Cover image for The right nation : conservative power in America
The right nation : conservative power in America
Micklethwait, John.
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New York : Penguin Press, [2004]

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450 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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JC573.2.U6 M53 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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With a unique blend of insight, balance, and wit, two of our most renowned America watchers brilliantly anatomize the conservative movement and explain how it has stamped its program so deeply into American life.

The Right Nation is not "for" liberals, and it's not "for" conservatives. It's for any of us who want to understand one of the most important forces shaping American life. How did America's government become so much more conservative in just a generation? Compared to Europe-or to America under Richard Nixon-even President Howard Dean would preside over a distinctly more conservative nation in many crucial respects: welfare is gone; the death penalty is deeply rooted; abortion is under siege; regulations are being rolled back; the pillars of New Deal liberalism are turning to sand. Conservative positions have not prevailed everywhere, of course, but this book shows us why they've been so successfully advanced over such a broad front: because the battle has been waged by well-organized, shrewd, and committed troops who to some extent have been lucky in their enemies.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, like modern-day Tocquevilles, have the perspective to see this vast subject in the round, unbeholden to forces on either side. They steer The Economist 's coverage of the United States and have unrivaled access to resources and-because of the magazine's renown for iconoclasm and analytical rigor-have had open-door access wherever the book's research has led them. And it has led them everywhere: To reckon with the American right, you have to get out there where its centers are and understand the power flow among the brain trusts, the mouthpieces, the organizers, and the foot soldiers. The authors write with wit and skewer whole herds of sacred cows, but they also bring empathy to bear on a subject that sees all too little of it. You won't recognize this America from the far-left's or the far-right's caricatures. Divided into three parts-history, anatomy, and prophecy- The Right Nation comes neither to bury the American conservative movement nor to praise it blindly but to understand it, in all its dimensions, as the most powerful and effective political movement of our age.

Author Notes

John Micklethwait is the U.S. editor for the Economist.

Reviews 3

Booklist 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 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Journalists for the Economist, British authors Micklethwait (U.S. editor) and Woolridge (Washington correspondent) join the decades-old debate about whether the United States is primarily a conservative or a liberal nation. Their analysis shows that American conservatives differ from their European counterparts. While both are nationalistic and suspicious of state power, preferring liberty over equality, American conservatives are more liberal in regard to hierarchy, pessimism, and elitism. They see themselves as rugged individualists who believe in progress and like to portray themselves as populists. This book serves as the counterpoint to John Judis and Ruy Teixeiria's The Emerging Democratic Majority, which argued that current demographics favor the Democratic Party, since the educated are the most tolerant segment of society and tend to vote. In contrast, The Right Nation sketches a cradle-to-grave conservatism in which children are home-schooled, reared in gated communities, and sent to conservative churches and colleges, then network with conservative organizations while reading and listening to conservative media. The authors' viewpoint and writing reflect the magazine for which they work: both are highly articulate, intelligent, insightful, and sometimes just plain wrong. Still, political junkies on both sides of the political spectrum will enjoy and gain from the analysis. Highly recommended.