This book tries to paint a portrait of the conservative movement - of the people and institutions who have been responsible for pulling
Sometimes an outsider's eyes are the keenest. The Right Nation gained fame for predicting a Bush win in 2004, but this attempt by two Britons – Economist (
They begin with an overview of the Republicans’ five-decade transformation from the party of the East Coast elite to that of the populist hinterland, from the party of the patrician and internationalist Prescott Bush to that of
It’s this story the book shows us, through an engaging milieu of interviews, travel journalism and history. The Right Nation is worth the read simply for its dissection of the empire of think-tanks, foundations, media outlets, political action committees, lobby groups, community organisations and talkback radio stations that
This new order has much stronger roots in
All this explains why the
If you take one impression from The Right Nation, it’s the historically-grounded uniqueness of US ‘conservatism’: its populism, anti-elitism and progressive, almost messianic outlook are the opposite of what the term implies elsewhere. It's inconceivable that organisations like the NRA or the Christian Coalition could flourish in any other developed country. Where else in the developed world do four in five people identify as Christian, or one in three households own guns? Where else do 38 out of 50 states (plus the federal government) apply the death penalty? Where else is home-schooling a legal right in every state?
The authors’ central point is that this package of attitudes, while it may have regional accents, is mainstream across the
The Right Nation’s argument throughout is lucid, thorough and sufficiently nuanced to be convincing. The conservative movement they portray is a heterogeneous creature, with its share of internal contradictions – notably tension between 'small-government conservatives', who want the state out of their hair, and 'social conservatives', who want it on their side. But the big picture is of a national majority that, inverting Lyndon Johnson's famous statement about liberalism, stands against a lot of things and in favour of a mighty few.
The authors likewise avoid the pitfall of claiming that all Americans are conservatives, even latent ones; if nothing else, voting numbers in the last two presidential elections show that Blue, ‘liberal’
There are plenty of liberals in
Looking forward, the authors can’t offer much for American liberals.
The record shows that a party unable to play the conservative tune can’t build an election-winning base in the
The Right Nation marshals a wealth of anecdotal evidence and historical background into a coherent political profile of a nation, complete (in the second edition) with a postmortem of the 2004 election. If the book has a major weakness, it’s in its overseas comparisons; reading this book it's easy to forget that the world, even the 'developed' world, is wider than NATO. But while one may dispute the authors’ approach and conclusions on a specific issue, it’s hard to fault their objectivity or the explanatory power of their thesis. One’s inclined to accept their verdict on
* In the late 1990's, 1% of the US population controlled 38% of national wealth.