Phillips, Kevin 1940–
Phillips, Kevin 1940–
(Kevin Price Phillips)
PERSONAL: Born November 30, 1940, in New York, NY; son of William Edward (a state administrator) and Dorothy Phillips; married Martha Henderson (in politics), September 23, 1968; children: Andrew, Alexander. Education: Colgate University, A.B., 1961; Harvard University, LL.B., 1964; also attended University of Edinburgh, 1959–60. Politics: Republican. Religion: Protestant.
ADDRESSES: Home—Litchfield County, CT.
CAREER: Called to the State Bar of New York and the Bar of Washington, DC. Administrative assistant to Congressman Paul Fino, 1964–68; special assistant to campaign manager of "Nixon for President" committee, 1968–69; special assistant to U.S. Attorney General, 1969–70; American Political Research Corp., Bethesda, MD, president, 1971–98. Editor and publisher of Business and Public Affairs Fortnightly and American Political Report. Commentator on National Public Radio, CBS Radio Network, and CBS Television.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Critics Circle award nomination, 1991, for The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath.
The Emerging Republican Majority, Arlington House (New Rochelle, NY), 1969.
(With Paul H. Blackman) Electoral Reform and Voter Participation: Federal Registration, a False Remedy for Voter Apathy, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Washington, DC), 1975.
Mediacracy: American Parties and Politics in the Communications Age, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
Post-Conservative America: People, Politics, and Ideology in a Time of Crisis, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
Staying on Top: The Business Case for a National Industrial Strategy, Random House (New York, NY), 1984, published as Staying on Top: Winning the Trade War, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1986.
The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Boiling Point: Republicans, Democrats and the Decline of Middle Class Prosperity, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Arrogant Capital: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2002.
William McKinley, Times Books (New York, NT), 2003.
The Dynastic Presidency: Family, Politics, and Fortune in the Bush Era, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times and Washington Post. Author of columns for King Features Syndicate, beginning 1970; columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
SIDELIGHTS: Kevin Phillips is considered one of America's premier political analysts. He skyrocketed to public notice with his first book, The Emerging Republican Majority. Only twenty-eight years old when the book was published, Phillips already had political experience—he served as a special assistant in voting trends analysis to Richard Nixon's campaign manager, John N. Mitchell, in the successful Republican campaign of 1968. Phillips later followed Mitchell to the attorney general's office, again working as a special assistant. The Emerging Republican Majority correctly predicted the shift from liberalism to conservatism that took place beginning with Nixon's reelection in 1972, as well as coining the term "Sun Belt," and recognizing the political reemergence of the South. In the book, Phillips suggests new ways in which Republicans could gain the political support they needed to dominate American politics.
Political dogma in the late 1960s mandated that Republicans could not come to power without appealing to liberal voters, especially young people and minorities—groups already largely aligned with the Democratic Party, or unaffiliated. Phillips saw Nixon's election in 1968 as the end of a Democratic preeminence in American politics that had begun with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s. He also saw that the Republican Party could create an alliance between dissatisfied conservatives in the South, in the Midwest, and on the West Coast, in combination with Roman Catholics, blue-collar workers, and prosperous suburbanites—a section of the voting public that could give Republicans victory without appealing to liberals. By 1972, a version of Phillips's plan was in effect, and conservatives returned to power in America.
Phillips left the attorney general's office in 1970, and became president of the American Political Research Corporation in 1971. He continued to state his views through The American Political Report and Business and Public Affairs Fortnightly, periodicals he edited and published himself. In addition, he wrote several more examinations of contemporary American politics. Mediacracy: American Parties and Politics in the Communications Age examines the emerging importance of the information industry in American politics. In Post-Conservative America: People, Politics, and Ideology in a Time of Crisis, Phillips draws parallels between contemporary America, Weimar Germany, and sixteenth-century Europe, in order to look at two possible political futures for the United States: a shift toward authoritarianism, or disintegration of the two-party political system. Staying on Top: The Business Case for a National Industrial Strategy suggests possible solutions for the trading and industrial problems of the United States, including a more aggressive trade policy and expansion of "economic nationalism."
