One thing all can agree George W. Bush deserves credit for is creating a groundswell of bestsellers in the run up to his 2004 reelection campaign. Most of the anti-Bush tomes of the time are marked by a sense of outrage and anger. It says something that even E. J. Dionne, Jr., a radio and print columnist noted for a generally placatory left-center tone, allows a clear sense of outrage to creep into his take on the Bush II era, starting with the title. Indeed, Dionne's discontent grows more pronounced with each page, though ultimately Stand Up, Fight Back
maps out practical responses to what the author sees as the two maladies that infect contemporary politics--resolute conservative maliciousness and irresolute liberal defensiveness. The Washington, D.C.-based scribe chronicles the three-decades-long ascendancy of the right in response to Democratic complacency. The key for the G.O.P. was its "clarity of purpose and a certainty about the moral superiority of their creed." Dionne, however, finds gaping holes in right-wing morality, notably when chronicling the 2000 Florida debacle and the "grotesque" Supreme Court decision that handed the presidency to the second-place finisher in the popular vote. Dionne wraps things up by outlining a program to stall the precipitous shift to the right. It would be engineered by a moderate and liberal alliance that emphasizes fairness, compassion, justice, and the common good. Not particularly original, and certainly there are bolder perspectives on the current political landscape, but by navigating the practical path, Dionne may have penned one of the season's most influential reads. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
Syndicated columnist and NPR commentator Dionne (Why Americans Hate Politics
) outlines a sound plan for a Democratic takeover of the White House in 2004. He first criticizes Bush's "compassionate conservatism," arguing that most of it, the tax cuts, for example, was much more conservative than compassionate. Indeed, he says that President Bush's administration was floundering until the September 11 terrorist attacks, which gave it a focus in policy and the mid-term 2002 elections. The newfound focus on homeland security not only gave the administration some momentum, it also put the Democrats on the defensive: unwilling to appear soft on security, he argues, they kept relatively quiet. As a result, Democrats were "complicit in the strategy" propagated by the White House and big losers in 2002. Dionne proposes a two-pronged solution: First, Democrats must develop think tanks and talk radio outlets similar to those used by the right because these sow the seeds of new ideas. The Democrats' solution of relying on the "grass roots" only splinters the party into special interests. Second, Democrats must reframe arguments into the middle ground so that the party is seen as being for both government and individualism, for free trade, but with environmental and labor protections. The new liberal Air America Radio network may be one test of Dionne's theories. Beyond that, Democrats may hope that fallout from Iraq and the economy will accomplish their goal without enacting Dionne's solid ideas, which could have more long-term effects. Dionne proffers perhaps the most cogent analysis to date of why Democrats have lost the battle to the right, and how they might regain control of the debate.
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