Romance novels need a canon
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats. Read the whole essay.
We’ve seen senators like Ted Cruz before. The historical comparison most commonly invoked involves Joe McCarthy, whose scurrilous red-baiting crusade in the early 1950s shattered the careers of innocent public servants and alienated McCarthy from his fellow senators, but also made him a folk hero on the right. Jesse Helms comes to mind too. The far-right North Carolinian was generally seen as more trouble than he was worth by his party’s establishment (there were those in the Reagan White House who not-so-secretly rooted for his defeat in a close 1984 campaign against Democrat Jim Hunt), but the intense animosity Helms stirred among liberals only enhanced his status among the conservative masses.
So it goes for Cruz, the freshman Texas senator who in his first two months on the job has baselessly asserted that Chuck Hagel might have received money from the North Korean government, reiterated his belief that there were 12 Communists on Harvard Law School’s faculty when he was a student there, and delighted in playing the role of ideological purist, even – or especially – if it puts him at odds with fellow Republicans.
The Hagel attacks have drawn cries of McCarthyism from the left, a torrent of negative media coverage, and earned Cruz a public rebuke from John McCain. But none of this has bothered Cruz, and for good reason: His standing within the conservative movement is only growing. Cruz has treated all of the negative attention as noise generated by Democrats, the liberal media and impure Republicans who are uncomfortable with a conservative true-believer rocking the boat in Washington. Conservative activists and media personalities have run with this narrative. As the Austin Statesman put it over the weekend,
Six weeks after being sworn in, Ted Cruz returned to Texas a commanding figure, the center of attention in the Senate and the national media, loathed by the Washington establishment and, for that, all the more celebrated by conservatives nationally who found in him a champion both very smart and, it seemed, utterly fearless. He had emerged from his baptism by fire more powerful for it, not only in national conservative circles but, by leveraging his new-found status, perhaps also in the Capitol he had so unsettled.
For Republicans who believe their party’s post-2008 direction has been self-destructive, Cruz’s rapid rise is a troubling development, because it really has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with the outrage he provokes from Democrats and the media. The thorough beating they took at the polls last fall perhaps should have prompted rethinking on the right. But conservatives’ appetite for Cruz shows that the GOP base’s animating spirit still hasn’t changed: Loud, aggressive and reflexive hostility to President Obama, the Democratic Party and any Republican who would dare contemplate compromise is still how “conservatism” is defined.
What makes Cruz and Cruz-ism a particular problem for his party is the demographic conundrum Republicans now face. Obama’s reelection (and Democrats’ unexpected gains in the Senate) was testament to the rising clout of the “coalition of the ascendant” – African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women (particularly single women), Millennials. As Joan Walsh pointed out last week, Cruz’s Cuban-American background by itself won’t improve his or his party’s standing with Hispanics or other minorities. Instead, he’s appealing to the aging, overwhelmingly white core of the Republican base – voters whose grievances against the government in the 1970s and 1980s turned them against the Democratic Party and attracted them to Ronald Reagan and his ideological descendants.
So Cruz is now positioned as a major obstacle to the ideological modernization that the Republican Party is desperately in need of. If his brand of conservatism is treated as the gold standard of purity by the conservative media and conservative activists, Republican leaders will have a hard time moving the party away from its Obama-era orthodoxy. This could affect the calculations of Republican office-holders in the coming months, as Congress tackles immigration, guns and other issues on which the GOP is out of step with mainstream opinion. It could also lead to more trouble for the party in Senate races next year. In some states, like Cruz’s Texas, it really doesn’t matter whom the GOP nominates; the party will win anyway. But in other states, the nomination of a Cruz-like candidate can be an act of electoral suicide.
When firebrands like McCarthy and Helms were on the scene, the Republican Party was more geographically and ideologically diverse. In McCarthy’s time, for instance, liberal Republicans from the Northeast loomed large in the party – a key reason why Dwight Eisenhower, who governed as a moderate, managed to beat back the ultra-conservative Robert Taft in 1952. And through the 1980s, Republican presidential candidates regularly contested and won large industrial states. The political damage that McCarthy and Helms did to their party was limited.
But the GOP’s appeal has narrowed in the last decade or two. That doesn’t mean the party is doomed, but it does need a reboot – a reboot that’s difficult to envision as long as the party’s base continues to celebrate behavior like Cruz’s.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornackiMore Steve Kornacki.
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
"Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie
Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower. Read the whole essay.
"A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant
A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex. Read the whole essay.
"Black Silk" by Judith Ivory
A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say. Read the whole essay.
"For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale
A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society. Read the whole essay.
"Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner
A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ... Read the whole essay.
"Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen
Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight. Read the whole essay.
"The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal
A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency. Read the whole essay.
"Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time. Read the whole essay.
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