An analysis of mid-20th-century American political movements and the rise of an ideology-based party system that paved the way for the current state of partisan dysfunction.
It is generally understood that American political discourse is more partisan than ever: left vs. right, blue vs. red, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican. Pundits often wistfully recall a bygone era when the divisiveness between parties was less caustic, political ideologies were harder to distinguish, and bipartisanship was routine business in Washington, D.C. However, the degradation of civility between parties was by no means an accident. As Rosenfeld (Political Science/Colgate Univ.) points out in his well-researched and fascinating study of our partisan era, the development of strict party lines along ideological beliefs was initially a product of the Democratic revolution led by President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. After World War II, political operatives began to flesh out the concept of “responsible party doctrine,” which first codified the idea of more noticeable boundaries between Democrats and Republicans in a 1950 study entitled “Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System.” Moving chronologically in sections divided by eras—e.g., 1945-1952, 1980-2000—the author expertly traces the development of this more parliamentary style of political organization through the postwar years and its defining moments, such as the Republican Goldwater insurgency of 1964 and the work of activist Michael Harrington to instill social consciousness into policymaking. In a scholarly but accessible text, Rosenfeld tackles the complex issues surrounding party identity, though, somewhat surprisingly, he pays little attention to contemporary politics. With an emphasis on “how we got here” rather “what do we do next,” the author’s analysis proves that the paralyzing political environment was created for a reason and can be changed.
A delight for policy wonks and politicos, Rosenfeld’s insightful study of the development of political parties since World War II is highly instructive for our current moment.