Elephants never forget their roots

IT'S MY PARTY: A REPUBLICAN'S MESSY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE GOP By Peter Robinson Warner Books 249 pp., $24.95

The problem with books written by insiders is that they're usually pedantic tomes that only insiders can enjoy. Fortunately, Peter Robinson's look at the Republican Party in "It's My Party" takes an approach more reminiscent of P.J. O'Rourke, minus his sardonic bite.

Co-founder of the Dartmouth Review and former speech writer for Vice President George Bush and President Ronald Reagan, it's surprising to see Robinson write early on that he's always tried to distance himself from the party and that he finds much to disapprove of. But he's a good person to answer the questions posed here: What is the party, why would someone join it, and what does it stand for in the absence of the issues America faced in the 1980s? These are important questions, given the nature of the election this year and what it means to the Republican Party.

For many, George W. Bush represents a shift to territory usually occupied by the Democrats - or perhaps more accurately, territory not usually occupied by the Republican Party. Robinson delves into the history of the party and interviews Republicans across America in the theory that finding out what others think may give him a sense of the party's current direction.

It's an entertaining journey as Robinson interviews Republicans both famous and unknown, but ultimately the reader knows where the book is going, given that its title is an affirmation and not a rejection. Rather than try to prove that Republican theories are valid - a given for believers and something that would be ignored by those who aren't - Robinson instead hits the ground and interviews the people both in front and behind the scenes. Methodically, he tackles the party's appeal in the South and why it came to be, why Hollywood and journalists are hostile to Republicans, why people convert to the party, and why some areas in the United States vote Republican in overwhelming numbers.

Interspersed with entertaining comments from Robinson's friend Stanford University professor David Brady - former Marxist turned Republican - Robinson meets up with Haley Barbour, Michael Medved, Rep. Christopher Cox, Newt Gingrich, and pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick.

Robinson also reviews the two men he believes will be the face of the party in the early part of this century: GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. For Bush, there are kind words despite the fact he sometimes sounds like the Rockefeller Republicans Robinson disapproves of. Bush solves many of the problems that the party has faced by appealing to women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and social and economic conservatives. Giuliani - before his Senate campaign was aborted by scandal and illness - was the embodiment of the party's energy, both invigorating and infuriating to everyone.

So what is the party today? To the insider, the answers may not be surprising because the book preaches to the choir. But that's not a flaw when the choir is uncertain of its next song.

While social issues continue to divide the party, Robinson believes its principles are widespread and reflected in the traditional morality that the party campaigns for. The Republican tribe, for all its competing interests, believes in the same core principles that were present when it came into being in 1854: individual responsibility, limited government, a strong military, and free markets.

Robinson's approach in exploring the topic isn't new, but he performs an important service. Although his criticism of the party is mild, he spotlights issues that Republicans would do well to consider seriously. The post-Reagan world may seem unsettled, but Robinson's message is clear: The Republican Party stands for the same principles it always did.

Long after the election is over, this book will still answer the questions that Republicans find themselves asking. Yes, it's still Robinson's party, and he wants you to know it should be yours as well.

*Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer and the editor of Enter Stage Right, www.enterstageright.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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