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cartoon: the avengers save the country from gridlock
David Fitzimmons via politicalcartoons.com

Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Bloomsbury USA
Hardcover, 325 pages, $17.99
Kindle edition 9.99
May, 2012

Money quotes: "At the heart of this book is the view that American history is defined by an irrepressible and ongoing tension between two core values: our love of individualism and our reverence for community. These values do not simply face off against each other. There is not a party of "individualism" competing at election time with a party of "community." Rather, both of these values animate the consciousness and consciences of nearly all Americans. Both are essential to America's story and to American strength. Both interact, usually fruitfully, sometimes uncomfortably, with that other bedrock American value, equality, whose meaning we debate in every generation."

"The notion that Republicans believe in less government and lower taxes—and nothing more or less—is so ingrained that we often forget the Republican Party was not always defined this way, and neither was the tradition from which the party sprang."

Basic premise: At the outset, let me state this is not a soothing anodyne "just do this and everyone will get along" prescription for some third way proposal that is bound to fail. Rather, if there's someone else's money quote to cite, it's Santayana's "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

In an interesting twist on exploring the world view of voters (see an alternative view based on authoritarianism), Dionne looks at the tension between individualism and community, and how it shows up in odd but recurring places. For example, the epithet "socialism" applied to Obama's health reform efforts in particular, and Obama in general by the tea party has its roots in the concept that Obama's political positioning isn't the pure individualism that the tea party—and Republicans who are beholden to it—are advocating.

Further, and core to the book, Dionne takes a respectful look at conservatism and how it has lost its way by forgetting that community was once part and parcel of conservative thought. There was a time that respected conservatives like William Buckley could and would take on the John Birch Society's poisonous revisionist view of American history. That intellectual honesty was lacking during the rise and fall of Glenn Beck and the modern day iteration of Bircher ideas that's been absorbed and recycled by the tea party and, sadly, the Republican House. Conservatives taking on the extremists within have either been AWOL or ostracized, and many false concepts about early and contemporary American history have been twisted by modern conservatives in an attempt to justify the fight against any vestige of communitarian policy, such as the hard Right's antipathy to Medicare as a concept. Republican Allen West has already brought back McCarthyist charges of Communists in Congress. About the only thing missing is making fluoridation of community water an election issue.

An alternate strain of conservatism (called "compassionate conservatism" by George W. Bush's speech writer and current Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson—and see Gerson's Why the Tea Party is toxic for the GOP) lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Republicans and conservatives (these days, one and the same.) Or, maybe, Bush's failed presidency did. Either way, PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), Bush's immigration proposals and government sanctioned faith-based initiatives stand as relics of a conservative past that had much more substance and depth behind it than the current iteration of "Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare!". I say that with particular sadness because PEPFAR and pandemic flu preparations are, in my view, the two things that the Bush Administration did right (at least once abstinence-only was stripped from PEPFAR regs.) They are, in context, two of the more communally-oriented policy approaches from that administration, which may well explain both my viewpoint and the likelihood that neither policy would ever be implemented by contemporary Republicans.

Dionne doesn't take many partisan shots in the book (though an unabashedly proud liberal viewpoint is present throughout). Rather, it's a comprehensive, well documented tour through our history, citing numerous historians and sociologists and well as columnists and pundits. If you took the time to follow up and read the citations, for example, discussing the revisionist history of post-Civil War Reconstruction (and I may!), or the world view of 60's Republicans like Jacob Javits, who argued in favor of the progressive roots of the Republican Party, you'd have a summer's worth of reading material to get through.

Overall, I found the book to be an impressive tour of forgotten history, recent and otherwise (including the Progressive and Populist movements of an earlier era), and a helpful explanatory guide to the rhetoric conservatives use today. How else does calling Obama a socialist make any sense at all?

I highly recommend it, and suspect that this book will have staying power.

Author (description from Brookings page): : E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and university professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

A nationally known and respected commentator on politics, Dionne appears weekly on National Public Radio and regularly on MSNBC.  He is a regular contributor to NBC’s Meet the Press. He has also appeared on News Hour with Jim Lehrer and other PBS programs.

Readability/quality: This is a good read. There are numerous hooks to get you interested in history (what's Rick Perry got to do with Andrew Hamilton and Henry Clay? Very little, as it happens. What do Civil War pensions, a notable communitarian effort by the Federal government, have to do with FDR? A great deal.) While the end notes are extensive, the references are neither overdone nor get in the way of the story.

Who should read it: Political junkies, history buffs, those interested in the history of Populism beyond the current use of the term, unabashed liberals and thoughtful conservatives, Tom Friedman.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ultra-Extreme Individualism in the guise of... (11+ / 0-)

    ...'Freedom!! Liberty!!' is very, very profitable for the Financial Elites.

    They've done an amazing job of demonizing ANY collective action as "special interests." What is more narrowly specialized than what they perpetrate on us and the entire planet??

    When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:15:31 AM PDT

  •  "Democracy in America" 1840 by Tocqueville (7+ / 0-)

    One sentence  from Wikipedia,

    According to Tocqueville, democracy had some unfavorable consequences: the tyranny of the majority over thought, a preoccupation with material goods, and isolated individuals. Democracy in America predicted the violence of party spirit and the judgment of the wise subordinated to the prejudices of the ignorant.

    **

    This book seems mild compared to the actual corruption in politics and most of our institutions.

    Are Americans even able to face up to a book like this?

    A friend teaches in college and he is seeing students who don't know real thought. After decades of sound bites from the media and technology of short messages, they no longer able to take a stand.

    In other words, is the core value of individualism at risk because of the absence of thought and connection to the real world?

    •  "preoccupation with material goods"... (0+ / 0-)

      ...doesn't seem to be a consequence of democracy.  But maybe I am not looking at that assertion from the correct perspective and context.

      When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Egalitare on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:01:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know if Dionne gets into it (10+ / 0-)

    but the socialism charge clearly has its roots in Hayek's critique of Keynesian economics in The Road to Serfdom.  Considered a crank economist in the early 60s, Hayek's view that any government intervention in the economy, however mild, would lead inexorably to totalitarian state control became the foundation of the neo-liberal economics that underpinned first the Pinochet regime in Chile, later Thatcherite economics in Britain, and finally the voodoo economics of St. Ronnie here at home.  Hayek's winning of the Nobel in economics in 1974 had an awful lot to do with establishing his credentials in the mainstream.

    His economic theories, though, led directly to the gross inequality of wealth distribution you see in the US today.

    Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
    ¡Boycott Arizona!

    by litho on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:22:30 AM PDT

    •  even (6+ / 0-)

      Even Milton Friedman believed government intervention is sometimes necessary-- hiding behind Hayek is today's right wing bullshit--they want inequality as long as they're on the winning side--and "others" lose.  American politics is about bigotry-- started by the Puritans and nurtured by the rich.

