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The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama Hardcover – April 12, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The New York Times Editors’ Choice

“What a relief it is, then, to read Eric Alterman’s superb new book The Cause.”
The Boston Globe

“Thorough and thoughtful.” — Kirkus Reviews

“So many books lately on the rise of the Right, but here, finally, is a history of postwar liberalism. Media critic, political columnist (e.g., The Nation), CUNY journalism professor, and best-selling author (e.g., Why We’re Liberal), Alterman joins with Ohio University professor Mattson to define liberalism through the individuals who have shaped it over the last decades. Important for current events readers except in really red states."
Library Journal

“[A]n illuminating history of postwar politics, international relations, culture, and philosophy—all in one scrupulously researched volume.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Eric] Alterman and [Kevin] Mattson present an impressive history.”
Library Journal

The Cause is at its best in its deft articulation of the inseparability of liberalism’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Yale Alumni Magazine

The Cause provides an ample arsenal of information to remind liberals that theirs is the side of virtue.”
The History News Network

“Witty…. Simply by telling this story it reminds us that liberal has always been and remains one of the ways of being a patriotic, constructive American.”
Sullivan County Democrat

About the Author

Eric Alterman is Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. A columnist for The Nation, The Forward, and The Daily Best, he is senior fellow of the Center for American Progress, the Nation Institute, and the World Policy Institute. The author of eight previous books, including the national bestseller What Liberal Media?, Alterman is the winner of the George Orwell Award, the Jack London Literary Prize, and the Mirror Award for media criticism. A graduate of Cornell, Yale, and Stanford universities, he lives with his family in Manhattan.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023431
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,355,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Hans G. Despain on May 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is about the rise and fall of liberalism during the 20th century, and its spurting, Clinton/Obama constrained, reemergence. This is a great book on the history of American politics. It has its bias, but a welcome breath of fresh air from Rachel Maddow and Michael Moore. My review is not necessarily defending (or critiquing) the authors' bias, but attempting to articulate it.

Alterman (with the assistance of historical "raw material" and drafting from Kevin Mattson) is very interested to document and defend the triumphs of liberalism in the last century. He is deeply concerned with how liberalism has lost it way since 1970s. To this Alterman's book is a brilliant success. It is history that will make liberals proud and carry great interest for conservatives, because not only is this book a history of the heroics of liberalism as movement, but its greatest contribution may be documenting the failures of liberalism.

According to Alterman the main feat of 20th century liberalism was not its cultural agenda, but the liberal economics that dominated policy for nearly 50 years in the 20th century (1937 - 1973). Alterman believes that current Democrats have lost touch with the economic basis of liberalism, consequently have a difficult time defending liberalism as a political and economic position.

Liberalism as a successful movement is the populism of Andrew Jackson (see Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s
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Format: Hardcover
This is a political history of liberalism from Roosevelt to Obama, its successes, its internal struggles, its failures, its changes and modifications, its war with a new breed of opponent-- the modern tea party influenced conservative, whose only political goal is to win regardless of the cost in human terms. Alterman's focus is always on the figures who have tried to turn liberalism into political action: Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and on its major thinkers, Richard Hofstadter and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., each in his own way and with varying degrees of success, rather than on trying to explain or justify the underlying philosophies.

Liberalism's great strength is that it is not an ideology, but that is also its greatest weakness. It's a philosophy, a way of viewing and understanding the world and taking action to make a better world for all of us. Because it is a way of understanding, it invites differences of opinions, even when those differences are destructive to the main thrust of current liberal political policies. Because it is not ideological, it "has few emotional rewards; the liberal state is not a home for its citizens; it lacks warmth and intimacy" (p. 471), whereas the catchphrases and taglines of the opposition, combined of libertarianism, jingoism, fear mongering, and distortions, racism (and in the south, romantic evocations of the "lost cause"), and other easily pushed buttons provide emotional release and a sense of tribal belonging. The emotional appeal of the opposition's ideology has created voting patterns in which voters end up voting against their own best interests.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a very thorough and even-handed examination of American liberialism in the "modern" era. It's well-researched and well-written and covers the ups and downs, conflicts and causes of center-left politics from FDR on. Particular attention is paid to the philosophical underpinnings of various strains of progressive discourse and action. The book could benefit from more attention being paid to how culture and technology shape the electorate and political landscape.
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Format: Hardcover
I can think of no book that better recounts the achievements and failures of American liberalism than this book. The authors take as their period of analysis the decades from Roosevelt's New Deal to Obama's "Yes we can." Filled with cultural markers as well as expected political changes, the book develops a picture of American liberalism that has sometimes over-reached, sometimes promised more than it could deliver, but nevertheless has changed America into a more just, equal, and compassionate nation. The authors remain gloomy for the future. With checks written by billionaires and multinational corporations to an increasingly irrational Republican Party and an increasingly pusillanimous Democratic Party, the warning of Louis Brandeis, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can't have both," is ignored by politicians and the public alike. With humility, the authors remind us, people who consider themselves children of the Enlightenment can bring liberalism back from the state of distrust and disrespect that it now owns. But to do so, liberals must regain confidence in the ability of free men and women to build through trial and error social arrangements that are more just, equal, and free; and at the same time they must travel beyond mercenary individualism to build a more compassionate social fabric.
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