The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals

The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals

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by Todd Gitlin
     
 

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Why have the Republicans been so much better than Democrats at getting and exercising power? Why, even after a series of disasters culminating in the "thumpin'" his party took in the 2006 elections, is George W. Bush still the darling of an enormous political base? And what connects Bush's enduring appeal to the seemingly inexplicable rise of Rudy Giuliani and Fred

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Overview

Why have the Republicans been so much better than Democrats at getting and exercising power? Why, even after a series of disasters culminating in the "thumpin'" his party took in the 2006 elections, is George W. Bush still the darling of an enormous political base? And what connects Bush's enduring appeal to the seemingly inexplicable rise of Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson and the sudden popularity of Barack Obama?

In The Bulldozer and the Big Tent, Todd Gitlin—long acknowledged as one of America's smartest observers of politics, media, and movements—argues that one thing matters to voters more than faith, values, policies, or track records: style. Voters pick their leaders based on qualities they perceive or aspire to in themselves. Republicans want a bulldozer, a decider, a "commander guy." Faction-ridden Democrats seek a candidate who can look like all things to all people: triangulators who can pitch a big enough tent to fit every kind of Democrat inside. Every Republican is looking for a leader, and every Democrat thinks he is one.

These preferences, Gitlin reveals, are reflected not only in the candidates chosen but also in the way the parties organize, operate, and present themselves. Gitlin takes a long, hard look at the history of the conservative movement in America—its genesis, its methods, and its powerful mix of big-business money, fundamentalist fervor, and take-no-prisoners attitude. He demonstrates that George W. Bush is far more than a champion of the conservative cause: he is the personification of everything that the movement hopes for and believes about itself.

For decades, the Democrats, Gitlin contends, met the onslaught of the highly organized, seamlessly unified, meticulously coordinated, passion-driven Republican bulldozer with its antithesis: a weak and tentative conglomeration of eight sometimes-overlapping interest groups. Each group tended to focus on its own issues and mistrust the motives of its "allies." Any presidential candidate who couldn't make a powerful appeal to each of these groups without offending the others stood a good chance of being demolished at the polls.

Every Republican is looking for a leader, and every Democrat thinks he is one. This single, remarkable insight unties many of the knottiest questions in politics today. Do blogs really make a difference? Who's winning the culture war? And what, if anything, is the matter with Kansas?

In what is possibly Todd Gitlin's sharpest, most sweeping, and engaged piece of political analysis yet, The Bulldozer and the Big Tent brings it all together in a rich, discursive story that will change the way you think about partisanship in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* Like Krugman, Gitlin lays the blame for political polarization squarely on George Bush and the Republican Party. "The core of their rule," he writes, "is a bulldozer approach to reality — belligerence as an all-purpose style, whether facing domestic critics or the rest of the world." The problem facing liberals, he says, is that although they are increasingly galvanized, they don't have the numbers to govern alone. They must form a big tent of "secularists and moderate evangelicals, budget-balancers and Keynesians, fair traders and free traders. . . . " Gitlin, a Columbia professor and longtime liberal activist, admits that this will not be easy. But he suggests the answer is probably more Democratic Party "discipline" and partisanship, not less: "The denizens of the tent will need to remind themselves that outside there dwell barbarians." (The Washington Post, November 18, 2007)

Professor and political analyst Gitlin (former president of SDS) utilizes the current president’s political trajectory as a jumping off point for a sprawling discussion of the rise of the republican machine, the reasons behind the democrats’ declining fortunes and the impact of this political imbalance on the average citizen. This is a sort of State-of-the-Union update: encyclopedic in scope but eminently accessible and studded with juicy morsels of Capitol Hill gossip, little-known facts and generally excellent writing. The fact that the Democratic National Committee did not have a national voter database until late 2003 is stunning, and Gitlin claims that a perpetual “war on terror” is precisely what the conservative cognoscenti want: “as long as fear is so salient to voters, Democrats will be staggering uphill.” Many of Gitlin’s conclusions are not necessarily new, but Gitlin’s conclusions and suggestions—often missing from such political landscape surveys—for the liberal movement are impressive. His call for a simple but powerful narrative to match that of the Conservatives merits special attention from the leaders of a party made up of (at least) eight distinct voter groups. (Sept.) (Publishers Weekly, August 27, 2007)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781620459652
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
09/01/2007
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
327
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books, including the national bestseller The Sixties, and a contributing writer for Mother Jones. His work has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, the American Prospect, and Harper's. He blogs at TPMcafe.com.

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