Changing of the Guard

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

David S. Broder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and Associate Editor for the Washington Post, is the author of The Party’s Over: The Failure of Politics in America and coauthor with Stephen Hess of The Republican Establishment: The Present and Future of the G. O. P. In Changing of the Guard, Broder is seeking the locus of neopolitical power in the United States, the identities of those who will soon make the big decisions.

His search took two years and brought him in contact with people in government, labor, business, politics, and the media. He interviewed feminists, Hispanics, and blacks. He gave particular attention to persons who have worked in presidential administrations in the last twenty years. He spoke with organizers of social causes and reformers. He interrogated political pollsters and demographers, New Right members, public interest lawyers, congressional representatives, state legislators, governors, and mayors. Believing that sources of leadership could be found in new growth areas, he approached people from the suburbs, the West, North, and South. He also entered into dialogue with a few seasoned political professionals, those who experienced the Great Depression and World War II, to get their reaction to the “next ones” in line for political leadership. His main concern, however, is with those people born between 1930 and 1955 whose views were conditioned socially and politically by the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the civil disturbances of the 1960’s, and Watergate.

Each person interviewed was asked to describe “the experiences that had propelled them into the political process and to discuss the attitudes and outlook they have toward themselves, their predecessors, their colleagues and rivals, their country and its government.” Although each of his contacts differs in ideologies, tactics, and organizational patterns, one goal is shared in common: seeking benefits by acquiring and exercising executive political influence.

The focus of Broder’s study is on the composite view of the challengers to political leadership. His stated objective is to discover and report a significant body of information. His style, therefore, is journalistic and descriptive rather than analytical, orderly rather than systematic, and it must be judged primarily in these terms.

The book’s plan falls roughly into three parts with each one containing a wealth of provocative conversation and a specific dramatic tone. In the first section the reader meets people linked to each other in five circles by their ties to the five presidents who have occupied the White House in the past twenty years. Each of these circles forms a self-conscious network based on a set of shared experiences, triumphs, tragedies, and misadventures. Because of the turbulence of the time through which they have come, they are “reeling a bit” as they search for their intellectual, programmatic, and political bearings.

The central middle section is devoted to networks of another kind. The people here are often brought together from widely dispersed locations and diverse backgrounds by a particular historical crisis or cause. These networks are in many respects competitive. Broder characterizes them as “networks of struggle, but not necessarily of triumph” and contends that the people involved and their rivals will become increasingly important in the next two decades not simply for appointive positions, but for the top elective jobs as well.

The final chapters deal with the shape of things to come and provide profiles of those who are exploring the outer edges, the growth areas of American society and culture. It is predicted that it is from these areas the leadership will be primarily drawn in the remainder of the century.

Even though the emphasis of the study is on succession, it also deals with the broader ramification of political power from a number of critical perspectives. Reflected in the thoughtful answers given by many of the persons interviewed and substantiated by Broder’s own careful research, what is noted, among other things, is a decline in partisanship among voters, a phenomenon of non-voting, the disappearance of the party machine, the “homogenization” of politics in the South, the erosion of economic and class lines, the alteration of the social environment, the lack of a strong central authority, and a retreat to conservatism.

In addition, the American public is seen as more issue oriented than it has been in the past forty years with inflation being the overriding political irritant. Also causing concern is the massive governmental bureaucracy with its proliferation of programs and regulations. The 1960’s and 1970’s produced a whole new range of intensive and emotional issues which upset the old system and cut across the New Deal alliances and voting patterns. Abortion, busing, and gun control were a few of the divisive topics that brought about a change in public belief systems and caused candidates to be evaluated in terms of the issue positions which they represent to the voters. This issue-coherence is recorded in the outcome of the vote.

Broder asserts that as the system malfunctioned from its overload, individual politicians and office seekers increasingly severed their ties with others in government and even from their own party and pursued a politics of personal ambition and self-aggrandizement. Their actions indicated they realized things had gone awry, and the programs and philosophies of the past had become outdated and irrelevant. They had, however, few suggestions to make for improvement or replacement.

In spite of the upheavals that conditioned the outlook of a generation, hope is still manifest. Dean Rusk, former...

(The entire section is 2366 words.)