Politics in the twentieth century; Revolt of the moderates
The National Association of educational broadcasters welcomes the O2 revolt of the moderates and examination of the role of the middle class in present day politics. One in a series of discussion programmes titled politics in the 20th century but it was then transcribed by the Community Education Project at San Bernardino Valley College. First you'll hear Samuel Lubell political analyst journalist and author speaking from his study in New York and calculating some of the forces that are remaking the American political scene. Next you'll hear a group of foreign experts and scholars picking up the discussion in the department of government seminar room at Pomona College in Claremont California. The group will be led by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles and will have as its regular members Dr. Frank Lee's Sociologist the University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee MacDonald political scientist Pomona College. We have as our special guest today Mr. Richard McCann correspondent Christian Science Monitor Los Angeles and now here is Samuel of Bell as recorded in New York. We put a question to Mr. LaBelle.
What is the single most important factor reshaping American politics. My answer is the spectacular economic gains of the American people since the Great Depression. The extent of these gains can be seen all around us in the remarkable expansion of the nation's middle class and the astonishing growth of the suburbs. The millions of farmers telling their lands free of debt. The television antennas on so many roofs what is not generally appreciated is that all this has brought with it a virtual political revolution. Today the voting of millions of people will remember the harsh times of the 1930s is dominated by one concern how to preserve these hard earned gains from another depression. And as this fact has come to be recognized by both the Democratic and Republican leaders the appeals of both parties have changed this profoundly conservative desire of the
people to hold on to what they have. Explains why both our parties are tending to become more and more alike in the policies they champion. The Eisenhower administration for example had to take most of the new deal because politically the Republicans did not dare to threaten the structure of gains which was built up over the last generation. This is also the main reason why the strength of both parties is so evenly balanced today. The close road in 1054 following the 1952 Eisenhower landslide was widely interpreted as a confusing one. And yet what the decisive margin of voters wanted was clear enough. They wanted to keep things as they were they wanted to stay squarely in the middle of voiding both depression and war deflation and inflation too much or too little government too heavy an influence for
either business or labor to accomplish this. Millions of voters have turned to playing one party off against the other. I remember the bus driver I talked with in New Jersey during the 1954 campaign. He was trying to figure out which party was likely to win the House of Representatives before deciding whom to vote for in the Senate race. He explained to me I'd like to see a different party in control of each part of Congress. Then they'll watch each other and won't let either party have things too much their own way. I had to laugh at his reply. And yet I run into any number of other voters in every part of the country who share this mistrust of both parties. As a result for the first time since the McKinley Brian election of 1896 we are getting a real two party politics on a national scale. It is this movement which I have described as the revolt of the moderates essentially it represents a
determination of several million voters to compel both parties to turn their backs on extremists and to stick to what one Minneapolis woman described as the only safe road the middle road in large part this revolt of the moderates is a conscious one. Many workers and farmers tell me they shift their votes from one election to the next to keep either party from getting too strong. More often though this desire to keep both parties at arm's length reflects a deep emotional conflict. Most of us still tend to think of the Democrats and the Republicans in terms of the symbols that came to be attached to the parties while Franklin Roosevelt was president. But with a dramatic rise in economic standing since the end of World War 2 these are all symbols no longer fit people's interests. And so you find many one time Roosevelt supporters who are no longer satisfied with the Democratic Party but who still distrust what the
Republicans stand for. One might sum up their dilemma as a tossing between old symbols and a new economic status. Because of this I have stressed that the truly crucial political conflict now going on is not between those supposedly economic opposites of right and left of conservatives against liberals. The real struggle is between the past and the future. It is a battle between those who would continue to fight the political wars of Franklin Roosevelt and those who would empty the parties of these old antagonisms and old loyalties so that the parties can meet the issues of the present and the future. The issues of the Cold War. At present neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can count on the continued support of a majority of voters in the country before a decisive political majority can be brought into being one or both of the major parties must come to mean something different