-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One FROM KENNEBUNKPORT TO CRAWFORD Sir Lewis Namier, the great historian of English politics in the age of George III, once remarked that "English history, and especially English parliamentary history, is made by families rather than individuals." The same could be said of American political history, especially in the age of George I and George II. There is no better introduction to the radical transformation of Republicanism in the past generation-from patrician to populist, from Northeastern to Southwestern, from pragmatic to ideological-than the radical transformation of Republicanism's current leading family, the Bushes. Grandfather Prescott The Bushes began political life as classic establishment Republicans: WASPs who summered in Kennebunkport, educated their children at boarding schools and the Ivy League and claimed family ties to the British royal family (Queen Elizabeth II is the thirteenth cousin of the first President Bush). George W.'s paternal great-grandfather, Samuel P. Bush, was a steel and railroad executive who became the first president of the National Association of Manufacturers and a founding member of the United States Chamber of Commerce. His maternal great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, was even grander. The cofounder of W. A. Harriman, Wall Street's oldest private investment bank, Walker's stature was summed up by his twin Manhattan addresses: his office at One Wall Street and his home at One Sutton Place. There was certainly muck beneath this brass: both Walker and Bush had their share of Wall Street shenanigans and cozy government deals, but in the age of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Morgan such things were expected. The first family member to hold high political office was George W.'s grandfather, Prescott Bush. Prescott was the very image of a patrician: immensely tall, a gifted athlete and a stickler for proper behavior. Exactly the sort of chap you might expect to find in the marbled corridors of the Senate. At Yale, he excelled at golf, tennis and baseball, sang with the All-Time Whiffenpoof Quartet and joined the college's most exclusive secret society, the Skull and Bones. He married Walker's daughter, Dorothy in 1921, and five years later joined W. A. Harriman, which in the next decade merged into Brown Brothers Harriman. Prescott belonged firmly to the progressive wing of the GOP: liberal on domestic policies and internationalist on foreign affairs. He even sent his son George to Andover rather than his own school, St. George's, because he thought it was more modern. His liberalism cost him his first bid for a Senate seat in 1950. During the election campaign a radio broadcaster described him as "the president of the birth-control league." This was a particularly incendiary accusation in Connecticut, which was then one of two states in the country that outlawed the sale of condoms. It also contained a grain of truth: Prescott was a member of Planned Parenthood and a friend of Estelle Griswold, the woman whose legal challenge to the state's ban on contraception later persuaded the Supreme Court to enshrine the right of sexual privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and thus laid the foundation for Roe v. Wade . Anti-Bush leaflets appeared on every pew in every Catholic church in the state and Prescott was narrowly defeated. Prescott eventually made it to the Senate in a special election in 1952 caused by the death of the sitting senator, and stood true to his brand of moderate Republicanism for two terms. He cosponsored the bill that created the Peace Corps and strongly supported civil rights, a higher minimum wage and larger immigration quotas. "Bush Says Tax Burden May Have to Be Bigger," reads one delightful newspaper headline from his Senate years. Prescott beseeched his fellow senators to "have the courage to raise the required revenues by approving whatever levels of taxation may be necessary" to pay the nation's bills for defense, science and education. Shortly after ill health forced Prescott to retire in 1962, he received an honorary law degree from his alma mater, Yale, alongside the young President Kennedy The citation read: "You have served your country well and personified the best in both political parties." For Prescott, partisanship was a dirty word. The best linksman on the Hill, he frequently played golf with Eisenhower. A firm believer that "manners makyth man," he once took Joseph McCarthy to one side and lectured him for more than an hour on his boorish behavior. His hostility to the radical Right was as much aesthetic as intellectual. When McCarthy came to Connecticut to address a Republican meeting, Prescott recoiled at the rowdy crowd: "I never saw such a wild bunch of monkeys in any meeting I ever attended." At home he was such a stickler for standards that friends called him the "Ten Commandments Man." He insisted that his four sons and many grandsons wear jackets and ties at dinner, even at their summer home in Kennebunkport, and that none of them leave the house on Sunday. Relaxation was of a bracing kind-either hunting or playing sports with alarming enthusiasm. This was to prove a permanent trait, but much else was to change. George H. W. and the move to Texas Prescott's son, George Herbert Walker Bush, could easily have followed him into his world of East Coast privilege. He was educated at Andover and Yale, where he outstripped even his father, proving that he possessed a superabundance of character, athleticism and leadership. He married the eligible Barbara Pierce and was showered with offers of jobs on Wall Street when he graduated. A lifetime of lunches in the Partners' Room of Brown Brothers