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Wall Street Journal...an engaging book...immediately accessible and conversational without being condescending...
Still Republican After All These Years
I grew up Republican. There were extenuating circumstances.
I was born to Republican parents and raised in a Republican neighborhood. (A big family named Federowicz lived a couple of streets away from us, and I see now that as Polish Catholics they may have been Democrats all along. It is a measure of just how Republican our neighborhood was that all these years later I find the thought of Democrats in our midst unsettling.) Thus I took the Republican imprint before I was old enough to understand what was happening.
Yet it is difficult for me to escape all responsibility here. After attaining the age of reason — or at least the age at which I could legally drive, drink, and vote — I remained a Republican. In college I even became something of a campus politician, editing the opinion page of the college newspaper, writing a political column, and contributing to an upstart conservative newspaper, the now notorious Dartmouth Review. Studying at Oxford for a couple of years after graduating, I infuriated my dons by revealing an enthusiasm for Margaret Thatcher?cheering for Tories is what Republicans do when they find themselves in England?and when I returned home I became in effect a professional Republican, taking a job in the Reagan White House.
I was a speechwriter. I name the position because it carried a particular requirement. Broadly speaking, the Reagan administration was divided between pragmatists and true believers. Speechwriters were true believers. Nobody was ever likely to ask a deputy assistantsecretary of commerce or labor whether he believed Reagan was right to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire." But the speechwriters? We had to believe Reagan was right. We were the ones who had come up with the line. I believed in nearly every word Ronald Reagan uttered. I mean it. When I did disagree with Reagan it was because I thought he was being too soft, not too hard. (The chief of staff, Donald Regan, once told the speechwriters to go easier on Gorbachev. We refused. Regan had to troop us into the Oval Office to hear it from the president himself.)
Even after leaving the White House I continued to take steps that look Republican. I went to business school. Now, students at business schools are less Republican than you might think?in a poll of my classmates, Michael Dukakis led George Bush for president?but when they graduate, often walking into the highest tax bracket the same day they walk into their new jobs, they begin migrating to the GOP.
At my class?s tenth reunion this past spring, you couldn?t have spilled a beer without splashing a Republican. After business school I spent a year working for Rupert Murdoch, then a year working for the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. A media mogul and a capitalist tool?fitting items on a Republican résumé. Finally I joined the think tank where I now work. Although it avoids partisan ties, the think tank espouses free market principles, endearing itself, not surprisingly, to members of the GOP. The name of the think tank, I had better admit, is the Hoover Institution. That would be "Hoover" as in "Herbert." Hoover founded the institution in 1919. Nine years later he was elected to the White House. One year after that the Great Depression struck, transforming Hoover?s reputation from that of a business genius and humanitarian into that of a glassy-eyed, hard-hearted?Republican.
I recognize that the evidence against me is enough to get me hanged. I can picture my body twisting, with a placard, Staunch Republican or GOP Zealot, pinned to my shirtfront. The odd thing is, the lynching party would be wrong. I?m not a zealot. I?m not even staunch. I?ve always kept a strict distance between myself and the Republican Party. The distance has existed only in my mind, I grant you. But it has been no less real for that.
I learned to place this distance between myself and the GOP early in life. When I was a boy, each day when my father arrived home from work he would open the Binghamton Evening Press. I can?t tell you the number of times I saw him shake his head in disapproval as he read about yet another lavish spending project enacted by our governor and fellow Republican, Nelson Rockefeller. In those days the Republican Party so dominated New York that the big political divide ran not between Republicans and Democrats but between Republicans upstate, where we lived, and Republicans in New York City, where Nelson Rockefeller lived, and where we couldn?t even imagine living. Republicans upstate were decent and frugal. Republicans in New York City were extravagant, with their own money and that of the taxpayers alike. You might have to share a political party with such people, the look on my father?s face suggested, but you didn?t have to feel pleased about it.
