It's My Party
Reviewed by Steven Martinovich
The problem with books written by insiders is that they usually end up being pedantic heavy readers enjoyed only by those who's love affair with the subject allows them to ignore how monotonous the subject really is. Fortunately, Peter Robinson's look at the Republican Party in It's My Party: A Republican's Messy Love Affair With the GOP takes an approach more reminiscent of P.J. O'Rourke, minus his sardonic approach.
Co-founder of the Dartmouth Review and former speech writer for Vice President George Bush and President Ronald Reagan, it's surprising to see Robinson write early on that he's always tried to distance himself from the party and that he finds much to disapprove of. He's also the type of person, who confesses to a "love affair" with the GOP, to answer the questions posed: what is the party and why would someone join it, and what does it stand for in the absence of the issues America faced in the 1980s. They are important questions given the nature of the election this year and what it means to the Republican Party.
Reflecting today's party into the mirror of the 1980s, Robinson tells the story of the famous Berlin Wall speech that saw Reagan call on Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall", one that Robinson wrote. Different competing interests in the Reagan Administration had tried to kill that line, including then National Security Advisor Colin Powell, but Reagan himself saved it. That episode confirmed to Robinson what Reagan Republicanism was about: strength and unwavering commitment to principles. Without Reagan, however, the world and conservatism today seem less settled, as if his achievements belong to the last century and not merely two decades ago.
For many, George W. Bush represents that unsettled view, a shift to territory that is usually occupied by the Democrats - or perhaps more accurately, territory not usually occupied by the Republican Party. Republicans are asking themselves questions that have been unasked for decades: what is the Republican Party? To answer that question Robinson delves into the history of the party and interviews Republicans across America in the theory that finding out what others think may give him a sense of the party today.
And it's an entertaining journey as Robinson interviews Republicans both famous and unknown, but ultimately the reader knows where the book is going, given its title is an affirmation and not a rejection. Since we know already that Robinson will end up explaining that the Republican Party is his party largely because such matters, as he writes, are tribal affiliations as much they represent his political and cultural views, the joy in the book comes from his exploration of the subject.
It is the individual issues where Robinson shines. Rather than try and prove that Republican theories are valid, a given for believers and something that would be ignored by those who don't, Robinson instead hits the ground and interviews the people both in front and behind the scenes. Methodically he tackles the party's appeal in the south and why it came to be, why Hollywood and journalists are hostile to Republicans, why people convert to the party, the role of women and minorities, and why some areas in the United States - all which share common traits - vote Republican in overwhelming numbers. Interspersed with entertaining discussions with Robinson's friend Stanford University professor David Brady - former Marxist turned Republican -- Robinson meets up with Haley Barbour, Michael Medved, Rep. Christopher Cox, New Gingrich and pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick.
Robinson also reviews the two men he believes will be the face of the party in the early part of this century: GOP presidential nominee and Texas Gov. George W. Bush and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. For Bush, there are kind words despite the fact he reminds one of the Rockefeller Republicans Robinson makes it clear early on that he disapproves of. Bush solves many of the problems that the party has faced by appealing to women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and social and economic conservatives. Giuliani - before his Senate campaign was aborted by scandal - was the embodiment of the party's energy, both invigorating and infuriating to everyone.
So what is the party today? To the insider the answers may not be surprising because they are obvious, which means the book preaches to choir. That's not a flaw but a necessary exercise when the choir is uncertain of its next song. The Republican tribe, for all it its competing interests, believes in the same core principles that were present when it came into being in 1854: individual responsibility, limited government, a strong military for a strong America, and allowing market forces to solve social problems. While social issues continue to divide the party, those principles are widespread and summed up by the traditional morality that the party campaigns for.
Robinson's approach in exploring the topic isn't new but he performs an important service. Although his criticism of the party is mild, he spotlights issues that the party would do well to give serious consideration to. The post-Reagan world may seem unsettled but Robinson's message is clear: the Republican Party stands for the same principles as it always did. Long after the election is over, this book will still answer the questions that Republicans find themselves asking. Yes, it's still Robinson's party and he wants you to know it's yours as well.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer and the editor of Enter Stage Right.
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