DATE November 11, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge discuss the
history of the conservative movement in the US
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The left and the right are trying to figure out what the re-election of
President Bush means about the future of American politics. My guests are the
authors of a book about the realignment of American politics. It's called
"The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." The book begins with the
history of the movement from 1952 to the present, then describes some of the
major conservative players and analyzes how the right in America compares with
the right in Europe.
The authors of the book are British journalists. John Micklethwait is the US
editor of The Economist. Adrian Wooldridge is its Washington correspondent.
Now you write that the Bush administration has created a new kind of
conservativism here in America. What is new about it?
Mr. ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE (Co-author, "The Right Nation"): I think conservativism
since the Barry Goldwater revolution has really been anti-government. It's
been about getting government off people's backs, about shrinking the size of
government. Goldwater said that he wanted really to reduce the amount of
regulation, not to improve or increase regulation. Ronald Reagan famously, of
course, said that government is the problem, not the solution. Newt Gingrich
and the Republican revolutionaries in Congress really very seriously wanted to
cut down on the amount of government.
And I think what happened with the Bush people is that they decided that the
Gingrich strategy and the Goldwater strategy had really run out of steam and
it was beginning to alienate a lot of people in the suburbs, that it wasn't
producing any political dividends. And they created, I think, something which
we term big-government conservativism, the idea that you can be on the side of
government rather than against government. But that didn't mean going back to
the sort of Rockefeller-style Republicanism of Prescott Bush, for example. It
didn't mean going back to the idea that Richard Nixon had, that you simply run
The Great Society better by co-opting a few intellectuals from Harvard and
getting them to work for your side.
It meant actually reinventing government, redesigning government to work with
certain conservative principles, using more accountability, more measurement
in the education system, for example, to get the sort of results you want, and
also using government as an instrument of conservative rather than liberal
values, trying to promote fatherhood or sexual abstinence or responsible
parenthood. And so I think that's a really fundamental change. Radical
conservatism from Goldwater onwards had been about shrinking government.
Radical conservatism under George W. Bush is about reinventing and possibly
even expanding government.
GROSS: Expanding government in a couple of ways. One is, for instance, in
intervening in Iraq, and another...
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well...
GROSS: ...and this is one you just mentioned, in having the government
promote certain values. Is that pretty different than the `keep government
out of private life' agenda?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely. I mean, I think it's partly a matter of actually
increasing the size of government. The radical Republicans up to George W.
Bush have really wanted to get rid of the Education Department, for example.
Bush said the opposite; he said, `Let's actually expand the department, but
let's use it to introduce accountability, choice in the educational system.
Let's use it as an instrument for certain conservative principles.' But also
the idea, really, that you actually use government as much as possible to
impose certain values which you hold dear.
I think if you go back to the age of Ronald Reagan, Washington was full of the
followers of Hayek. He went 'round wearing sort of Adam Smith or Hayek ties.
Their principles were free markets, promoting competition, deregulation and
the rest of it. If you look at Washington today, it's full of the followers
of Leo Strauss, who--I don't know what ties they wear, but I think they know
each other in the very least. And their notion is what you do; it's--you used
government to promote the good life, to promote certain moral virtues. And
that is a really fundamental change in the nature of conservativism.
GROSS: And how do you think the Bush administration compares to former
conservatives in terms of the courts? Republicans talk a lot about how they
oppose activist judges, and yet the Bush administration has appointed judges
who seem to have a pretty strong conservative agenda or leaning, and there's a
lot of assumptions that when President Bush appoints new Supreme Court
justices, as he's likely to do in the next four years, that they, too, will
likely have a pretty strong conservative agenda or, if you don't like the word
`agenda,' a strong conservative orientation.
