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The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America Paperback – Bargain Price, May 31, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
In the introduction to this engaging study of American conservatism, Micklethwait and Wooldridge of the Economist disclaim any allegiance to America's "two great political tribes." It is this Tocquevillian quality of informed impartiality that makes their book so effective at conveying how profoundly the right has reshaped the American political landscape over the past half century. The authors trace the history of the conservative movement from the McCarthy era, when "conservatism was a fringe idea," to the second Bush administration and the "victory of the right." They dissect the new "conservative establishment," which combines the intellectual force of think tanks, business interest groups and sympathetic media outlets with the "brawn" of "footsoldiers" from the populist social conservative wing of the GOP, and argue that continuing Republican hegemony is likely. Democratic optimists who point to favorable demographic trends are exaggerating the liberalism of Latino and professional voters, say the authors, while other factors, such as suburbanization and terrorism, will tend to promote Republican values. Still, the right should be worried about its own "capacity for extremism and intolerance" and about holding together its unlikely alliance of religious moralists and small-government activists. Even so, say the authors, conservative ideas are now so pervasive in American society that even a Kerry administration could do little to divert the country's long-term rightward drift. This epochal political transformation is rarely analyzed with the degree of dispassionate clarity that Micklethwait and Wooldridge bring to their penetrating analysis.
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.
*Starred Review* Somewhere the triumphal ghost of Barry Goldwater must be explaining to the perplexed shade of Edmund Burke why American conservatism has far surpassed--and curiously defied--its European antecedents. Readers of this study of modern American politics may indeed feel that they are eavesdropping on such a spectral colloquy. For in exploring the American politics of the Right, Micklethwait and Wooldridge analyze a phenomenon that owes much to European traditions yet has unexpectedly transformed and even subverted others. Thus in probing the forces that, in recent decades, have given Republicans control of both the White House and Congress, the authors highlight both a widespread American distrust of government that most British Tories can well understand and a conjoined American individualism that utterly mystifies those same Tories. American conservatives owe some of their recent success to liberal overreach (Johnson's Great Society programs, the Clintons' national health-care proposal). However, the authors limn a powerful dynamic within American conservatism itself, a dynamic that unites the brainpower of Right-leaning think tanks with the moral passion of religious activists, the monomania of gun enthusiasts, and the entrepreneurial energy of small-business owners. Whether that explosive fusion will blow away remaining liberal and leftist opposition or will disintegrate amid its own internal contradictions remains to be seen (and both scenarios receive scrutiny). But no one who wants to understand the possible political trajectories for a country that befuddles--and not infrequently enrages--its European allies can ignore this book. Bryce Christensen
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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The two British authors report on the US scene for the Economist magazine and they come across as cleared-eyed, disinterested observers of American culture. If they don't worship America, they seem at least bemused by it, and willing to grant us our good points. They back up their opinions with lots of facts and a solid understanding of American history. The book is easy to read, written in the same breezy and knowledgeable style you'll find in the Economist.
Seen from the European perspective, Americans appear both more religious and more heartless than other nations. Many more Americans than Europeans go to church on a regular basis. But Americans are far more willing to let the poor and ill fend for themselves, and our rabid support of the death penalty seems barbaric to almost every other Christian nation. Since America now spends far more on military technology than the rest of the world, we should only get more tone deaf regarding multilateral foreign policy initiatives: with God on our side and more guns than anyone else, will we really care what the French think?
Like diligent anthropologists, the authors track down the tribal structures of American conservatism. From think tanks and foundations that formulate new policy initiatives, to the media outlets that publicize them, down to the foot soldiers out in the sun-kissed suburban precincts, conservative Republicans have assembled a disciplined, well-run political organization. Even though this book was written before the 2004 election, its insights about the Republican machine were amply borne out by the way Republican partisans out-thought, out-worked, and out-organized their Democratic opponents.
