Is America Beyond Reform?
by Gordon Durnil
Sligo Press
ISBN: 0-9651213-9-9

Yet another book has been published bemoaning the well-known laundry list of problems facing our nation: media bias, lobbying tactics, low voter turnout, lack of character or accountability in high political office, increasingly limited freedom of religion, environmental pollution. The problems aren't the revelation of this book, though. That honor is reserved for the question its author, Gordon Durnil, asks in response: Is America beyond reform?

Few are comfortable with Durnil's question. Politicians on the left are reluctant to admit that the America they spent 50 years "reforming" might need another one. And conservatives, while painfully aware of the need for reform, are unwilling to accept that America might be beyond hope.

Without giving away the ending, it should be noted that Durnil, an American optimist of Reagan's time and voracity, is not so sure his positive attitude is still warranted. He can remember an America when men were proud to die for their country in the defense of freedom, when policemen used the Bible to correct juvenile delinquency, when political hopefuls took the time to understand and listen to their neighbors. That's because he was born before the Baby Boomers began to influence the politics and culture of our nation. And who wouldn't be pessimistic after living through that?

But the members of Generation X have no collective memory of Durnil's time, and can only marginally appreciate his account of post World War II America. That's too bad, considering that this most conservative generation since the '20s is probably the only group poised to bring about the reforms that Durnil lays out. What bonds Durnil, then, to the actors his play requires is that he shares with them an understanding of the law of inevitable change. He accepts that radicals had this law on their side in the 1960s when our current status quo was born -- an act of change Durnil terms "shifting into neutral." It's ironic that conservatives, usually defined as wanting to preserve the status quo, are those Durnil now sees as bearing the responsibility for change. And for Durnil, that means changing it all back.

In assessing how we might change it back, he lays out some unlikely arguments for a conservative. He worries that big business is just as much a threat to our concept of free markets as big government. He would defend the environment from irresponsibile businesses just as he would from ineffective government policies. He blasts "commercial conservatives" and makes a distinction between ideology and truth.

And yet, he never waivers in his belief of free market economics, the sovereignty of the individual, or the basic tenet of individual freedom. For an old curmudgeon, Durnil possesses the voice of modern conservatism; a voice that's honest about our past mistakes, passionate about the misdirection of liberalism, accepting of the new problems that now face us and open to even newer and more radical conservative solutions.

By trade, Durnil is an attorney and civil mediator. That means he can make a damn good argument, but knows how to listen to both sides of a story. In 1995 he published The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist and shattered the greenies' perceptions of a distinguishly graying pin-striper. In his latest book, he further extends his theme of good-sense environmentalism -- sans the socialism that pervades the die-hard movement today -- pointing out that conservative Republicans have no ideological argument with responsibility toward the environment.

As he's found, some members of the GOP bristle at such a suggestion. But blame it on the mediator in him, his ability to dowse those small patches of common ground in enemy territory. In fact, we find in his description of touring Washington with the pony-tailed leader of Greenpeace, Jack Weinberg, probably the best example of Durnil's hope for America: a return to the days of cooperation.

Copyright © 1997-1998 Stephanie Herman. All rights reserved. It may not be reproduced with out specific consent of the author.