As I?ve said, this distance between myself and my fellow Republicans stayed with me. During my high school and college years the leading Republicans ran from the shifty-eyed and criminal (Richard Nixon) to the bland and hapless (Gerald Ford). If the GOP was the minority party, it was easy enough to see why, and I viewed the Republican Party with the same faint disgust that I imagine must characterize sports fans who follow the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, and other perennial losers. Later, during the Republican resurgence of the 1980s, I gave my heart to Ronald Reagan, for reasons I will discuss in due course, but never, even then, to the GOP itself. It may seem a small matter, but I feel sure one of the reasons was that I had to tag along with the president or vice president to so many Republican fund-raisers. Fund-raisers were events that rich people put on for the benefit of other rich people. Or so it certainly seemed. At a fund-raiser you could spend as long as you wanted studying the crowd, which would be milling around the ballroom of a hotel or the living room of a huge private home, but the only people of modest means you?d ever spot would be the ones in uniform, tending the bar or circulating with trays of drinks and canapés. I knew the Republican Party championed economic opportunity for the little guy as much as for the plutocrat?I was writing speeches that said so. But at a fund-raiser you could see that for a lot of people belonging to the Republican Party was like belonging to a club. A very good club, judging from the size of the shrimp.
The years since Ronald Reagan left the White House have done nothing to make me feel more at home in the GOP. George Bush? A lovely man?I came to know him well when I wrote speeches for him. But in some ways he was like those well-heeled Republicans at whom my father used to shake his head. I once heard a member of his staff chastise Bush, then vice president, for wearing striped cloth watchbands. "It looks too preppie," the staffer said. Bush replied, "I like it and I?m keeping it. That?s the way I am." Bush was right. If he?d gotten rid of his striped watchbands he?d have been engaging in pure artifice, pretending to be something he wasn?t. But the staffer had a point, too. A lot of Americans found it difficult to feel comfortable with a politician from such a patrician background. There were times when I was one of them. Bob Dole? I flipped channels to avoid watching the 1996 GOP convention nominate Dole for president. All those good people, attempting to whip themselves into a state of enthusiasm for a candidate who had no idea why he was running.
Spendthrifts such as Nelson Rockefeller, suspicious characters such as Richard Nixon, bumblers such as Gerald Ford, self-satisfied rich people such as the ones I encountered at fund-raisers, patricians such as George Bush, time-servers such as Bob Dole. There was always so much in the Republican Party of which I disapproved.
"Of course there was a lot of stuff in the GOP you disapproved of," my friend David Brady recently told me. A professor of political science at Stanford, David is a big man, with broad shoulders and large, big-knuckled hands. He speaks bluntly. He and I talked over the Republican Party repeatedly while I was writing this book. "The GOP is a political party, for Pete?s sake," David said. "It tries to put together the views of tens of millions of Americans. Most people don?t even approve of all the people in their own family. How is anybody ever going to approve of all the people in an organization with more than 25 million members[correct membership of GOP]? A distance between yourself and the Republican Party, my backside. You?re just looking down on politicians and political activists the way everybody does. Let me ask you this. How many times have you ever voted for a Democrat?"
I swallowed hard. The answer was none.
David laughed. "That?s good, Peter," he said. "That?s a real distance you?re keeping there."
My views were Republican, I voted Republican, I had worked in a White House that was Republican. Whatever the distance from the GOP that I may have cultivated in my own mind over the years, it was nothing anybody else would ever have been able to detect. I had to admit it. I was as Republican as they come. That may have been obvious to you as soon as you began reading this introduction, but it came as a rude awakening to me.
The country may be in for a rude awakening of its own.
In the 2000 elections, all three branches of the federal government will be in play as they are only a couple of times in each century. In Congress, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate are tenuous. Either party could win both chambers. The White House will have no incumbent running for re-election for the first time since 1988. Either party could win it. The Supreme Court, almost evenly divided between conservative and liberal justices, and the federal bench, both almost evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees, could each see its balance tipped by the new president?s appointments?and the new president, again, could be a member of either party.
