Conservatives today deride moderate GOPers as “Republicans in Name Only.” But they used to matter—until the politics of passion overwhelmed them.
Rule and Ruin also has little to say about the forces that have reshaped both political parties, such as the increasing political organization of business, the role of money in elections, the decline of unions, and, perhaps most important of all, the rise of an intellectual culture that has become increasingly skeptical of virtually any sort of collective action. Nor is there much discussion of the social world that spawned the mandarin-style politics of the liberal establishment Kabaservice chronicled in his previous book and of the liberal Republicans he writes about here. They all belonged to an elite that had been instructed in its obligations to rule—a profoundly different ethic from the hedge-fund gurus of today for whom there is no higher calling than self-interest, but a deeply problematic ethic in its own way.
Finally, despite its focus on the Republican Party’s hard-right turn, the underlying claim of Rule and Ruin is that political polarization, not the overall drift to the right of American politics, is the central problem that our country faces today. Surely the hard-right unity of the GOP is a critical part of this story. Yet one of the ironies of this rich and complex book is that, by its end, the Democrats under Bill Clinton helped speed the demise of the moderate Republicans, as the centrist Democratic Leadership Council began to advocate many of the pro-market ideas (such as welfare reform and charter schools) that GOP moderates had long championed. And it is those moderate ideas and that moderate politics that have helped to drive the widening inequality of the country by cutting taxes, deregulating finance, weakening unions, devolving federal authority to the local level, and endorsing the primacy of the market as a vehicle for righting social wrongs. For anything to change, the last thing we need is more of this. The real heroes of the civil rights movement and the movement against the Vietnam War were not, after all, the moderate Republicans, but the passionate advocates who fundamentally challenged the tenets of moderation by asking—indeed, demanding—that people take a stand.
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