Daniel SoyerAug 3, 2022
Left in the Center
The Liberal Party of New York and the Rise and Fall of American Social Democracy
Cornell University Press 2022
The history of small political parties and the history of the American left are closely intertwined, especially in the book Left in the Center: The Liberal Party of New York and the Rise and Fall of American Social Democracy (Cornell UP, 2021) by Daniel Soyer, professor of history at Fordham University.
From its founding in 1944 until its fall in 2002, the Liberal Party played a strategic role in New York State politics. Founded by anti-communist labor activists, social democrats and liberals, the party brought a social democratic dimension to New York politics in its early years. In addition to running its own candidates, it made strategic use of New York State law that allows candidates to run on more than one party line.
This enabled the Liberal Party to endorse a Democrat or a Republican who then ran as the candidate of a major party and the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party used this practice, called cross-endorsement, to tip the balance of votes by offering or withholding support.
Although the Liberal Party is gone—and some critics say that in its final years it was little more than a patronage mill--it set a blueprint followed on the right by New York’s Conservative Party, and on the left by the state’s Working Families Party.
The Liberal Party’s history illuminates the awkward relationship between principles and pragmatism, but it also helps us understand the role of third parties in American politics and the electoral fortunes of the more moderate end of the American left.
Robert W. Snyder is Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University He is the author of Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York (Cornell, paperback, 2019) and co-author of All the Nations Under Heaven: Immigrants, Migrants and the Making of New York (Columbia, 2019). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.