What does Walter Mondale's career reveal about the dilemma of the modern Democratic party and the crisis of postwar American liberalism? Steven M. Gillon's answer is that Mondale's frustration as Jimmy Carter's vice president and his failure to unseat the immensely popular President Reagan in 1984 reveal the beleaguered state of a party torn apart by generational and ideological disputes. The Democrats' Dilemma begins with Mondale's early career in Minnesota politics, from his involvement with Hubert Humphrey to his election to the United States Senate in 1964. Like many liberals of his generation, Mondale travelled to Washington hopeful that government power could correct social wrongs. By 1968, urban unrest, a potent white backlash, and America's involvement in the Vietnam war dimmed much of his optimism. In the years after 1972, as senator, as vice president, and as presidential candidate, Mondale self-consciously attempted to fill the void after the death of Robert Kennedy. Mondale attempted to create a new Democratic majority by finding common ground between the party's competing factions. Gillon contends that Mondale's failure to create that consensus underscored the deep divisions within the Democratic Party.
Steven M. Gillon is author of Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947-85.