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