Beyond the New Frontier: 1960-1984
The political climate changed drastically in the years following the Eisenhower Presidency. John Kennedy, the first President born in the 20th Century, ushered in this period with a challenge. "And so, my fellow Americans," he implored in launching his New Frontier, "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."1 But such idealism was no match for the Vietnam War, urban riots, Watergate, and a social revolution over the next two decades. Disillusioned Americans became less interested in national issues, more concerned with themselves. Ronald Reagan accurately sensed this mood in 1980. He asked voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"2
This growing preoccupation with self contributed to two political trends: the virtual self-destruction of the Democratic party and the rebirth of conservatism. The Democrats won the first two elections in the period of 1960-1984, but then dropped four of the remaining five. The four losers scraped up a combined total of 270 electoral votes, the bare minimum needed for a single victory. The worst defeats followed the 1972 reforms designed to "open up" the party. Actress Shirley MacLaine was a member of the California delegation at that year's convention. She joked it contained "a couple of high schools, a grape boycott, a Black Panther rally, and four or five politicians who walked in the wrong door."3 It was hardly a group designed to appeal to mainstream America. New York City Mayor John Lindsay grumbled, "This party seems to have an instinct for suicide."4
The same had been said about conservatives ever since Franklin Roosevelt routed their spiritual leader, Herbert Hoover, in 1932. The Republicans nominated conservative idol Barry Goldwater in 1964, declaring in advertisements, "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right." The Democrats jeered, "In Your Guts, You Know He's Nuts." The country agreed with the latter, repudiating the threat to the New Deal tradition. But in 1980, Ronald Reagan converted the very same voters who
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Publication information: Book title: The Pursuit of the White House:A Handbook of Presidential Election Statistics and History. Contributors: G. Scott Thomas - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1987. Page number: 155.
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