Mr. JOHN MICKLETHWAIT (Co-author, "The Right Nation"): Well, it's interesting
on judges because Bush did make some conservative appointments in his first
term. I think the chances are that you ain't seen nothing yet in terms of the
second term. I'm sure Bush will appoint plenty of conservative judges,
however you tend to put them or how you tend to categorize them, in his second
term. The interesting one, as you say, is the Supreme Court, and I think
there are two theories about that. One is that Bush--this is his only chance
to really take apart the Supreme Court. There's a chance of two, maybe three
justices retiring or something perhaps different happening to them and for him
to appoint people, and that's his one chance to establish a really big
I personally tend to think that Bush will replace conservative judges with
extremely conservative judges, but when it comes to the swing members of the
court, he will dither a bit. And I think the fundamental reason for that,
actually a predictable one, is abortion. I think that Bush would be very
nervous and the political people around him would be very nervous about
anything which actually mean abortion being banned in America, because I think
that would be the easiest possible way to lose the hegemony which the
Republicans, the right nation, otherwise seems to have created.
GROSS: Can you expand on that?--'cause I think a lot of people are assuming
that one of the priorities of the Bush administration is to limit access to
abortion or ban it.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, the answer is that Bush has certainly moved to make
abortion more difficult. As you know, he's struck out at late-term abortions.
He's also increased parental notification, or the Republicans have moved to do
that. However, I think amongst some of the political people at the top, there
is an instinct that if you go further than that, you begin to cause trouble
with people who otherwise would vote every time with the Republicans.
The Republican Party, the conservative movement in America, has always been
composed of two wings. You have a sort of Southern moralistic wing, very--you
know, religion and stuff like that, and you have a Western anti-government
wing. And that Western anti-government wing, which Ronald Reagan certainly
sprang from, that's the wing of Schwarzenegger and other more kind of
hedonistic types. And their view is that the government should generally be
kept out of decisions about people's bodies. And so that, I think--there is a
tension there, and Bush would certainly be risking it if he tried to get rid
of abortion completely.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are the two authors of the book
"The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." John Micklethwait is the
US editor for The Economist. Adrian Wooldridge is its Washington
You write in your book that there are three competing forms of conservativism
now: the laissez-faire individualism of the tax cutter and gun owners, the
Christian moralism, and the militaristic nationalism. How do these agendas
cohere or contradict?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think everybody on the right really agrees on the
nationalist part, on the militaristic nationalism part. They're all
superpatriots on the right. I think there is clearly a tension between the
libertarian wing of the Republican Party and the social conservative wing of
the Republican Party, and I think that one of the most important jobs of the
president of the United States is to keep those two wings together if the
president happens to be a Republican.
The president, I think, who was a genius at doing this was Ronald Reagan, who
managed really essentially to keep the two branches of Republicanism in
complete harmony. He was--I think most libertarians thought that he was one
of them, but he managed to convince the social right that he was also on their
side, although I think that he actually gave very much less to them than they
actually thought that he was giving. I think now there is a real danger that
the conservative coalition is shifting too far towards the social conservative
side of things and there's a real danger of alienating the libertarian side.
You know, the party is hugely dominant in the South, and that means the South,
of course, is hugely dominant in the party. At the moment, they're just about
managing to keep--California, they have Schwarzenegger there. They have
governorships in Maryland and Massachusetts. But they are weak in the
Northeast and on the coast, and that could be a problem for them.
GROSS: What are the ways that you see the libertarian end and the Christian
end of the Republican Party as being at odds with each other?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, the crucial issue, of course, is abortion, and that is
something that obviously divides the country hugely, but it has a potential to
divide the Republican coalition. Now most of the time, I think people who are
libertarians, gun activists, people of that sort, anti-tax people, will tend
simply to keep quiet about abortion because they know that the other wing of
the party regards this as such an important issue that they're willing to
concede that turf to them. But I think if you do move towards a position of
overturning Roe vs. Wade, I think that that will not only cause friction
within the country, but it will also cause friction within that coalition.
GROSS: So what kind of splits are you going to be looking for within the
Republican Party in the next four years?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, one interesting one which you can see, which is an
extension of the abortion argument and which has been brewing a bit, is stem
cells, because stem cells not only divides the social conservatives from the
libertarians, it also causes quite a lot of problems for the business
conservatives, people who--that big business, those sort of people who've
traditionally backed Republican causes, because up to stem cells, abortion was
largely just seen as an issue which had nothing really to do with commerce.
But there's a lot of people in the drug industry and places like that who are
keen to push stem-cell research. And so there is a potential split there.
