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The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control the Republican Party

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Ryan Sager

"...impressive.... The story of the impending break-up is excellent material, and the author tells it well." (The Economist, October 2006) "fun and lively book that should be distributed to every card-carrying member of the GOP. " (New York Post, September … see full wiki

Author: Ryan Sager
Publisher: Wiley
1 review about The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals,...

Solid argumentation raises important questions

  • Mar 6, 2007
In a 1975 interview with the libertarian magazine "Reason," Ronald Reagan said, "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. ... The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is." If you agree with Ryan Sager's argument in "The Elephant in the Room," you'd have wonder how at home Reagan would feel (or for that matter how welcome he would be) in the GOP of the late Bush-43 era. If, as the Gipper more famously also said, he didn't leave the Democrat party in the 1940s, but rather it left him, it seems pretty clear the Republican party has left his substance (as opposed to his image) behind too.

I think would be hard for any reasonable observer to disagree with Sager's basic thesis, which is that largely-irreconcilable tectonic forces are tearing Reagan's GOP coalition asunder. The small-government, low-tax, personal-freedom libertarian wing -- the wing of Goldwater, Reagan, and generally western Republicans -- is being steamrolled by cultural conservatism (aka "the religious right"), which the author identifies as primarily a southern-Republican phenomenon. In one of the most arresting political images I've come across in some time, Sager describes "the situation at home [within the GOP] looking like an episode of 'COPS,' with the shirtless social conservatives wrestled to the ground and handcuffed outside the trailer, and the libertarians deciding whether to press charges" (p. 183).

The problem as Sager sees it, of course, is that the social-cons aren't "handcuffed" at all, but in fact are still free to slap the western libertarian-conservatives around at will. And this is where "The Elephant in the Room" shifts from being a historic and sociological look at the GOP and turns instead into a passionate call for the Republicans to throw social conservatives over the side and return to their roots as the party of small government and personal freedom. I wasn't expecting the book to be as energetic an argument as it became, but I can hardly fault the author for his point of view. He articulates it quite well, has a firm grasp of both history and the current forces within the GOP, and makes his case with solid argumentation and a good turn of phrase.

What I found most interesting is the degree to which Sager is willing to assign blame to George W. Bush and to Karl Rove -- while these are the *betes noire* of the Left, it's only recently that Republicans have begun en masse to criticize them and their heretofore-winning political strategy (it's a shame this book was published before the 2006 midterms; I need to make a point of looking up what Sager may have written in the last few months). Bush and Rove, the author argues, have turned the GOP into the rightward half of America's Big Government Party, differing from the Democrats only in what they want to spend money and flex the government's muscles to achieve.

It's an important argument, and one that I hope presages a real attempt within the GOP to figure out what it stands for -- both in strategy and in tactics. Whether you're a Republican or an interested outsider ... a social-conservative, a libertarian one, or no conservative at all ... this is a book that should provoke a lot of thought about the future of the Republican party, and therefore of American politics.

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