      In my old age, I'm beginning to see the value of revolution--evolution in politics means new money taking power away from old money.  We are pawns--powerless with no weapons.  SDS stood for students for a democratic society--I'm ready to join a new SDS--seniors for a democratic society.  I don't want my kids to be sacrificed pawns.

      Apres Bush, le deluge.

      by melvynny on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:56:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this review. It's on my kindle now. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Amber6541, DemFromCT, Susan from 29

    I've been meaning to get this book and now that I've been prodded, I've done it.

  •  Conservatism is evolving.......in fact it evolves (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    smiley7

    every day.

  •  our history (8+ / 0-)

    We are a nation of immigrants--who hate immigrants, we are a free society that had the cruelest form of slavery, we are a nation without natural enemies, that is warlike.  We are bipolar--we are bigoted--we are snobs--we are failures.  The success the US enjoyed was economic, the result of abundant natural resources and room for expansion.  The most exceptional aspect of our "success" was how docile the downtrodden reacted.  People here should go back and read the original Black Panther treatises -- plain spoken truth too hard to swallow even for the liberals of that time.

    Apres Bush, le deluge.

    by melvynny on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:35:10 AM PDT

    •  Yeah, that was some pretty deep stuff, (0+ / 0-)

      compared to Tocqueville.  Bobby Seale was one deep thinker.  

      The only way to beat the game is to rig it to guarantee that everyone wins something. That's not possible if there is a house.

      by SpamNunn on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:46:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yet (0+ / 0-)

      And yet, with most of what you're saying being the case, America is where just so many people from just so many countries want to come.  It isn't perfect and we have to continue to work on it, but I'd not want to live anywhere else and thank my lucky stars I was born here.  I know everyone won't have that opinion especially if their plight in life hasn't been what they want it to be.  

      But, I would bet most Americans believe as I do.  I truly do wonder what would make our country better other than for there to be far more chances for people that truly do want to succeed to improve their life.

      The truth is sometimes very inconvenient.

      by commonsensically on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:56:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  except (0+ / 0-)

        Your attitude prevents change--are we good enough?--when the economy busts, our inequality will be exposed.  I'm gathering the kool-ade of our success will fade when people return to begging in the streets--the depression had a decent ending because we were still rich in resources--not so much today. What's it all about Alfie?

        Apres Bush, le deluge.

        by melvynny on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:01:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I remain an optimist (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bill warnick
          Your attitude prevents change
          We have a very different view of America.  I am not ready to throw in the towel.  We definately need a new direction that can only come through thinking "outside the box" on how to best use our existing resources (including our people) to bring us back from the funk we find outselves in today economically.  We've always been innovative in America.  We have faced many a tragedy and many tough times throuhout out country's history.  We've dug way down and found the strength to recover each and every time.  Now is no different.  

          But then, I'm an eternal optimist.  That, to me, is the attitude that will create change.

          The truth is sometimes very inconvenient.

          by commonsensically on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:12:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  can see why war on educators (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OleHippieChick, Egalitare

      don't want to know our own history

      you point out the contradictions of out society

      racism is one of those contradictions

      book that I am pushing is "Worse Than You Think" by Keith Qunicy

      Here are the first few chapters:

      1. Leaving the Blacks Behind

      2. Leaving everyone else behind

      3. Vanishing Jobs

      A few highlights from the book related to the blacks

      Racism was official policy for Roosevelt.

      "The New Deal established a new social contract that did not include blacks. Roosevelt had risen to power via a coalition of labor unions, big city political machines and the South. To keep the coalition together, he had to make concessions to Southern Racism."
      ... Britian running out of navy .. Germans sinking one ship per day. Churchill pleaded with Roosevelt to sell some of our destroyers. We were not yet at war but officially neutral. By law, Roosevelt could not sell ships to either Germany of England. But there was no rule against a trade. Churchill offered to exchange England's Carribean Islands for American Warships.
      Roosevelt and his aids could not accept the deal. Britain had given the islands good government. Black islanders had equal rights and even held government posts. If the islands became part of the US, blacks would suddenly have equal rights on American soil. The South would go ballistic.....
      Blacks cut out of the new deal.

      Here is a link to a comment I wrote about the book. It is too hot to handle for most because it criticizes both parties.

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      •  FDR (0+ / 0-)

        FDR was a rich guy--better than most--but not good.  He also refused to believe Germany was exterminating Jews.  I had a cousin who escaped from Austria, worked in the defense industry, engineered duplicates of German war technology, met with Eisenhower, explained concentration camps--was ignored.  The "man" hates everyone not in his circle,  is selfish and self absorbed.  The American "man" was  better than Hitler--but that's kind of a small compliment.  BTW, after WWII, America allowed 500 Jewish surviving families to emigrate from concentration camps--sent them to unused barracks in Buffalo.  Such generosity.

        Apres Bush, le deluge.

        by melvynny on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:19:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Even so, my Grandparents worshipped... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bill warnick

        ... FDR for the gains the did see and feel.

        My grandmother was a domestic, and she and her fellow housekeepers were specifically excluded from the initial list of beneficiaries of Social Security. As were her cousins who were farm workers. But her sons all got G.I. Bill benefits allowing all of them to get degrees. Her husband (fortunate enough to be a factory worker) got into the SS system immediately, as did other Black factory workers who migrated from the South to Northern and Midwestern factories.

        It was unfair, unjust and uneven. It was certainly less than small-d democratic.  And no one has to like it or be satisfied with it. But it was measurable and meaningful progress.

        When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

        by Egalitare on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:28:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  This analysis... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DemFromCT, Susan from 29

        is much too arch. Read Harvard Sitcoff's A New Deal for Blacks for a much more nuanced and historically honest critique of race and the New Deal. While it is true that Black Americans suffered disproportionately during the Great Depression, it is not true that Blacks were "cut out of the New Deal." To draw such a Manichean conclusion is to do violence to historical rigor.

        Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

        by JoesGarage on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:14:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  half (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Don midwest

          Half the gain is as commendable as half the truth--better is not good enough.  LBJ was much better than was FDR--except for compounding JFK's screw up in Vietnam.  

          Let them eat cake is better than let them starve--but not really something to be proud of.

          Apres Bush, le deluge.

          by melvynny on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:27:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Proleptic comment... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Susan from 29

            We're talking about history here, not moral judgments. All historical actors are bound by their context. Men and women cannot do what they cannot say they can do. To put it another way, political dynamics only operate within the realm of the possible, and that realm is determined by the intellectual and social worldview of the participants. For example, there will never be a "People's Revolution" in the United States because we do not have a revolutionary context or imagination to bring such an event into being.

            Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

            by JoesGarage on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:56:59 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  no (0+ / 0-)
              For example, there will never be a "People's Revolution" in the United States because we do not have a revolutionary context or imagination to bring such an event into being.
              No country does, until they do.  Leaders lead, not rule by consensus.

