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  • John A. Gable
    Mar 4, 2004
                                                 New Book on TR and the "Vital Center"
            I want to call your attention to Independent Nation: How the Vital Center Is Changing American Politics  (Harmony Books,New York, 2004) by John P. Avlon, published last week, an interesting and lively analysis of American politics past and present. The book is a defense of the "vital center" in politics as a productive and unifying path in the past, which could serve the nation well in the present and future.  Theodore Roosevelt is the starting point of the analysis and is referred to again and again throughout the book. On the title page of the book, is an image of an American eagle reproduced from the regimental flag of the Rough Riders.
            Independent Nation  begins and concludes with a look at the current political scene; but the core of the book consists of chapters on leading political figures of the 20th century, including Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, John F. Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Rudy Giuliani, as well as chapters or sections on types of politicians ("Radical Centrists: The Independent Governors of the 1990s" is one chapter) and crucial political moments (like  "Eisenhower vs. Taft-- 1952"). John Avlon is a writer with a good sense of pace and feel for the dramatic.
            John P.   "Fipp"  Avlon is a columnist for the New York Sun.  He was formerly the chief speechwriter for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Fipp Avlon is an active member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association; has worked with the Teddy Bear Program of the TRA; and is behind the current movement to erect a statue of TR in Manhattan in Millennium Park near City Hall.  His newspaper column from the Sun, on October 24, 2003, welcoming the Theodore Roosevelt Association to New York City for the TRA Annual Meeting last fall is published in the current issue of the TRA Journal, Volume XXVI, Number 1, 2004, pages 16-17. 
            Theodore Roosevelt has been variously viewed over the years, during his lifetime and since,  as a conservative, a moderate radical, a fake reformer, a mainstream progressive, and a centrist. Lately, such writers as James M. Burns, Susan Dunn, Kathleen Dalton, and Stacey Cordery have seen TR as basically a moderate radical. Avlon, however, views TR as a centrist.  TR himself left many descriptions of his stance, most having qualifiers, such as when he said he was a "conservative radical," a remark quoted by Avlon.
            Avlon says that "centrism is the rising tide in modern American life"-- and should be since most voters reject extremism of both the left and right.  He sees both major parties as having drifted too far to the opposite extremes, the Republicans too far to the right, and the Democrats too far to the left.  Whether or not you agree with Fipp Avlon on these and other matters, if you are at all interested in politics, or want to put the present in historical perspective,  you will enjoy and be informed by John P. Avlon's Independent  Nation.
                                                                                                    John A. Gable in Oyster Bay