THE END OF THE CONSERVATIVE ERA: Liberalism After Reagan by Robert S. McElvaine


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From author (The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941), academic (History/ Millsaps College), and speechwriter (for Mondale, 1984) McElvaine, a political analysis of latter-day Reagan America that professes to herald the resurgence of a liberal age. This could have been a historic work, doing for liberalism in the 1990's what Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority did for conservatism in the past two decades. But serious flaws undermine McElvaine's effort. First, he credits the cyclical nature of American politics, but instead of citing Arthur Schlesinger, who has advanced that theory nobly, he fabricates a ""Newton's Third Law of Political Attitudes."" Second, he suffers from tunnel vision. In chapters dedicated to proving that today's cinema, rock music, television, and commercials are already leaning back to a more concerned posture than the early 80's obsession with going-for-it and Rambo-style patriotism, he cites only what supports his case, and ignores other factors. The Cosby Show, e.g, shows a trend of acceptance of blacks by the mainstream culture, long wanting. But what about the popularity for years of The Jeffersons, Sanford & Son, and Different Strokes? Similarly, he makes much ado about movies like Rocky IV and Rambo being only a Reaganesque aberration. But what about the rise of ""wrestle-mania,"" with its symbolic cast of Iranian and Russian villains? Most troublesome of all is his argument equating post-Eisenhower 60's rebellion with an expected post-Reagan 90's rebellion. Who is going to lead the vanguard this time around? A book that may hope to herald the end of the conservative era, but that certainly won't accelerate the process.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1987
Publisher: Arbor House