from what it stood for during the age of Roosevelt. Until this happens we face the constant threat of a political stalemate which could paralyze us at a time when American strength represents the balance between peace and war in the whole world with both parties committed to preserving the economic gains of the last generation. Not much room is left for wide variance in policy. Our parties have become as one going to describe them like 2000 man in a narrow hole. They must move in the same direction. All remain stuck in an budging deadlock stalemate all balance. Which will it be. This was Mr. Samuel Lubell recording in his study in New York. Now let's continue our discussion of an examination of the role of the middle class in present day politics. As we join our scholars and their guest in Room Six Department of Government at the Moana college here
is Dr. Nixon. Well gentlemen you've heard Mr. LaBelle's analysis of the current status of American politics. I'm wondering how his particular analysis would strike you. Mr. McDonald as a political scientist would you think that he is that he is a century on the right track. Well I don't go along with this business of millions of voters playing one party off against the other. I question whether there is enough evidence to conclude that even though a number of voters are indecisive even though the parties may be offering very similar programs that millions of voters are this calculating in the way they vote. Studies of independents have shown that even though they say they're independent most people vote the way their fathers voted. And I think that the old symbol still applies in many cases today. Mr. Levy as a sociologist How are you impressed by what Mr. LaBella had to say. I've been quite impressed by his implicit to a very large extent I think implicit reference to the class structure of American society and in particular to his
emphasis upon the middle class and the part which it plays in this country. Mr McCann is a fellow journalist with Mr. LaBella would you view our political situation in very much the same terms that he does. Well I think Mr. LaBella is a first rate reporter and I read is both his books are of great interest and I think they will have much influence on our thought in years to come. I agree that I don't think voters make this kind of decision consciously swinging back and forth in order to keep a balance. But I do think that they have been doing it more or less unconsciously and that this results from the sort of thing that he has analyzed I approve of his analysis. But I can't say that I approve of the implications in his analysis that somehow stalemate is dangerous for us. Well I like to come back to that last question a little bit later on. But it seems to me that what Mr. LaBella has really stated primarily and as his initial point is that it's a major factor in American politics today are the economic gains that we have made since
the Depression. And that secondly as a consequence of this we are now in what he calls a virtual political revolution. Mr. Lee would you agree with this is fundamentally the case today. I think that there's a good bit and that I don't think we can really understand the point that he's making there though unless we understand this concept very briefly of class. This of course is a concept which is very widely used. It's pretty vague on the on the whole however. But generally speaking what is generally meant by it is a reference to one of three classes upper middle or lower. Now the interesting thing about this class concept in this country is that while it is professionally used very widely they professionalised have no more real precise meaning as to what each class stands for than do the people as a whole for example when polls are taken. Asking people if they belong in one of these three classes they generally by a majority of over 80 percent put themselves
in the middle class. But if you then add to these three classes the term working class over 60 percent of the people will place themselves in this class. Now what we've had traditionally in this country of course has been a great deal of social mobility people moving upward for the most part from one class to another as they have done this. They of course have had aspirations towards a higher class status they have had fears of falling back into a lower class and they have generally tended to accept as they went along the values of the class into which they were moving. One of the interesting things about this another interesting thing about this is that many middle class values are thus held by lower class people even though they have not yet climbed and we find this and the American emphasis upon conspicuous consumption everybody driving a new car and things of that stark. But maybe Mr. McDonald as a political scientist could put a little different perspective upon this. Well I certainly agree that the economic gains of recent years are spectacular and politically
significant but I would certainly not characterize the pleasant present situation as a revolution. Perhaps the old symbols have a little less meaning. Symbols like conservative and liberal and perhaps symbols like Democratic and Republican but still quite apart from the problems of defining class that Mr. Lee has discussed. If you divide people purely along income lines still a majority at the top will vote Republican and a majority at the bottom of the Democratic and this is not altogether irrational. And it suggests that the division between the parties is perhaps greater than Lubell suggests the parties do present different programs even today on farm foreign aid taxation. Even though these may be very minor differences. Someone said. The two sexes are really not very far apart but the differences there are quite significant. Maybe we could say