I think probably another split might come on foreign policy. There are
definitely some people the Republican coalition who are nervous about trying
to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. And again, very obviously,
you've got the neoconservatives for whom that is a mainstay of their position.
GROSS: I mean, of other splits or of the fiscal conservatives vs. the cut-tax
people who are, you know, willing to see America have enormous debts, and also
the moderates vs. the people further to the right within the party.
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: There are big-tent Republicans. That Walt Whitman line
about `I'm big; do I contradict myself?'--that applies to them. I think if
you want to think about the Republicans, if you want to think about
conservative America, particularly from the outside, the easiest way to think
about them is not as a sort of monolithic modern army, all dressed up in the
same clothes. The way to think about them is much more like a medieval army
where people turn up wearing the liveries of different causes; they show up as
anti-tax people, they show up as gun people, they show up as property rights
people, they show up as the religious right, they show up as whatever. But
they show up wearing the liveries of these different causes, but they all
fundamentally come to fight on the same side.
And the genius of Karl Rove in the last election was to get all these people,
to turn them all out on the battlefield and to fight on Bush's side. Now
that's great when you've come to an election where you can summon up an enemy
to fight against. But it also means that these people do have different
priorities. And so just like any other political party, there's always--or
any other movement--there's a tendency to pull apart from inside.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: But I think it's very dangerous to overemphasize the extent
to which this is a divided and fragmented coalition and that it's going to
split over fiscal conservatives vs. anti-tax people or social conservatives
vs. libertarians. Yes, indeed, there are very significant tensions, as there
are in all political coalitions. But the remarkable thing is how good the
Republican Party has been at holding these very diverse groups together and
how much they all basically agree that George W. Bush is a great man and that
he's fighting for their cause. You have an extraordinary degree of support
from all Republicans for Bush in the last election. I think this is a
coalition that can--is very strong, so anybody who's really looking for it to
fall apart in the near future is--you know, could easily be disappointed.
Yes, it's difficult to manage, but they've managed it so far. They're very
good at doing that.
GROSS: You know, our listeners hearing your British accent and knowing that
you write for The Economist might be wondering, do you bring a different
perspective to looking at the conservative movement in America than American
journalists bring to it? Do you think you do?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, we'd argue we do in this one respect, as we'd say
that it's probably an advantage being an outsider from the point of view that
if you show up in bits of conservative America and you come from either the
great tribes of American journalists, if you write for a conservative
publication or if you work for a liberal one, then you're immediately
characterized. And we were amazingly welcomed by all different parts of the
right nation, as we call it, the one exception being when I introduced myself
to somebody and mumbled the words and a Southern gentleman thought I worked
for the Communists, not with The Economist. But with that one exception,
people were extremely good to us. So I think there's a willingness, or at
least we'd like to think there's a willingness to listen to hopefully informed
analysis from outside, because we don't hopefully seem to be on either side.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: And I hope another important part of being an outsider is
what we've tried to do in this book, is to look at the conservative movement
and at conservativism in America as an example of American exceptionalism, as
an example of what makes America different from other countries. We
constantly try and compare America with other advanced countries, particularly
in Europe, and why America is different. So I think the outsider's
perspective, being able to set this movement in a global context and be able
to see it as something that is absolutely unique in a global context is
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are the authors of the book "The
Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." John Micklethwait is the US
editor for The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge is its Washington
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are the two authors of the book
"The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America," and it's a history of the
conservative movement in America after World War II. My guests are John
Micklethwait, who is the US editor for The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge,
who is its Washington correspondent.
Let's go back to 1964, when Goldwater ran for president. And you and many
other people as well single out Goldwater as being the start of the new
conservative movement in America. What policies of his, what positions of his
set the stage for what the conservative movement has become today?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think it's essentially his opposition to big government,
that up until then there was the idea that Republicans really should manage
Democratic policies a little bit more sensibly, a little bit more fiscally
responsibly, a little bit more cautiously, but they should nevertheless let
the agenda be set by people like Kennedy and people like Johnson. And what
Goldwater said was, `No, this is absolutely wrong. We should stick to our
principles and our principles and let things be decided by the market, not by
the government, that the state is pretty much a bad idea and we should have
as little of it as possible.' And I think that hugely set the stage for the
rise of Reaganism.
