walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

_Rule and Ruin_, Geoffrey Kabaservice (kindle)

Subtitled: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party

Published by Oxford University Press, USA

The kindle page says the print length is 505 pages and I'm inclined to believe them. About 30% of the book is notes, but this is still an undertaking on the order of Daniel Okrent's _Last Call_, the only book I can think of off-hand that I've read that is remotely comparable to this. For the record, I liked _Last Call_ better.

Both books are political history. I don't mean, history told with a political slant or agenda. I mean a history of politics. In Okrent's case, it was Prohibition. In Kabaservice's case, it's post-WW2 Republican Party. Kabaservice traces internal politics (mostly at the national level, but with some discussion of state and local) in the Republican Party with particular emphasis on the 1964 Presidential Election. Most other attempts to explain the current state of the Republican Party resort to the Moral Majority, Movement Conservatives, the rise of Pro-Life etc. Some of those attempts get into "The Southern Strategy". I've never seen anyone develop a timeline as comprehensive as Kabaservice; you can't really ask him to have a longer timeline because that would make the work even more unwieldy, even if it would have helped elucidate how Republicans moved from protectionism/isolationism to Free Markets/interventionism, a point almost entirely unaddressed in this work.

The definition of moderation is not nailed down, which is appropriate, because it has always been amorphous in practical use: it is part style, part substance, and that substance has tended to be defined in part (but not entirely) by reference to the Extremists of the Day. Kabaservice succeeds in finding a consistency in Moderate Republicans that may or may not have actually been there organizationally, but was almost certainly there in the form of persons, both active members of parties, the larger electorate, and elected officials.

The best bits in the book for me were the quotes throughout from Republicans who saw the worst in their party in action (notably, the intra-party revulsion generated by Goldwater's followers in 1964). Immoderate partisans piss me off; it's a lot easier to deal with a group that can recognize that it screwed up than one which only changes its behavior because of pressure but never really changes internally. And Kabaservice found a lot in the not-really-a-movement he was documenting that I found personally appealing. It's good to be reminded that whatever the polarization of the day, when things are working well, groups that differ dramatically on some issues can still work together on others.

Reading the book made me feel better about party politics in the US (hey, for a _long_ time moderate Republicans have been partially defined by taking multiple stances on the same issue -- that's not new and not necessarily something to get too agitated about) while at the same time feeling a little disturbed by the pervasiveness of dynasty (didn't realize that Gov. Paterson's dad had run for lt. gov. in NY back in the early 1970s! And that's just the most obscure of the batch. At times, it felt like everyone in the book had parents, grandparents or adult children today running for offices very similar to the one they were running for in the 1960s/70s). Kabaservice ends on a bit of an apocalyptic note, however, worrying that moderates are truly gone from the party and if one of the party completely implodes it could destabilize the country.

I think that might be a little paranoid. I, personally, harbor some suspicions that the party has gone way too far right and will implode, but quite often, things look like that just before they take a turn and we adopt a new dichotomy to argue with another side on.

Whatever the future might hold, Kabaservice has done a great job of turning Republican intra- and inter- party politics and policy in the 1960s and 1970s into a riveting and informative read. I bought this because Bloomberg excerpted some of it and I liked the author's tone. Several hundred pages later, I've got no regrets. I hope you enjoy it, too.
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