New Books Network

Patrick Andelic

Donkey Work

Congressional Democrats in Conservative America, 1974-1994

University Press of Kansas 2019

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network September 5, 2019 Stephen Colbrook

What happened to the Democratic Party after the 1960s? In many political histories, the McGovern defeat of 1972 announced the party’s decline—and the conservative...

What happened to the Democratic Party after the 1960s? In many political histories, the McGovern defeat of 1972 announced the party’s decline—and the conservative movement’s ascent. What the conventional narrative neglects, Patrick Andelic submits, is the role of Congress in the party’s, and the nation’s, political fortunes. In Donkey Work: Congressional Democrats in Conservative America, 1974-1994 (University Press of Kansas, 2019), Andelic looks at Congress from 1974 to 1994 as the Democratic Party’s stronghold and explores how this twenty-year tenure boosted and undermined the party’s response to the conservative challenge.

If post-1960s America belongs to the conservative movement, Andelic asks, how do we account for the failure of so much of the conservative agenda—especially the shrinking of the federal government? Examining the Democratic Party’s unusual durability in Congress after 1974, Donkey Work disrupts the narrative of inexorable liberal decline since the 1970s and reveals the ways in which liberalism and conservatism actually developed in tandem. The book traces the evolution of ideologies within the Democratic Party, particularly the emergence of “neoliberalism,” suggesting that this political philosophy was as much an anticipation of America’s “right turn” as a reaction to it; as factions vied for control of the party, Congress itself both strengthened and weakened liberal resistance to the conservative movement.

By putting the focus on Congress and legislative politics, in contrast to the “presidential synthesis” that dominates US political history, Andelic’s book offers a new, deeply informed perspective on two turbulent decades of American politics—a perspective that alters and expands our understanding of how we arrived at our present political moment.


Stephen Colbrook is a graduate student at University College London, where he is researching a dissertation on the interaction between HIV/AIDS and state policy-making. This work will focus on the political and policy-making side of the epidemic and aims to compare the different contexts of individual states, such as California, Florida, and New Jersey. Stephen can be contacted at stephencolbrook@gmail.com.