In four years the Republican Party went from ""the new Republican majority"" to ignoble defeat, unable to keep an incumbent President in office. At the same time, the Democrats reversed their slide and resumed their control of both the Oval Office and Capitol Hill. Fairlie, an urbane British commentator (The Kennedy Promise, Spoiled Child of the Western World), puts these recent trends into historical perspective and, in the process, debunks a good many accepted truisms of American politics. His analysis of the Republican Party is particularly incisive as he shows them to be the same basic party of establishment elites and middle-class activists that was shattered in 1936. Theories of the ""Sun Belt"" as a new Republican stronghold are misconceived, he argues, because the regions grouped under that catchy title are extremely disparate and the affluence associated with it largely a myth. Importantly, the Sun Belt folly exemplifies a recurrent problem in Republican perceptions of American politics--it consistently reduces real people to narrow economic (or ethnic or regional) categories in an effort to ""find"" a new base, while ignoring the real aspirations of those people. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has found its strength in elemental politics--the nuts and bolts politics of the city wards, unions, and ethnic interests. When the Democrats have stumbled, according to Fairlie, it is because they pushed aside this tradition and appealed to the ""literate liberals,"" as they did in 1952, '56, '68 (McCarthy), and '72. But over the years politics has changed, and ward politics has been replaced by cold administration, which leaves the Democrats on a shaky footing and in search of grass-roots renewal. Fairlie's realist approach yields a penetrating analysis of the American party system's archaic structure, but cannot give much indication of what new forms may emerge from the present vacuum; a task, perhaps, for the ""literate liberals.