- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

INVASION OF THE PARTY SNATCHERS: HOW THE HOLY-ROLLERS AND THE NEO-CONS DESTROYED THE GOP

By Victor Gold

Sourcebooks, $26.95, 246 pages

REVIEWED BY WILLIAM F. GAVIN

While reading this entertaining, provocative book, I was reminded of the televised prize fights of my youth. If the viewer was lucky, two crowd-pleasing boxers would start punching as soon as the bell sounded and continue until the round ended: left jab, right hook, an uppercut, wham, bam, he’s down, he’s up. In “Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP,” author Vic Gold comes out swinging at neoconservatives and the evangelical right he says have captured and ruined the Republican Party, and he never stops.

Don Rumsfeld? Pow! Dick Cheney? Bop! George W. Bush? Wham! Anyone who attempts to apply religiously-derived values to legislative and judicial policy questions? Whack! Neo-cons? Bam!

Mr. Gold throws haymakers at the “corrupt, self-aggrandizing, Republican [pre-2007] congressional majority,” “disingenuous party hacks [at Fox News],” “porkbarrel ear-markers,” “Bible-thumping hypocrites” and a certain “self-righteous Texan and his arrogant inner circle of sycophants and cronies” — and that’s just in the first three pages. Then he really gets mad, concluding with the statement that the Bush administration is “the most corrupt administration in my lifetime.” Italics in the original.

This fistic cannonade of righteous (if never self-righteous) wrath will come as no surprise to those who know Mr. Gold (full disclosure: He and I were colleagues on Vice President Spiro Agnew’s staff during the 1972 campaign). For decades he has been legendary among conservatives, not only for his writing skills, political savvy and quick wit, but for sometimes expressing himself in — how best to put this? — easy-to-hear, blunt and colorful ways. I am happy to report that Vic Gold remains one sharp, angry, funny dude.

Given his libertarian views, he has many reasons to be angry. He was present at the creation of modern conservatism, working as a press aide to his hero Barry Goldwater during the glorious defeat of 1964. He served as a key aide to Vice President Spiro Agnew, then wrote speeches for — and became friends with — George H.W. Bush. He believes the party he served and the ideology he holds have been hijacked by opportunists, religious zealots, hypocrites and unprincipled louts.

There’s nothing new here. Similar views have been part of political debate in America for years. It has long been a dogma of the left and of disaffected liberal Republicans that the GOP is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bible Belt, Inc., and Pat Buchanan has said and written things about the neo-cons that would make even Mr. Gold blush.

But Mr. Gold brings a unique viewpoint to such criticism because he knows, and once admired, so many of those he criticizes (e.g., Vice President Dick Cheney), and his political smarts lend credibility to his harsh judgments (e.g, his dissection of Newt Gingrich). I found myself chuckling and nodding in agreement as he riffed on the follies of contemporary Washington politics, from Abramoff, Jack, to (former Justice Department legal counsel) Yoo, John.

The problem I have with his attack on religiously-derived values in public policy is that he uses Goldwater libertarianism as the measure of all things conservative. From the beginning of the conservative movement there have been two contending schools of thought, libertarianism and traditionalism. In the early years, the pages of National Review magazine were filled with attacks and counter-attacks by members of each camp.

I believe Goldwater libertarianism is an important, indeed essential, part of conservatism, and I have learned many valuable lessons from it. But it is not now and never has been the court of last appeal for conservatives. Mr. Gold pummels conservatives who, often reluctantly, have entered the public arena on such matters as abortion on demand, embryonic stem cell research, gay rights and end-of-life issues.

But in every case, with no exceptions, it was left-liberal activist judicial, legislative and political initiatives, not evangelical attempts at gaining political power, that forced conservatives to enter the debate. I know of no libertarian principle that demands, as a matter of philosophical consistency, that Roe be upheld in its entirety. Washington Times columnist Nat Hentoff, a Jewish, atheist libertarian, is a champion of the pro-life cause, and if he is a “Holy Roller” the Pope is a Baptist.

In Chapter Two, “The Pat and Jerry Show,” Mr. Gold draws parallels between those who believe the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was wrong, and the racists and political opportunists who would not accept the findings of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Out of my affection for Mr. Gold, and in charity, I will say only that this comparison is a wee bit over the top, even in a polemic, and leave it at that.

But I think Mr. Gold is on to something. In recent years I have been increasingly puzzled and often dismayed by what passes for conservatism in the Republican Party. The gains Ronald Reagan once made with those I call “street corner conservatives,” i.e., ethnic, urban Catholics, have all been lost, lost utterly. Current GOP leaders, in the administration and in Congress, are deaf to a constituency that once was theirs.

I thought I was just suffering from Old Guy Syndrome (“By cracky, we were real conservatives back then!”), but Mr. Gold may be right — it may be that irreparable harm has been done not only to the GOP but to conservatism itself by the “mismanagement and grief” (to use W.H. Auden’s words) Republicans are now enduring.

William F. Gavin is a novelist and reviewer living in the Washington area.

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