How Dismal is the Future of American Politics?
When: Mon 19 May 2014, 18.15-20.00
Where: Conference Centre, British Library
In 2012 Barack Obama became the only Democratic president other than Franklin Roosevelt to win successive presidential elections with over 50% of the popular vote. He believed he had a mandate to demand action from Congress on two issues where public opinion appeared to expect government leadership: gun control legislation and the ‘fiscal cliff’. His failure to secure action on both issues illustrated his subsequent inability to translate his electoral victory into a mandate to govern.
Professor Tony Badger, reflecting on a half a century of studying modern America, asks why is it so difficult to govern the United States, and why is the American system of politics so dysfunctional? He looks at the historic limits on the presidency and the federal government, the low level of political participation, the extreme polarisation of party politics, the loss of popular faith in the federal government, and the malign influence of both money and religion on contemporary politics. He expresses scepticism about any likely progress on the immediate policy challenges facing the United States: immigration reform, the deficit, the reigning in of entitlement spending, and climate change. He asks if the US can respond nimbly to the crises in the Middle East and the challenge of China.
However, Americans have portrayed the inadequacy of their politics in apocalyptic terms many times before. Tony Badger will suggest that economic recovery, energy self-sufficiency and the sheer scale of America's per capita wealth and military capability will enable the United States once again to survive the dysfunctionality of its political system.
Tony Badger has been Paul Mellon Professor of American History at Cambridge University since 1992 and Master of Clare College since 2003. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of American Historians in 2012. Badger has written extensively on the New Deal, southern liberal politicians and the Civil Rights Movement. He is currently writing a biography of Albert Gore Sr.
This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library