The other thing that Goldwater did, of course, was to change the regional
basis of the Republican Party. This was a party which, at least in its
presidential wing, was very much rooted in the Northeast. And what Goldwater
did was to bring in the South and to bring in the West, and that completely
changed the nature of the Republican Party over the next decades.
GROSS: Of course, Goldwater himself, in his time, was considered extreme.
How did views that were considered extreme in 1964 start to enter the
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: It was partly a real concerted effort by the conservative
movement to make their ideas seem more legitimate, so they put a lot of
resources, a lot of funds into think tanks, into magazines, into intellectual
movements that constantly repeated these messages about getting governments
off the back of the people, about deregulation, about reducing the size of
government, about the virtues of markets. And it was partly, on the other
hand, an overreach by the Democratic Party, that ideas which had seemed
absolutely sensible, which had commanded huge support in the mid-'60s, began
to lose a lot of their support as government got bigger, as government failed
to deliver a lot of the things that it claimed that it was going to deliver
and, indeed, as the Democratic Party moved further to the left under the
pressure of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
GROSS: What do you think the Democrats failed to deliver that increased the
growth of conservativism?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, I mean, for example, you know Reagan's old quip that
Democrats declared war on poverty and poverty won. The sense that you'd had
all sorts of very grand aims, you know, from improving the nation's housing
stock to getting rid of educational inequalities to lifting people out of
poverty. And it's almost because you'd had such grandiose aims; not all of
them were delivered. I mean, of course, there were huge improvements in civil
rights legislation in the lives of black people in that period. But
nevertheless, the Democrats, The Great Society had aroused such gigantic
expectations that it almost inevitably failed by its own standards.
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: You can see in the polls, as Americans went into the 1960s,
they really trusted experts. They thought that economists knew how to keep
the economy perfectly tuned. They thought that politicians would be able
to--eventually be able to sort of fix many problems. And yet by the end of
it, you see a complete breakdown of faith or the beginning of a breakdown of
faith in government, and you begin to see polls showing the faith in
government beginning to shoot down very rapidly because suddenly people began
to think of government as something which couldn't stop crime, that didn't
know what to do about the economy, had got them mired in a war. It was a
general fed-upness with the idea that experts, particularly liberal experts,
were able to fix problems.
GROSS: Now Adrian mentioned the importance of think tanks in spreading the
conservative point of view. The American Enterprise Institute, the think tank
you describe in your book as Goldwater's brain trust--now the American
Enterprise Institute is very close to the Bush administration. What role has
the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks served in popularizing
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think a huge role. I think what has happened with the
conservatives is they have managed to create an intellectual
counterestablishment. If you go back to the '40s, '50s and '60s, the
intellectual establishment is primarily a liberal establishment based in the
universities and think tanks such as The Brookings Institution. And what the
Republicans do is very--or what the conservatives do is very deliberately
create a counterestablishment which has got its own bank of scholars, of
intellectuals, its own collection of policies and proposals. They very
deliberately create this over many, many, many years in order to win the
battle of ideas.
Whether they've won the battle of ideas or not is perhaps up to people's
taste, but they've certainly won the battle of setting the agenda. They've
had a huge impact on everything from welfare policy to tax policy to the
current war in Iraq. And they're continuing to set the agenda against the
liberal intellectual establishment.
GROSS: John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge are the authors of "The Right
Nation: Conservative Power in America." Micklethwait is the US editor of The
Economist; Wooldridge is its Washington correspondent. They'll be back in the
second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Music by saxophonist Tab Smith. Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a
new compilation of Smith recordings from the 1950s. Also, we continue our
interview with journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge about the
conservative movement in the US.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with the authors of the book
"The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." It's a history of the
conservative movement from the 1950s to the present and an analysis of that
movement and how it compares with the European right. The authors are British
journalists. John Micklethwait is the US editor of The Economist. Adrian
Wooldridge is The Economist's Washington correspondent. When we left off, we
were talking about the major role that conservative think tanks have played in
strengthening the conservative movement and setting the political agenda. I
asked Micklethwait how the think tanks set the agenda.