              Apres Bush, le deluge.

              by melvynny on Sun May 27, 2012 at 09:58:17 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Events can only occur within the realm... (0+ / 0-)

                of the possible and the possible is only defined by deep culture. Deep culture is historically constructed over a very long period of time. Ask yourself, for example, why the American and French Revolutions were so fundamentally different in spite of being contemporaneous. Historical imagination operating within the realm of the possible. You may want a so-called "Revolution" in the United States but you're not going to get it, and certainly not by offering epigrams that carry all the intellectual heft of a fortune cookie. Again, you've missed my central point by clinging to presentism instead considering theories of history.

                Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

                by JoesGarage on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:25:52 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Cultism and the Conservative Movement..... (0+ / 0-)

    an Array of Cultists, actually.......

    You have your NRA gun cultists, your Grover Norquist tax-cut cultists, your TBAG spending-cut cultists, your Scott Walker anti-union cultists, your pro-life / terrorist cultists, your fossil fuel cultists, your neo-con bomb-everything cultists, and your "freedom and liberty" Ron and Rand Paul cultists......and, of course, your religious cultists.....

    on the liberal side.....You have OWS, NORML, the envirnomentalists, and LGBT (this is unfair, but let's include them for the sake of argument)....

    The rest of America are special interests (Wall Street, Healthcare, the Kochs, Unions...etc).....

    and then the moderates and independents...which still believe in governance..but not too much....

    From my purely political perspective...the easiest minds to change will be the moderates and independents, the "freedom and liberty" Ron Paul and Rand Paul cultists, and the religious cultists.....

  •  No Party of Individualism? Is He Sleep Walking? (0+ / 0-)

    Conservatives believes the individuals within their community should be protected from every community-oriented policy that could be imagined.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:54:22 AM PDT

  •  The whole concept of "Rugged Individualism" (7+ / 0-)

    is a Myth.  It's ridiculous.  It's largely tied to the mythology of the Old West, and works well for John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, but it's not tied to reality.

    All those "rugged individualists" depended on the people who went before them (or were there before them) to know where the trails were, where the water was, where the game was.  Even a John Wayne type didn't manufacture his own guns, breed his own horses, sew his own clothes.  Sooner or later everyone depended on outside help from someone.

    The myth lives on, in comical fashion, today.  The rugged individualist weaving through traffic in his lifted 3/4 ton pickup, built by a company that all of us helped bail out, by workers that were part of a union, on roads that all of us chipped in to pay for, and some of us built...burning gas manufactured (by somebody) from oil brought (by somebody) halfway around the world from wells (dug by somebody) and through shipping lanes kept open (by somebody), all using equipment built by someone else.

    Best of all, the truck is covered with bumper stickers with rugged, individualist sayings on them, and condemning Socialism.  Printed by someone else.

  •  Compassionate Conservatism: an oxymoron (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elginblt, quill, Stuart Heady

    Compassionate Conservatism was never anything more than a marketing campaign, designed to lull voters into thinking that "Sure, this is going to hurt, but it's for our own good, and it hurts the people doing it even more."

    The truth was when Bush talked about the elites as the haves, and the have-mores - and called them his base.

    The 'shared pain' compassionate conservatives like to talk about is simply making sure the 99% get the share of pain that should be borne by the 1% - but isn't.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:06:42 AM PDT

    •  but people within the bush administration (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Egalitare

      (gerson, Dilulio) really did believe it, even if Bush did not.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:13:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Which is the scary part! (0+ / 0-)

        Amazing how much self-deception there is at high levels in government.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:14:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I was in Tx when this term was coined (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Susan from 29

      My recollection of the use of the term was in response to criticism that Republicans were cold and impervious to caring.

      In particular, I remember a report that indicated that there were a number of children in certain parts of the state that were going hungry.

      Bush called a press conference, right before Christmas, to deny this, filled with outrage that people would disparage Texas by citing such statistics.  

      Because it was right before Christmas, the story died and everyone went on to the idea of Bush running for Prez.  

      The term was coined to give Bush more humanity.  But that is all it ever could be.  None of those people came any closer than common hypocritical lip service to actually devising policies that provided for compassion in public policy.  What Republicans want is for the voters to think they might be getting something even if they are not.  It was and is, a lie.

      hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

      by Stuart Heady on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:51:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Chris Hayes must have finished Mann and Ornstein's (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dsb, Susan from 29, Meteor Blades

    book.....They'll be on his program next week.....As he says 'The first time on a sunday talk show'....Cheers to MB.

  •  Not water fluoridation but disinfection here... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DemFromCT, Susan from 29

    Community be damned.

    The RWingers here rolled back the requirement to disinfect municipal water here in Wisconsin.

    The bill (was) sponsored by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, in the Senate, and Rep. Erik Severson, R-Osceola, in the Assembly.

    "A lot of it is expense," (Severson) says. "When people in an area are not complaining about the drinking water, the water is good. The taxpayers there are saying ‘Hey, we can't afford to pay for this.'"

    Read more: http://host.madison.com/...

    •  That sounds flat out dangerous. Are people (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow

      expected to equip themselves with testing tools and in-home disinfectants?  And don't they realize how much more expensive that will be?

      Or do they simply have a financial interest in the testing tools and in-home disinfectants?

      "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

      by Susan Grigsby on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:03:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  People should be weaned off gubmint entitlement! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Susan from 29

        Having the gubbmint do it makes people soft. They should learn to take care of themselves and not have some nanny state do stuff for them!

        /snark

        In all seriousness - I don't have a clue how their minds work. They certainly don't live in a fact-based reality. The guy who introduced the legislation (Erik Severson) is a doctor, if you can believe that.

  •  sorry but I don't see it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quill

    this would be a very different country if there was a sense of community

    At the heart of this book is the view that American history is defined by an irrepressible and ongoing tension between two core values: our love of individualism and our reverence for community.

    "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

    by eXtina on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:32:43 AM PDT

    •  medicare, WWII, GI bill, New Deal (0+ / 0-)

      public schools, roads, post office... how can you deny it? Just because it's imperfect doesn't mean it's not there.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:43:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And how old are those achievements? (0+ / 0-)

        the youngest is - 50 years old?

        "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

        by eXtina on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:54:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  this book reviews the history of the country (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quill, eXtina, bill warnick

          thus an appropriate topic. just because things have been lost along the way doesn't mean they were never there.

          Dionne describes the "long consensus", set up by Populists and Progressives. That is is being frayed by radical individualism doesn't change history.

          "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

          by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:07:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  but those programs were fought for tooth & nail (0+ / 0-)

            I obviously haven't read the book, so maybe I'm not being fair, but if Dione thinks conservatives were any more communitarian back then, then maybe he should re-review his history. Just about every govt program that worked for the common good and/or actually helped anyone below the aristocracy was violently opposed by conservatives, going back to the very beginning, and certainly before socialism became a bugaboo.

