The Lives of the Party: The Democratic Party Converging on Chicago Isn't the One FDR, JFK and LBJ Built - and Some Say Bill Clinton Is Betraying the Party's Liberal Soul. an Exclusive Gallery of Faces in the Fight

Newsweek, September 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Lives of the Party: The Democratic Party Converging on Chicago Isn't the One FDR, JFK and LBJ Built - and Some Say Bill Clinton Is Betraying the Party's Liberal Soul. an Exclusive Gallery of Faces in the Fight


GALLERY FOR A PARTY THAT only two years ago suffered one of the worst defeats in its history, losing both the House and the Senate, the Democrats enter the final leg of Campaign '96 feeling surprisingly chipper. Their nominee is an incumbent with a better-than-even chance of winning another term--an extraordinary turn of events for a party that blew five of the last seven presidential elections. The days of McGovern and Mondale are a fading memory. So for the first time, really, since LBJ's 1964 landslide, Democrats have good reason to sing "Happy Days Are Here Again"--and its Clintonian successor, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."

But for Democrats this is no time for nostalgia--or for complacency. The party of Bill Clinton and Al Gore is struggling to redefine itself for the downsized '90s, and it may be in danger of losing its liberal soul. Is the party that once dreamed of a Great Society surrendering too much, too fast, for a bounce in Dick Morris's polls? New Democrats oppose big government and welfare-as-we-knew-it; if American politics truly has a center, they intend to find it. If that means mainstream Democrats these days sound more like Reagan than Roosevelt, chalk it up to a politically primal urge to win.

In Chicago the party will try to make nice, redeeming '68 and painting itself as a unified family. But as in any family, the tensions are just beneath the surface--and could break out in the open at any moment.

Lady Bird Johnson

FORMER FIRST LADY ...........

Present at the creation of the Great Society, Mrs. Johnson is the last living link to those heady days when Washington seemed omnipotent. Now 83, she spends much of her time tending to her time tending to her time tending to her grandchildren and her Texas wild-flowers as she watches LBJ's welfare programs get uprooted--by a Democratic president.

The Kennedys DEMOCRATIC DYNASTY ...........

The Kennedys remain the First Family of the party, if not of America: Sen. Ted of Massachusetts, his son Rep. Patrick of Rhode Island, Robert's son Rep. Joseph of Massachusetts and Robert's daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's lieutenant governor.

The Jacksons

CONGRESSMAN AND MINISTER

..............

The father has spent his life on the barricades, running for respect. His son started from the inside, winning a seat in Congress from the same city--Chicago--where his father was once a street organizer. Jesse Sr. is a preacher above all, and his text is the old-time Democratic gospel. Jesse Jr. is a liberal, too, but he's learning the art of the deal in the capital.

Dianne Feinstein

CALIFORNIA SENATOR

..........

A "San Francisco Democrat" who survives in the toughest political contest of all: the multi-million-dollar ad wars of California. …

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