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, I think it's really interesting. They actually set
about it in a determined way. If you look at institutions like The Heritage
Foundation or you look at the AEI, they generally go out, trying to change
policy in the end. And the numbers raised are staggering. During the 1990s,
a billion dollars was pushed into right-wing thought in Washington, and that
doesn't even begin to include all the think tanks which they've set up all the
way around the country. And particularly, if you looked out from an
international perspective, the sheer level of conservative brain power is
pretty amazing. We looked at one building which houses The Weekly Standard
and the American Enterprise Institute, and we reckoned that you could even
make the argument that there's more conservative brainpower in just that one
building than there is all of Europe, and that's because they have the money
to attract the people, and people come up with the ideas, be it welfare reform
on one hand or the ideas about preemptive foreign policy on the other. And
there's a vast amount of thought being sponsored by conservative foundations.
GROSS: Would you consider the importance of the think tanks more in setting
policy for politicians or in providing guests to radio and TV shows who then,
like, disseminate the thought to the public or both?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: I think that...
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think the interesting thing about the conservative think
tanks is they cover the entire waterfront, so you have something like the AEI,
which is doing a lot of long-term thinking about everything from genetics in
human nature to welfare reform to the war in Iraq. Then you have
organizations like The Heritage Foundation which is much more concerned with
feeding ideas to Congress, feeding intellectuals to talk shows so they can set
the daily agenda. So they're very, very good at covering the entire
waterfront, dealing with the entire range of the policy-making process from
the genesis of very abstract ideas to their implementation in Congress.
GROSS: How would you compare the more liberal think tanks to the conservative
ones in terms of...
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Not very good.
GROSS: ...their reach and their power and their funding?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: I think what's interesting about liberal intellectuals,
they're spread out all over the place. Obviously, universities are stuffed
full of liberal intellectuals, and there are certainly some think tanks in
Washington which have a preponderance of liberal intellectuals, but they don't
have the same dedication to the task. And what's remarkable at the right-wing
think tanks is the way that a lot of them are actually orientated to getting
policies changed. In our book, we compare them to the Rive Gauche in Paris,
which is the famous sort of center of left-wing thought in Europe. By
contrast, Washington now very definitely has a very clearly identified Rive
Droit, a right wing.
GROSS: Do you think that the right, in some ways, doesn't have an accurate
self-image anymore? I mean, in the sense that there's the Bush
administration, there's a Republican-controlled Senate and House, there's a
network of conservative talk shows. There's FOX-TV, which many people
consider to be a very conservative talk television cable network, and yet the
right often talks about how, you know, the liberal establishment or the
liberal media control the agenda.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Yes, one of the great strengths of the right in this country
is always to regard themselves as the underdog and always to think that their
duty is to snap away at the establishment there. And they can always point to
Harvard University or The New York Times, and this will get them fired up
again. So it's a great position both to be in charge of the country and to
think that you're a ground-down minority at the same time .
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are the two authors of the book
"The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." And it's a history of the
modern conservative movement in America. My guests are John Micklethwait who
is the US editor for The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge who is The
Economist's Washington correspondent.
You point out in your book that in 1976, it was Jimmy Carter who got the
majority of the evangelical vote. How do you think he got it as a Democrat in
'76, but then after that, the evangelical vote became more of a Republican
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, evangelicals, up until then, had not been particularly
political. They regarded the world of politics as not their world. It was
the world of mammon. Their world was the world of God. And insofar as they
did vote, the would vote Democratic largely because the huge concentrations
were in the South, and the South was a very obviously Democratic area. And
what happened was these people were enormously disappointed by Jimmy Carter,
not least because of the idea of taking away government funding from religious
schools on the grounds that religious schools were deemed to be
discriminatory. That got them immensely riled up. They shifted very
radically away from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. And a lot
of activists such as Falwell became major players within the so-called
religious right or the moral majority, as it was initially dubbed. And this
group of people has been a stalwart of the Republican Party ever since.
Twenty-five percent of people in this country describe themselves as born
again or evangelical Christians. That's twice as--that's far more than there
are black people plus Latinos combined. This is a huge voting block in this
country, and this is a voting block which is now overwhelmingly in the
Republican column. And if it is true that America is in the process of--a
huge process of religious revival, which many people think that's likely to
be, a vast resource for the Republican Party for many years to come.
