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Independent Nation: How Centrism Can Change American Politics Paperback – February 22, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (February 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400050243
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400050246
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,485,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Avlon, a columnist for the New York Sun, a staffer in Clinton's 1996 election campaign and former chief speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, argues that centrism, "the rising political force in modern American life," also offers the best chance for America to prosper. Part history, part political philosophy, part roadmap for centrists, this volume demonstrates Avlon's thesis by exploring political battlegrounds-from state primaries to presidential campaigns-in which a centrist message succeeded. To Avlon centrism is not a matter of compromise or reading polls; rather it's an antidote to the politics of divisiveness, providing principled opposition to political extremes. His description of Maine Republican senator Margaret Chase Smith's morally and politically courageous Senate speech rejecting McCarthyism four years before the Senate censured him embodies Avlon's view of centrism, and he uses that example to demonstrate the value of centrists like Smith to the body politic. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement he describes was that of Earl Warren, who in 1946 ran for governor of California in the Republican, Democratic and Progressive primaries-and won all three. Avlon's centrist tent is a large one: the political campaigns of presidents as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, JFK, Nixon and Clinton are chronicled to demonstrate the staying power and effectiveness of centrist politics. But his broad definition of centrism somewhat undercuts his thesis, and his failure to address the times when centrist politics may not have been appropriate-the New Deal era, for example-also leaves lingering questions. Still, Avlon's argument that centrism is good for America is appealing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Former Rudy Giuliani speechwriter Avlon posits that political accomplishment has stemmed and should continue to stem from a centrist posture. Avlon goes on to chronicle the careers of such disparate "centrists" as Teddy Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Jesse Ventura, and--yes--Rudy Giuliani, to name but a few. As for his theory, Arthur Schlesinger gave a superior outline in his book The Vital Center (1988). Avlon also seems to cherish only one model of a centrist--the budgetary conservative with his fingers on the pulse of politically correct social issues. Still, the author makes a good point when he suggests that political parties should be able to bridge various policies that would appear to be perfect fits (e.g., if maximizing freedom of choice is one's concern, why shouldn't pro-choice liberals take school choice vouchers under their umbrella?). The fault, Avlon suggests, lies in the curse of special-interest politics. In all, the book's salvation lies in the essay-size bios, which are very revealing, instructive, and full of new insights about stories we thought we already knew. Allen Weakland
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Larry Kincaid on March 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
John Avlon's book Independent Nation, distinguishes itself from the pack of jeremiads against our polarized political culture via his ability to use small points to prove larger ones. He weaves a rich tapestry from the fabric of American history that allows the reader an insight not only into political giants such as Moynihan and Giuliani's policies, but there persons as well. By including sections about lesser known figures Avlon shows that while we do live in a unique time, this is not the first generation whose politics were personal or polarized.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the section on Edward Brooke, who is an often forgotten figure in the struggle for civil rights. How did a black Republican get elected to the US Senate in white Democratic Massachusetts? Avlon argues that by pursuing the "vital center" he was elected first in 1966 and then re-elected in 1972 even as Nixon was losing the state. The arguments he uses to buttress this point are impressive and well-thought out.
Is there a vital center anymore? The fringes of both parties take out their vengeance via the primaries on any person who puts forth what Dick Morris called the "triangulation strategy" and but yet we sometimes let great leaders slip by like Guliani, Moynihan and even Clinton.
I once read that we get the politics we deserve rather than those that we desire. Avlon illustrates this with countless examples of people who were excoriated by their own parties and often only appreciated in historical retrospect. Where have you gone Daniel Moynihan....
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Rick Wilson on March 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
John Avlon's Independent Nation is a cogent and nuanced history of the profoundly independent character of American political life. As a historical education in the lives of leaders who defied the conventional political wisdom of their times by steering an independent path we see icons from Teddy Roosevelt to Rudy Giuliani. They sometimes left their base voters puzzled but won accolades from the vast center. In these character and leadership profiles, Independent Nation shines.
Both parties continue to wage primary battles that mandate we follow Nixon's dicta: run for your base in the primary, run in the center for the general. As the fractures on the far left and far right combine with increasing vocal constituency groups at either end of the spectrum, getting back to the center in either campaigns or governance becomes more challenging, though as Avlon's work demonstrates, more vital than ever.

Independent Nation serves as a smart roadmap for campaigners, historians and those interested in the tidal flow of ideological life in America. It is a picture not only of what effective leadership from the center of our nation has been, but is becoming.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Frank on July 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
Avlon makes some good points, and his book is worth reading, particularly for its insights on what went wrong in the Carter administration.

On the other hand, Avlon sometimes stretches the evidence to make a point, so that he even winds up contradicting himself.

Writing about Nixon as a typical moderate, Avlon says that Nixon rejected the Republican appeal to racist southern votes, and that Nixon strove to reassure voters he "was no Wallace." Nixon was "ultimately successful" in desegregating southern schools, and is finally quoted as writing that "Republicans must not go prospecting for the fool's gold of racist votes."

But when later writing about African-American Senator Edward Brooke's role as a moderate, Avlon claims that Brooke was constantly fighting the Nixon administration's "southern strategy," now claiming that Nixon himself was appropriating "George Wallace's blue-collar southern segregationist support." To signal his support of the South, Nixon here is said to have nominated to the Supreme Court Haynsworth, who had questionable commitment to civil rights, and then nominated Carswell, who was "spectacularly unqualified," though Southern, and believed in segregation. The Nixon administration had an "intentionally slow timetable for desegregation." Here, BROOKE, not Nixon, is quoted as calling the search for southern racist votes "fool's gold."

The book is worth reading, but beware the stretched facts.

The binding in the book I bought was cheaply made.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paul Vingioto on March 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
As a young independent voter, I am frequently mocked as too liberal for my Republican friends and as an "apologist for coporate America" by my Democrat friends. This book speaks to me in the assurance that I am not alone. It reads like "Profiles In Courage" for the political arena. Extremists are denounced and not given the chance to color the progressive landscape of the Centrists. The book feels well-paced and should inspire one to action. It personally gave me hope for 2008, when hopefully reasonable voices will be raised again.
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