America is divided into two camps, according to U.S. News and World Reports writer and Fox commentator Michael Barone. No, not Red and Blue, though one suspects Barone may taint the two groups in the hues of the 2000 presidential election. Barone's divided America is one part Hard, one part Soft. Hard America is steeled by the competition and accountability of the free market, while Soft America is the product of public school and government largesse. Inspired by the notion that America produces incompetent 18 year olds and remarkably competent 30 year olds, Barone embarks on a breezy 162-page commentary that will spark mostly huzzahs from the right and jeers from the left. Certainly the unforgiving nature of the marketplace can sharpen skills in upstarts, but what's softer than the landing of a CEO with a golden parachute? And one would assume Barone would favor toughening up coddled kids by retaining, if not drastically raising, the inheritance tax, but the subject never comes up. Still, the Washington, D.C.-based pundit's premise is provocative, his arguments are nuanced, and his writing is sharp. Ultimately, Barone forecasts "a Harder America on the horizon." Would that be what they used to call "hard times"? --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
In his latest book, Barone, a writer for U.S. News and World Report and a well-known political commentator, describes America as comprising two diametrically opposed characteristics: hard and soft. "Hard America" is characterized by competition and accountability, while "Soft America" attempts to protect its citizens through government regulation and other social safety nets. While Barone's book is not without its political overtones-he identifies Hard America with the political right and Soft America with the left-his book should not be seen as the latest installment in the conservative-liberal cultural wars. Rather, Barone provides a deeper look at the way in which ordinary people live and work and the meaning behind the decisions they make. His concrete historical examples highlight the advantages and disadvantages of Hard and Soft America, creating a compelling picture of two very different ways of looking at the world, without degenerating into mudslinging or name-calling,. Although Barone, a conservative, clearly favors Hard America, he appreciates the necessary difficulty that comes with balancing the two Americas. He concedes that a society without some softness would be a cruel one, but warns that "we have the luxury of keeping parts of our society Soft only if we keep enough of it Hard." Despite his conservatism, Barone (The New Americans) writes with moderation and insight. Even those who do not agree with his normative conclusions can enjoy his thought-provoking and perceptive analysis.
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