GROSS: Who do you consider to be the most influential evangelicals now?
Influential on the Republican Party and the Bush administration.
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: I think one of the most influential is Focus on the
Family. What's interesting there is that set up by Jim Dobson. It doesn't
have an overtly religious base. As I said, it's not a church, but it is
spreading family values, and it also makes clear very repeatedly that it isn't
a political organization, but it does have a political effect. You can see
that both locally--if you visit Colorado Springs, Focus on the Family has an
amazing impact on local politics around there, but you can also see it
nationally. If you want to be a Republican presidential candidate, you now
have to visit this huge campus, and you have to get people like this of order,
people like Jim Dobson.
GROSS: What does Focus on the Family do?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, Focus on the Family does--it tries to promote,
broadly, family values. And that involves, on one hand, a lot of books, a lot
of publications, many of them by Jim Dobson, himself. You also see him
appearing a lot on television and the radio, and they have their own
television programs. There's also--in that capacity, he's able to wage quite
a successful campaign against things such as gay marriage. He was one of the
most either, depending on your point of view, eloquent or trenchant opponents
of that. And you also see it cropping up in lots of small things that they do
tell people, they tell people who listen to the programs that--what they
should think about particular things that are coming up. And so Dobson
opposes a particular part of a bill, then you can see an immediate reaction
amongst Republican Congress people because of the fact of what their
constituents are saying.
GROSS: My guests are John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The
Economist. Their new book is called "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in
America." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guests are John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, authors of the
new book "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." Micklethwait is
the US editor of The Economist, Wooldridge is its Washington correspondent.
How do you think it is that the right wing became so identified with talk
radio and ended up with shows across the country as well as network shows that
could be used as, basically, megaphones and cheering sections and explanations
for conservative thought?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think because there was a huge market out there that
wasn't being satisfied, and people would listen to Rush Limbaugh and they were
Dittoheads. They were very flattered to find there was somebody out there who
was willing to express what they privately believed and had been raging about
for years. And then they realized there were other people listening to this
radio program as well and that they realized that they were part of a
movement. They weren't just isolated. So I think it's--it was a hugely--it
was a discovery that there was an audience that wasn't satisfied. And then in
satisfying that audience, you very rapidly created a community which could be
mobilized to win political battles, most famously in 1994.
Mr. MICHLETHWAIT: I think you have to look at the thing slightly from the
perspective of conservative Americans. And a lot of them thought, rightly or
wrongly, that the main networks, the main television networks and, indeed, PBS
and NPR and things like that all represented a liberal point of view, and they
didn't have their own voice. And so from that perspective, even though many
liberals now look aghast at the number of conservative talk radio stations at
Fox and things like that, conservatives still regard themselves as fighting an
uphill battle that is much harder. Somebody once cracked a very good joke
about Rupert Murdoch setting up the Fox network because he spotted a small
niche in the market, half the population. And that, I think--there is a
strong element of that from the right.
GROSS: You write a little bit in your book about how the conservative agenda
or priorities are set, and you write about a couple of regular meetings that
are held in Washington. One of them is held--this is a weekly breakfast
that's held by Grover Norquist, who's the head of Americans For Tax Reform.
He's very conservative. American For Tax Reform is for cutting taxes every
which way as much as possible. And I--were you actually inside one of his
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Yes, he seems quite happy to have us along to watch them.
I mean, basically, what you see there is a form of command center for at least
a good part of the right. People go along on Wednesday morning and you get
reports from the White House, you get reports from the Senate, you get the
reports from the House. People from the leadership will be sent along to say
what's coming up and then the various parts of what I described earlier as
that sort of medieval army are all there as well. People will describe what
the NRA's approach to things are. Visiting politicians will come in and say
that there's a particularly tough fight going on in Colorado over something or
that there's somebody they really want to get rid of in Oklahoma and will the
move--what can the movement do about it? So it's a sort of talking shop.
It's a gathering thing, it's an agenda-setting meeting for the next week and
Norquist rules over the whole thing and has short patience with people who he
thinks are getting boring or getting in the way.
