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In His New Book, Journalist E.J. Dionne Tracks The Rise Of The Right

Paul Morigi

For decades, E.J. Dionne has been one of the most prominent journalists and left-leaning political commentators in the U.S.

The Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution is known not only for his sharp defenses of liberalism, but also for a deep curiosity about the other side of the political aisle.

His latest book is called “Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond.”

In it, Dionne argues that ever since Barry Goldwater in the early 1960s, conservative politicians have had to make promises while campaigning that they could never keep in office.

"The history of contemporary American conservatism is a story of disappointment and betrayal," Dionne writes in the book's opening line.

He tracks the conservative movement from Goldwater's 1964 defeat in the presidential race to today's tea party, setting its rise against a backdrop of broken pledges, from promises to shrink government to more contemporary efforts to close the nation's borders to some immigrants.

"Each president in his own way has tried to find some kind of balance," he told me in a recent conversation (listen above).

In the book, Dionne also devotes some of his attention to the rise of Donald Trump, who he said exposes a rift in today's Republican Party. On one hand, Trump embodies the far right's extreme resistance to immigration reform, with his plan to build a wall along the Mexico border. On the other, he rails against free trade and wants to preserve Social Security and Medicare.

"Republicans have gotten white, working-class votes in election after election after election," Dionne said. "You can see it very much in what's happened in counties in Eastern Kentucky that used to be Democratic counties that have veered toward Republicans in recent years. The problem is that those white, working-class voters have voted Republican and gotten no material benefit from that. And the other side of Trump speaks very much to them."

Dionne will be a guest at the University of Louisville Kentucky Author Forum on Wednesday. He will be interviewed by journalist James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic.

The event is at 6 p.m. at the Kentucky Center. For more information, go here.

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.

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