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AND I QUOTE / What Political Books Are Saying : AINT' YOU GLAD YOU JOINED THE REPUBLICANS: A Short History of the GOP, By John Calvin Batchelor (Henry Holt: $25; 379 pp.)

June 23, 1996|John Balzar

"On the second day [of the GOP's 1952 nominating convention], with the bickering Taft and Eisenhower forces all around him, 78-year-old Herbert Hoover spoke to the Republican ages. 'This election may well be the last chance for the survival of freedom in America,' he warned. 'In a time of confusion and crisis, the action of a Republican convention 90 years ago saved this nation for free men. The Whig party temporized, compromised upon the issue of freedom for the Negro. The party disappeared. It deserved to disappear. Shall the Republican Party receive or deserve any better fate if it compromises upon the issue of freedom for all men, white as well as black. If you make free men your issue, you can revive the call which your and my ancestors issued 90 years ago when this party was born to make all men free.' "

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For 142 years, from Lincoln to Gingrich, this GOP cry "freedom" has proved a flexible concept, justifying both civil war and opposition to affirmative action, both internationalism and isolationism, free-enterprise and trust-busting, tariffs and free trade, support for dictators and opposition to dictators (but not the New Deal). Batchelor, an inventive novelist, spins a brisk, almost deadpan, chronological tale of the party's evolutions and revolutions, its personalities, songs and speeches--all illustrated with cartoons of the day. Today's tussle for the heart and soul of the GOP is really the party's oldest story.

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