The Bulldozer and the Big Tent GITLIN, Todd Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals
Why have the Republicans been so much better than Democrats at getting and exercising power? Why, even after a series of disasters culminating in the "thumpin'" his party took in the 2006 elections, is George W. Bush still the darling of an enormous political base? And what connects Bush's enduring appeal to the seemingly inexplicable rise of Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson and the sudden popularity of Barack Obama? In The Bulldozer and the Big Tent, Todd Gitlin—long acknowledged as one of America's smartest observers of politics, media, and movements—argues that one thing matters to voters more than faith, values, policies, or track records: style. Voters pick their leaders based on qualities they perceive or aspire to in themselves. Republicans want a bulldozer, a decider, a "commander guy." Faction-ridden Democrats seek a candidate who can look like all things to all people: triangulators who can pitch a big enough tent to fit every kind of Democrat inside. Every Republican is looking for a leader, and every Democrat thinks he is one. These preferences, Gitlin reveals, are reflected not only in the candidates chosen but also in the way the parties organize, operate, and present themselves. Gitlin takes a long, hard look at the history of the conservative movement in America—its genesis, its methods, and its powerful mix of big-business money, fundamentalist fervor, and take-no-prisoners attitude. He demonstrates that George W. Bush is far more than a champion of the conservative cause: he is the personification of everything that the movement hopes for and believes about itself. For decades, the Democrats, Gitlin contends, met the onslaught of the highly organized, seamlessly unified, meticulously coordinated, passion-driven Republican bulldozer with its antithesis: a weak and tentative conglomeration of eight sometimes-overlapping interest groups. Each group tended to focus on its own issues and mistrust the motives of its "allies." Any presidential candidate who couldn't make a powerful appeal to each of these groups without offending the others stood a good chance of being demolished at the polls. Every Republican is looking for a leader, and every Democrat thinks he is one. This single, remarkable insight unties many of the knottiest questions in politics today. Do blogs really make a difference? Who's winning the culture war? And what, if anything, is the matter with Kansas? In what is possibly Todd Gitlin's sharpest, most sweeping, and engaged piece of political analysis yet, The Bulldozer and the Big Tent brings it all together in a rich, discursive story that will change the way you think about partisanship in America.