The value of reappraisal

It’s rare for any writer or publication to go back to re-examine books or ideas whose time seems to have passed. I think that’s a pity. We need more reappraisal, not least because of the increasingly frenetic cycles of judgment and analysis.

So it was a pleasure to read Ronald Brownstein’s review in Democracy of five books on the Republican’s permanent majority, all published in 2005 and 2006. As Brownstein points out, for those with eyes to see, the crumbling of Karl Rove’s strategy was already apparent when these books came out. But much of the journalism and opinion establishment — what Jay Rosen calls the Church of the Savvy — fails even today to see the changes that swept over America in the last four years.

I particularly enjoyed how Brownstein draws out some of the analytical flaws in the paeans to Rove:

The authors of the books under review are smart people and skilled analysts, and they got a lot of things right. But their obsession with Rove and the conservative movement’s institution-building mostly blinded them to the flaws in the Right’s blueprint. Rove was a brilliant tactician in the service of a fundamentally flawed strategy. Almost uniformly these books focused so much on the former that they ignored the latter. Even more important, this intense concentration diverted the authors’ attention from the waves of demographic and economic change that were eroding the Republicans’ position and strengthening the Democrats’. In that respect, these writers were hardly alone. Ten or even five years ago, few Democrats envisioned that their party would attract the coalition of voters that actually elected Barack Obama and the Democratic House and Senate majorities last year. Even now, many Democrats still don’t acknowledge how much their modern coalition differs from their historic image of the party. The story of the Democratic revival, the story that these books missed in their fascination with Rove and the conservative movement, is a tale of what might be called the accidental coalition.

I wonder what other once-conventional wisdom could be due for reappraisal?

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