The Conservatives: Ideas & Personalities Throughout American History, by Patrick Allitt (Yale, 336 pp., $35)
In numerous books over the years, conservatives have offered historical perspectives on conservatism, liberals on liberalism, and each on the other, crowding bestseller lists and remainder piles alike. The common denominator is usually a polemical zest that is a product of the sense that major issues are at stake in our politics right now. The past is chiefly a storehouse from which to select what’s useful to the debate at the moment.
Patrick Allitt is a professor of history at Emory University, and whatever political opinions he may hold, he keeps them to himself in The Conservatives. His wideranging, briskly written survey of the American Right from the founding era through the end of the 20th century is no conservative history of conservatism in the sense of an attempt to vindicate a conservative viewpoint against others, nor is it a liberal debunking exercise. Rather, it is a descriptive account, situated at the crossroads of intellectual and political history, that seeks to allow the various strains of conservative thought in America to emerge in the context of the political debate of their time.
DEBORAH POTTER, guest anchor: As we mentioned earlier, another presidential nominee is in the spotlight this week, Sonia Sotomayor. The news of her nomination to the Supreme Court has dominated headlines, along with the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a ban on same-sex marriages. Joining us now to discuss those stories are Dan Gilgoff, senior writer at U.S. News & World Report, and Tod Lindberg, research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Political philosopher Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, author of “The Political Teachings of Jesus” and co-author of “Means to an End: US Interest in the International Criminal Court,” reflects on the role of values in presidential approaches to foreign policy, how to translate ethics into policy, and whether there is a place for moral convictions in the world of international politics.
Have you ever found yourself in the position of asking, on your own behalf or on behalf of others, how many or precisely which people it would be useful to kill in order to secure a benefit for yourself or your cause? And just how to do it? No? Others have. Their answers have ranged from Cain’s original “Abel, with my bare hands” to Hitler’s “all the Jews, mainly by gas,” and the widespread Hutu view in the Rwanda of 1994, “the Tutsis, with machetes.” The question burns today for the government of Sudan and in the Congo.
The singular advantage of being in the opposition is that the majority has to make the first move, and unlike chess, going first conveys no advantage the majority doesn’t already enjoy. What was striking last week about the House’s consideration of the stimulus package was the glimpse it offered of a potentially valuable political strategy for Republicans. Call it “Triangulation II”–the GOP effort to gain advantage by dividing Democrats in Congress from President Obama.
Here’s the main thought Republicans are consoling themselves with these days: Notwithstanding President-elect Barack Obama, a nearly filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate and the largest Democratic majority in the House of Representatives since 1993, the United States is still a center-right country. Sure, voters may be angry with Republicans now, but eventually, as the Bush years recede and the GOP modernizes its brand, a basically right-tilting electorate will come back home. Or, in the words of the animated rock band the Gorillaz, “I’m useless, but not for long/The future is comin’ on.”
Historians looking back on these tumultuous times will no doubt argue over the precise date on which the Age of Palin began. Her speech at the Republican National Convention on September 3 certainly catapulted her to national renown. But there is a good case to be made for her introductory appearance in Dayton, Ohio, five days before.
Is idealism dead? Should the promotion of American values of liberalism, democracy, human rights, and rule of law be a core element of U.S. foreign policy? Where to strike the balance between principles and interests is one of the most enduring debates about America ’s role in the world. But since September 11, this question has become intensely contested and deeply controversial. It has emerged as one of the central divides between the political right and left — in large part because of the history of the past seven years, the Bush administration ’s rhetoric, its strong association with the “freedom agenda,” and its actions justified at least in part by democracy promotion (namely the war in Iraq). Yet it is also becoming a sharper division within each end of the political spectrum.