Losing the Center: The Decline of American Liberalism, 1968-1992

Losing the Center: The Decline of American Liberalism, 1968-1992

Losing the Center: The Decline of American Liberalism, 1968-1992

Losing the Center: The Decline of American Liberalism, 1968-1992

Excerpt

This time, Atlanta did not burn. One hundred thirty years after Union forces torched the city, it was ground zero for a decidedly different watershed event: the 1994 “Republican revolution.” Hardly a native southerner, the revolution’s architect, Newt Gingrich, nevertheless felt the weight of history. Instead of bearing the inherited stigma of disunion and defeat, the Republican had stomached Democratic dominion over the Congress and the old Confederacy. Frustrated, he fought to reverse the Democrats’ institutional and regional power. With Democrats controlling the House since Eisenhower and the South since Reconstruction, Gingrich battled deep historical attachments in his drive for a Republican majority.

On November 8, 1994, those efforts came to fruition, and Gingrich’s victory celebration became the center of the political world. As reports of the liberal body count trickled in, Atlantans—at least those at Gingrich’s festivities—cheered and jeered. Highlighted by the losses of two highprofile governors, Mario Cuomo and Ann Richards, and House Speaker Tom Foley, election night proved both dramatic and historic. In addition to those luminaries, dozens of Democrats lost their seats and with them their congressional majority. In the process, Gingrich became the first southern GOP speaker since 1874.

Sifting through the ashes of defeat, many liberals blamed themselves and the voters. George McGovern believed that “Democrats quit fighting,” while Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney faulted the “nativists and the racists.” Small children, however, knew differently. Waving signs proclaiming “Liberals, your time is up!” kids at the Gingrich celebration apparently understood something most Democratic grown-ups ignored: liberalism, like Atlanta in 1864, lay in ruins.

While Bill Clinton would earn reelection in 1996, winning is not synon-

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