Magazine article The American Conservative

Where Did the Moderates Go?

Magazine article The American Conservative

Where Did the Moderates Go?

Article excerpt

Where Did the Moderates Go?

Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, Front Elsenhower to the Tea Party, Geoffrey Kabaservice, Oxford University Press, 467 pages

There was once a time when giants roamed the land. They battled for something more than personal ambition and the spoils of electoral war. Their political philosophies were not monochromatic. These Republican warriors weren't ciphers like George W. Bush. They weren't hacks like Bob Dole and John McCain who gained the nomination long after they peaked and long before they deserved.

Three of these titans battled at the 1968 Republican convention in Miami Beach: Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, and Ronald Reagan. Each represented a force within the party. The pragmatic moderate for those who just wanted to win, the colorful liberal for those who cared about civil rights and imagined he might do something different about war, and the smooth conservative for those asking for a little more law and order in the streets and a lot less regulation from Washington. The party chose Nixon. The nation thereby gained a smart but crooked, visionary yet troubled chief executive.

Rule and Ruin is the story of these giants and their smaller associates during the 1960s, mostly in D.C. and on the presidential campaign trail. It is an exciting story, building on conflicts, grudges, and smoke-filled rooms that stretched back to the era of Thomas Dewey, Robert A. Taft, and Dwight Eisenhower. Kabaservice's writing is excellent - graceful but punchy. His book joins Nicol Raes Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans as an indispensable volume for students of GOP ideology. Conservatives will be especially interested in the description of Ronald Reagan's activities from the Goldwater campaign to his election as governor and first attempt at the presidency.

The writing is lively, the story compelling, and the attention to detail imr pressive. But the political activist in me is irritated by the author's bias - his book both explains and exemplifies the progressive Republican perspective - and concerned that the resulting lopsidedness may mislead those less informed. From a scholarly point of view, I'm both excited and disappointed by Rule and Ruin.

Kabaservice gives us dismissive, personally unflattering portrayals of conservative activists F. Clifton White and Phyllis Schlafly. His attempt to eviscerate White is breathtaking. Kabaservice highlights White's clandestine machinations and red-baits him by accusing White of patterning his actions after the Communists. The author uses words like "paranoia" and "repulsive" in connection with Schlafly's thought. He even links her book A Choice Not an Echo to the notorious antisemitic fraud The Protocoh of the Elders ofZion, though there's nothing negative about Jews in Schlafly's text - which was written in support of the half-Jewish Barry Goldwater.

In Ruin and Run, the Ripon Society embodies the good guys and the John Birch Society embodies the bad guys. The Riponers, in this telling, were young idealists. The Birchers are a boogeyman, a bunch of racist kooks. The nonviolent, non-race-baiting, educational approach of JBS founder Robert Welch does not earn any praise. At times, the reader can see that Kabaservice tries to restrain himself as he concedes a point to the opposition - the evil right wing - or attempts to understand those he typically demonizes. But these are exceptions. Far more often, he simply knocks down straw men or libels with a flourish of his stylish prose.

Kabaservice criticizes Goldwater's 1964 primary campaign for relying on "a sort of class warfare strategy" against Rockefeller and other liberal, countryclub Republicans. Yet he acknowledges that moderates and progressives were funded by "considerably deeper pockets than most of their conservative counterparts" and had "greater access to the media and influence within the academy and the establishment. …

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