Phillips, Kevin (Price) 1940-
PHILLIPS, Kevin (Price) 1940-
PERSONAL: Born November 30, 1940, in New York, NY; son of William Edward (a state administrator) and Dorothy (Price) Phillips; married Martha Henderson (Republican staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee), 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—5115 Moorland Rd., Bethesda, MD 20014. Office—American Political Research Corp., 7316 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20014.
CAREER: 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—. Commentator on National Public Radio, CBS Radio Network, and CBS Television.
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 Information 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 Rich, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Dynastic Presidency: Family, Politics, and Fortune in the Bush Era, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of columns for King Features Syndicate, 1970—. Columnist for Los Angeles Times; contributor to New York Times and Washington Post. Editor and publisher of The American Political Report.
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 conservativism 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 suggested 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 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 The 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, published in 1975, examined 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, 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 10 percent of the population dropped 10.5 percent. At the same time, the average incomes from the wealthiest 10 percent rose 24.4 percent, and the average incomes of the top 1 percent 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 continued, "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. . . . 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." Ronald Reagan, writes Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books, "brought in a new elite of glitterati whom Phillips denounces, here, as betrayers of right-wing populism. The [Republican] party has given itself back to those 'economic royalists' Phillips denounced in 1968. He is admirably consistent. No one else has assembled a more scathing assault on the 1980s as a time of economic exploitation."
Other reviewers were not so enthusiastic. Fortune magazine reviewer Walter Olson, and Allen Randolph, writing for the National Review, both pointed 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. Olson further 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. Randolph stated that "the author's curious resentment of the prosperity of the Reagan Era is omnipresent and burdensome—but . . . if there is one thing that we have learned from recent events it is that resentment does not make for sound economics."
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." But Phillips himself stated in Newsweek, "I don't see any reason to concede the conservative label to those people who are survival-of-the-fittest disrupters of a lot of ordinary Americans' lives."
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, D.C. 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 reviewer 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 critic 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, which saw print in 1999, was 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 John B. Judis in the New York Times Book Review 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 in the Washington Post's Book World was more complimentary, 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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2002, David Siegfried, review of Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, p. 1490.
Book World, May 19, 2002, Thomas Ferguson, "Following the Money," p. 7.
Business Week, September 17, 1984, pp. 12, 16.
Christian Science Monitor, September 4, 1969.
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.
English Historical Review, September, 2000, Jeremy Black, review of The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America, p. 991.
Fortune, July 16, 1990, pp. 113-114.
Historian, fall, 2000, Cedric B. Cowing, review of The Cousins' Wars, p. 208.
Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1985.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 10, 1990, pp. 1, 8
Nation, July 3, 1982, pp. 20-22; August 13-20, 1990, pp. 175-176.
National Observer, December 22, 1969.
National Review, August 6, 1990. p. 44.
New Republic, September 6, 1982, pp. 28-30.
Newsweek, July 23, 1990, p. 19.
New York Times, June 21, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1975, p. 10; October 21, 1984, pp. 37-38; June 24, 1990, pp. 1, 26-27; May 12, 2002, John B. Judis, "Decline and Fall," 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.
Saturday Review, September 13, 1969.
Time, August 1, 1969; June 25, 1990, p. 69.
Washington Post Book World, August 15, 1982, p. 7; November 25, 1984, pp. 4, 6; July 8, 1990, pp. 1, 9.*