Margaret Hoover gets it.
She gets that despite the Republican Party’s gains in 2010, it’s not out of the woods yet. Young voters, Latinos, and African Americans – the groups that came out in droves for President Obama in 2008 – didn’t pour into the 2010 election booths. But they will in 2012 (and 2016), and the Republican Party needs to be ready for them.
American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party, Hoover’s just-released book, is a roadmap for winning back one lost group – Generation Y voters – and it shows how this type of Republicanism can win other critical groups such as Latinos, moderates, and the increasingly-large independent population.
Hoover makes her case on an issue-by-issue basis without shying away from potentially-divisive topics. The book opines on national debt (generational theft), gay rights (supporting marriage equality), education reform (school choice enables the American Dream), feminism (through a lens of individualism rather than identity politics), abortion (acknowledging the limits of both absolutes), environmentalism (of the Mountain West camping variety), immigration (gaining trust through pragmatic border security, revamping immigration to help our economy), and Islamist supremacy (identifying it as an enemy of individualism and social freedom). The uniting principle behind these ideas is limited government. Per the title of her book, Hoover wants to hand back the country to American individuals who are more capable of making localized decisions than is the government.
This limited government philosophy isn’t radically novel. Only a few years ago, former Representative Mickey Edwards called for a return to such values in his book Reclaiming Conservatism. But this is not meant as a criticism of Hoover’s book. In fact, it is Hoover’s great strength. Raised on the stories of her great-grandfather, Republican President Herbert Hoover, she has the utmost respect for traditional Republican principles. At the same time, as a free-thinking young female, she understands voting groups that have trended away from the Republican Party. She can be seen as an unofficial Republican Party translator – someone who can help Latinos, young people, and women understand that limited government doesn’t just benefit rich white men, it benefits the whole country.
Hoover performs her translator role masterfully. Her book reads less like a policy book and more like a personal journey befitting our Harry Potter-loving country. She offers interesting historical tidbits from the life of one of history’s most unfairly-maligned men (her great-grandfather); she presents a number of personal anecdotes; and she demonstrates a bold willingness to take on tough issues. Consider, for instance, Hoover’s dilemma with gay marriage as she worked on President Bush’s reelection team:
“I was still driven by a strong desire to serve my country and was proud to be working for President George W. Bush. But when I learned the campaign would be supporting a divisive strategy to mobilize socially conservative voters to the polls, I suddenly realized that serving this president meant supporting a man who was willing to take measures in the pursuit of political victory that were inimical to many of my gay friends and acquaintances, who are people I love and respect.”
Hoover’s writing is also powerful because it makes the case for limited government not on comparative economic efficiency, but on freedom, the American Dream, and justice and fairness. She channels the dynamism of Arthur Brooks’ rah-rah capitalism books (namely The Battle and Gross National Happiness). But while Brooks tries to speak to middle class adult America, Hoover speaks to America’s youth: the shapers of the next generation of the Republican Party.
Limited-government individualism has long been a strategy to bestow maximum freedom and equality under the law to Americans. Sometimes, however, it takes a new perspective – voiced by an articulate and dynamic presenter – to recast these ideas and show their superiority not only for traditional Republicans but for other groups, like the young, who want to live in a country where the American Dream thrives. Margaret Hoover might be such a voice, and American Individualism could be a rallying point in the new limited government movement.
Stephen Richer is a director at a DC-based nonpartisan think tank, and the President and Chairman of RK Research, a 501(c)(3) research group that studies the political behavior of young voters. He holds an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago, a B.A. in Political Science from Tulane, and received a Volunteer Service Award from President George W. Bush. Stephen also runs the most popular young professional Jewish website in Washington, DC (www.GathertheJews.com), plays sports, and roots for the Utah Jazz.