            •  and yet there are examples (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              quill, Susan from 29

              from Nixon (EPA) to Reagan's city on a hill (taken from the Puritan John Winthrop) to the humble penny (e pluribus unum) of community thinking.

              "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

              by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 09:29:34 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  certainly, and point taken (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                DemFromCT

                But it's also the case that the nastiness we see today is not new at all and has always had the potential to over-run conservatives' more communitarian instincts.

                •  true but at the same time (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  quill, Susan from 29

                  current conservatism make Nixon (wage-price controls) and even Reagan (tax increases) seem like center left politicians. There wasn't always a Grover Norquist-Paul Ryan-Rand Paul cast to the party. Jacob Javitz was indeed a Republican.

                  Al of that puts today's Repulicans in ever starker relief.

                  "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

                  by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:03:10 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  put differently (0+ / 0-)

                  today's brand of conservatism is  "nasty without community".

                  "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

                  by Greg Dworkin on Mon May 28, 2012 at 04:17:29 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  I have a question (0+ / 0-)

                Does Dione imply that the communitarian aspect of American society make us exceptional? I'd argue that we actually have much less of that than other cultures (democratic or not) and that the only thing that makes us "special" is the individualism (and not in a good way). That, and the very, almost religious, belief that we are exceptional.

                •  it's the balance that makes us exceptional (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Susan from 29, quill

                  and different than europe.

                  too far communitarianism? Prohibition, which failed. Too far individualism? The Gilded Age.

                  Dionne also argues that that successful balance has also cut off social democratic or overtly religious parties, which have developed elsewhere. here, they more or less work within the 2 party system.

                  "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

                  by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:56:55 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  and btw Dionne also describes current politics as (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          eXtina, Stuart Heady, Susan from 29

          a battle over define history, hence its relevance. tea partyists can't refer to their ideals as those of the Founders and let that go unchallenged. it's wrong,  it's revisionist history.

          "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

          by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:08:44 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  finally Dionne also cites (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          eXtina, belle1

          the socially tolerant millennials as an example of community not being dead, and if anything, the wave of the future. Just not the present. It's the difference between gay marriage acceptance and demographics changing for tomorrow even as NC and other states ban gay marriage and older white voters still predominate.

          "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

          by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:16:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  The inherent tension... (5+ / 0-)

          in the American historical imagination between the individual and the community is part of our social and political DNA. Americans continue to practice what Tocqueville called the associational impulse in a myriad of ways. (Tocqueville considered this one of the greatest strengths of the young republic). That tension may seem muted because of the toxic nature of our national political discourse, but that discourse is an abstraction to most Americans. At the local level (where most of the real governing happens, whether in school board meetings, planning commission hearings, city council meetings, etc.) the central tension within American ideology informs us every moment. MSNBC and Fox may obscure this, current Tea Party cannibalism may obscure this, the hideous political play-by-play invented and exploited by the pundit class (so they may burp their gassy conventional wisdom "insights" daily and then synthesize them into a forgettable book every 18 months) may obscure this, but it is nonetheless true. We are associational, and we will remain so. Just ask my Democratic, Republican, and Independent neighbors.

          Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

          by JoesGarage on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:42:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  History rather than modern political reality (6+ / 0-)

    An interesting review of what appears to be an even more interesting book. I suspect that the very premise of the book - the idea that America exists in tension between two rather equally balanced concepts, individualism and communitarianism, may make it highly inaccurate as a description of modern American politics.

    I can buy the two ideologies and the perpetual conflict between them as being an inherent characteristic of American history. I can also see that the author, E. J. Dionne, needed to present the two positions as of equal importance and needed to avoid pointing fingers at any single group or political view in order to publish this book. It just seems to me that to do that he has had to overlook the fact that modern American politics suffers from the massive cancer of modern predatory conservatism which distorts and destroys the political balance between the political ideas of individualism and communitarianism.

    Modern conservatism is neither individualist nor communitarianism. It is instead the intrusion of big wealth, large corporations and centrally organized fundamentalist religions into the political process using lies, propaganda and massive amounts of money to buy some politicians and to silence or sideline opposing politicians. It is another iteration of the corporatism that represents the various fascist movements of the twentieth century. To extend my earlier cancer metaphor, it is neither individualist nor is it communitarian, nor is it a blend of the two. That could be symbiotic. It is instead a cancer or a parasite and like all parasites it will be destructive to the overall body.

    Modern American conservatism does not use the meanings of the political terms to convince people how to decide and behave. It uses the words as disposable weapons to destroy its opponents and it uses the massive power of mass media to drown out opposition. When one set of words begins to lose their destructive power they are dropped and replaced, often by taking the language of conservative's opponents and revising the meanings so that they become destructive. The iterations of the term "liberal" are one example. When words have no consistent meaning then the ideas they represent are unlikely to have any connection to reality.

    The political cancer of modern American conservatism is not American politics. It is instead the exercise of raw political power to destroy all opposition centralize power in the hands of a small group. It is controlled by the social networks of the conservative wealthy and big corporation leaders together with the alliance of fundamentalist religious organizations who, as all major religious institutions do, act to legitimize the wielders of power.

    This is not a view that would fit into E. J. Dionne's book, nor is it one that would especially enhance his reputation as a journalist, so I am not surprised to find the review does not suggest it will be found there. The review suggests that the book does appear to present an interesting view of much of American history and is very likely worth reading.

    The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

    by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:44:23 AM PDT

    •  I think many confuse these two concepts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rick B, basket

      Individualism and communitarianism are terms that can be defined in a great many different ways.  I think that for many people, the real difference in America today in "concepts" is that somewhere around half of the citizens believe that people should be responsible for themselves save a very few exceptions and then around half of the citizens believe that government should be heavily involved in providing for our populace if not in actual entitlements, through enacting policies and legislation that provide for opportunities to succeed.

      As time progresses, I think, one of these concepts/philosophies will win out in the end.  

      The truth is sometimes very inconvenient.

      by commonsensically on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:59:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Concepts are intellectual organizing principles (5+ / 0-)

        As such they have to be given priorities, but it is unlikely that one will, as you state, "... win out in the end."

        You are suggesting the equivalent of a battle between the disciplines of psychology and sociology in which one will replace the other ultimately. In fact that is impossible. They both look at and attempt to organize ideas about human beings, but they do so at different levels of focus. Psychology focuses on the functioning of individual mind while sociology focuses on the functioning of groups of individuals.

        "Individualism" and "Communitarianism" in my opinion are concepts limited to the political domain which are two different levels of focus. They intersect because the conscious individual is in large part a creation of the society into which he or she was born and because that society will always restrict and enable individuals to a great extent. But since the individual is the only one of the two which is self-conscious, there will always be a massive tension between the two levels of humanity.

        The individual will always demand a realm of personal freedom of action and society will always demand that the realm be limited and guided by others. The terms "individualism" and "communitarianism" are the verbal symbols we use in language for the socially accepted rules of those two areas of action.

