The Public Interest

Progressive liberalism and American “community”

William A. Schambra

Summer 1985

IN THE FINAL days of the campaign of 1984, the Democratic presidential nominee returned to a message that the Washington Post described as “’the distilled essence of Walter Mondale.” “Let us be a community, a family where we care for each other,” he urged. “Let us end this selfishness, this greed, this new championship of caring only for yourself. Let’s pull America back together .... We must be knit together by a band of love.” Throughout his presidential campaign, Mondale in this fashion had insisted that the election of 1984 offered a stark choice between a Reagan America, characterized by greed, self-interest, and callousness, and his own America, graced by a sense of family or tightly-knit national community. Most political observers apparently accepted this characterization of the choice: When Mondale was decisively repudiated at the polls, they suggested that the private satisfactions flowing from the economic recovery had so dulled America’s sense of caring and community that Mondale’s message had simply been ignored. Habits of the Heart, a widely-reviewed treatment of the national character that appeared shortly after the elections, echoed the suggestion that the American people had turned away from community, toward selfish individualism.

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