CHAIN REACTION by Thomas B. Edsall


The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics
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 An incisive analysis from Washington Post journalist Edsall (The New Politics of Inequality, 1984) of the political equivalent of a continental drift: the electoral realignment in which Republicans have won the White House five out of the last six times since 1964. Edsall's explanation for this shift is not unique: The GOP, he says, has used two overlapping issues, race and taxes, to splinter the old New Deal coalition, pitting whites--resentful of busing, affirmative action, and other federal remedies to aid blacks and other minorities--against these programs' beneficiaries. Edsall traces how Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon, with varying degrees of success, exploited these issues as well as the cultural tensions arising from the 60's rights revolution on behalf of other groups (e.g., criminal defendants, gays, the handicapped). The now-familiar scenario found ``Reagan Democrats'' (southern white populists and northern blue-collar ethnics) linking with affluent Republicans in shifting government benefits away from recipients of liberal largesse. Although giving only glancing attention to the influence of war-and-peace issues on the electorate, Edsall impressively supports his analysis of the Democratic decline at the presidential level with extensive polling and demographic data, interviews with lapsed Democrats, and a devastating portrait of liberalism at bay, ``intellectually fearful'' of addressing the ills of the black underclass and thus continuing to alienate disaffected voters and leaving the party a toothless defender of the working class and poor. A powerful companion to Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land (p. 32) and Kevin Phillips's The Politics of Rich and Poor (1990) in detailing the racial and class tensions that are rending America's social fabric and poisoning its body politic.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02983-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991