Our Walter Karp table of contents


Editor's note
(from Whole Number 13 of The Last Ditch, May 3, 1996)

We extend our gratitude and appreciation to Regina Karp for permission to reprint Walter Karp's letters to Ronn Neff. I am honored to be able to report that their appearance here is their first publication anywhere.

— Nicholas Strakon


The Neff-Karp letters


October 30, 1984

[Sent in care of Harper and Row, publisher of The Politics of War]

Dear Mr. Karp:

I have recently completed reading your book Indispensable Enemies, and I have found it so helpful in understanding events of this election year and of past years that I find myself recommending it to someone every couple of days.

I should very much like to obtain a copy of the book for myself; it is carried by local libraries, but I would like to have my own copy to make notes in and to lend.

The Saturday Review Press [the original publisher], however, is no longer listed in Books in Print, and my query to them was returned to me as "No Longer at This Address — Not Forwardable."

Any assistance you can offer or suggestions you might make for me to obtain a copy or two of this book would be appreciated.

Best wishes,

R. N. Neff

P.S. I wonder if you have given any thought to expanding the book for a second edition that would put Watergate and the rise and dumping of Jimmy Carter in the perspective that you supply?

2nd P.S. I happened to read Leonard Lurie's Party Politics just after reading your book. His insights into party corruption — particularly his contention that political parties are inherently destructive of republican politics — were quite good, but I think his analysis would have profited from an awareness of the existence of deliberate or de facto collusion. (Another weakness, if that is not too weak a word, is that one can read the entire book and never know that William Jennings Bryan had ever run for President or that there was a populist movement in the United States.)

December 31, 1984

Dear Mr. Neff:

Your letter reached me after passing through the understandably lethargic hands of my ex-publisher and my ex-literary agent. I was especially delighted by your reference to Jimmy Carter's "rise and dumping." It would appear from that that you are the only person outside my immediate family who recognizes that Carter, the first man elected to the presidency outside the party system, was quite deliberately destroyed by the party leaders in Congress. It is the most important untold story of our time, but for the moment nobody cares to hear it.

To answer your question: Indispensable Enemies was published in 1974 as a Penguin paperback with an interim essay on Watergate added to it. As far as I know it is still in print and Penguin should have some copies in stock. The Harvard Co-op also has copies, I believe.

Let me hear from you again.

Sincerely yours,

Walter Karp

January 13, 1985

Dear Mr. Karp:

Thank you for your letter of December 31.

Penguin Books, alas, has allowed Indispensable Enemies to go out of print. I have tried to obtain copies from the Harvard Co-Op, but so far I have had no luck. A friend in the area has lent me his copy, so that I have been able to read that essay.

It seems to me that you succeeded in making sense of the events so far as you covered them. Certainly the later replacement of Spiro Agnew by Gerald Ford and then Nelson Rockefeller does nothing to weaken your analysis.

I was more interested, however, in your description in your letter of Jimmy Carter as "the first man elected to the presidency outside the party system."

I wonder.

Carter was a member of the Trilateral Commission prior to his election. Now there are certain conspiracy theorists for whom this would be decisive, with no further discussion necessary. I do not think it is necessary, however, to take this position merely to note that this does not sound like an outsider. He nominated Scoop Jackson at the 1972 Democratic Convention, and participated in the phony "Stop McGovern" movement designed to lead the public to perceive McGovern as a non-machine candidate. None of this sounds like an outsider.

And yet, how anyone could possibly doubt that he was, as you say, deliberately destroyed by party leaders, escapes my understanding. (Since part of the task of that destruction was given to Edward Kennedy, one wonders whether he performed a chore similar to FDR's court-packing.)

You explain in your book that when a man is put up for an office, the party leaders have already tested him, and he is trusted by them. Given the somewhat chaotic political stage onto which Carter walked, he presents a picture of a party man who was able to impress the voters as being outside the system. But although he was within the system, he was not yet tried, tested, and — perhaps — not trusted. At least not fully trusted. Nevertheless, he performed so well in the primaries and was able to attract so much favorable publicity, that he certainly seemed to be the best choice to win the election. (And I think that after Watergate the Democrats did have to actually try to win the election — after all no matter who their choice was, he would be running against the man that had pardoned Nixon.)

But as President, Carter was not able to accomplish those things the party leaders (I prefer your term "oligarchs") wanted accomplished. Was this because of genuine sentiments, differences of opinion, incompetence, Congressional dislike for his aides? To some extent, it wouldn't matter. If for any reason he could not enhance party power, but only weakened it further, he must be dumped. And so he was.

Please — if you can spare the time — let me have your thoughts on this possibility. It seems to me to make sense both of the dumping and Carter's background.

Best wishes to you,

Ronald Neff

P.S. Do you ever accept speaking engagements?

January 26, 1985

Dear Mr. Neff:

I was happy to hear from you although you brought the ill-tidings about my book going o.p.

Carter poses a problem because he was not a rebel but merely an ambitious office-seeker. But grant that Democratic leaders set about turning him into a hissing and a byword, however, and the question is why. Consider the results. In discrediting Carter party leaders discredited, to a great extent, the popular nomination of presidential candidates. Carter's wretched term in office they cited as "proof" that the new system was grossly defective. By trashing Carter party leaders regained the precious "right" — lost in 1968 — to name the candidate: viz. Mondale; to revise the popular nominating system in their favor, viz. the reduction of primaries from 35 to 25 by 1984, and so forth. That is what they gained by discrediting Carter and that, I am certain, is precisely why they discredited him.

This does not preclude the possibility that party leaders secretly groomed Carter for the purpose of destroying him, but I doubted this then and still do. I don't see how party leaders could have pushed Carter, a man without a following or faction behind him (unlike McGovern) without being grotesquely obvious. [*] Think what Herculean labors they undertook in carrying Mondale across the finish line. Had the Democrats been powerful enough to nominate an obscure southern pol in 1976 they would not have had to alter the nominating system in the first place. It seems to me that it was precisely because an ordinary office seeker without a ready-made following, in a quiet time, could make himself a leading contender merely by pretending to be an outsider-rebel was the signal to the entire Democratic syndicate of how dangerous the situation had become. If Carter could get a lock on the nomination then a real popular tribune would come along after Carter unless something drastic was done at once. And it was. In brief, 1976 revealed that for the first time since the days of Andrew Jackson, a man could gain the White House solely by winning the suffrage of the voters. That was a revolutionary situation indeed and the remedy was dire — for never in our history had a party destroyed its own president. The dire and demoralizing effects of that deed are with us to this day.

Sincerely yours,

Walter Karp

P.S. Yes, I accept speaking engagements. [handwritten]

Posted June 17, 2002

© 2002 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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