FDL Book Salon Welcomes Daniel J. Galvin, Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush

Welcome Daniel Galvin and Host Ari Berman, website: Herding Donkeys

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush

During the summer of 2006, when Rahm Emanuel and Howard Dean were engaged in a strenuous fight over the future direction of the Democratic Party, I stumbled upon a very astute op-ed in the New York Times by an emerging politician scientist, Daniel Galvin, entitled “How to Grow a Democratic Majority.”

Galvin argued that “since the New Deal, Democrats have given party building short shrift.” Republicans, on the other hand, had assiduously built up their party election after election, a critical reason for their continued and long-term success. It was that very imbalance that Dean wanted to correct when he became chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2005 and instituted a far-reaching fifty-state strategy. “As the Republicans have shown, creating a durable electoral majority requires a firm organizational funding, something the Democrats don’t have. But if Mr. Dean can hold fast to his plan, they just might be on the way to getting one.”

Those words were prescient, and Dean was wise to stick to his guns, as the Democratic wave in 2006 and 2008 showed. Galvin’s doctoral research at Yale formed the basis of his impressive first book, “Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush.”

I interviewed Galvin for my book, Herding Donkeys, and he told me how Republican presidents historically have sought to strengthen their parties, while Democratic presidents tend to neglect them. Galvin thought that President Obama would reverse that trend but, by and large, he has yet to. The president, Galvin argued, neglects his party at his own peril—witness the “shellacking” of 2010.

This FDL Book Salon comes at the perfect moment, when both parties are searching for their identity. The Tea Party has added new blood and members to the GOP, but still blends uneasily with the traditional Republican establishment. Inside the RNC, Republicans are debating whether to give Michael Steele another term or look for new blood. And outside groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce are currently adopting many of the roles and tactics performed by a traditional party while shrouded in secrecy.

Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to rebuild their party after a disastrous midterm election and are searching for leadership from President Obama. Galvin’s book and research raises a number of interesting and timely questions that I’m eager to discuss. What do political parties stand for today? How are they most important? What can Democrats and President Obama do to strengthen their party now? How can progressives influence the party from the inside or outside?

I look forward to a spirited and engaging discussion with Dan and the FDL community.

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