In The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath, Phillips contends that throughout the past twenty years, and especially during Ronald Reagan's presidency—years dominated by conservative Republican politics—the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. Citing data from national magazines and government reports, Phillips shows that during the 1980s average incomes from the poorest ten percent of the population dropped 10.5 percent. At the same time, the average incomes from the wealthiest ten percent rose 24.4 percent, and the average incomes of the top onepercent increased over 74 percent. In addition, the economic policies of the 1980s produced record numbers of millionaires and billionaires, while farmers, middle-income workers, inner-city poor, and the unemployed saw prosperity recede from their grasp.
Phillips sees two historical precedents and a political effect in this accumulation of wealth in the hands of the rich. The precedents lie in the "Gilded Age" (roughly the 1890s) and the "Roaring 20s," both eras of laissez-faire economics marked by government deregulation and low taxes, and directed by conservative Republicans. They were also marked, says Phillips, by hard times for farmers and an increase in indigent poor. Both eras ended in periods of Populist upheaval. The political effect of the Reagan years, Phillips believes, will be similar: a backlash of Populist origins—farmers, middle-income white-collar workers, and the poor—against the politicians in power. These predictions were realized in the presidential elections of 1992, which brought a Democratic president into office for the first time in twelve years.
"The 1980s were a second Gilded Age," writes Phillips in The Politics of Rich and Poor, "in which many Americans made and spent money abundantly. Yet as the decade ended, too many stretch limousines, too many enormous incomes and too much high fashion foreshadowed a significant shift of mood. A new plutocracy—some critics were even using the word 'oligarchy'—had created a new target for populist reaction. A small but significant minority of American liberals had begun to agitate the economy's losers—minorities, young men, female heads of households, farmers, steelworkers and others." Phillips continues: "Television audiences were losing their early-eighties fascination with the rich. And many conservatives, including President George Bush himself, were becoming defensive about great wealth, wanton moneymaking and greed." Phillips added: "The 1980s boom in the Boston-Washington megalopolis, coupled with hard times on the farm and in the Oil Patch, produced a familiar economic geography—a comparative shift of wealth toward … income groups already well off."
In reviewing The Politics of Rich and Poor, Priscilla Painton, writing in Time, stated that "Phillips brings the authority of statistics and history to his argument: with an elegant weaving of charts and cultural observations, he paints a picture of the Reagan decade as America's third period of 'heyday capitalism,' when the poor got poorer, the middle class has to get rich in order to retain a middle-class life-style, and being rich had to be redefined to account for the tripling in the number of multimillionaires."
Other reviewers were not so enthusiastic, pointing out that, contrary to Phillips's contention, the tax structure as revised under President Reagan actually resulted in an increase in tax revenues from the taxpayers in the highest brackets. National Review contributor Walter Olson declared that the dip in unemployment in Reagan's second term helped create higher wages for lower income workers in restaurants—resulting in costs (which Phillips decries) that were in turn passed to consumers.
Phillips's own political stance in this book has attracted as much attention as his views. "Phillips's biting polemic against the Reagan years is … most surprising," wrote Ronald Brownstein in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "As a former aide to Richard Nixon, Phillips usually is described as a Republican analyst. But in recent years he has actually assumed a new role; the conservative who dares to say that liberals are right. This book should confirm him in that improbable position." Olson in particular perceived Phillips as a liberal Democrat in Republican's clothing, stating: "His current book represents a sort of wet-winged emergence from the ideological chrysalis." "It may be that a Democratic comeback will have to wait for a severe economic downturn," stated Michael Waldman in the Nation. "Phillips makes a persuasive case that, should this occur, principled progressives will have an opportunity to reshape the political landscape."
