The Right Nation

book about the rise of right-wing American politics by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
(Redirected from Adrian Wooldridge)

The Right Nation ISBN 1-59420-020-3, a book by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. It was published in 2004 and charts the rise of the Republican Party in the United States since Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964.




  • Throughout this book, we have tried to avoid using any of the jibes that are commonplace on both sides of the debate; after all, there is no shortage of people we can quote doing this. … If you have come to the book hoping to be told that George Bush is a moronic, oil-obsessed cowboy or that the French are "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," then we hope that you paid for it before reaching this sentence.

From Kennebunkport to Crawford

  • A firm believer that "manners makyth man," [Prescott Bush] once took Joseph McCarthy to one side and lectured him for more than an hour on his boorish behaviour. … When McCarthy came to Connecticut to address a Republican meeting, Prescott recoiled at the rowdy crowd: "I never saw such a wild bunch of monkeys in any meeting I ever attended." At home he was such a stickler for standards that friends called him the "Ten Commandments Man."
  • George H. W. has always had a reputation of being "somewhat to the center of center". Many Texans mistook his East Coast politeness for wimpishness, dismissing him as a "clean-fingernails Republican" or, worse, "the sort of man who steps out of the shower to take a piss," as one of our colleagues was once told.

The Conservative Rout, 1952–1964

  • An Irish Catholic who grew up on a small farm in the Midwest and attended Marquette, a Catholic university in Milwaukee, where he liked to box, [Joseph] McCarthy personified populist resentment against the liberal elite. … "If you want to be against McCarthy, boys," he told a crowd of reporters, "you've got to be either a Communist or a cocksucker." No wonder Prescott Bush found it necessary to give him a lecture about manners.
  • Another caped crusader was Ayn Rand, a Russian émigré who wrote a clutch of novels celebrating economic individualism. … But to many contemporaries, the cult that surrounded her seemed a bit weird. She envisaged a hyperminimalist state with no taxation and no traditions of any kind, least of all Christianity. She preached her philosophy of "objectivism" in a thick Russian accent, urged people to have as many orgasms as possible and dressed in a flowing black cape tied closed by a gold brooch in the shape of a dollar sign. … Rand believed firmly that people had a duty to smoke (because it represented man's taming of fire): the publishing party for Atlas Shrugged featured custom-made cigarettes embossed with little gold-leaf dollar signs. At her memorial service in 1982 a six-foot-high dollar sign was placed next to her open coffin and the room was filled with the strains of the song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary."
  • [Barry] Goldwater cheerfully broke all the basic rules of politics. … One fan came up with a soft drink called "Gold Water—The Right Drink for the Conservative Taste." The candidate, with characteristic political sensitivity, promptly spat it out. "This tastes like piss!" he spluttered. "I wouldn't drink it with gin."
  • Theodore H. White tells a remarkable story about Goldwater's chief speechwriter, Karl Hess. Chief speechwriters of losing campaigns usually find a safe berth somewhere in the party machine, but not so Hess. First, he applied for positions with conservative senators and congressmen—the very politicians who had been cheering him on a few months before. Unwanted, he lowered his sights dramatically. Could he perhaps work the elevators in the Senate or the House? Still no luck. The apostle of the free market was reduced to the ranks of the unemployed. He enrolled in a night-school course in welding and eventually found a job working the night shift in a machine shop.

The Agony of Liberalism, 1964–1988

  • Reformism had mutated into radicalism, with something of an anti-American bent. Four-fifths of the delegates in 1972 had never attended a Democratic convention before. The place was full of postadolescents (two Arizona delegates had not even turned eighteen when they were selected). The entire event was chaos; the nominees did not manage to make their speeches until the small hours of the morning, robbing the party of its television audience. Many of the most important meetings still took place in smoke-filled rooms, but this time the smoke smelled rather different.

For Texas, Business and God

  • Whether they are sitting in the plush Driskill Hotel in Austin or some god-awful motel in Waco, Texans firmly maintain that they have the biggest-and-best-of-everything. This bragging does not always make other people love Texas, even in the West. (When, back in the early 1980s, one of us broke down in a car with Texas plates in southern Colorado, nobody stopped to help for what seemed like an eternity; the man who eventually did explained: "You should have had a sign saying you weren't from Texas.")
  • Anyone who worries about George W. Bush's adventurous fiscal strategy of cutting taxes while increasing spending might look at what happened when he did the same thing in Texas. In the mid-1990s, he delivered both a big tax cut and plenty more spending, especially on education. By 2003, a fractious Texas legislature was trying to plug a $10 billion hole in the budget. Bush has taken his penchant for big political gambles to Washington. It is hard to think of any other president, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, who was so happy to take risks—from ripping up established arms-control treaties to invading Iraq. All Bush's gambles have had elements of calculation, but the general approach has been a brusque "Who dares, wins."

