AFTER THE HANGOVER: THE CONSERVATIVES' ROAD TO RECOVERY
By R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
Thomas Nelson, $24.99,
Reviewed by John R. Coyne Jr.
Finally, after a deluge of books about what's wrong with conservatism and how to cure it - the solution usually being for conservatives to transmogrify into liberals - comes a conservative book by a genuine card-carrying conservative whose credentials span nearly five decades.
Hard to believe that Bob Tyrrell, whose American Spectator was born as the Alternative back in the 1960s, when the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Black Panthers rode high and many of today's crop of old tenured professors were chanting "Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win" - hard to believe that Mr. Tyrrell, whose magazine in those days was smarter, sharper and livelier than anything on the left, old or new, has been there for nearly half a century and is still serving up, in the American Spectator, both online and on the newsstands, some of today's sharpest, smartest and liveliest articles, commentaries and reviews.
And there's Mr. Tyrrell, still wielding the satirical rapier - and at times the saber - skewering and slashing the leftist ungodly.
Perhaps it's because his prose remains as quick, supple and young, with the humor and irreverence undiminished, that it's difficult to remember that Mr. Tyrrell has been there since William F. Buckley Jr. led the conservative movement out of mediocrity and premature senescence into intellectual and then political hegemony.
Mr. Tyrrell rode with Buckley during those years, one of the most trusted and effective young guns of the conservative movement. Today, he retains many of the attributes of those early years, but he also increasingly has assumed the role - whether he likes it or not - of one of conservatism's elder statesmen. It's from this perspective that much of this book is written.
From the earliest days, much like Frank Meyer, an ex-communist and senior editor at National Review who ran the book section when it was among the country's most respected and who profoundly influenced a generation of young conservatives with his concept of "fusionism" (and about whom a first-rate book begs to be written), Mr. Tyrrell believed it possible to unite all strands of conservative thought into a powerful political and cultural force, and his magazine has reflected this philosophy, both in its staff and contributors, from libertarians to traditionalists to neocons.
It was at the American Spectator that many of the most prominent conservative writers and commentators in the country first made their mark, from George Will to William Kristol.
During those years, the American Spectator, led by Mr. Tyrrell, never wavered in its belief in the superiority and rightness of conservative thought and principles, tempered and shaped by American exceptionalism. That remains the case today, despite the still-reverberating debacle of 2008 and the disarray of an apparently leaderless conservative movement (to say nothing of the Republican Party).
But this is nothing new, Mr. Tyrrell says, pointing out that what is being written is "the premature obituary of America's longest dying political movement."
It was pronounced dead in 1964, with Barry Goldwater's defeat. It died again in 1974 with the resignation of Richard Nixon, although, as Mr. Tyrrell points out, Nixon never claimed to be a conservative. ("Conservative enough," was Bill Buckley's assessment.) It breathed its last with the election of Bill Clinton (who to this day curses Mr. Tyrrell and the American Spectator for their Pulitzer-quality "Troopergate" expose, which nearly cost him his presidency), then expired again in 2008, when John McCain, neither philosophically nor temperamentally a conservative, lost the closer-than-acknowledged race to Barack Obama.
Yet despite these autopsies, Mr. Tyrrell notes, "the movement is still around, and oddly enough, the political center toward which Liberal political candidates claim they are running is more clearly shaped by modern American conservatism than by Liberalism." (Taking his cue from Buckley, Mr. Tyrrell capitalizes Liberalism to denote a term that once meant something honorable.)
Although he frequently pauses to shoot various snipers out of the trees, among them "reformed conservatives," or RCs, who "ingratiate themselves with the mainstream Liberal media by finding fault with conservatism (David Brooks and David Frum, "the Davidians," are major offenders)," Mr. Tyrrell's emphasis throughout "After the Hangover" is on conservative unity.
After laying down a detailed conservative agenda for dealing with the major issues of the day, Mr. Tyrrell concludes: "America's political center is now a center shaped by conservatism. With the growth of the conservative counterculture, the prospects are good for conservatism now to do what it should have done in the 1980s and act not merely like a political party but a political culture."
Over the decades, often in the face of formidable obstacles, Mr. Tyrrell has worked toward that goal. As Aram Bakshian recently put it, "With the American Spectator, Bob Tyrrell, much like Bill Buckley, has played a Promethean role, standing virtually alone and creating something unique."
With his magazine, his columns, his commentaries, with this book and those that have preceded it, Mr. Tyrrell continues to render unique and invaluable service to the conservative cause and, ultimately, to our nation.
John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author with Linda Bridges of "Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement" (Wiley, 2007).