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When George McGovern lost the 1972 presidential election, Richard Nixon's landslide victory buried more than an insurgent campaign. In resurrecting the largely forgotten story of McGovern's remarkable presidential bid, Bruce Miroff reveals how his crushing defeat produced an identity crisis for liberals torn between their convictions and the political calculations required to win elections - a dilemma for Democrats that has never gone away. Miroff follows the campaign from its surprising rise to its catastrophic fall to remind us how a dark-horse candidate captured the nomination - and then disastrously chose a running mate with a hidden past. Drawing on interviews with dozens of participants - including McGovern himself - who share a wealth of anecdotes and insights, Miroff traces the insurgency to the political struggles of the sixties, explores McGovern's ideology, and assesses the Republican attack politics that linked McGovern to acid, amnesty, and abortion. Miroff shows how the transformative election of 1972 signaled a major shift in the Democratic base - from urban blue-collar New Dealers to suburban, issue-oriented activists (feminists and gay rights advocates among them) - as the party shed its Cold War past and embraced an antiwar orientation. He also illuminates how the McGovern campaign mastered the new game of presidential primaries and explores the formative experiences of a generation of talented young political actors, including campaign manager Gary Hart, political newcomer Bill Clinton, and future party strategists Bob Shrum and John Podesta. In excavating the 1972 landslide, he follows the subsequent careers of the young McGovernites and describes the loss' effects on later Democratic presidential campaigns. By tracing the transformation of American liberalism and sixties idealism from their political crash in 1972 to the muddled centrism of the twenty-first century, The Liberals' Moment shows what the McGovern insurgency has to teach us today - and identifies what Democrats must do in order to reassume the mantle of progressive change.
How much power does a president really have? Theories and arguments abound-pointlessly, Bruce Miroff says, if we don't understand the context in which presidents operate. Borrowing from Machiavelli, Miroff maps five fields of political struggle that presidents must traverse to make any headway: media, powerful economic interests, political coalitions, the high-risk politics of domestic policy, and the partisan politics of foreign policy. The prince readying for war, Machiavelli writes, must learn the nature of the terrain, and know how mountains slope, how valleys open, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and swamps. So it is with presidents navigating the political landscape. The variability of political ground, and of the conflicts fought on it, is a core proposition of this study. The swift collapse of the Soviet Union, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the financial crisis of 2008-recent history offers a quick lesson in fortune's role in the careers of presidents. Taking a historical perspective, which opens on an array of cases, Miroff explores the various ways in which a president's agenda is constrained or facilitated by political conditions on the ground. His book reveals how political identity is constructed and contested in the media through the ever-changing presidential spectacle; what happens when Democrats in the White House tangle with the titans of the economy; why presidents claiming to represent the entire nation have to manage political coalitions that direct rewards to their own followers; why domestic policy has become tough terrain for presidents; and how partisan polarization has reshaped presidential leadership in foreign policy, an area once considered beyond politics. Providing a new perspective on why and how presidents succeed or fail in each of these areas, this book is an indispensable resource for understanding the forces that shape presidencies and the power of a president to fight on such fraught terrain.
In an era when American leadership seems sunk in petty power struggles and shallow media spectacles, some of our icons have much to teach us about the forms of leadership that can still speak to the democratic possibilities of the American people, writes Bruce Miroff. In Icons of Democracy, Miroff looks at how nine American leaders have either successfully encouraged or undermined citizens' participatory role in their democracy and helps us rediscover what leadership has meant in the past and how it can reinvigorate public life today. In a blend of history, biography, political science, and political theory, Miroff offers examples of the finest democratic leadership as well as cautionary tales of prominent leaders whose styles were essentially aristocratic. His study examines John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eugene V. Debs, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., as leaders who embodied or advanced democratic ideals. He also presents iconoclastic analyses of Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, in which he concludes that these leaders actually discouraged a truly participatory democracy. In addition, in a new preface to this edition he criticizes Bill Clinton as a postmodern leader more concerned with political fashion than democratic vision.