The Eve of Destruction
James T. Patterson
Basic Books, $28.99, 344 pp.
Political liberals may find comfort in the disarray of today’s Republican Party. But it wasn’t so long ago that their own troubles set the stage for the Reagan Era. Historian James T. Patterson skillfully chronicles that period in The Eve of Destruction.
Here’s how bad it’s gotten for the GOP: Republican presidential candidates have gotten to 50 percent of the vote just once since the 1980s. More alarming for conservatives, the GOP base is shrinking as it struggles to make inroads with blacks, Latinos, women, and young people. Perhaps more surprising, liberal hopes aren’t built on conservative disorder. They have a two-term president, who used his second inaugural address to argue that individual liberty rests on strong communal institutions. Here, after years of conservative dominance, was a Democratic president aiming to reframe U.S. political debates in liberal terms.
Of course, Obama inspired similar excitement in 2008. But much of that hope was crushed by the weight of an obstructionist Congress. Some liberals began to yearn for a Lyndon B. Johnson. Top Johnson aide Joseph Califano suggested that Obama would do well to emulate LBJ, “the most effective progressive president of the twentieth century,” a man “always poised to...