Synopses & Reviews
A vibrant and revelatory history of the liberal moment of the 1960s, one which argues that Washington was not simply a target of reform but was, in fact, the eras most effective engine of change
In most accounts of the 1960s, Washington is portrayed as a target of reforma reluctant group of politicians coaxed into accepting the radical spirit the day demanded. In the newest volume in the award-winning Penguin History of American Life, Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot argue that the most powerful agents of change in the 1960s were, in fact, those in the traditional seats of power, not the counterculture. A masterly new interpretation of this pivotal decade, The Liberal Hour explores the seismic shifts that led to an era when demands that had lingered on the political agenda for years finally entered the realm of possibility.
By the time John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, the political system that had prevailed for most of the century was based on crumbling economic, social, and demographic realities. The growth of the suburbs meant power had shifted out of the cities, rendering urban political machines and party bosses increasingly irrelevant, which in turn allowed younger, more independent-minded politicians to rise. In Congress, Democrats retained their long held control, but the Southern wing of the party was finally loosening its grip. Postwar prosperity led many Americans to believe there was enough wealth to go around, an optimism that lent powerful support to antipoverty programs, not to mention civil rights. And for once the Supreme Court, which has traditionally served the countrys dominant interests, was aligned with the progressive spirit of the age. The 1960s all in all represented a rare convergencea public ready for change, and a government ready to act.
Liberal reform may have begun with JFKs New Frontier, but his assassination only gave emotional urgency to his agenda. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, knew he had a brief window of opportunity before the forces of reaction would set in, an awareness that may have fostered his occasionally bullying tactics to push legislation through Congress. Still, the result was a burst in government initiativesfor civil rights, consumer protection, and environmental reform, among othersthat has not been matched in American history. Ultimately, as our authors reveal, the liberal hour promised too much, and couldnt afford both a costly and unpopular war abroad and a Great Society at home, but when it passed it left in its wake a vastly altered American landscape.
With elegant and accessible prose, The Liberal Hour casts one of the most dramatic periods in American history in a new light, revealing that for all that has been written about the more attention-grabbing protest movements, the most powerful engine of change in that tumultuous decade was Washington itself.
"Mackenzie and Weisbrot (Maximum Danger), professors of government and history respectively at Colby College, provide an insightful and well-argued analysis of the 1960s' social, economic and policy dynamics that opened both the public and the government to great and necessary social legislation. The authors argue that the postwar movement of political power from the cities to the suburbs, the decline of conservative Southern Democrats' power in the party and the confident climate of prosperity facilitated the greatest and most far-reaching federal legislation since the New Deal. Unlike many historians of this period, Weisbrot and Mackenzie, in addition to telling of key civil rights legislation and Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, also give due and detailed diligence to environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act and the Wilderness Act, which defined strict rules to ensure federally owned wilderness largely remained wilderness. Throughout, the authors reveal how prosperity and a rare window of real opportunity with Democrats in power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue fueled domestic reform. (July 7)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
This is a terrific and timely booka riveting narrative of one of the most fascinating decades in American history, as well as a brilliantly insightful account of the forces that came together to produce enduring change.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals
creative, compelling, and convincing.
[W]e would do well to heed Weisbrot and Mackenzies lively and engaging reconstruction of the old political playing field where, for one brief, shining moment, other possibilities seemed imminent.
[S]hould be required reading for Democracts who are thinking of what they can achieve if they win the white House and large Congressional majorities this November.
The New York Observer
Mackenzie and Weisbrot
provide insightful and well-argued analysis of the 1960s social, economic, and political dynamics that opened both the public and the government to great and necessary social legislation.
The Liberal Hour is the most important contribution to our understanding of ourselves and our country in many years because Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot allow us to view the 1960s whole and in all of its complexity. This gracefully written and wisely argued account focuses not simply on what we have come to see as The Sixtiesthe counter-culture, the protest movements, the music, and the angerbut also and primarily on the creative work by politicians in Washington who put into law a remarkable array of social, economic and environmental reforms that are still with us. This is a book about our past that should affect our future.
E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Souled Out and Why Americans Hate Politics
Apart from a good, sturdy narrative history, there are useful lessons here for political activists and progressives.
Informed political history
Americans have been trying to understand the 1960s ever since they happened possibly even earlier. To this day, the decade serves as a rallying cry to those who blindly suppress its memory, or nearly as blindly, idealize it beyond recognition. With command and eloquence, The Liberal Hour explains what really happened, probing the inner dynamics of the immense changes wrought by the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies, and the aftershocks we live with to this day.
Ted Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
" This is a terrific and timely book-a riveting narrative of one of the most fascinating decades in American history."
-Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals
"A valuable corrective to a lot of hackneyed thinking about the significance of the '60s."
-The New York Times
A vibrant and revelatory history of the liberal period of the 1960s, "The Liberal Hour" argues that Washington was not simply a target of reform but was, in fact, the era's most effective engine of change.
An engaging be hind-the-scenes look at the lesser-known forces that fueled the profound social reforms of the 1960s
Provocative and incisive , The Liberal Hour reveals how Washington, so often portrayed as a target of reform in the 1960s, was in fact the era's most effective engine of change. The movements of the 1960s have always drawn the most attention from the decade's chroniclers, but it was in the halls of government-so often the target of protesters' wrath-that the enduring reforms of the era were produced. With nuance and panache, Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot present the real-life characters-from giants like JFK and Johnson to lesser-known senators and congressmen-who drove these reforms and were critical to the passage of key legislation. The Liberal Hour offers an engrossing portrait of this extraordinary moment when more progressive legislation was passed than in almost any other era in American history.
About the Author
G. Calvin Mackenzie
is the Goldfarb Family Professor of Government at Colby College, and has written or edited more than a dozen books on American government and public policy. A Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, he holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and was the John Adams Fellow at the Institute for United States Studies in London. He was also a soldier with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam
Robert Weisbrot is the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at Colby College. He is the author of numerous books, including Freedom Bound: A History of the Civil Rights Movement and Maximum Danger: Kennedy, the Missiles, and the Crisis of American Confidence.
Table of Contents
The Liberal Hour Introduction
1. America in the Postwar Years
2. Politics and the Liberal Arc
3. The Federal Colossus
4. Free At Last
5. To Protect the Planet
6. The Hour of Maximum Danger
7. A TVA in the Mekong Valley
8. The End of the Liberal Hour
Conclusion: The Durable Decade