With Us or Against Us: The Right and the War Against Terror

  • Nowadays the idea that America has a neoconservative foreign policy is commonplace. Yet until September 11, the neoconservatives were junior members of the Bush team. … They were intellectuals and professionals—the sort of people who earned postgraduate degrees from venerable universities, forged careers in think tanks, academia and intellectual magazines and spent quite a lot of time disagreeing with one another. They were not natural comrades of a president who judged people by the content of their hearts rather than the quality of their minds.
  • Those Europeans who think that the neoconservatives tricked their way into the heart of conservative America have got things topsy-turvy. The reason why the neoconservatives proved so influential was not because they deceived their fellow conservatives but because they succeeded in translating some of conservative America's deepest passions into a theory of foreign policy. That suggests that the neoconservatives were both less and more influential than Europeans imagine. They were less influential because they were simply putting into words what the rest of the Right Nation felt in its heart. But they were more influential because they helped to shape America's response to a cataclysmic event. The neoconservative movement will resound for many years to come.

How It Could Go Wrong: Too Southern, Too Greedy and Too Contradictory

  • On December 5, 2002, the Senate threw a party for Strom Thurmond's hundredth (and last) birthday. … The event was naturally taken up with comments on Thurmond's extraordinary life force—and his legendary eye for the ladies. Ol' Strom married his second wife, a twenty-two-year-old former Miss South Carolina, when he was sixty-six. The happy couple went on to have four children. He remained flirtatious well into his nineties, despite his gruesome-looking hair transplant. "When he dies," a fellow senator once remarked, "they'll have to beat his pecker down with a baseball bat to close the coffin lid."
  • Starting in 2010, the baby-boom generation will begin to retire—and to place huge burdens on Social Security and Medicare. The numbers here are staggering. One 2003 study from the American Enterprise Institute put the total unfunded liabilities at $44 trillion (four times America's GDP); Medicare alone could eat up $20 trillion. Rather than prepare for this challenge, the Bush administration has run away from it; indeed, in 2003, it massively extended Medicare, subsidizing drugs for retired people, without any fundamental reforms. The same AEI paper claims that waiting till 2008 to try to fix the problem of entitlements will increase the total liability to $54 trillion.
  • Why have the Republicans squandered their reputation for fiscal prudence? One excuse on the Right is that the Republicans want to build up big deficits in order to put a long-term constraint on the growth of government: any future Democratic administrations would have nothing to spend. Even if this were true, would this be sensible policy? It is rather like saying that, because your brother-in-law drinks too much, you're going to drink all the alcohol in the house before he visits for the Memorial Day weekend.

America the Different

  • Of course, non-Americans admire many things about America; and, of course, Jacques Chirac is less of an ideological opposite than Joseph Stalin. But the end of the Cold War was not the end of history. The defeat of the Soviet Union has given both sides of the Atlantic a chance to study their erstwhile allies in a new light—and has prompted talk of differences as much as similarities. It is rather like two relative strangers who fight off muggers and then go off for a celebratory meal only to discover that they don't have as much in common as they thought.

Heresy and Reformation: America's Exceptional Conservatism

  • Americans who describe themselves as "conservatives" nevertheless disagree on almost all the most fundamental questions of life. Paleoconservatives lament the passing of tradition. Libertarians celebrate capitalism's creative energy. Religious conservatives want to put faith at the heart of politics. Business conservatives command an economic system where, in Karl Marx's phrase, "all that is holy is profaned." The Straussians at the Weekly Standard are philosophical elitists who believe that the masses need to be steered by an educated intelligentsia. The antitax crusaders who march behind Grover Norquist are populists who believe that pointy-headed intellectuals need to be given a good ducking. "What is the difference between conservatives and cannibals?" goes one Democratic joke. "Cannibals eat only their enemies."

The Melancholy Long Withdrawing Roar of Liberalism

  • These days, American politics is a sport played between the center Right against the Right. From an international perspective, Democrats are now LINOs—Liberals in Name Only.

Conclusion: Living with the Right Nation

  • If Bush has divided opinion at home, he has united it abroad—pretty much all against him.
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