Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hoover's book stands out

Originally printed Aug. 6, 2011.

At a time when Republican presidential hopefuls are coming to Iowa to beef up their family values credentials, the great-granddaughter of Iowa's own President Herbert Hoover is calling on her fellow conservatives to stop demanding litmus tests and pledges and to start opening up the party to the next generation.

In "American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party," Margaret Hoover -- one of Bill O'Reilly's "culture warriors" -- expresses a timely message that stands out against the many diatribes passing for books on politics and current events these days.

Yes, her subtitle is partisan-focused, but it doesn't excoriate readers who might dare to disagree with it. (And that's a good thing because Hoover -- an active supporter of same-sex marriage and other "freedom" issues -- is going to have her share of critics from both the right and the left.)

Even more impressively, rather than divide the American political universe into an us-against-them face-off, Hoover actually acknowledges that there are more than merely two sides to every political story.

"American Individualism," for example, provides a field guide to "the various tribes of the conservation nation." Hoover's list includes:

» Economic libertarians and "Starve the Beasters."

» Social conservatives, seekers, spiritualists, traditionalists, the Bible Belt and the Religious Right.

» Old-world orderists, paleo-cons and anti- communists.

» Freedom and national security conservatives and neo-cons.

» Tea Partiers, Dittoheads, Mama Grizzlies and other populists.

» Crunchy-cons and Enviro-cons.

Hoover places herself amid the tribe of western conservatism, which she describes as "individualism tempered by responsibility for the community; a predilection for limited federal government, lower taxes, the entrepreneurial spirit and individual initiative; and an appreciation for the exceptional idea of America."

And not surprisingly, it's a tribe that shares many qualities with Ronald Reagan, the last leader who was able to keep the conservative coalition together.

According to the 34-year-old Hoover, that coalition now needs to fixate less on finding some sort of conservative purity and focus more on expanding to include more members of the Millennial Generation -- the 80 million Americans born from 1980 to 1999.

And there's no time to lose, she writes. Political party identification usually hardens after voting in three presidential elections. And because the millennials came out slightly in 2004 for John Kerry and then 2-to-1 in 2008 for the promised post-partisan politics of Barack Obama, Hoover thinks the Republican Party really has only one more shot to prove its relevance to the next generation.

The good news from Hoover, however, is that she also thinks the Republicans actually have a shot because so many millennial voters think Obama has failed to live up to his campaign rhetoric.

"On a range of issues," Hoover writes optimistically, "such as the relationship between the individual and government, or the appropriate rates of taxes and of government spending, or how much government regulation is necessary, millennials are decidedly not liberal."

The problem, she continues, is that the millennials "are passionate about expanding individual freedom" to such a degree that even the more fiscally conservative of them tend to tune out a Republican Party that is on the wrong side of history when it comes to social issues.

Through its opposition to same-sex marriage and its many calls for overturning of Roe v. Wade, she writes, "the Republican Party has violated a core premise -- that it is the party of individual freedom -- and by doing so, it jeopardizes its own future and that of the country."

Hoover doesn't believe in attaching the RINO label (Republican in Name Only) to anyone. And because the millennials tend to agree with her dislike of such labels, she argues again that the party needs to become the Big Tent it once was under Reagan rather than a party full of litmus tests and pledges seeking some narrow and parochial version of conservative purity.

"The RINO hunters have it backward," Hoover writes.

Hoover looks to her great-grandfather -- and his 1922 book "American Individualism" -- to help focus her thoughts on the "American psyche" and how it has changed over time. She then describes what conservatism, viewed through the lens of American Individualism, has to say about the deficit (which she describes as "generation theft"), a new Republican Feminism (which she shows is not an oxymoron), abortion (for which she tries to balance a pro-life and pro-sex perspective), education reform, conservation, immigration reform and other issues.

There are plenty of moments in this book in which I disagree strongly with Hoover. And I get frustrated with how she admits that important cultural changes have taken place, but then goes on to discount (occasionally denigrate) many of the people who made them happen.

But I enjoyed having Hoover, as an author, give me room to disagree with her. And I look forward to watching how her message resonates politically in her great-grandfather's home state.

She'll be signing copies of "American Individualism" today as part of Hoover Hometown Days in West Branch. For a schedule of events, visit

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at

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