Independent Nation: How Centrism Can Change American Politics Paperback – February 22, 2005
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“Like it or not, the future of American politics is in the vast center. Read John Avlon’s Independent Nation—it’s an excellent reminder that some of our best leaders have also been our most mainstream.” —Senator John Breaux (Democrat, Louisiana)
“A compelling distillation of recent political history through the prism of Centrist politics. It’s well written and fun to read...and its timing couldn’t be better.” —New York Post
From the Inside Flap
Independent Nation documents the rich history of the defining political movement of our time. Organized as a series of short and colorful political biographies, it offers an insightful and engaging analysis of the successes and failures of key Centrist leaders throughout the twentieth century. In the process, it demonstrates that Centrism is not only a winning political strategy but an enlightened governing philosophy that best reflects the will of the people by putting patriotism ahead of partisanship and the national interest ahead of special interests.
From the Hardcover edition.
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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.
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....
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.
I was looking for some glimmer of light for those of us who are dismayed by the strong partisanship in the US today. Instead, the author seems to embrace the partisans (mostly on the right) as centrists, while he ignores real centrists such as John McCain or Christine Todd Whitman.