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Sacrifice theme returns to US politics

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That was supposed to distinguish Mondale as the “honest” candidate. Instead, President Ronald Reagan and his political team characterized it as a “pledge” by Mondale to raise taxes. On Election Day, Mondale lost all but one state and the District of Columbia.

Previously, President Jimmy Carter hadn’t fared well either when asking for sacrifice. When the 1979 energy crisis hit, he called it a “moral equivalent of war,” famously donned a cardigan, and asked Americans to turn down their thermostats. He was not reelected.

“Sacrifice has kind of a bad name when it’s applied to the American people. We like to remember that we’ve sacrificed ... – but in terms of asking people for sacrifice, that’s the sign to a lot of people of a liberal,” says Mark Leff, a historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.“But the political discourse seems to be shifting.”

In his research, Mr. Zogby identifies what he calls “four meta-movements that separately and together are redefining the American dream.” Top on the list is living with limits (followed by embracing diversity, looking inward, and demanding authenticity).

If Americans are more receptive to the idea that they, personally, will be called upon to make sacrifices, it may be because the nation’s problems loom so large. The US is involved in two wars abroad and is reeling from a financial crisis, the depths of which are still unknown. More than 80 percent of Americans say the US has veered off track; to some, dangerously so. At times of crisis, historians say, citizens tend to respond to leadership that involves them in solving the problems.

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