the same thing for our two parties today. Now Mr Mr McCann as a working journalist what do you think about this problem of revolution and economic gain. Well as a working journalist I might just question as a sort of a footnote here Michel Bell's method. Occasionally he gives us the impression that by consulting as he did in the selection we just heard consulting a bus driver that he has gotten the clue to the political system of the country I might hold up instead a taxi driver I talked to not too long ago. In fact it was the very night that steams and one in the primary in California and this taxi driver believed that although we voted Republican last time he was switching back to Stevenson or to whoever the Democrats would nominate at that time because he didn't think Republicans and Republicans had done anything for the working man. I think that the economic division still holds
but to me it seems that the issues have changed in that they have become not matters of substance matters of war and fighting but they have become matters of degree. In other words the significant economic issues are increasingly things like Will we get a little more social security or will we get a little more wages and things like this. And also I believe from what little I've been able to observe of the of the changing attitudes of people and the changing issues before this country that the real problem we're facing domestically is to learn how to live together that human relations is the real problem of our time. We've licked a good many of the economic problems and therefore these issues are becoming predominant. These are not issues that you you fight over. This is suggesting that the economic issues are receding into the background in the political scene rather than the economic issues deal still being in the foreground of being the predominant
factor. That's what I think in shaping the current American political picture. Certainly it is true that in the period from 1932 or 1936 down to 1945 Perhaps we should say don't 1939 because of the war period one begins to have a real change in the kind of things that American people were concerned about. You did have an anxiety over employment over economic security in the analyses that were made of voting behavior and say the election of 1936 the election of 1940 the economic line as to who was voting Democratic and who was voting Republican was sometimes so clear cut that if you walk down the street and the rental level on the right hand side of the street was somewhat higher than the rental level on the left hand side. 70 percent of those on the right hand side would be voting Republican and 70 percent of those on the left hand side of the same street would be voting Democratic. That it was almost as clear cut as this in terms of the change of a few dollars in the cost of one's housing. But I'm wondering if the implication of this isn't that as we have increased our economic security and
gotten into a position of full employment some of these economic anxieties having receded from the picture that then the economic issues have ceased to be the significant a controlling factor as to why people are attached to one party or another. And I think Lubell admits this don't you. Within the FI admits this the essential you have had a decline of the significance of the economic issue. How can he speak in terms of a revolt of the group who have now constitute what he calls the moderates. Is this really a situation where the group which is now no longer has quite the same anxiety as every vote against the previous picture or resit that the drivers of voting behavior which it existed before hand have now simply declined and leave us in a situation where there is not any revolt but on the other hand there is because there was nothing which incensed the revolting against a rather certain things have disappeared as a significant factors in the political scene. Well their anxiety Mr. Nixon I think Lubell says is the anxiety of being caught
between inflation and a possible depression. And so when they're afraid of inflation they vote Republican and when they're afraid of depression they vote Democratic. And that is in other words a new anxiety but it's a new kind of not so economic because it is satisfied and trying to hold on to what they've got I think is a very important point we perhaps need to distinguish between economic values as a basis for voting whether I can get more this way or that way. And and economic reform to our anxieties we think in terms of losing what we have and we usually identify perhaps our present status with economic positions when it actually our anxieties are deeper than this. I think that Mr. MacDonald's point is very well taken and I would certainly stress that the economic issue as a whole without dividing it into its two parts remains underneath all I think our present political activity and thought one way or the other. And this of course is very symptomatic of. Different class status. It's interesting for example if we take a look at the negro middle
