Another adviser offered this assessment: “On the water project fight we were thirty years ahead of our time. We were picking a fight on their turf…Carter’s fight against water projects was a watershed. It began to shed light on the process.”6
At a fundamental level, American politics was in the middle of a significant transition in the 1970s, and Jimmy Carter’s presidency was an important transitional one. The New Deal consensus that had shaped American political dynamics and responses to social policy challenges for the previous fifty years was disintegrating. Americans were coming to view government as the source of their problems rather than a source of solutions to social ills. According to Stephen Skowronek (1997, 362), the challenge facing Carter was much greater than the challenges that had faced his Democratic predecessors; he needed to reassemble “the broken pieces of the party of Roosevelt and Johnson with a critical eye focused on the task of rehabilitating the beleaguered system of governance that they bequeathed to his new day.” Carter was tasked with recreating an American liberalism that could compete in a more conservative political context, thereby relegitimizing the liberal vision of American government.7 By the time Carter took office, the Democratic Congress did not fully reflect this fundamental shift in the electorate, and the congressional leadership most certainly did not; they represented the New Deal coalition that had kept the Democrats in the majority for most of the preceding thirty-seven years.