How the Vital Center Is Changing American Politics
Author: John Avlon
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
February 2004

From the Publisher
Independent Nation documents the rich history of the defining political movement of our time. Organized as a series of short and colorful political biographies, it offers an insightful and engaging analysis of the successes and failures of key Centrist leaders throughout the twentieth century. In the process, it demonstrates that Centrism is not only a winning political strategy but an enlightened governing philosophy that best reflects the will of the people by putting patriotism ahead of partisanship and the national interest ahead of special interests.

From the DDC
John Avlon presented his book on C-Span Book TV (April 2004) He is a wise young man with good political instincts and a solid sense of what it means to be an independent centrist. Indeed, that is where the majority of Americans reside. He hit the mark time and time again, correctly concluding that centrists (moderates) are about "the reconciliation of competing interests."

From The Critics
Publisher's Weekly
Avlon, a columnist for the New York Sun, a staffer in Clinton's 1996 election campaign and former chief speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, argues that centrism, "the rising political force in modern American life," also offers the best chance for America to prosper. Part history, part political philosophy, part roadmap for centrists, this volume demonstrates Avlon's thesis by exploring political battlegrounds-from state primaries to presidential campaigns-in which a centrist message succeeded. To Avlon centrism is not a matter of compromise or reading polls; rather it's an antidote to the politics of divisiveness, providing principled opposition to political extremes. His description of Maine Republican senator Margaret Chase Smith's morally and politically courageous Senate speech rejecting McCarthyism four years before the Senate censured him embodies Avlon's view of centrism, and he uses that example to demonstrate the value of centrists like Smith to the body politic. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement he describes was that of Earl Warren, who in 1946 ran for governor of California in the Republican, Democratic and Progressive primaries-and won all three. Avlon's centrist tent is a large one: the political campaigns of presidents as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, JFK, Nixon and Clinton are chronicled to demonstrate the staying power and effectiveness of centrist politics. But his broad definition of centrism somewhat undercuts his thesis, and his failure to address the times when centrist politics may not have been appropriate-the New Deal era, for example-also leaves lingering questions. Still, Avlon's argument that centrism is good for America is appealing.

Library Journal (left-leaning)
The title of this book suggests that it may be an analysis of how independent voters affect the political landscape. Instead, Avlon, a newspaper columnist and speechwriter for former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, offers a series of vignettes about political figures from presidents to governors whom he defines as centrists. While misleading titles are forgivable, the problem with this book is the misuse and misunderstanding of the meaning of centrist. Avlon implicitly defines centrism as the position held by the vast majority of Americans who fall between the extremists in the two major parties at any time in the history of the United States. By definition, the majority of Americans is the center, but the center isn't fixed; it shifts constantly but imperceptibly over time. He also assumes that centrism is always good, right, and even patriotic-a dangerous assumption when one considers that the majority of Americans in the 1850s tolerated slavery and in the 20th century demanded prohibition and accepted segregation, and that some of the greatest figures in American history weren't centrists but people who struggled against the establishment-people like Lincoln or FDR-to shape new centers. What the author thinks he's describing as centrism is actually moderation, compromise, and tolerance. For all its problems, the book is a good read that finds some commonality among an unusual collection of political personalities. Recommended only for larger public libraries with ample budgets.

Kirkus Reviews (left-leaning)
A middling treatise on the virtues of centrism, "putting patriotism before partisanship and the national interest before special interests." Speechwriter Avlon, who worked on the 1996 Clinton reelection campaign and for New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, offers an unremarkable thesis: Americans prefer to blend idealism with realism, and in so doing tend to arrive at centrist solutions to political problems that do not wholly please purists on either side of the party divide. Avlon imagines that these purists represent the "far left" (though does anyone still believe that Adlai Stevenson was a Red?) and the "far right" (though how representative is his anticentrist exemplar David Duke?). If that is so, then it's small wonder that Americans honor the bell curve and cluster middleward. Upon this thesis, Avlon layers profiles of American leaders who supposedly represent centrist values-Richard Nixon, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and the like. In the discussion, Avlon acknowledges that the definition of "centrism" has to be bell-curve broad to accommodate most of these men (women scarcely figure here), but he sometimes misses the point. Nixon, for example, was a centrist less by disposition than self-interest, having been a keen reader of the political winds and knowing that his support lay with "the silent center." Wilson inclined to the hard right on labor and civil-rights issues. Theodore Roosevelt can rightly be called a centrist, but only if the center line is moved significantly to the left to fit the era of progressivism and trade-union socialism. And so on. Avlon's portrait of Jimmy Carter is right on the money, though, and the best part here: Carter, he writes, mayhave inclined to moderation, but "the ultimate absence of unifying leadership within the Carter administration descended directly from the absence of a unifying idea bigger than Jimmy Carter himself." A useful handbook, then, for those who run down the middle of the road.