Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics

By Mary D. Edsall; Thomas Byrne Edsall | Go to book overview
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12
The Stakes

OVER the past generation, race has fueled the ascendancy of the presidential wing of the Republican party and has blunted Democratic efforts to revive a majority coalition. While there are some indications, at the start of the I990s, of efforts to counteract the virulence of race as an issue in domestic politics, race remains a powerful force structuring the political debate, the two parties, and the values separating liberalism from conservatism.

With considerable success George Bush, during his first two years in office, eliminated the marked anti-black tenor that had characterized the Reagan administration. During the same period, abandoning his "no new taxes" pledge, Bush defused some of the polarizing strength of the issue of taxes—the issue that, when linked to race, had created deep divisions between taxpayers and tax recipients; divisions critical to the sustaining of a conservative presidential majority.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Douglas Wilder of Virginia, in November 1989, established that a black man could win the governorship of a southern state—a state where twenty-five years before, segregation had operated under the sanction of law. In 1989, Ronald Brown became the first black chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and black Democrats won mayoral contests in five majority-white cities: New York, Cleveland, New Haven, Seattle, and Durham, North Carolina. In 1990, Harvey Gantt, a black former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, won 47.5 percent of the vote in a Senate race against Jesse Helms. The 1990 congressional budget deliberations, Bush's insistent advocacy of reductions in the capital gains tax, and the 1990 midterm elections provided the Democratic party with the opportunity to revive issues of tax fairness, and

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