The Political Atmosphere

The Political Atmosphere

May I add a word to the discussion begun in the last DISSENT on the political climate in America?

Essentially, the 1958 vote continued a trend that began after the Korean War in the summer of 1953. The Polish and Hungarian events destroyed the image of the Kremlin’s domain as a cohesive totalitarian empire. The Stalinist menace has become more that of a national political and economic rival (the Middle East) and a technological contestant (rockets and space exploration) rather than of an organizer of world-wide subversion. Conspiracy explanations of international affairs have become less feasible and the “politics of revenge” against the Democrats—a basic ingredient of what used to be called “McCarthyism”—less pertinent.

As a consequence, large numbers of those voters who had shifted to the Republicans because they blamed the Democrats for the spread of Stalinism and the resulting Korean War, have now returned to the Democratic column. Voting alignments based on domestic issues again prevail, further accentuated by the recession. (The South is a separate problem.) Last November’s returns were similar to those of the 1948 election, even though the campaigns were quite different; they also marked the return to the Democratic fold of wartime shifters. In both cases, the vote indicated that the New Deal type of electoral line-up was endemic to the American political scene, making the Democratic Party the normal majority party, whose victories would be overwhelming whenever domestic, particularly economic, issues were most relevant —the Taft-Hartley Act, civil rights, and the end of price control in 1948, the recession last year.

Despite the landslide Eisenhower victories, the shift in the early 1950’s to the Republican voting as such was slight and impermanent. Korean war resentments were neither sufficiently pervasive or lasting to counteract the picture of the Democrats as the champions of the downtrodden. Some former underdogs who no longer feel deprived—junior organization men on the make —probably switched completely to what they consider the party of ultimate respectability. But, they were never assured of their status, and it is likely that the recession restored early memories and early voting ways for many of them