Summary of "Chain Reaction"

Summary of

Chain Reaction

By Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Chain Reaction, Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall, (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991), 339 pp.

Chain Reaction will be of interest to those who seek to understand the role of race, rights and taxes in the American politics, from the 1960's to the present. It will also be of interest to those who seek to understand the "Republican revolution" of the 1980s. This work is divided into twelve chapters, with a substantial bibliography and an index. Chapter one describes in general terms how the rise of the presidental wing of the Republican party has been driven by the overlapping issues of race and taxes.

Chapter two argues that the past twenty-five years of American politics have been defined by the civil rights struggle, and that 1964 was a pivotal year in that struggle. In this year the black civil rights movement, allied with the presidental wing of the Democratic party, saw passage of the Civil Rights Act, and of the Voting Rights Act. Chapter three explores the period immediately following 1964. In this time the consensus behind the black civil rights movement had "disintegrated," and the terms of political discourse shifted to the political right.

Chapter four analyses the Nixon years. Nixon's presidential campaign marked the emergence of a new conservative strategy. Race was central to the conservative strategy of "establishing a new, non-economic polarization of the electorate" based on isolating an activist, rights-oriented liberal Democratic party "against those unwilling to pay the financial and social costs of this reconfigured social order. Chapter five explores the succesful Republican pursuit of this strategy. Chapter six examines the social and political factors which prompted the tax revolt of 1978, and the beginnings of the fundamentalist Christian right.

Chapter seven argues that conservative revolution reached its full development in the 1980 presidential election, which swept Reagan into office. It also analyses the role that race and attitudes toward rights played in party affiliation in the election. Chapter eight describes the way in which "social and racial issues meshed with the tax revolt and the political mobilization of the corporate sector" to produce substantive conservative changes in governmental economic and regulatory policies. Chapter nine describes the Reagan attack on race liberalism as an attempt to disrupt economic class alliances.

Chapter ten discusses the political impact of the recession of 1981-82. By the 1984 presidential election the Republican party had suceeded in associating current economic troubles with the issues of taxes and race, via a new "coded language" of politics. Terms such as "groups," "big government," and "special interests," dominated political discussion. Chapter eleven discusses the campaign strategies of the 1988 election, which sook to intensify racial seperation, and hence consolodate and reinvigorate the conservative constituency.

Chapter twelve discusses the what is at stake should Ameriacan politics fail to deal more constructively with the issues of race, rights and taxs. First, increasing economic and racial polarization threatens the very social order, Second, at stake is our sense the our political system is also a moral system, committed to producing justice. Finally, the very success of the "American experiment itself" is at stake.

Chain Reaction offers a carefully and thoroughly analysis of the recent rise of conservatism in American politics, of the failings of the Democratic party, and of the social results of such a fundamental shift in political outlook.