class to realize that it is morally speaking and in many other respects the most conservative class in American society much more so than the white middle class the question is why Well one reason is certainly that they are the most insecure they have the most to lose. And I think that in many respects this applies to the American class structure as a whole. No it isn't and I always thought that the people who had the most had the most to lose but negroes in many ways have very little to lose they can only move up the ladder. But I need a who is Kline from the lower class which is nothing into the middle class has made a very big upward step. And he has a great deal to lose by falling down and therefore he puts a great deal of emphasis upon respectability for example if you find chaperonage anywhere's American society outside of your nationality group that's almost always found in the Negro middle class Claire for supervision of your women. And the same anxieties would carry over again to other aspects. But I'm wondering how one can look at the current American picture in terms of fear of losing what one has gained since the Depression period when in fact the
election of 952 went for a Republican president even though the studies of people's attitudes in that period. Showed that they thought that the Democratic Party was most likely to protect them in times of depression and was most likely to preserve their economic gains. It seems to me that the 1952 election has to be understood in terms of some other issue than voting republican order to preserve what had been achieved in this period. I don't welcome Bell Lavelle explains that they voted Democratic both for Truman and when they voted later on four years later because they wanted to conserve. This is a tradition. The New Deal tradition of young people growing up under the new deal. And this again is a conservative impulse and that's the reason he says the parties are going to be so much alike. And it should also be pointed out that even as the populace voted overwhelmingly for President Eisenhower 952 the votes for Congress gave the Democrats 200000 more votes even though because of districting this was not reflected in the makeup of Karr in other words what Mr. McDonald is saying here is that the people voted for those symbols
which they knew and understood and felt would represent their interest as opposed to the. Things which they were not certain they voted for the Democratic Party and a majority because they knew what it stood for. And as Mr. McCann suggested they wanted the continuation of the New Deal they voted for Eisenhower because he was a more identifiable figure to them and a more conservative figure and that they knew what to expect from him. But both intentions were basically conservative Now the question I want to raise is is this a dangerous thing. Because according to Lubell if we have the parties so much alike they're crowded in the same passageway and they can't go anywhere unless they both go together. Is this dangerous because according to our American political history our parties have often acted in this way and they do pretty much go together because they must reflect what the voters most want. Well I think that the characterization of the parties as being moving together at all periods is a little oversimplified that in the history of the United States you have found periods of one party dominance
in his book The Future of American politics. LUBELL describe just as the sun moon theory the sun is the majority party in the moon is the minority party which follows the issue set by the party in power on a broad historic sweep you can see that this is generally the case and it is the case because the continuing economic and other interests of the voters. Cluster around one set of symbols. The question is whether we are now in a position of changing symbols. And I would suggest that not yet at least there isn't enough evidence to say that we are really exchanging one son for another son. You mean you don't believe the parties are going to change their names to liberal and conservative and split in half. No I mean we are going to have not only that but it seems to me that one thing which is characteristic of a political system which operates with two major parties as we do is that each party must in many respects be appealing to similar groups
in the population certainly this has always been true in the American political tradition. And to assume that the two parties can be radically and dramatically different from each other is simply not understand. The fact that in American politics you tend to have people in all types of groups in both parties. Now I think this has been that this is what Lubell fails to understand. Well I think is there's a little bit of it. I think that he certainly doesn't bring us out here and I think there's another implication on this however and that is that frequently the critical issues of the time I thought out not in this contest between the parties but is contest within the parties. This comes from the fact that you do have conservatives and liberals in the Republican Party you have conservatives members of the Democratic Party. You have people for civil rights and against civil rights in the in each party that these big issues frequently are struggles within the parties rather than conflicts between the two groups. But there. As a point here I think which both of you gentlemen are forgetting and that is a point
which is halfway brought out by Lou bell in his book The Future of American politics in which he points out the tremendous impact which the high foreign born birth rate had in this country in the late 1920s and in the early thirties in bringing large numbers of new voters just at a time of depression into the Democratic Party. Now what we basically have existing politically in this country at this time as a result of the birthrate up to 940 is a stable situation which by and large I think can only be thrown off base by a very radical crisis of one sort or another and the people by and large while they may be hysterical about communism to certain degrees are not willing to recognize a crisis however in another 15 or 20 years when the babies who have been born since the last war who have all been born in a certain type of era and who will be a kind of countering the problems of 10 to 15 years and at the same time hit the voters registrations less then you can I think expect serious changes or great changes in our