        I will also add that even the words themselves, "individualism" and "communitarianism", are socially constructed as agreed-upon social symbols pointing to the specific behaviors at each level of focus.

        Neither term can overcome the other.

        The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

        by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:24:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Agree with Rick B. E. J. Dionne lives in DC (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rick B, quill

      Excellent comment Rick.

      Having the debate in the context of the back and forth of the two political parties doesn't get very far because the 1% run the game.

      Using the words from the past, or even using concepts of individualism vs  communitarianism, doesn't get very far because our whole dialogue has become corrupted.

      There was a session here in Columbus with Bruce Fein, a top justice dept person in the Reagan Admin. He is a libertarian.

      He called our language homonyms. Sound like the words in the constitution, but no longer means the same thing.

      He also said that the separation of powers is more important for our freedom than the bill of rights. We now have a king rather than the limited powers of the executive in the constitution.

      The session also featured Glenn Greenwald whose critical writings point out the contradictions between what we profess and what we do as a country.

      •  see comment below (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rick B

        there is also a rich part of the book looking at OWS and its relationship to earlier progressive and populist movements.

        of copurse, and Henrick Hertzberg (cited in the book) notes in regard to OWS, you have to come to terms with politics to get anything done in America. TP understands that better than OWS.

        "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

        by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:13:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Some thoughts on the TP vs OWS (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DemFromCT, joe wobblie

          The reason the TP understands the use of politic sand the OWS does not is that very early on the TP was taken over by the Koch brothers through Freedom Works. Dick Armey is very good at letting the TP people think they are in control, but he funds and advertises (through FOX) the TP agenda items. As a result the TP has rituals and symbols to keep it together - less so since the 2010 election I think. There is also apparently a rather permanent hierarchy.

          The OWS is militantly anarchist with respect to hierarchies, so they have a level of effectiveness similar to that of the Spanish Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. They have no flag and few rituals to which OWS members will make commitments and for which they will keep those commitments. [Mic Check is an exception to my 'no rituals' description.] Anarchists tend to resent the very symbols and rituals that hold effective organizations together and they resent the power inequalities inherent in hierarchies. They also don't have the external funding which maintains hierarchies.

          It's not just an intellectual thing. The TP'rs accept some hierarchy because they are opposed to identified enemies. The OWS people (as far as I can tell) resent the hierarchical structure and blame it for much of what has gone wrong with America. The differences become reflected in the effectiveness of the respective organizations.

          These are end points on a continuum, of course, not absolute descriptions - and the application to TP and OWS is entirely my opinion.

          I'd be interested in seeing how the defectors from the OWS anarchy move. There was a guy - Robert Michels - who write of Iron Law of Oligarchy. in 1911. He was at that time a syndicalist writing about the leadership of the syndicalist organizations. After WW I he became a member of the Italian fascist Party.

          His Iron Law of Oligarchy appears to me to be close to universal. A hierarchy of organizational leaders is essential to organizational effectiveness in competition between organizations, and the organizational leaders quickly and almost universally become self-serving and use organization resources together with the leadership social networks to maintain their leadership positions.

          It presents a nasty conundrum for which effective democracy is only a very partial solution. Well, there is also the limited lifespan of an individual human, but as we can see with the Romney family, family wealth prevents that from being especially effective.

          I'd like to see OWS more effective, but would they become a more effective organization only by giving up their soul? Or will it be a seed-bed for individuals who move on to effectiveness elsewhere? The latter will be slow to show its effectiveness if so, and OWS will not have great longevity

          The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

          by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 11:29:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  to be fair (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rick B

      much of the book catalogs contemporary politics and where the radical individualist philosophy creeps in to tea party thinking.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:10:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's very much my impression (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DemFromCT, joe wobblie

        And I will admit that I have neither read the book nor is it likely that I will ever have time to do so. I really like what I have read and heard from Dionne and wish I could get to it. Unfortunately I am getting rid of books I have bought because they looked fascinating and informative and then never had time to read.

        I was reacting both to my appreciation for E. J. Dionne's efforts - he invariably provides useful insight - and to what I felt was missing in descriptions of modern American politics from my own point of view and which did not seem reflected in the review. My speculations on why that may have been the case were included in my comment above

        I do not believe that the modern conservative movement is a normal part of American politics. It is an aberration and a very dangerous one.

        The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

        by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:42:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Individualism / Community (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DemFromCT, Rick B

      The Rights of the Individual came into focus during The Enlightenment. And they were sorely needed in order for there to be a kind of social mobility and access to justice and social position awarded by one's wits and work and not awarded by birth.

      But at this point in history, community is what will see us through. Not that we'd lose all individualism, but strong communities . . . even community currencies (in my dream) . . . are needed.

      And if there is anything good to come of our bad economy, and with rise of a new wannabe aristocracy, it may be that people will begin to build strong, local communities.

      What's happening with food is a good example. More community gardens are arising in urban areas . . . rooftop gardens. There's even great, inexpensive technology allowing for growing food indoors . . . in basements, in attics. And people grow more conscious of buying from local farmers. Farmers markets are booming these days. The food is fresher and better.

      Makes sense that food is a big area where communities focus. I'm hoping energy will be in line too, as people learn how to build solar panels for themselves.

      And education. Home schooling and the web gives us an opportunity to re-think education. If they are going to start giving school vouchers, I'd like to see small community groups start their own schools. It might look like this. 5-10 families bind together for "home schooling". If their work schedule doesn't permit, maybe hire 1-3 people to teach the kids.

      The education system is failing so many. The teach by testing is not education. It's teaching people to be robots, not to do critical thinking. There's a lot that would need to be worked out to make this successful for those in poorer communities, but it could be done. Groups like Teach America could help.

      Just some day dreaming here.

    •  In the above comment I described words as weapons (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Stuart Heady, joe wobblie, basket

      The reason the predatory conservatives are using individualistic terms as weapons is that they are attempting to destroy the ability of the central government to regulate or limit their predatory actions. That's makes individualistic words into their weapons of choice - but only economically.

      To support their religious fundamentalist allies, however, they have to push the most totalitarian of communal concepts and use to power of the police to enforce them. That very much demonstrates the absence of an individualistic philosophy underlying the conservative movement.

      What they are really doing is waging a political propaganda war with the purpose of reducing the power of the central government to enforce communal social concepts on predatory powers like wealthy conservative families (the Koch's, the Coors, the Amway families, the Southern families who still dominate much of the rural South, etc.) while transferring power from the government back to the fundamentalist religious leaders (which includes the Opus Dei and other similar Catholics.)

      The words being used have no real intellectual content. They are used entirely to shift political power away from the working and middle class and give it to the 1% and to the conservative religious leaders. The purpose of misapplied individualistic terminology is to break the power the American people can wield to protect themselves through the federal government.