One of Phillips's follow-ups to The Politics of Rich and Poor is 1994's Arrogant Capital: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics. As Timothy A. Byrnes reported in Commonweal, in Arrogant Capital "Phillips sets out to explain why gridlock and the stalemates of American government cannot be cured simply by the imposition of party government. The American government, he argues, has been taken over by a new class of parasites," Byrnes continued. "Lawyer-lobbyists and other special-interest pleaders have proliferated wildly and turned Washington, DC into a cosmopolitan capital … far out of touch with the common citizenry, and far too entrenched to allow for the kind of innovation and new directions the country desperately needs." Though an Economist contributor disagreed with many of Phillips's viewpoints, the critic conceded that the author might well be "accurately reflecting the country's mood." Similarly, while a Publishers Weekly contributor was not convinced of the efficacy of Phillips's proposed solutions to the problem he describes in Arrogant Capital, the critic praised him for setting "an agenda for debate."
The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America is something of a change of pace for Phillips. As Cedric B. Cowing pointed out in the Historian, "Because it is historical, the book should have a better shelf life than the author's recent tracts and will rank with his classic, The Emerging Republican Majority." The Cousins' Wars traces the influence of British and American religious divisions from the British Civil War, to the American Revolution, to the American Civil War, and predicts they will continue to have a strong role in future political conflicts. Jeremy Black concluded in the English Historical Review that "the comparisons and links [Phillips] draws between the wars are interesting and he writes in an engaging fashion."
In 2002's Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich Phillips "takes a much broader approach" towards the "relationships between politics and wealth" than he did in The Politics of Rich and Poor, according to David Siegfried in Booklist. Though New York Times Book Review critic John B. Judis did not completely agree with Phillips's analysis in Wealth and Democracy, he conceded that the volume "has its moments, principally as a jeremiad against the financial excesses of the late 1990s." Thomas Ferguson was more complimentary in his Washington Post Book World assessment, stating that "Wealth and Democracy brings the usual mind-numbing litanies of statistics and historical data vividly to life." He went on to conclude that "Phillips's discussion of America now is especially detailed and compelling."
Phillips presents a political biography of a former president in his book William McKinley. Pointing out that McKinley's presidency was the first in the twentieth century, Phillips presents his view that McKinley represented a turning pointing in the history of the United States in that he began its transformation into world-wide military power. According to Phillips, much of McKinley's contribution to American government and the United States was overshadowed because of his flamboyant successor, Teddy Roosevelt. In the biography, Phillips follows McKinley from his time as an officer in the Civil War to his initial endeavors in local politics to his arrival on the national scene and his eventual assassination. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called William McKinley "an instructive, graceful look at a neglected presidency." Writing in Booklist, Brad Hooper referred to the biography as "a bold, new look [at McKinley] that, itself, deserves a serious look." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "one can't fail to come away from this book with deeper knowledge of a critical moment in American governance."
Phillips takes a look at the politically powerful Bush family in American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. The author focuses on the last four generations of Bush men and describes how wealth, power, and belonging to the right organizations, such as Yale's Skull and Bones club, can lead to positions of political power. He also describes how the Bushs' connections to the energy industry and the military-industrial complex have had a profound influence on American foreign and domestic policy over the years, an impact that Phillips sees in a negative light. In a review in Booklist, Ilene Cooper noted that American Dynasty "is more wide ranging, more scholarly, and in many ways, more disturbing" than other books written about the Bushs and their power. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the "book offers an important historical context in which to understand the rise of George W. [Bush]." Douglas Brinkley, writing in Mother Jones, attested: "Most of American Dynasty is not based on primary research. Phillips borrows ideas throughout the book—always with scrupulous accreditation—from dozens of secondary sources." Brinkley went on to call the author "a deep thinker extraordinaire, who does a masterful job of connecting the military-industrial dots right up to the conduct of the Iraq War and the postwar reconstruction."