political lineup in all of this we've been talking I think essentially about the national political parties and it might be well to point out that there are more than two political parties in a sense there are 98 political parties in that often battles between between and within parties at the local level. Are quite different than they are at the national level. Therefore we shouldn't exaggerate the stalemate that may or may not exist at the national level. When you compare this with activity going on in the state and local level and when a political scientist say that in this respect you would have to change the Constitution in order to change the situation as Lubell wants it in his book. You mean the situation with reference to the parties. Yes. No I wouldn't see how you need to change the constitution the parties are extra constitutional in origin and in growth. It seems to me that out of this discussion there are several things that emerge. One is the fact that there was considerable agreement that certainly the character of
our economic concerns have changed so far as the American public is concerned and that one consequence of this is that people are perhaps not voting on the basis of the same kind of economic anxieties today as they were voting on during the course of the 1930s and early 1940s. There is some disagreement however as to whether or not this constitutes as Mr. LaBella calls it a revolt of the moderates or people now having become moderate or whether in fact this real change is that these issues have ceased to have quite the same significance today and leaves us in kind of a period of uncertainty. Neither party being quite sure what the issues are of the future around which they can crystallize their real differences in policy. I'm wondering whether there are other questions still which perhaps we haven't taken a look at yet we ought to keep in mind as we consider the today's political picture. But I think Mr. Nixon you've hit on a very crucial point here the absence of issues perhaps this is what
Louisville means by the conflict between the past and the future the future issues. What will it be automation atomic energy and aging population. The use of leisure. These are things that the parties have not dealt with and perhaps these are the things they should be dealing with. Mr Lee what other things do you see in this picture that are important. I think that Mr. LaBella has left us has not left us I should say one alternative to the facts man stuck in a hall and that is the possibility that the two parties might move in different directions and with respect to my previous remarks on the forthcoming. First and voter registrations the late 60s and 70s and it's very possible that at this time the two major parties as a result of conditions at that time might separate and go in different directions that the Republican and Democratic parties at the time of the New Deal. Mr. McMahon What other issues do you see as important do as I like to think of the role of the mass media might play in this including the newspapers of course. And I think that there's a clue in one of the final paragraphs of the revolt of the
moderates in which liberal says that what the Western world needs is not a formula for escapism but to learn a new the arts of government. And in this respect I hope that the mass media can do more than they have done in the past to give us a feeling of participation in the kind of decision making that governmental agencies and personalities must do. The decisions are in matters of degree and matters of detail their supper league graded an evenly distributed and continually changing as Robert Linda said in his book knowledge for what. And these are the kind of decisions not the big crisis majority decisions that come so seldom in American political history. I want to thank Mr. Richard McCann of the Christian Science Monitor for joining with our regular panel participants. Dr. Frank lady of the University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee McDonald of Pomona College in Claremont and considering this question of the current status of American political parties.
- Revolt of the moderates
- Producing Organization
- San Bernardino Valley College
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- The role of the middle class in contemporary politics.
- Other Description
- This series consists of moderated panel discussions on American political affairs in the mid-20th century. It features Samuel Lubell, Professor Charles Nixon and others.
- Broadcast Date
- Politics and Government
- Media type
Panelist: Lee, Frank
Panelist: McDonald, Lee Cameron
Panelist: McCann, Richard
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Lubell, Samuel
Speaker: Nixon, Charles
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-8-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Politics in the twentieth century; Revolt of the moderates,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 19, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-sn014015.
- MLA: “Politics in the twentieth century; Revolt of the moderates.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 19, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-sn014015>.
- APA: Politics in the twentieth century; Revolt of the moderates. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-sn014015