      The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

      by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:46:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Words as weapons, PR armies, masked intent (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rick B, basket

        I think Rick B has some good analysis.  I grew up in the South and appreciate that Bush came from an Oligarchy based on worship of Certain Families.  

        But it isn't intellectually neat and simple.  These people are full of contradictions and hypocrisies that they dare not analyze.

        Individualism, or Libertarianism is a conceit that is especially popular in the Southwest as well as the South.  There is a sort of cowboy idea that to this day makes it difficult to talk about important community involving issues such as the limits of the water supply on development and growth.  

        In this mix, evangelical Christianity is an ingredient that helps the cause of supporting the rich getting their way by disabling critical thinking and promoting conformity, through a belief in contradictory things.  

        What drives a lot of these people is fear.  They fear science because they don't understand it.  They fear what Wall Street fears because their investment newsletters tell them, they fear the future because they feel it is all moving too fast.  The people in the rural communities, especially across the West, fear people in the big cities because those places are so big and so full of different minorities.  They fear minorities.  None of that is in the Bible, but that doesn't stop people from using the Bible - especially the Epistle by Saint Norquist or the Gospel according to the American Heritage Foundation.  

        Mark Twain would love it.  If he came back today, he would not need a briefing.  

        hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

        by Stuart Heady on Sun May 27, 2012 at 11:04:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I grew up in a similar South (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          joe wobblie, basket

          Stuart, you've got it! Thank you for the support.

          I grew up in Beaumont, Texas where Spindletop Oil Well in 1901 brought the oil revolution to Texas. Beaumont after WW II was about 100,000 people and was run by about four or five very wealthy families. It was tightly controlled. I was told that the railroads considered running tracks to Beaumont to make it their southern port city, but those families knew they would lose control of the city and did not permit the railroads in. So the railroads chose Houston instead and created what is now the 4th largest city in the U.S.

          Beaumont today has a population of a little less than 120,000 people.

          I used to wonder why the TV shows which had been dominated by westerns seemed to all of a sudden in the 60's became dominated by cop shows. I now think that was when Hollywood decided it was a major urban area and no longer rural. Texas itself ceased to be an agricultural - oil dominated state sometime in the 70's or 80's and now all the metropolitan areas except Fort Worth are strongly Democratic. But the rural politicians don't want to lose power, so they continue to dominate state-wide politics here.

          You are right that the Libertarian ideas predominate in the rural areas along with fear of "the Other." That's the source of right-wing idiocies (see Congressman Louie Gohmert of Tyler, TX or Paul Ryan of Janesville, Wisconsin. The Republican conservatives are almost entirely from rural backgrounds which is where the Libertarian fantasies still are quite powerful.

          The Democrats represent the needs of the urban population of America, and that includes Social Security, Medicare and universal health care. The rural "aristocrats" hate the takeover of so much social stuff by the Federal government because it puts limits on their ability to be the local landlords, much as the English Justices of the Peace used to be in England.

          The demand for social equality, absence of class distinctions and social mobility is a bedrock requirement for the workforce of an industrial urban population. These workers work in highly specialized extremely productive jobs, but need a bureaucracy to coordinate the work. That's why those jobs are found in cities. Rural jobs are much less specialized, require less education generally and tend to pay less as a result. As a result we have two different cultures in America.

          The main places the rural culture still predominates (other than the red counties in the Presidential election map) are the Old South and the flyover states in the center of the country. They don't need minorities who have the idea that they should have social mobility. They need a peasant workforce with low education requirements.

          This election is another which will be dominated by the battle between America's rural and less productive political culture and America's much more productive and egalitarian urban culture. Just read the state Republican Platforms of the rural states and you will see that rural anger and fear of minorities and of change oozing off the page.

          This is not a war of ideas. It's entirely a war between two cultures.

          By the way, the battle between the rural culture and the urban culture does appear in the Bible. Max Weber pointed out that the prophets were representative of the Jewish farmers who often had to borrow money from the city bankers for seed and such. A bad harvest resulted in loss of the farms and increased wealth shifting to the cities. There's a reason why the prophets told tales of the nasty goings on in Sodom and Gomorrah. That's where the bankers were.

          The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

          by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:22:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I grew up in Waco (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Rick B, basket

            You probably know something about this central Texas town that likes to call itself "The Buckle on the Bible Belt."

            A lot of people remember the name because of the episode with David Koresh.  This sect was not really all that strange in the context of a very Revelations oriented Baptist culture.

            However, I grew to see the real truth.  Back in the 1920s the KKK had local units that posed for pictures much like company Kiawinis leagues.  I particularly remember a group photo for a church furniture manufacturing company.  

            There were a few leading families with names like Cameron and Lacy.  

            There was an opening for an Art Center, high on a western hill that featured home movies shot around the spectacular swimming pool with its colonnades during the height of the Depression.  

            The real history there is that Waco, at the turn of the century was the dynamic heart of the Texas economy, as it was in the center of cotton growing country.  However, the big fish wanted to stay the big fish there and refused to bring in railroads, which then went to Dallas.  

            I learned about a specialized sort of preacher that would go into the death beds of the rich and persuade them that God had gifted them with wealth and that they needed to arrive in Heaven unburdened.  Deathbed codicils are one of the ways that the far right have been funded.  

            I think that for most progressives who never lived in Texas it is hard to believe how much money comes from this source and how much influence this confluence of special interests and evangelism has on American politics.  

            I have tried to explain this in places like Seattle.  In a more rational, perhaps Lutheran and West Coast environment it is hard to believe.  Nobody up there is so hard bitten.  

            I think that the reason for this is that Texas in the past was truly a harsh environment so people had to be fiercely aggressive to survive.  That is what creates the evangelical culture.  Even people who are not religious are affected.  

            I have been to Beaumont and the Houston area.  Do you remember when Bob Eckhardt lost in 1982?

            hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

            by Stuart Heady on Sun May 27, 2012 at 02:42:34 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Bob Eckhardt (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              basket

              was my adopted Congressman. He lost to Jack Fields in 1980.

              If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

              by texaslucy on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:35:04 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  I somewhat remember Eckhardt (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              basket, joe wobblie

              I was attending the University of Houston at Clear Lake City at the time working on my MBA. I never took too much notice of him when he lost.

              So now we have established that the local powers that be in Beaumont and Waco created Houston and Dallas rather than build up the cities they ran. I hadn't heard the Waco story but it is quite typical.  Sort of typical for conservatives and aristocrats. They fight change even when it is good for them.

              The thing about the Texas evangelical culture is that it is primarily rural. It has lost a lot of control of the people who have moved to the major cities, but only after the second generation grows up in the cities. In my opinion it's that loss of control that the radical preachers are reacting to. That's the basis of Creation Science and the radical view of the bible (biblical inerrancy especially.) The preachers didn't used to have to get so radical because, as you say, the climate was quite harsh, especially west of IH 35 towards El Paso. That area is also the Libertarian center of Texas, though the idiocy does spread all over the state.

