Sunday, May 15, 2005

Book Review: Independent Nation

If you have not yet had the opportunity to read John P. Avlon's Independent Nation: How the Vital Center is Changing American Politics (Harmony Books, 2004) [available here], I strongly recommend you get your hands on a copy. Avlon, a columnist for the New York Sun and former aide to Rudy Giuliani who also worked on Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign, offers an eminently readable "centrist manifesto," with profiles of twentieth-century centrist leaders bookended by practical introductory and concluding remarks offering a useful blueprint for how centrists can overcome the extremes on both the left and the right.

Centrists, Avlon argues, offer "an independent path between the two extremes - putting patriotrism before partisanship and the national interest before special interests." By balancing idealism and realism, pursuing practical solutions through civil discussion, centrists distinguish themselves from the "relatively small number of extreme partisans [both left and right] who view their opponents as enemies and seem obsessed with imposing their beliefs on the American people."

The book's main portion is a series of four overarching sections, each of which is further broken down into concise political biographies of centrist figures, ranging from Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton to Jesse Ventura. This is followed by a look at the 2000 election, in which Avlon claims that George W. Bush successfully donned a centrist mantle while Al Gore squandered his opportunity to do so in favor of a recycled left-wing populist message. In 2004, which Avlon does not discuss, I would argue that neither Bush nor Kerry made serious attempts to hold the center, with both opting to shore up their partisan bases while neglecting those of us in the middle of the road [if pressed, I would probably have to say that Kerry made slightly more of an effort than President Bush, but it was minimal].

Independent Nation is much more than a collection of historical profiles - it offers a meaningful route to political success for centrist candidates at all levels of political life. By "attempting to find a mutually beneficial balance of rights and responsibilities consistent with the creation of a more civil society"; by "restoring a sense of balance with backbone" [great phrase!] Avlon argues that the centrist majority in America can rise up and triumph politically, returning the extremists to the fringes from whence they came.

I first learned of Avlon's book when he appeared on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" [video here] - this was the episode where Stewart decried the lack of moderates taking to the streets and shouting "BE REASONABLE!" - I ordered a copy of Independent Nation the same night. It is an indispensable volume for anyone involved with the centrist revival, and its lessons are instructive to readers of all political stripes. Every officeholder should keep a copy close at hand.


Post a Comment

<< Home