Harriman, with its deep maroon carpeting and dark wood paneling, was his for the asking. Yet the young George H. W. was made of sterner stuff. He had joined the navy straight out of school, and had been shot down by the Japanese in 1944 and rescued by an American submarine, making him perhaps the country's youngest war hero. He wanted to make his career on the new American frontier. The day after he graduated from Yale in 1948 George climbed into his red Studebaker and drove to Odessa, West Texas, to take a job with Dresser Industries, which supplied parts for the state's booming oil industry. Bush was not exactly turning his back on his powerful family. Prescott Bush sat on the board of Dresser Industries, and warmly recommended his son for a job. Prescott had even given George his new car. All the same, Odessa was a godforsaken town-a scattering of oil jacks and tin-roofed warehouses in the middle of the vast West Texan wilderness. In gracious New Haven George had lived next door to the president of Yale University; in Odessa he and Barbara lived in a shotgun house next door to two prostitutes (a mother-daughter team, no less). But, ugly as it might be, the town was booming. Odessa and its sister city, Midland, sat on top of the largest concentration of oil ever found in the continental United States. The wildcatters and roughnecks who arrived there every day were willing to endure anything-the tornadoes and sandstorms, the distance from civilization, the endless tedium, living in tent cities and chicken coops-in order to make themselves rich. The Bushes soon moved from Odessa to Midland, a white-collar town twenty miles down the highway. They were not the only patrician family to seek their fortune in Midland. The town soon boasted Ivy League clubs and posh cocktail parties, and the hyperactive Bushes inevitably became pillars of the local establishment. But for all that, Midland was still an entrepreneurial frontier town. Its population tripled during the 1950s. Yalies and roughnecks worked side by side to carve a living out of the desert. George W. remembers an idyllic existence playing on unpaved streets. By the time the Bushes left for Houston in 1959, George H. W. had made his fortune-and was ready to turn to politics. At the time, Republicanism was a minority creed in Texas. This, after all, was the state of Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn, a Democratic stronghold since the Civil War and a place where Republicans were Yankee pirates. "I will never vote for the electors of a party which sent the carpetbagger and the scalawag to the prostrate South with saber and sword to crush the white civilization to the earth," Rayburn, the future Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, once explained. At the turn of the century, O. Henry, then a Texas newspaperman, wrote that "We have only two or three laws, such as against murdering witnesses and being caught stealing horses, and voting the Republican ticket." Up until the late 1950s, the only real politics in Texas revolved around Democratic primaries. Yet if Texas was Democratic, it was also deeply conservative. The state is littered with monuments to the Confederate cause, such as a huge statue of Jefferson Davis in the grounds of the University of Texas's Austin campus and another edifice outside the State Capitol unapologetically lauding "those who died for states rights under the Constitution." Michael Lind, a Texas-born author, labels Texas a Herrenvolk , or master-race democracy, where, as he puts it, "the ethnic majority controls the government and uses it to repress ethnic, racial and religious minorities." During the brief period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, some blacks actually held office in the legislature and there was even a Republican speaker. Once the federal troops left in 1876, white Democrats "reclaimed" the state, setting up a minimalist constitution (the legislature meets only once every two years) and repressing blacks. Waco was a breeding ground for the Ku Klux Klan in the early twentieth century. There were other things to remind George H. W. that he was no longer in Connecticut. Texans were suspicious of Yankee banks and manufacturing. As one historian, T. R. Fehrenbach, puts it, "the majority of Texans tended to admire or envy a family that owned 100,000 acres more than one that produced two great surgeons, a fine musician or a new theory of relativity" By 1950, landowners were raking in $500 million a year in oil royalties. Most of the Texan ruling class had the mentality of plantation owners: resources, including oil rights, were there to be extracted, immigrant labor was there to be used, power was there to be maintained, money was nothing to be ashamed of and liberalism was to be crushed. From this perspective, George H. W.'s timing was propitious. True, his first notable foray into politics was to lose a hotly contested Senate seat to Ralph Yarborough in 1964, but he went on to win a seat in the House of Representatives in 1966. More broadly, his timing