              Waco, of course, it where Baylor University the Baptist college is located. It's also where Rand Paul attended for three years before going to Med School without an undergrad degree. That's still done rarely, especially if your father is an MD and a congressman. Nepotism is popular if you are rural and from a well-to-do family.

              The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

              by Rick B on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:59:12 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Peoples Republic of Austin (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Rick B

                I just have to add that after I left Waco behind, I spent a little time in San Francisco and then moved to Austin where I was involved with progressive community politics for about 20 years.  

                Every now and then when I visited in Waco, I would pick up the Waco Tribune Herald and find an editorial in which Austin was referred to as "The Peoples Republic of Austin."

                This was only partly a reference to progressive policies on such issues as growth management.  

                Really what was going on is that in towns like Waco, anyone with any smarts as a high school student contemplates the idea of staying in the hometown beyond graduation.  If you want a life of the mind, if you want to broaden your horizons and have some scope you have got to leave town.  

                There is a terrible "brain drain" from these towns to the bigger cities like Austin, or places like LA, San Francisco, Seattle or New York, etc.  This is an abiding heartache for the folks who can only yearn for the bright kids who aren't there to take up leadership positions in the community, and who could perhaps have stood for betterment of things.  

                That heartache turns into an acid resentment of anything progressive, and it turns the fellowship of religion into something bitter and angry.  

                I have no doubt that is a large ingredient and what people really mean when they rant about the stuff they rant about and it is a mistake to take this literally.  

                The money that is out to exploit this is completely without scruples.  They'll say anything.  That is one reason why progressives who live elsewhere scratch their heads and can't seem to get what is going on with these people.

                hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

                by Stuart Heady on Mon May 28, 2012 at 07:51:54 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Stu you have triggered a lot of memories & ideas (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  joe wobblie, DemFromCT

                  "The Peoples Republic of Austin." The Jewish rural prophets would have happily used that as an insult towards Sodom and Gomorra had they been aware of Communism. The best those prophets could do was accuse them of libertine sex with little consideration of gender. What did they know?

                  Beaumont, TX where I grew up had the same brain-drain you describe. The science nerds I palled with in High School all moved to larger cities with better education and with better access to the best education and the most current information. Those create the best paying and most productive jobs. Everything else is just routine. People with the education and the motivation to use it go to the place with the best information sources because the person who gets the information first gets paid the most. That is always a big city. It is never a slow-moving farm, nor is it a small town where farmers buy farm machinery or tractor rigs. It is also not the town where the operators who run the oil refineries live. The latter is Beaumont-Port Arthur.

                  I can remember three significant contemporaries. The first was Janis Joplin. I never met her and did not hear her music until she died, but we grew up 30 miles apart. With her artistic and emotional sensibilities she could not deal with Port Arthur, nor could Port Arthur accept her. It may have contributed to her talent, but it killed her. She wound up using drugs to deaden the pain of living in such a philistine culture.

                  Another contemporary was Johnny Winter. He survived the rejection he faced both because of his albinism and his artistic sensibilities, my guess is because his family was artists. He probably has no clue who I am, but we graduated high school together. I was headed for the military so our paths wouldn't have crossed. I do recall him playing at a coffee house in South Beaumont and really enjoying his music, but I hadn't heard Joan Baez yet and didn't know what real music was. We didn't even have FM radio then.

                  Then there was the other side of the culture wars - Paige Patterson. He also graduated in our class of Beaumont High School. He with Judge Paul Pressler went on to split the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) into the conservative SBC and the Moderate SBC. His belief is that the Baptists had abandoned the teachings of the bible. He is apparently a biblical inerrantist. This is the position of religious Christian leaders who reject modernism and the modern urban culture. Paige Patterson is a leader in the war against modernism. Janis Joplin and Matthew Shepherd are casualties in that war.

                  To my regret I never met Janis Joplin, and I was merely a member of Johnny Winter's audience. I've met Paige Patterson and rather like him, but I'm on the other side of the Rural/Agricultural - Urban/modern/industrial  culture war from him. Texas is, in my opinion, ground zero in this war.

                  The brain-drain you write about is the kind of separation in families that happened in the US before the Civil War, only this is more basic than merely pro-slavery and anti-slavery. This is about whether America moves into the modern industrial society or whether the conservatives can drag us back into their dominated class-ridden society with no economic and social mobility. Modernity requires, encourages and supports diversity and social mobility. The older rural society rejects those things and uses religion to enforce conformity.

                  I think it was James Q. Wilson who pointed out that religion is a trailing edge social institution. It will always delay change and by doing so promote social stability. (The law is another such trailing edge institution, but not as much as religion.) The core element of conservatism will always be older people unwilling to sacrifice the power they maintain and the religion they profess.

                  There is no question which side will win. The modern population is too great to be fed in a rural class-ridden society. The only question is how long the troglodytes can delay the economically required and socially demanded changes in society.

                  I give the battle another decade at most, and I hope to live to see it end.

                  It's taken me a fortunately lengthy lifetime to figure this much out. I don't think I am too far off.

                  I can use these people by name as examples because they are all public individuals.

                  The US Supreme Court has by it's actions and rhetoric ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

                  by Rick B on Mon May 28, 2012 at 12:14:45 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Wow, very interesting thoughts (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    DemFromCT, Rick B

                    We must be pretty close in age.  I graduated from high school in 1970.

                    As it happens, I went to Baylor.  The student body prez during my junior year was Jack Fields.   He ran against Eckhardt right after finishing law school.  

                    My contention is that the drive that right wing Christians developed in the early seventies on college campuses like Baylor to overcome the progressive reforms of the era, became important a bit later.  

                    In the Jack Fields v Eckhardt race what you saw was the new alliance between the Houston Ship Channel interests and the born again evangelicals.  Fields never showed at a public debate, but on Sunday mornings, church parking lots were windshield wipered with a simple message "Fields is a born again Christian.  You have to vote."  

                    The special interests had a use for the massive mobilization that could come from riling up the born agains, since they don't question their leaders.  The evangelical leaders had a use for the special interests because of the money that could be put behind the cause.

                    This may have been the first rollout of the East Texas Strategy that Karl Rove later used to elect Bush governor.

                    I had thought that the stuff I heard at Baylor was pure sophomore bullshit.  A great dismay at societal changes like the sexual revolution and civil rights, etc.  A sense that one should dedicate one's life to doing whatever could be done to turn that around.  

                    At the core, a sense that saying what one really believes is not likely to win elections, so lying is necessary.  That is OK, because for the Righteous, there is a different set of rules.  

                    I think this would have died out with 8 track tapes except that quite a few of the kids I went to school with inherited money, some of them oil fortunes.  Some of them went out to make themselves rich and they did and then dedicated millions to the cause they were all motivated by in college.

                    George Bush and the people around him all came from this culture.  