Part of the Republican rise can be attributed to demographic trends. The South defected to the Republicans after Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act in the sixties. The new exurban communities of the West have always been more receptive to the Republican message. Blue collar workers in the Midwest defected to the Republicans over cultural issues, even to the point of voting against their economic self interests. This grouping of Americans, combined with the rural Midwest and West, has enough mass under the American electoral system to outweigh the votes of urban liberals on both coasts.
As the authors repeatedly point out, liberals no longer set the intellectual agenda in America. Instead they react to conservative ideas on the economy, the military, the role of religion in American life and how big the federal government should be. But if Republicans are now the party of new ideas, many of these ideas are contradictory. This is a political party that talks about getting government off the backs of the people while racking up record deficits, assaulting basic civil rights and force feeding right wing religious values into the political sphere. The authors wonder whether the Republican Party might split along the fault lines of its competing interest groups: it takes a mighty big tent to encompass grizzled libertarians in the Idaho hills, Arnold Schwarzenegger and right wing evangelicals of the John Ashcroft ilk.
One of the book's more striking insights comes near the end, when the authors compare Democrat Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco congressional district with Republican Dennis Hastert's Illinois district. Pelosi's domain comes across as more class-conscious, politically gridlocked and disorderly than Hastert's. Despite the many charms of San Francisco, "Hastertland" - egalitarian, pro-growth, religious and orderly - seems to be where most Americans would choose to live. Republicans are more successful than Democrats because their message better resonates with the cultural aspirations of the American people - we seem to want a government that allows us to get ahead, and then protects us from people who resemble us before we got respectable.
If you're a conservative Republican, you already know what's in this book - and you'll feel proud of what you've managed to accomplish since the Goldwater debacle of 1964. If you're on the other side, the authors have given you a wake up call - you're beginning to look a lot like those 1960s Republicans: outflanked, outmoded and out of touch.
The movement is such a motley collection of disparate groups that it almost seems ridiculous to apply a single tag. One of the uniting features of these right wing organizations is distrust and often loathing of the federal government. So how does George W. Bush, the most visible symbol of the federal government keep Conservatives satisfied while expanding the power and size of the government immensely? The answer is by serving up "Red Meat". A doomed Gay Amendment for the Religious Right, a ban on stem cell research for the right to lifers, unsustainable tax cuts for the tax cutters, allowing the assault rifle ban to expire for the gun enthusiasts. It's a smorgasbord for single issue voters.
Sure, the left has its share of wing nuts but the Conservatives seem to be able to show love for the most fringe groups imaginable from angry right wing hawks with "give war a chance" T-shirts to Grover Norquist who believes that avoiding taxes is the civil rights issue of our time and compares corporate tax cheats to Rosa Parks.
So the next stage for Conservatives is to cement the political lead and make it permanent. First up is taking control of K Street. The good news is that Bush got the lobbyists off the steps of the Capitol building. The bad news is he moved them into the White House so they could set policy. As the writers stated, satisfying the lobbyists' means adjusting the strings and levers of business which means big government. The Republican's have gone so far as to demand that lobbyists be members of the Republican Party. Next is the media. Free Market Conservatives have been pushing to allow mega media conglomerations to lock up markets. The media companies feel beholden to the Republican Party and benefit from its continued domination. What could possibly go wrong?
So here's the punch line. The ideas being expounded by Conservatives including property rights, smaller government and free market economics are all straight from classic liberalism. The issue becomes even muddier when it comes to Republican Conservatives not practicing what they preach. John Ashcroft firmly believes in states rights except in the cases where he doesn't. George W. Bush believes in smaller government and then creates the largest entitlement package since Nixon was president. He preaches free market and then imposes steel tariffs. The point is that a Conservative is essentially a person who declares them self to be Conservative. The movement is simply too diverse and malleable to facilitate a single definition.
This book should be read by "reds" and "blues" alike. It offers real perspective on where we are now, how we got here and where we could be going. As a bonus, it is very easy to read.