NEW YORK, NY — The notion of a “big tent” has usually been applied to political parties that successfully cobble together coalitions that lead to electoral victory. For example, FDR won the votes of northern liberals, southern segregationists and union members to build his four presidential election wins. Ronald Reagan tapped tax cutters, foreign policy conservatives, and pro-lifers, among many disparate interests, to earn two landslide victories.
The late Lee Atwater, a highly-esteemed political consultant and the former Republican National Committee Chairman, coined the “big tent” term, by which he was referring to segments in political parties.
The Factors have assembled an impressive array of fifteen conservative “thinkers and doers,” along with a foreword by departing Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner, and an afterword by former RNC chairman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
But a new book, Big Tent: The Story of the Conservative Revolution — As told by the Thinkers and Doers who Made it Happen, (Broadside Books, a division of HarperCollins, 2014, 464 pages), edited by Mallory and Elizabeth Factor, applies it to a philosophical movement, namely the U.S. political conservative movement, now some 50+ years old.
Editor Mallory Factor is a Professor of International Politics and American Government at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. The book’s co-editor is his wife, Elizabeth Mallory, an attorney. Mallory has been a leader and fundraiser in conservative circles for decades, particularly in New York, where he co-founded the Monday Meeting (later known as the New York Meeting). These popular and widely-attended gatherings continue to feature elected officials, candidates and other right-leaning speakers on ten Mondays throughout the year.
The Factors have assembled an impressive array of fifteen conservative “thinkers and doers,” including a chapter by former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), a foreword by departing Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner, and an afterword by former RNC chairman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
Those seeking to understand the conservative movement, or to deepen their knowledge, should read Big Tent. The reader is the beneficiary of the thinking of 17 renowned conservative leaders, all in one 464-page volume.
* David Norcross illustrates the British roots of American conservatism, focusing on the wisdom of Edmund Burke.
*Al Regnery notes that the “two most perfect conservative documents in the world” are the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution.
*Phyllis Schlafly details her early, lonely activism, decades prior to her remarkable defeat of a national Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
*Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese stresses the importance of Ronald Reagan for the conservative movement, focusing on how the President “synthesized” all aspects of conservatism, and brought them into his (big tent) coalition.
*David Keene explains the indispensability of William F. Buckley Jr.
The Factors include many pages dealing with both the libertarian and traditional wings of the conservative movement.
*Economist Daniel Mitchell presents the Rahn Curve, which though much less known than the Laffer Curve, may be equally profound. The Rahn Curve demonstrates that as the size of government expands, the growth in our Gross National Product shrinks.
*Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defends the Bush Doctrine and argues for updating NATO and other international organizations.
*Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed offers data showing that evangelical voters comprised 27% of the electorate in the presidential election of 2012. They are not likely to go away, and need to be included in any credible “big tent” of the future.
*Douglas Feith writes about the many neo-conservatives who departed their liberal, suburban Jewish roots to join Ronald Reagan’s crusade to re-make the nation and the world. He suggests that the “neocon” is no longer a useful term, mostly because of the bigotry and distortions to which it’s been exposed.
*Libertarian Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute writes that a “significant portion of the libertarian movement believes in anarchy.” For the uninitiated, “anarchy” here does not mean chaos and Molotov cocktails in the streets; rather it is the political philosophy favoring the complete absence of government. Brook favors the more moderate approaches of Nobel prize winning economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who understood the need for government.
*The last chapter is a persuasive case for a more libertarian conservative movement, written by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a possible candidate for president in 2016. “If the GOP is the party of smaller government,” writes Paul, “we must also be the party that is suspicious of government at every juncture.” Paul believes that a pro-privacy, anti-foreign adventurism approach for conservatives and Republicans is a winner electorally, especially among young people.
But would libertarian conservatives lose support among moderate Americans and pro-national security voters?
An excellent counterpoint to Senator Rand is Governor Haley Barbour’s afterword. Barbour has made a career out of winning elections, first for dozens of presidents, governors and U.S. Senators, and then for himself. He understands that conservatism in Mississippi will have different emphases from conservatism on West 77th Street or in Boston. He invokes Ronald Reagan in trying to get all conservatives and Republicans to focus on winning.
“The fellow who agrees with you 80% of the time,” he famously said, “is your friend and ally; he’s not some 20% traitor.” He also endorses William F. Buckley’s rule that right-leaning voters and leaders should select the most conservative candidate with the best chance to win in November. It’s important for the Republicans to be the party of ideas and principles, yet they should not be afraid to compromise when necessary to achieve important gains for a conservative agenda.
Big Tent is a highly readable and enlightening volume, and is one of the best anthologies of conservative thought since William F. Buckley’s Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?: American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century (Bobbs-Merrill, 1970). The latter is more tilted to the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism, as Buckley presents chapters by Milton Friedman, Russell Kirk and others referenced in the Factors’ book. Big Tent, as advertised, is about “thinkers and doers.” Thus the reader gets philosophy and some lessons in practical politics.
The two books, assembled 44 years apart, would be a perfect “two pack” to acquaint oneself or a friend with conservatism in both the 20th and the 21st centuries.
What has changed since Buckley’s 1970 volume?
-- The election of a conservative president, Ronald Reagan, and his remarkably successful presidency
-- the election of a conservative Republican House Majority in 1994, and their early successes in forging a balanced budget and other achievements
--the dissolution of Soviet communism and the deadly impact of a newer threat, that of violent Islamic extremism;
-- the re-emergence of libertarian thought within the conservative movement and the Republican party.
Big Tent addresses these developments with both foresight and hindsight.
A pivotal question in the Big Tent is if future voters would be more inclined to support a libertarian foreign policy in which the U.S. does not engage in military initiatives around the world, or an activist one in which the U.S. sends troops abroad to defend our needs and interests. Ronald Reagan understood how to unite a diverse conservative/libertarian coalition. But where is the next Reagan?
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The Urban Conservative is copyright © 2014
by Herbert W. Stupp.
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Herbert W. Stupp served in the presidential administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; and in the mayoral administration of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He lives in New York.
A version of this review appeared in The City Journal.
See a complete biographical sketch.
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