                    These people still lust after power and will do what they have to do in order to get it.  

                    There has been enough money dedicated to the cause that entire graduating classes of kids who majored in journalism and PR can be hired to produce a 24/7 noisefest in the effort to change America's course.  

                    This includes everything from the money spent on climate science denial, to pushing creationism, to financing candidates are every level from school board on up.  

                    But, you are right.  I think the fever will break at some point.  These people will be just flattened when Romney loses, as I expect him to.  That may cause a lot of people who invested in the GOP to rethink that whole idea.  

                    I hope.

                    My fear is that we are going to be in times that require steady nerves and a critical clarity of mind.  Those who don't repond well to stress may freak out and become less rational and not more.  That may advantage the party most associated with organized neuroses.  

                    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

                    by Stuart Heady on Mon May 28, 2012 at 01:40:10 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for this review, DemFromCT (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Don midwest, MillieNeon

    A thoughtful, well-written diary that offers much to ponder.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:09:29 AM PDT

  •  Liberty vs. Justice (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Don midwest, DemFromCT, Livvy5

    Another way of framing this is the bind is between "liberty and justice for all." We value both but tend to think these two things go together easily. They don't. Individual liberty and social justice are often competing values and currently social justice has suffered some major setbacks.

  •  Thanks for the review (0+ / 0-)

    It probably also explains why so many "individualist" Republicans tend to live in rural areas, and "community" Democrats tend to live in the cities.

  •  I question (0+ / 0-)

    the assertion that ". . .respected conservatives like William Buckley could and would take on the John Birch Society's poisonous revisionist view of American history."  Buckley was strongly opposed to the JBS less for its nuttier ideas (Ike is a commie) than for its skepticism about the Cold War. Buckley was fanatically anti-communist and certainly was happy to make common cause with liberals who supported mutual nuclear annihilation.

    "Respectable" conservatism in the 1960s was fiercely racist - have a look at a few of the editorials in "National Review" about the time of the Civil Rights Act.

    Modern conservatism is not a perversion of the conservatism of the 1950s and 1960s. It is simply a logical development.

    •  disagree (0+ / 0-)

      (not about the racist part).  

      You can't remove people from their times. Buckley was pretty mainstream and it was a big deal to denounce the Birchers—which doesn't excuse everything and anything else.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 09:51:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  remember when Hulk ragdolled Loki (0+ / 0-)

    kind of reminds me of when the President ragdolled Trump

    i think my cat is possessed by dick cheney

    by Anton Bursch on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:35:13 AM PDT

  •  Great book review! Thanks. Can't wait to read it. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DemFromCT

    I think one of our biggest problems in general American culture is that we have become conditioned to think only in the shortest possible terms, and to ignore history and the deep thinking necessary to understand the larger dynamics of what is going on.  Nationally, progressives lack a coherent strategy mainly for this reason.  

    I very much appreciate Dionne for his ability to go there.  

    What I will be looking for when I first crack into it, is whether he really gets the role that Christian evangelicals, in combination with Texas oil interests, have played in moving the GOP to become a revival tent of Believers.

    To me, there is really no explanation for the current circumstance that helps define useful strategy if this is not taken into account.  

    I think we have to get serious about understanding and challenging this trend, which is based on disabling critical questioning.  

    But having a historical context, such as Dionne has authored and is described here, is absolutely a bottom line.

    Thank you, DemFromCT

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:36:06 AM PDT

    •  reminds me of the 70's when (0+ / 0-)

      Carl Oglesby argued that the political fight at that time was all Yankees vs Cowboys (western and Asian in outlook).

      Old money vs new money. Etc

      http://www.amazon.com/...

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 10:59:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well the money from the '70s has accrued power (0+ / 0-)

        The kids I went to college with in the '70s, who were all concerned about reclaiming America's Christian heritage, graduated, and many of them inherited major fortunes or became rich and dedicated their efforts as they grew older to supporting the Movement.

        Born again Believers who have billions to back their bullshit up can wreak havoc on the rest of us.

        hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

        by Stuart Heady on Sun May 27, 2012 at 11:35:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Most Americans (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joedemocrat

    including most political junkies, never herd of a republican Senator from Nebraska named George Norris.  I hope the book mentions him, for educational value if nothing else.  He partnered heavily in  the Senate with Huey Long.  They were from Nebraska and Louisiana.  Conventional wisdom says we can't have sentors like them from places like that, we must not even try.  It says a lot about how much further right we are both in our national vision and our conventional wisdom than we were 70 and 80 years ago, and how much narrower the accepted political discourse in the age of television, that we can no longer get Norrises and Longs, no Gravels from Alaska, no McGoverns from South Dakota.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:02:34 PM PDT

    •  Dionne points to thomas franks' (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joedemocrat

      whats the matter with kansas, to see how an agrarian populism in the 19th century came to use populism's tools to cement a conservative bent in the learly 21st.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:31:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, as if my TBR pile wasn't already reaching (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DemFromCT

    for the skies! This definitely looks like it should go to the top of the pile.

    I hope that you will be doing more of these this year.  Every election year seems to produce an infinite number of books on politics and governance, and it is hard to tell which are must reads and which only repeat what has been said better elsewhere.

    I'd love to see this become a regular series/feature of Sunday Daily Kos.

    "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

    by Susan Grigsby on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:10:00 PM PDT

  •  thos who fail to read history, are doomed (0+ / 0-)

    to read santayana over and over and over again.

    look, no doubt mr. dionne is a nice enough fellow, but i would take anything he says with a 50lb. sack of salt. he's a progressive like i'm a socialist, only because certain aspects of our society mandate it, like the basic infrastructure, and not being an overtly bigoted ass. mr. dionne, unlike real progressives, actually bought into the whole "post-partisan" crap, or at least pretended to, and seemed shocked, shocked mind you! when the republicans did exactly what they said they were going to do, on nov. 4th, 2008: everything in their power to make obama a one term president. in fairness. obama didn't take them at their word either. i did, and it took me about .00375 seconds to recognize they were serial. it took pres. obama roughly two years in, and mr. dionne still hasn't figured it out. so much for intellectual depth.

    go ahead, buy the book, read it, then use it as a lovely door stop. no, i haven't read it, i don't need to. having read mr. dionne's columns for 20 years, unless it comes out and flatly states that republicans are scumbags, and the only way to effectively deal with them is to grind them into dust, whenever possible, then i've already read it.

    •  a quote from the book (p 252) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      basket

      "For Obama in the short run and for moderates and progressives in the long run, there is no point in seeking compromise at the midway point between the Long Consensus and the radical individualists."

      You guessed wrong.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:24:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  a quote from a new column (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      basket
      Progressives have yearned for President Obama to follow Harry Truman’s strategy from the 1948 campaign by giving his Republican opponents hell. Now that Obama is doing just that, his critics say he’s not looking presidential.
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:57:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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