In American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century Phillips continues his investigation into the Bush family and concludes that the Bush presidencies have had an adverse influence on the Republican Party. "In American Theocracy, Phillips charges George W. Bush and his father with promoting 'a reckless dependency on shrinking oil supplies, a milieu of radicalized (and much too influential) religion, and a reliance on borrowed money,'" wrote John B. Judis in the New Republic. "Mr Phillips paints a chilling picture of American religion as a mixture of biblical literalism and Southern-fried bigotry," commented a reviewer in the Economist. In a review in America, Olga Bonfiglio wrote: "Throughout the pages of Phillips's book readers will find a consistent warning undergirded by hope. It is this: Americans who believe in civil liberties, the Constitution and democratic values, must pick up the leadership for the nation themselves. Relying on a savior, an antichrist or the Democrats to fill the void will not work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Phillips, Kevin, The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
America, April 17, 2006, Olga Bonfiglio, review of American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, p. 34.
Booklist, May 1, 2002, David Siegfried, review of Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, p. 1490; July, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of William McKinley, p. 1860; November 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, p. 458; March 1, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of American Theocracy, p. 43.
Business Week, February 9, 2004, Douglas Harbrecht, review of American Dynasty, p. 22.
Commonweal, November 4, 1994, Timothy A. Byrnes, review of Arrogant Capital: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics, pp. 26-27.
Economist, October 8, 1994, review of Arrogant Capital, pp. 99-100; April 8, 2006, review of American Theocracy, p. 83.
English Historical Review, September, 2000, Jeremy Black, review of The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America, p. 991.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 25, 2006, Andrew Preston, review of American Theocracy, p. D3
Historian, fall, 2000, Cedric B. Cowing, review of The Cousins' Wars, p. 208.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of William McKinley, p. 849; November 15, 2003, review of American Dynasty, p. 1355; January 15, 2006, review of American Theocracy, p. 76.
Library Journal, March 15, 2006, Robert F. Nardini, review of American Theocracy, p. 86.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 10, 1990, Ronald Brownstein, review of The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath, pp. 1, 8.
Mother Jones, January-February, 2004, Douglas Brinkley, review of American Dynasty, p. 77.
Nation, August 13, 1990, Michael Waldman, review of The Politics of Rich and Poor, pp. 175-176; March 1, 2004, Elizabeth Drew, review of American Dynasty, p. 25.
National Interest, summer, 2004, Martin Walker, review of American Dynasty, p. 155.
National Review, August 6, 1990, Walter Olson, review of The Politics of Rich and Poor, p. 44.
New Leader, November-December, 2003, Andrew J. Glass, review of American Dynasty, p. 23.
New Republic, May 22, 2006, John B. Judis, review of American Theocracy, p. 20.
New York Times, March 19, 2006, Alan Brinkley, review of American Theocracy.
New York Times Book Review, May 12, 2002, John B. Judis, "Decline and Fall," p. 1; March 19, 2006, Alan Brinkley, review of American Theocracy, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, July 4, 1994, review of Arrogant Capital, p. 48; April 22, 2002, review of Wealth and Democracy, p. 61, interview with Kevin Phillips, p. 62; June 9, 2003, review of William McKinley, p. 42; December 22, 2003, review of American Dynasty, p. 48; February 13, 2006, review of American Theocracy, p. 80.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, November, 2004, review of American Dynasty.
Spectator, February 21, 2004, George Osborne, review of American Dynasty, p. 33.
Time, June 25, 1990, Priscilla Painton, review of The Politics of Rich and Poor, p. 69; March 27, 2006, Richard Lacayo, review of American Theocracy, p. 65.
USA Today, May, 2004, Raymond L. Fischer, review of American Dynasty, p. 80.
Washington Post Book World, May 19, 2002, Thomas Ferguson, "Following the Money," p. 7.
American Dynasty Web site, http://www.americandynasty.net/ (September 8, 2006).
American Theocracy Web site, http://www.americantheocracy.net/ (September 8, 2006).
BuzzFlash.com, http://www.buzzflash.com/ (September 8, 2006), Mark Karlin, "Kevin Phillips as Cassandra … Will We Heed His Warning about this 'American Theocracy'?," interview with Phillips.
NNDb, http://www.nndb.com/ (September 8, 2006), information on Phillips and his works.