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img023 - 48 Palizir by Other Mean to achieve their aims...

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Unformatted text preview: 48 Palizir: by Other Mean: to achieve their aims. Their efforts were effective; during the 19703 liberal forces in Congress were successful in enacting significant pieces of legislation in many of these areas. For its part, the civil rights movement attacked and sharply curtailed the power of the southern white politicians who had been the third leg of the Democratic party’s leadership troika. In addi- tion, the civil rights movement enfranchised millions of African American voters in the South, nearly all of whom could be counted upon to support the Democrats. These developments dramatically changed the character of the Democratic party. First, the new prominence and energy of liberal activists in the De— mocratic party after the late 19605 greatly increased the Democratic advantage in local and congressional elections. Democrats had usually controlled Congress and a majority of state and local offices since the New Deal and therefore already possessed an edge in elections because of the benefits of incumbency. Because incumbents have many elec— toral advantages, more often than not they are able to secure reelec- tion. Particularly advantageous of course is the ability of incumbents to bring home pork in the form of federal projects and spending in their districts. In general, the more senior the incumbent, the more pork he or she can provide for constituents. Thus, incumbency per- petuated Democratic power by giving voters a reason to cast their bal- lots for the Democratic candidate regardless of issues and ideology. The advantage of incumbency was enhanced in the 19603, and 19705, when Congress enacted a large number of new programs for local economic development, housing, hospital construction, water and air pollution control, education, and social services. These pro- grams made available tens of billions of dollars each year that mem— bers of Congress could channel into their constituencies. By using their influence over the allocation of these funds, incumbent rep- resentatives and senators could build political support for them— selves at home. In this way, incumbents greatly enhanced their prospects for reelection. Since the Democrats held a solid majority in Congress when this process began, it helped perpetuate their control for several decades. E [moral Deadlock 49 Incumbency effects, however, were not the only key to Demo- cratic success in local and congressional races. At least until recent years these races tended to be fought on the basis of local concerns rather than the national issues that dominated presidential con— tests. Moreover, while presidential elections were usually fought through the national media, especially television, victory in con- gressional and local races has depended upon the capacity of can- didates to recruit volunteers to hand out leaflets, call voters, post handbills, and engage in the day—to-day efforts needed to organize constituency support. Liberal activists, along with organized labor, gave Democratic candidates a ready—made cadre of supporters will— ing to engage in these forms of political work. Prior to the 19905, at least, Republicans did not appeal to any comparable group. Lib- eral activists, generally drawn from the not-for-profit and public sectors, had a strong stake in working for the election of Democ- rats, who generally supported the high levels of federal domestic expenditures upon which the public and not-for—proflt sectors de- pended. Their liberal activist and trade union cadres gave the De- mocrats a reach, depth, and institutional base throughout the nation that were unmatched by the Republicans and allowed the Democrats to dominate the congressional arena until the mid- 19905 despite frequent GOP success in presidential elections. The same liberal activism, however, that helped propel the De— mocrats to victory in congressional elections often became a hin- drance in the presidential electoral arena. Particularly after the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the party’s adoption of new nominating rules, liberal activists came to play a decisive role in the selection of Democratic presidential candidates. Although liberal Democrats were not always able to nominate the candidates of their choice, they were in a position to block the nomination of candidates they opposed. The result was that the Democratic nominating process often produced candidates who were considered too liberal by much of the general electorate. This perception contributed to defeat after defeat for Democratic presidential candidates. In 1972, for exam— ...
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