GROSS: Are representatives of the Bush administration at the meeting?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Oh, very much so. You get a report from the White House
and they say what's coming up and where they think they need the movement's
support and what they think is important at that particular time.
GROSS: And there's--is there somebody who reports back from the meeting to
the Bush administration?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, they go back to the White House. I can't believe
they don't carry back some element of...
GROSS: ...(Unintelligible) right, mm-hmm.
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: ...saying what the movement is saying back. It's a good
sort of sounding show. It works both ways. On the one hand, the
conser--young conservative activists--not just young but old as well--in
Washington get to know what's coming out of the White House. On the other
hand, the White House gets to know what their feelings are.
GROSS: I want to ask you about another weekly meeting that's held and this is
a Paul Weyrich lunch, and he founded the Heritage Foundation and now runs the
Free Congress Foundation. What are these lunches like?
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: These lunches are rather an older group of people than the
people who go to Grover Norquist's meeting. Grover Norquist's meeting tend to
be rather younger activists. These are people who are middle-aged and even a
bit older than middle-aged. They're really from the first wave of the
conservative revolution with--from the '70s, people who first came to
Washington in the '70s. They're also more socially conservative. They're not
concerned in the way that Grover Norquist meeting's is concerned, primarily
with anti-government activity, particularly cutting taxes. They're more
concerned with the moral agenda with social conservatism, with preserving
religious values. And they will discuss a whole range of things from
abortion, obviously extremely prominent amongst those, also assisted suicide,
something which they're very, very concerned about. They will often talk
about that. But they'll even bring up such things as the ease of getting all
the "Girls Gone Wild" tapes in local video stores and things like that.
GROSS: And is there a representative of the Bush administration at these
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I've been to several of these meetings and I haven't actually
seen a representative of the Bush administration there, but there are many
congressman, senators. I don't want to give a definite answer for that. I
haven't seen one.
GROSS: Well, now as we have to wrap up this interview, I'm wondering how you
interpret the results of last week's election?
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, I think from our point of view, it was an element
where we advanced a thesis that--two things. Firstly, that there was this
huge right nation within America, and then secondly, that America itself, for
better or worse, is something of a right nation on the Ameri--on the global
stage. And both those things, somewhat surprisingly, seem to have been proven
by this election. I think if you look at the level to which Bush's support
relied on conservatives really getting out, what is incredible is people
expected turnout to help the Democrats, and yet what happened was there was
this huge conservative base which Karl Rove was able to get out.
And certainly also from an international perspective, I think there was a
colossal waking up to the power of conservative America. That what happens,
particularly from outsiders, is outsiders only tend to visit the coast, the
bits of America they know about as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston,
Washington, Manhattan. And so therefore they're almost completely unaware of
the middle part of America, of this huge conservative heartland. And I think
what happens as a result, is they were much quicker, particularly outside
America, people were much quicker to accept the sort of Michael Moore
explanation for why Bush had come in. That basically it was all an element of
fraud, that he'd somehow managed to push his way through Florida and that
essentially it was just a short-term thing caused by a grand deception, that
Bush didn't really represent anything to do with America. And I think that
view was perhaps re-enforced when people visited Manhattan or visited San
Francisco. But the basic fact now is the rest of the world has suddenly begin
to realize that there is this very conservative side to America, which has
come through very strongly. So that would be my general reaction.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, we did argue in this book that America is entering a
period of Republican hegemony, in which the Republicans or the conservatives
amongst the Republicans are setting the agenda in which they're being better
at winning elections to Congress, to Senates, to governorships, to state
legislatures. And without trying to boast too much, I think that basically
this does seem to be the case, and I think that it may well be the case for a
long period to come, that America is, as we argue in the book, a right nation.
GROSS: Let me raise an interpretation that some people on the left have
on--about Bush's victory, and that would be that the Republican campaign
played on people's fears, including their fears of homosexuality, by having
the, you know, anti-gay marriage ballots in 11 states and by Bush's support of
an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, by also playing dirty. You
know, a lot of people think the whole swift boat--all the swift boat charges
against Kerry, which for the most part, have never been corroborated, were
just a way of smearing him, of raising questions that could discredit him on
one of his strengths, which was that he was a veteran.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think the left needs to think a little bit more carefully
about what went on. Yes, there's a certain amount of playing on people's
fears, both fears of terrorism, which made religious movement fears, but
certainly playing on those fears and also fears about homosexual marriage,
about redefining marriage in a way that people regard as one step too far.
