Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America

Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America

Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America

Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America


Uneasy Alliances is a powerful challenge to how we think about the relationship between race, political parties, and American democracy. While scholars frequently claim that the need to win elections makes government officials responsive to any and all voters, Paul Frymer shows that not all groups are treated equally; politicians spend most of their time and resources on white swing voters--to the detriment of the African American community. As both parties try to attract white swing voters by distancing themselves from blacks, black voters are often ignored and left with unappealing alternatives. African Americans are thus the leading example of a "captured minority."

Frymer argues that our two-party system bears much of the blame for this state of affairs. Often overlooked in current discussions of racial politics, the party system represents a genuine form of institutional racism. Frymer shows that this is no accident, for the party system was set up in part to keep African American concerns off the political agenda. Today, the party system continues to restrict the political opportunities of African American voters, as was shown most recently when Bill Clinton took pains to distance himself from African Americans in order to capture conservative votes and win the presidency. Frymer compares the position of black voters with other social groups--gays and lesbians and the Christian right, for example--who have recently found themselves similarly "captured." Rigorously argued and researched, Uneasy Alliances is a powerful challenge to how we think about the relationship between black voters, political parties, and American democracy.

In a new afterword, Frymer examines the impact of Barack Obama's election on the delicate relationship between race and party politics in America.


In November 1992, Democratic party leaders did not merely celebrate the first victory by their presidential nominee in sixteen years. They celebrated the revitalization of their party in national electoral politics. Unlike in previous campaigns, which had been marked by division and disorganization, the party’s leadership could claim this time that they were an important factor in Bill Clinton’s successful run for the executive office. in fewer than four years as party chairman, Ron Brown transformed the Democratic National Committee into an effective campaign organization. the dnc provided financial, media, and consulting resources to the party’s national candidates, enabling them to compete more effectively against their Republican opponents. Brown also maintained a degree of solidarity between the party’s various ideological factions not seen in nearly three decades. He successfully exhorted Jesse Jackson, Mario Cuomo, and Paul Tsongas to unite behind Clinton once it became apparent that the Arkansas governor was both the frontrunner and the most threatening opponent to Republican incumbent George Bush.

Perhaps most important, Brown took an active role in formulating the party’s new ideological and policy agenda. Responding to critics who deemed the pre-1992 Democratic party out of touch with significant portions of the national electorate, Brown worked closely with Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization composed of moderate and conservative party officials. Together they pushed an agenda that would bring ideologically moderate voters back into the party. Brown and Clinton emphasized throughout the cam-

See Anthony Corrado, “The Politics of Cohesion: the Role ofthe National Party Committees in the 1992 Election,” and Paul S. Herrnson, “Party Strategy and Campaig Activities in the 1992 Congressional Elections,” in Daniel M. Shea and John C. Green, eds., The State of the Parties: the Changing Role of Contemporary AmericanParties (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994); and Philip A. Klinkner, The Losing Parties: Out-Party National Committees, 1956–1993 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994), 189–91.

Corrado, “Politics of Cohesion,” 64–69; Klinkner,Losing Parties, chapters 8–9.

For just a few examples of this criticism, see Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall, Chain Reaction: the Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991); Peter Brown, Minority Party (Washington, D.C.: Reg-

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