The disintegration of the liberal coalition is a subject I have explored since first coming to Washington in 1974. This project represents a substantial change, however, in method and conclusion. In the past, I have focused on those forces and trends that have functioned to weaken liberal politics at an elite level: campaign finance; the manipulation of television by specialized consultants; the emergence of a technology-driven politics; the funding by corporate interests of conservative foundations, journals, and university research; and the emerging schism between the national media and the working and lower-middle class.
The shortcomings of this approach became apparent to me throughout the I980s. A series of opportunities presented themselves to proponents of a liberal state wishing to challenge conservatism—opportunities such as the recession of 1981-82, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the increasing regressivity of income distribution—but each development failed to revive the political coalition of those falling in the bottom half of the income distribution. Clearly, obstacles to the revival of an effective liberalism had emerged, obstacles greater than those constructed by the manipulative tactics and strategies of elites.
Most important in expanding my own views was the experience of reporting on national politics for the Washington Post: covering voter registration drives across the country in 1984; the 1986 gubernatorial race in Tennessee; mayoral elections in Chicago in 1987 and 1989 and in Philadelphia in 1987; affirmative action litigation by firefighters in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1989; and extensive traveling during the 1988 presidential election. These assignments illuminated for me political realities invisible at the elite level. At various times in the 1980s in pursuit of these assignments,