Sunday, October 16, 2011

Michael Bowen's "The Roots of Modern Conservatism"

Mike Bowen received his Ph.D. in American History in 2006 from the University of Florida under the direction of Brian Ward. He is currently a visiting assistant professor at Westminster College and previously served as assistant director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. He specializes in political and cultural history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Roots of Modern Conservatism: Dewey, Taft, and the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party, and reported the following:
As the subtitle indicates, The Roots of Modern Conservatism tells the story of two powerful politicians vying to lead the Republican Party with each hoping to steer the GOP in opposite directions. Page 99 of the book passes Ford Madox Ford’s famous test and, in many ways, encapsulates the entire work.

Page 99 begins at the end of one of the critical vignettes in the book, New York Governor and two-time presidential candidate Thomas Dewey’s much-publicized 1950 lecture series at Princeton University, and ends with the start of the Republican National Committee’s congressional campaign from the same year. Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, two-term Senator from Ohio and Dewey’s chief rival, had controlled the RNC through a surrogate since Dewey’s loss in the 1948 presidential election. In the scope of that one page, the reader can see the stark contrast the factions presented during this crucial, yet under-studied, election year.

Dewey’s four talks at Princeton were his most forceful defense of what he termed “liberal Republicanism,” a philosophy that accepted certain tenets of the Democratic program, strove to make the GOP more inclusive, and plotted a moderate course between New Deal liberalism and the free-market conservatism Taft advocated. Though he had lost the 1944 and 1948 elections, Dewey believed that voters had rejected the party’s traditional pro-business agenda. He thought that a conservative platform would alienate voters and his Princeton lectures were part of a concerted effort to rebrand the GOP as a centrist organization.

Meanwhile, New Jersey businessman Guy Gabrielson chaired the RNC and had drafted a conservative platform that attacked Democrats for the “loss” of China and general fiscal malfeasance. Taft and his associates believed that only a campaign illustrating the differences between New Deal liberalism and traditionalist Republican policies would woo voters.

The Roots of Modern Conservatism tells the story of this political chess match from both sides and, in just over a decade, the cracks in party unity from 1950 would grow into a deep, insurmountable chasm. Though Dewey and his moderate views carried the day in the short-term through Dwight D. Eisenhower’s term, Taft’s brand of conservatism evolved after his death and inspired a new generation of right-wing politicos to capture the nomination for Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964. The conservatives haven't looked back.
Learn more about The Roots of Modern Conservatism at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue