As with many books I write about here, I read Pivotal Decade as an audiobook. Before I write about audiobooks, I usually get ahold of a print copy so I can offer quotations. But the San Francisco Public Library had never heard of this one. Nor had the academic library I can access through my connections. So then I looked for online chapters or major reviews; perhaps they would include long quotations I could use to anchor my reflections. Google turned up hardly anything.
In fact the only major discussion I could find of Pivotal Decade was part of survey of volumes about the 1970s by Rick Perlstein, the perceptive author of Nixonland. He's remarkably friendly to Stein considering his work is among histories she disses, but the descriptions he chooses to characterize her writing are might strong. Here are a few:
Perlstein is actually appreciative of Stein's dissection of the economic realities of the 1970s -- but he's mightily put off by her abrasive argumentation and has substantive critiques of what she missed.
I get that. And I probably should share his ire, since I've one of those Sixties people who mostly prioritized the righting of race, gender and sexual orientation wrongs ahead of concern about the deteriorating prospects of the industrial working class. But actually I got a lot out of Stein's history and I garnered two insights from this difficult book that I know will stay with me.
- The people in power in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, regardless of party, opted for economic policies that served the needs of the Cold War and more generally of imperial hegemony when the alternative could have been to build on postwar global economic pre-eminence to create a different source of national strength. Empire founded on military might trumped all -- and I would argue still does, though things are getting iffy around the edges.
- Democrats simply had no prescription or vision for national economic well-being once US superiority waned in the 1970s. They still don't; hence Obama flails in mini-battles with Republicans out to score for their wealthy sponsors. Without a believable social democratic vision, we get to oscillate between more cruel and more gentle expropriation of the nation by the plutocrats.
Do us all a favor ... ask your library for Pivotal Decade.