History of conservatism shown in Tanenhaus new book

Historians in the News

"The Death of Conservatism" (Random House, 120 pages, $17), by Sam Tanenhaus: Its provocative title notwithstanding, "The Death of Conservatism" does not eulogize what author Sam Tanenhaus rightly calls the dominant U.S. political force of the past 30 years. Instead, he argues that contemporary conservatism is outmoded, overly ideological and has failed to adapt to changing times and changing demographics.

Even in the face of the current economic crisis, "conservatives remain strangely apart, trapped in the irrelevant causes of another day, deaf to the actual conversations unfolding across the land," Tanenhaus says.

But that argument, which Tanenhaus originally penned in an article in The New Republic just after Barack Obama's inauguration, already feels strangely dated given Obama's slipping poll numbers, the backlash against his $757 billion stimulus program and mounting criticism of his effort to reform the health care system.

While Tanenhaus declares that "attempts to depict Obama as a radical or socialist dissolve under the most rudimentary examination of the facts," he also describes how what voters perceived as liberal overreach during the New Deal and Great Society campaigns of the 1930s and 1960s helped fuel the conservative ascendancy for years to come.

A New York Times editor and author of an acclaimed biography of communist-turned-conservative Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus does a fine job tracing the history of conservatism from its classic roots to the present day. He argues that the traditional conservatism espoused by the 18th-century British philosopher Edmund Burke — belief in a stable social order and rejection of ideological excess of any kind — was most successfully expressed in recent history by two presidents, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Bill Clinton...

Read entire article at SF Gate

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