cover image Independent Nation: How the Vital Center Is Changing American Politics

Independent Nation: How the Vital Center Is Changing American Politics

John Avlon, Foreword. Harmony, $24 (400pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-5023-9

Avlon, a columnist for the New York Sun, a staffer in Clinton's 1996 election campaign and former chief speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, argues that centrism, ""the rising political force in modern American life,"" also offers the best chance for America to prosper. Part history, part political philosophy, part roadmap for centrists, this volume demonstrates Avlon's thesis by exploring political battlegrounds-from state primaries to presidential campaigns-in which a centrist message succeeded. To Avlon centrism is not a matter of compromise or reading polls; rather it's an antidote to the politics of divisiveness, providing principled opposition to political extremes. His description of Maine Republican senator Margaret Chase Smith's morally and politically courageous Senate speech rejecting McCarthyism four years before the Senate censured him embodies Avlon's view of centrism, and he uses that example to demonstrate the value of centrists like Smith to the body politic. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement he describes was that of Earl Warren, who in 1946 ran for governor of California in the Republican, Democratic and Progressive primaries-and won all three. Avlon's centrist tent is a large one: the political campaigns of presidents as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, JFK, Nixon and Clinton are chronicled to demonstrate the staying power and effectiveness of centrist politics. But his broad definition of centrism somewhat undercuts his thesis, and his failure to address the times when centrist politics may not have been appropriate-the New Deal era, for example-also leaves lingering questions. Still, Avlon's argument that centrism is good for America is appealing. (Mar.)