In 1968, although we were not aware of it...

IT HAPPENED

January 17, 1995

IT HAPPENED in 1968, although we were not aware of it then. Coincident with the death of its two great crusading leaders -- King and Kennedy -- the most destructive conflict since the Civil War, and the election of Richard Nixon, American liberalism had suffered a fatal blow. It was to linger, brain-dead, for a quarter of a century until the reality of death was pronounced by the election of Newt Gingrich & Co. It was long overdue. The delusion of vitality, of imminent resurrection, had become a burden to the country and rendered impotent some of its most vigorous political men and women.

The collapse of the Democratic Party -- an institution now without ideology or animating belief, a party without a cause and therefore without meaningful existence -- should be cause for mourning. It accomplished great things in its two-century run. But in our own time it has fatally ignored the precept of its founder, Thomas Jefferson, who saw the need for periodic revolutions in American life. The party of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson -- the architects of modern America -- allowed its contacts with the people and their concerns to atrophy, abandoned boldness of thought and direction and became little more than the custodian of a crumbling status quo.

In the 27 years since 1968, the country and its afflictions have taken a very different form, but the Democratic acolytes of liberalism have failed to change, have, indeed, become captive to the lusts of the same large economic interests they once gloried in fighting or at least tempering. As one historian has written, the nation is always divided into two parties -- the party of hope and the party of memory. Democrats, abandoning their traditional role, became adherents to the party of memory -- the myths of the New Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society -- while they served the interests of the established order, money and, to a lesser extent, the small vocal constituencies they had helped establish.

-- Richard Goodwin, former aide to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, writing in the Los Angeles Times on the demise of the Democratic Party.

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