New Part Three - July 24:
James Fallows
Kevin Phillips

Part Two - July 12:
James Fallows
Kevin Phillips

Part One - July 3:
James Fallows
Kevin Phillips

Kevin Phillips is a contributing columnist to the Los Angeles Times and a regular contributor to National Public Radio. Phillips was the chief political analyst for the 1968 Republican presidential campaign, and in 1969 published his landmark book The Emerging Republican Majority. His bestseller The Politics of Rich and Poor was described as a "founding document" of the 1992 presidential election.

James Fallows is The Atlantic's national correspondent and the author of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (1996) and of Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel. To learn about his new book and look through an archive of his recent articles, visit

Atlantic Unbound | July 3, 2002
fallows@large | Dialogues with James Fallows
From: Kevin Phillips
To: James Fallows
Subject: Re: The silent crash

Dear Jim:


Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich
by Kevin Phillips
Broadway Books
472 pages, $29.95

I have your three questions, but I am leery of the first: "Fifty years from now, what will people consider to have been the truly consequential developments of George W. Bush's first year in office?"

Setting aside whether by people you mean Americans or others, too, I don't see how one can answer that question until 9/11 has been a fact for two or three years, not just nine months. By that time, we will also have a better idea of how the U.S. economy has evolved.

Of course, I also disagree with your view that six months ago it would have seemed silly to raise the question. The first round of what you call "the chain of capitalist failure" was already in place with the NASDAQ having lost almost 75 percent from its high, a modern-day U.S. major-market decline exceeded only by the roughly 85 percent crash of the Dow Jones Industrial Average between 1929 and 1932. Since then, the "chain" has picked up another link or two of failure, especially in the last two months, so that things are getting more interesting.

Without 9/11, George W. would probably by now be in what his father called "deep doo-doo" for weak and pro-corporate management of the economy. With 9/11, patriotism is also in play and further strikes could push the anti-terrorist issue back to the fore.

On your second point, we have some perceptive differences. Twenty-five or thirty percent of Americans probably gained in the nineties, but probably roughly as many slipped and roughly as many stagnated, especially when one allows for the major upsurge of debt. Also, we don't yet know how much the economic and market events from spring 2000 through early summer 2002 eroded the gains of 1997, 1998, and 1999 that put some motion in otherwise mediocre 1990s data.

I don't think most Americans "know" what in fact takes quite awhile to look up and lay out. Until I assembled my book and the charts in it, I had only a general sense and was stunned by the specifics. U.S. politics over the last few years has had a few "populist" hitters—John McCain early in 2000 and Ralph Nader with his own ideological band—but basically there's been little done to lay out the wealth numbers for the American people. Most of the major magazines, newspapers, and broadcast organizations in the United States are owned by don't-rock-the-boat multimillionaires, and because most politicians, even liberals, have to raise buckets of campaign money, they know where to draw the line at provocation. Despite the new crime-in-the-suites issue, I wouldn't be surprised if it took a further downward lurch in the stock market and in the economy to push a leaderless public into operative anger.

Turning to your third question, the Democrats have for some years now had a large slice of the richest Americans who make their money from high tech, the media, entertainment, and, increasingly, finance. Could they lose some of the Jewish portion of this "high end" support to the Republicans because of Bush's pro-Israel position? Yes, but if something resembling World War Three starts in the Middle East in 2002 or 2003, the backlash against Bush's regional policies could be powerful. The Bible Belt may be willing to go in Armageddon's way, but I wouldn't be so sure about Colorado, Illinois, or New Jersey.

I await your next round of questions.

Kevin Phillips

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