History and Historiography

The Bridge: Fred Dutton and the Realignment of the Democratic Party

During the past 50 years, the cultural revolution of the 1960s was co-opted first by the Democratic Party, then by the liberal wing of the corporate class, and then by the state security services altogether. You’ve got to check out this article if you want to know how all that got started:

By Neil Monahan

For much the twentieth century the Democratic Party was the party of the working people in the United States. It looked after the interests of the blue-collar workers of Industrial Age America, or that was the perception at least. President Roosevelt earned the loyalty of a generation of voters with his New Deal that put many hit by the Depression back to work, raised living standards, and built a safety net for society’s most needy. Yet in the most recent presidential election in 2016, it was Donald Trump who won over two-thirds of white workingclass voters. It was generally acknowledged that this demographic tipped the election, as Trump shocked the world with a narrow victory over the frontrunner Hillary Clinton. In every presidential election after 1968, but for one in 1996, the Republican Party has won a majority of the white working class. This is a remarkable turnaround for the Democrats, the so-called ‘party of the people’. This thesis examines the role of one of history’s less-heralded figures in this trend. Fred Dutton was a Democratic Party insider who was close to the Kennedy family and was active in the party from the late-1950s until 1970s. Dutton also held a role on the Board of Regents of the University of California, Berkeley. This exposed him to the student movements of the sixties that were collectively known as the New Left. He became sympathetic to their ideas and causes, becoming an unlikely advocate for them in the university, then in the Democratic Party. At the 1968 party convention in Chicago, a proVietnam nominee was selected by party leaders unresponsive to the concerns of its many anti-Vietnam party members. After much violence on the streets and frustration in the hall, a vote passed to reform the process. Dutton was a member of the resulting McGovern commission that would make major changes to the structure of the party. The thesis will explore how Dutton institutionalised his New Left ideas through the commission which helped cause a realignment of the party’s base. The white working class would cease to dominate the party, as a younger, college-educated professional class took power as a result of the reforms driven by Dutton.

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