A young tory's unsparing critique of political conservatism in the US and the divisive shambles its putative partisans have made of their cause. In his morning-after analysis, the Canadian-born Frum (a sometime Forbes columnist who now writes for The Financial Post) casts a cold eye on the 12-year span during which Republicans tenanted the White House. During the 1980s, he asserts, the increasing incidence of drug abuse, ethnic balkanization, family breakdown, and allied ills tempted some conservatives to cultivate new constituencies while others cursed the dark. By the time the Bush administration had petered out, he concludes, Reagan's bedrock supporters had split into three mutually contemptuous factions: optimists like Jack Kemp, who believe they can steer the ship of the welfare state on a rightward course; moralists like William Bennett, the former secretary of education; and isolationist nationalists, of whom Pat Buchanan is the ranking exemplar. Having done with internecine warfare, Frum goes on to dispute the notion that the so-called religious right poses a threat to the body politic, let alone to the secular left. As a practical matter, he argues, fundamentalists view their deity in much the same way as Great Society liberals thought of government: ``a distant benevolent agency that showers goodies upon all who ask, without demanding anything much in return—except for the occasional campaign contribution.'' Looking ahead to 1996 and beyond, the author sees little future for the conservatives unless (probably at the cost of immediate electoral gain) they return to their ideological roots, which stress minimal government intervention, individual freedom, self-reliance, personal probity, fiscal responsibility, and actual (rather than rhetorical) cuts in federal spending. A clear guide to the current fault lines in American conservatism by an author who laments that the conservative revival has stalled.
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