-by John Wilson, Managing Editor
Stranger In A Strange Land
On the eve of a presidential election for which I can summon no enthusiasm, I've been reading a wonderful book about "the political transformation of twentieth-century America": The Inheritance: How Three Families Moved from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond, by Samuel G. Freedman (Simon & Schuster, 464 pp.; $27.50). Freedman's thesis is that the Democratic Party coalition that dominated American government from 1932 to 1968 depended heavily on immigrants and their children, especially Jewish and Catholic immigrants. And, Freedman argues, it was the large-scale defection of the grandchildren of those Catholics who religiously voted Democrat in the 1930s that made possible the realignment that issued in the Reagan Revolution and the Republican majority in Congress in 1994. (For a different, though in some ways parallel, take on this slice of history, see Lucas Morel's review of Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996, by Ronald Radosh, on p. 38 of this issue).
What interests me, though, is not so much the book's argument as the stories it tells. As in his two previous books, Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and Their High School and Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church, Freedman has created a powerful documentary narrative rich in individual detail. Here he tells the stories of three Catholic families, one Irish, one Italian, and one Polish, over three generations.
"The annals of politics and power rarely record such names," Freedman says of his subjects. "History remembers presidents and not the voters who elected them. Yet America bears their imprint of obscure hands, the hands even of the three families. In their story lies the essence of the century." If he lacks the virtuosity of James Agee, Freedman shares Agee's passionate commitment to reporting that is faithful to the very texture of life. This is journalism raised to the level of art.
Elsewhere in this issue, political scientist John Green (p. 20) ...