And, yes, there was, you know, tough politics over the swift boats, but there
was tough politics on the other side. I think the whole notion of
reintroducing the draft, that's--the Democrats played at the end of the
election was pretty much going too far. Both sides as politics people play
hard. But I think that they--if the Democrats are going to ever become a
majority party again, they need to get beyond the idea that they were stolen
from them and that these people only exist, only profit through fear.
I think one of the most interesting thing that's happened in this election is
that the Republicans and George W. Bush have quite often captured the idea of
upward mobility of optimism. They presented themselves as the optimistic
party, the party of growth. And if you look at the sort of areas where people
voted for the Republicans, it's a very high correlation between areas which
have high growth and areas that have been voting Republican. They captured
the idea of upward social mobility through improving education, through
pouring money into things like that, the community colleges in--and closing
the educational gap through the No Child Left Behind Act.
And I think one of the most interesting things about this election is the
change in the votes amongst Latinos, the fact that Bush won about 44 percent
of votes amongst Latinos. This is a very optimistic, very upwardly mobile
group of people, and I think they're moving into the Republican column not
because they're frightened, not because they're terrified of gay marriage,
although many of them may be against it. Because they see the Republican
Party is offering a better chance for them themselves to get better jobs, to
move out to the suburbs, to get better education. And what the Democratic
Party desperately needs to do is to become the party once again of optimism
and upward mobility.
GROSS: Well, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, I want to thank you
both very much for talking with us.
Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Thank you.
Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you very much for having us.
GROSS: John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge are the authors of "The Right
Nation: Conservative Power in America." They're both with the Economist.
Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a collection of saxophonist Tab Smith's
recordings from the '50s. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Kevin Whitehead reviews a compilation of recordings by
saxophonist Tab Smith
TERRY GROSS, host:
Saxophonist Tab Smith played with a few swing bands in the 1930s before
recording a few sessions with Billie Holiday. Count Basie hired him in the
1940s, but by the '50s, he settled in St. Louis where he recorded a lot of
jazz singles. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new Tab Smith
(Soundbite of a Tab Smith recording)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
One pleasure of drinking in the 1950s was sitting within earshot of a jukebox
stuffed with jazz tunes often recorded with an ear for that market. The
singles Tab Smith cut for United in the mid 50s were as gin mill ready as a
bowl of peanuts, musical snacks of two or three minutes each. They were short
so patrons would have to keep dropping dimes in the slot and satisfying so
folks would keep reaching for the change.
(Soundbite of Tab Smith playing "Star Dust")
WHITEHEAD: Tab Smith on alto sax for Hoagy Carmichael's "Star Dust."
That warm and slithery tone perfect for ballads like "Someone to Watch Over
Me" made Smith a terrific slow blues player too. At faster tempos, he showed
what incisive rhythm he had. His phrases kick the music ahead as much as
(Soundbite of Tab Smith playing "Crazy Walk")
WHITEHEAD: Tab Smith with a mystery band from 1956. That song, "Crazy Walk,"
the fourth and last compilation of his United recordings from Delmark,
including some previously unissued stuff. Like Earl Bostic, Smith had been
making saloony sax records for years, but now he updated his sound, often
trading in piano for console organ. Back then, organ groups were the hit new
thing in jazz, born in taverns like the one listeners may have been sitting
(Soundbite of a Tab Smith recording)
WHITEHEAD: Cheers to Sam Malone on organ. Oddly enough, Tab Smith's jukebox
miniatures give you the impression he could play the blues till closing time
if only because he cut so many of them without fancy arrangements for relief.
Tab Smith strips away the trappings to get at the music's emotional core, but
it all goes down easy as a 25-cent trap.
(Soundbite of a Tab Smith recording)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Down Beat and The Absolute Sound. He
reviewed "Crazy Walk" by saxophonist Tab Smith on the Delmark label.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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