has less depth than one might expect. Gillon offers a thoughtful political analysis of the post-Watergate era. We learn--from Mondale's vantage point--what makes Jimmy Carter tick, both personally and within his White House. Discussion of the 1976 election and Carter's Foreign Policy are the best parts of the book, second only to Mondale's tormented time during the "Crisis of Confidence" speech and Cabinet purge. The book is not without flaws, however. There is little coverage of Mondale's challengers for the 1984 Democratic nomination-- except Gary Hart--and how they influenced his positions and him as a candidate. Gillon completely ignores the candidacy of George McGovern (in 1984) and how Mondale both differed and was influenced by McGovern on foreign policy. There is no mention that Mondale-Ferraro's "new realism" theme had been George McGovern's primary campaign theme. Hart's position on military spending is not completely accurate. The man that emerges is less than courageous. Let's just say that Mondale is no risk-taker. The final chapter on the liberal legacy should be a "must-read" for any serious student of the Democratic party.
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