Boiling Point

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Democrats and their political party must focus on hometowns and their woes, or else the GOP, Ross Perot, or a genuine populist may respond to the anguish and anger in the middle class, writes Kevin Phillips.

In a follow-up to his incisive and abrasive THE POLITICS OF RICH AND POOR, Phillips repeats some analysis, but he expands and deepens his account of the deterioration of America. In the earlier book, Phillips hammered home how the Reagan-Bush years resulted in an enriched elite and an impoverished underclass. In this new work, he details how the middle class hasn’t gone untouched, either.

Health care and higher education became expensive, household net worth and job benefits dropped, layoffs and taxes increased, and public services eroded as much as disposable incomes. Other social critics also have notices the crisis, which can’t be considered merely another partisan or even a liberal-conservative dispute, Phillips says.

The crisis could mark the decline and fall of the “American Empire.” For instance, concerning the savings and loan bailout, Phillips recounts rather radical suggestions by activist Ralph Nader, commentator Jim Hightower, and executive William Randolph Hearst. “America is at a crossroads,” Phillips quotes Congressman Newt Gingrich. “[Americans] are losing faith in our constitutional system... they do not see it working. They are almost in agony.”

To relieve the pain, political leaders should perhaps dilute old-fashioned internationalism with a dose of isolationism, at least insofar as concentrating on domestic economic problems is concerned. If not, alternatives and independents—if not demagogues and extremists—may surface.

Phillips, a veteran Republican analyst and political commentator, writes with a peculiar density that exploits dramatic historical quotes and statistics, but can bore as well as excite. Fortunately, any tedium is tempered by a useful and meaningful appendix of charts and figures that make most of his text understandable, if not enjoyable.