Of course, the GOP could lose all three branches. Losing comes naturally to Republicans. Look at Congress. From 1954 to 1994 the Republican Party failed to achieve a single majority in the House of Representatives while eking out majorities in the Senate in only eight years out of 40[correct?]. Or look at the White House. After Republicans had held the White House for 28 of the 40 years from 1952 to 1992, political scientists had come to refer to the GOP as the "presidential party." Then George Bush found a way to lose to Bill Clinton. Bush?s margin of defeat was six percentage points[true?], which in presidential politics isn?t even close. Four years later the Republican Party turned down a number of attractive candidates for president to nominate Bob Dole instead. Dole?s margin of defeat was eight percentage points[true?]. If the GOP loses in 2000, count on a lot of gracious concession speeches. Republicans have had practice.
Yet the scenario for a GOP victory isn?t all that implausible. It goes like this. The Republican Party nominates an appealing presidential candidate, perhaps, to name the leading contender as I write, George W. Bush, the governor of Texas. In winning the White House, Bush pulls 15 or 20 new Republicans into the House of Representatives, securing a small but solid Republican majority. In the Senate, most of the 19[correct figure?] Republicans up for reelection are returned to office, while seats the GOP loses are offset by seats, possibly in Virginia and Nevada, that the GOP picks up. With Republicans in control of the Senate, which of course will have to confirm his appointments, President George W. Bush will proceed to fill the vacancies that arise on the Supreme Court and the federal bench just as he pleases.
A Republican sweep. The thought takes some getting used to, like Einstein?s negative curvature of the universe.
The last time the GOP held all three branches of the federal government was in 1932. (In the elections of 1932, it is true, the Democrats, led by Franklin Roosevelt, crushed the Republicans, led by Herbert Hoover, capturing control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But the new president and members of Congress were not sworn in until early 1933). The population of the United States in 1932 was only 123 million, our navy was no more powerful than that of Great Britain, and we were in a Great Depression that would throw one laborer in four out of work[please check all three of those facts]. Today the population of the United States is 274 million, our military might is greater than that of all other nations combined, and we are creating a new information economy that is transforming the globe[check first two assertions]. If the GOP wins in 2000, it will take command of the most formidable nation in history.
Yet this represents a moment of unusual uncertainty for the GOP. It no longer has a leader of the stature of Ronald Reagan. It finds itself divided between social conservatives, who place morality at the center of their politics, and economic conservatives, who favor low taxes and limited government but take a laissez-faire view of social issues. Although in the 1998 elections the GOP did well in most of the country, in California, home to one American in ten, the GOP suffered an enormous blow, watching its senatorial candidate lose by 11 points[check], its gubernatorial candidate by 20[check]. Who will lead the GOP? How will it unify its wings? Can it recapture California? If it wins power in 2000, what will it do with it?
This seemed an opportune moment, in short, to pose a question about my fellow Republicans: Who are these people?
To complete this book in time for the 2000 elections, I had to hurry. I read a dozen reference works, made a couple of hundred telephone calls, then began jumping on airplanes to crisscross the country. As I did so I kept a journal, recording what I saw and heard. The result is neither a work of political science nor of history. Strictly speaking it isn?t even a work of journalism?I know plenty of journalists who have interviewed far more Republican activists and officeholders than I did. Or than I cared to. My ideal reader is somebody like me, with a family to raise and mortgage payments to make. He has no desire to master the minutiae of the Republican Party, just a sense that he?d like to look into it a little. I wanted to offer him a slender volume, not a tome.
This is instead a travel book, one tourist?s notes as he journeyed across the territory of the Republican Party. I interviewed Republicans north, south, east, and west. I examined Republican history and ideology. Throughout my journey I modeled myself on the amateur explorers of the nineteenth century, those avid gentlemen who tried to discover the source of the Nile[did that discovery take place in the 19th century?] or locate the tombs of the pharaohs. Like them, I gathered as many facts as I could while keeping an eye out for local color. Like them, I did nothing dozens of others couldn?t have done just as well. It?s just that I was eccentric enough to do it.
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No text was provided for this review.