Monday, August 22, 2011

Reading And Politics And Consequences

Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior aide to president George W. Bush, has an interesting article about the books the current Republican candidates have read or are currently reading.  I won't go through the whole list, but I do want to highlight a few highlights.

First, the epithets that Troy or a headline writer gives some of the candidates prove interesting, illuminating, and descriptive.
MICHELE BACHMANN — THE CONVERTED CONSERVATIVE
MITT ROMNEY — THE CONSENSUS CONSERVATIVE
RON PAUL — THE UNORTHODOX CONSERVATIVE
NEWT GINGRICH — THE VACUUM-CLEANER CONSERVATIVE
RICK PERRY — THE RED-MEAT CONSERVATIVE
Second, Troy's conclusion is thought provoking.
The reading lists of the 2012 Republican contenders reflect not only the wide-open nature of the field, but the still-open question of what it means to be a conservative. Reagan left office more than two decades ago, and the GOP still cannot agree on any one person to take his place — let alone a single book to define modern conservatism. There is no latter-day “The Conscience of a Conservative” to pluck off a shelf or download on your Kindle; and there are no Buckleys or Friedmans to write landmark conservative works.
Yet there seems to be a thirst for big books, or at least big ideas, that Republican candidates can use as guiding lights. It may be a coincidence, but the first contender to withdraw from the race, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, did not really highlight any big books animating his conservatism. (In his own book, “Courage to Stand,” Pawlenty cites Ross Bernstein’s “The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL” as an example of the “finest lessons and greatest joys” that the sport of hockey has given him, and explains how it informs his political strategies and dealmaking.)
The variety and unpredictability of the GOP candidates’ reading lists could reflect a willingness to pursue unconventional thinking, for good or for ill, and they contrast with Democratic reliance on a single type of book, which evokes Saint Thomas Aquinas’s warning of hominem unius libri timeo (“I fear the man of a single book”). But the variety could also prove more virtue than defect. The Republicans have become a party of too many ideas, but too few unifying ones beyond low taxes and a newfound fiscal conservatism. This lack of clarity on core principles will be tested in the 2012 primaries, and the results could guide conservatism for years to come.
I need to do much more thinking to come to a sound conclusion, but I am wondering if it's more dangerous to have only one book or only one idea.

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