coincided with the beginnings of a tumultuous change in Texas politics-a revolution that began while Kennedy was in the White House and was only completed in 2003 when the Republicans finally took control of the statehouse. The first chink of light shone in 1961, when a squabble between Democratic liberals and conservatives for Lyndon Johnson's vacant Senate seat allowed John Tower to become the state's first Republican senator since Reconstruction. Although Texans loyally voted for Johnson in 1964, Barry Goldwater's message plainly struck a chord with local conservatives. This switch to the Republicans lasted decades rather than years. In 1964, Democrats had controlled all 31 seats in the state Senate, and all but one in the 150-Strong House. In 1968, the Republicans could count only two state senators and eight members of the House. One of the eight, a twenty-five-year-old from Midland named Tom Craddick, who had been offered the seat by both parties, boldly told a Midland newspaper that the Republicans were the party of the future. In fact, it would take him a decade to win any power in the House (he was eventually given the chairmanship of a committee). Many white Texans chose to stick with conservative Democrats rather than switch parties. All the same, Craddick gradually won his bet. In many cases, the catalyst was race. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the white vote in Texas since Johnson's civil rights act. The burgeoning counterculture and the antiwar protests also alienated white conservatives. (Texas, militaristic as ever, contributed a disproportionate number of troops to Southeast Asia.) Demography was also on the GOP's side. The Democrats' power base was in the old Texas of agriculture and benevolent government, but tenant farmers were being squeezed out by the big estates: between 1930 and 1957, the number of tenants was halved while the average size of farms doubled. Meanwhile, in the new suburbs and corporate office parks, the Republican message of less government, lower taxes and strong families resounded with the new arrivals (at the height of the 1950s oil boom, more than a thousand people moved to Houston every week). If the GOP changed Texas politics, Texas also changed the GOP-and the Bush family along with it. Texan Republicanism was very different from Prescott's country club creed: more antigovernment, more populist, more marinated in religion. Prescott had thought that McCarthy had no manners; a group of Texas conservatives sent McCarthy a Cadillac as a wedding present. The question, still debated among Republicans to this day, is: How far did George H. W. embrace this new, brasher creed? George H. W. has always had a reputation of being "somewhat to the center of center." Many Texans mistook his East Coast politeness for wimpishness, dismissing him as a "clean-fingernails Republican" or, worse, "the sort of man who steps out of the shower to take a piss," as one of our colleagues was once told. In 1966, Yarborough derided him as a patrician Yankee, asking the oilmen in East Texas whether they were ready to vote for "a carpetbagger from Connecticut who is drilling oil for the Sheik of Kuwait." When George eventually got himself elected to Congress, he made a name as a moderate on cultural issues. Wilbur Mills, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, even nicknamed him "Rubbers" because of his enthusiasm for family planning. George H. W. climbed the Republican ladder by taking on the sort of institutional jobs that would have delighted his father-ambassador to the United Nations, party chairman, envoy to China and director of the CIA. In 1980, when he ran for president, he condemned Ronald Reagan's "supply-side" ideas as "voodoo economics"-and he was offered the vice presidency partly as a sop to what remained of the East Coast wing of the party. Despite eight years of loyal service to the Gipper, many conservatives only supported Bush's run for the presidency in 1988 on Reagan's say-so. Excerpted from The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America by John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Mapsp. 1
Introductionp. 5
Part I History
1. From Kennebunkport to Crawfordp. 27
2. The Conservative Rout, 1952-1964p. 40
3. The Agony of Liberalism, 1964-1988p. 63
4. The Fifty-Fifty Nation, 1988-2000p. 94
Part II Anatomy
5. For Texas, Business and Godp. 131
6. The Rive Droitep. 151
7. The Brawnp. 172
8. With Us or Against Us: The Right and the War Against Terrorp. 198
Part III Prophecy
9. The Road Ahead: The Path to Republican Hegemony?p. 227
10. How It Could Go Wrong: Too Southern, Too Greedy and Too Contradictoryp. 249
11. Behind Enemy Linesp. 270
Part IV Exception
12. America the Differentp. 291
13. Right from the Beginning: The Roots of American Exceptionalismp. 314
14. Heresy and Reformation: America's Exceptional Conservatismp. 334
15. The Melancholy Long Withdrawing Roar of Liberalismp. 354
Conclusion: Living with the Right Nationp. 374
Appendixp. 399
Acknowledgmentsp. 401
Notesp. 405
Indexp. 425