Virtual Event: Michael Kazin


What It Took to Win:
A History of the Democratic Party

in conversation with LIZABETH COHEN


March 2, 2022
7:00 PM ET


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Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes MICHAEL KAZIN—professor in the Department of History at Georgetown University and author of How the Left Changed a Nation—for a discussion of his latest book, What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party. He will be joined in conversation by LIZABETH COHEN, the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies at Harvard University.

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About What It Took to Win

The Democratic Party is the world’s oldest mass political organization. Since its inception in the early nineteenth century, it has played a central role in defining American society, whether it was exercising power or contesting it. But what has the party stood for through the centuries, and how has it managed to succeed in elections and govern? In What It Took to Win, the eminent historian Michael Kazin identifies and assesses the party’s long-running commitment to creating “moral capitalism”—a system that mixed entrepreneurial freedom with the welfare of workers and consumers. And yet the same party that championed the rights of the white working man also vigorously protected or advanced the causes of slavery, segregation, and Indian removal. As the party evolved towards a more inclusive egalitarian vision, it won durable victories for Americans of all backgrounds. But it also struggled to hold together a majority coalition and advance a persuasive agenda for the use of government.

Kazin traces the party’s fortunes through vivid character sketches of its key thinkers and doers, from Martin Van Buren and William Jennings Bryan to the financier August Belmont and reformers such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Sidney Hillman, and Jesse Jackson. He also explores the records of presidents from Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Throughout, Kazin reveals the rich interplay of personality, belief, strategy, and policy that define the life of the party—and outlines the core components of a political endeavor that may allow President Biden and his co-partisans to renew the American experiment.

Praise for What It Took to Win

“There’s no better time than a half century into a paralyzing partisan standoff with Republicans to ask what it has taken, historically, for Democrats to win elections. Michael Kazin’s immensely valuable history of the good the bad, and the ugly of the Democratic Party charts its long path from its antimonopoly and pro-white supremacy origins, two centuries ago, to its pro-labor, New Deal, mid-twentieth-century decades in power, to the partial and fragile victories of its pro-Silicon Valley, antiracist present.” —Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States

“Reading this lively and intriguing book by the estimable Michael Kazin is like learning, at last, the full back story of an elderly great-uncle who has forever been at the family dinner table. There are those unsavory episodes he never told us; the remarkable achievements we’d half-forgotten about; and finally the reminder that he is too large a presence to entirely love or hate, for the family absolutely cannot survive without him.” —Adam Hochschild, author of Rebel Cinderella

"Whatever your politics are, you owe it to yourself to dive into Michael Kazin's What It Took To Win, his new, eloquent and pathbreaking history of the Democratic Party that will command your attention from the very first page. Kazin performs something of a miracle: He manages, all at once, to be elegantly concise, briskly comprehensive, and thoroughly engaging. You will meet historical figures you didn't know while understanding those who you thought you knew far better. This is history at its best: honest, critical, beautifully rendered—and inspiring." —E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Our Divided Political Heart

Lizabeth Cohen
Lizabeth Cohen

Lizabeth Cohen

Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies at Harvard University and the former dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is the author of Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Bancroft Prize, and A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

Photo credit: Diana Levine

Michael Kazin
Michael Kazin

Michael Kazin

Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown University and editor emeritus of Dissent. His books include American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, The Populist Persuasion, and A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and editor of The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History.

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

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