What does Walter Mondale's career reveal about the dilemma of the modern Democtratic party and the crisis of postwar American liberalism? Steven M. Gillon 's answer is that Mondale's frustration as Jimmy Carter's vice president and his failure to unseat the immensely popular President Reagan in 1984 reveal the beleaguered state of a party torn apart by generational and ideological disputes.
The Democrats' Dilemma begins with Mondale's early career in Minnesota politics, from his involvement with Hubert Humphrey to his election to the United States Senate in 1964. Like many liberals of his generation, Mondale traveled to Washington hopeful that government power could correct social wrongs. By 1968, urban unrest, a potent white backlash, and America's involvement in the Vietnam war dimmed much of his optimisim. In the years after 1972, as senator, as vice president, and as presidential candidate, Mondale self-conciously attempted to fill the void after the death of Robert Kennedy. Mondale attempted to create a new Democratic party by finding common ground between the party's competeing factions. Gillon contends that Mondale's failure to create that consensus underscored the deep divisions within the Democratic Party.
Using previously classified documents, unpublished private papers, and dozens of interviews -including extensive conversations with Mondale himself- Gillon paints a vivid portrait of the innerworkings of the Carter administration. The Democrats' Dilemma captures Mondale's frustration as he attempted to mediate between the demands of liberals intent upon increased spending for social programs and the fiscal conservatism of a president unskilled in the art of congressional diplomacy. Gillon discloses the secret revelation that Mondale nearly resigned as vice president. Gillon also chronicles Mondale's sometimes stormy relationships with Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, and Geraldine Ferraro.
Eminently readable and a means of access to a major twentieth-century political figure, The Democrats' Dilemma is a fascinating look at the travail of American liberalism.