by Walter Karp ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 15, 1973
This brilliantly cranky book on American politics by a contributor to the journal Public Life and editor of Horizon magazine will be read -- and it should be -- for insights offered rather than weak solutions proposed or realities excluded. Karp begins with two precepts: the goal of political parties is not victory but preservation of the regulars' control over the organization; and the regulars instinctively oppose social reform because it draws an uncontrollable influx of free, active, hopeful irregulars who tend to disrupt the machine. The topic of opposition to reform generates some remarkable historical observations on what Karp sees as deliberate Presidential creation of ""indispensable enemies."" Drawing on sources like Tom Wicker and William Leuchtenberg, Karp offers case studies of the technique of FDR, JFK, and LBJ. Johnson, as the Pentagon Papers show, deliberately provoked war; he was, Karp argues, well aware that this would preclude real Great Society reforms, and wanted that result. Kennedy ""lost"" Congress in 1961, and Karp amasses circumstantial evidence to show that he did so on purpose, ensuring defeat of his own education bill by whipping up a phony parochial school aid issue. In similar fashion, JFK anointed Dirksen as a permanent obstruction to civil rights measures. FDR resolutely boosted conservative Democrats against their liberal opponents and tied up an inconveniently reform-hungry new Congress with the court-packing scheme; Karp explores his professed reasons and his conduct of the fight and concludes that he actually wanted ""to inflict upon himself the worst kind of public defeat in the most dubious possible cause"" for various reasons, including inhibition of the Second New Deal. There are those who will accuse Karp of conspiracy theories, but he has anticipated that kneejerk criticism, "". . . it is entirely proper to praise an American President for skillfully engineering some desirable result, but to note the same skillful engineering of an indefensible one is to fall victim to 'political paranoia' . . . ."" Of course Karp's insistence that the party oligarchs are the sole locus of power in the U.S. provides his accusers genuine fuel. And his call for a revival of localist small-R republicanism is feeble to say the least. But his political penetrations should be urged on all social science professors, pundits, and analysts.
Pub Date: May 15, 1973
Page Count: -
Publisher: Saturday Review Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1973
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