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Donkey Work: Congressional Democrats in Conservative America, Patrick Andelic

Reviewed by Adam Silver

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The 2020 Democratic presidential primary revealed the internal struggles of a political party attempting to define its identity around coherent policies. The focus of this debate between progressive and moderate factions is the role of the government in shaping policy and the speed of its implementation. In Donkey Work, Patrick Andelic illustrates how this debate has plagued the Democratic Party over the last 45 years, rendering the party unable to craft a coherent ideological message and policy program and ultimately ceding the national stage and ideological framework to the Republican Party in the process.

Donkey Work traces the challenges of national Democrats in crafting a coherent ideology and plan between the 1974 and 1994 midterm elections. The book is structured around key periods and events that juxtapose Democratic actions in Congress with corresponding ideological developments. It begins with a description of the 1975 reforms ushered in by the “Watergate Babies” that helped shift the Democratic caucus in a more progressive direction by transferring power away from the committee chair, back toward leadership, and, paradoxically, to rank-and-file members. The 1994 election marked the end of 40 years of continuous Democratic control of the House and the ascendance of a new conservative majority. Throughout this period, Demo

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