Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My suggestions for post-election reading for Democrats

John Amato and David Neiwert, Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (2010) Dave Neiwert’s journalistic speciality for the last two decades or so has been following the Radical Right in the US. In this book, he and John Amato look at the flourishing of Radical Right activity and the continued mainstreaming of such ideas into the Republican Party. At present, there seems to be every prospect that this process of radicalization will continue, at least as long as Obama remains President. John Amato is the creator and manager of the blog Crooks and Liars, Dave is the editor, and they both post there regularly.

Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010) Bacevich is an historian and former career military officer who has been writing for years about the military overreach of the United States. In this book, he analyzes a development that happened without a lot of people noticing that something remarkable had taken place. During the Cold War, we had a permanent war economy and something very much like a permanent state of psychological war mobilization. But with the Afghanistan War now in its tenth year with no end in sight, the Iraq War still going on also with no end yet in sight, with war in everything but name in Pakistan and now expanding combat operations in Yemen, war (in Bacevich's words) "not a cold war; but engagement in actual hostilities - [is] establishing itself as the new normalcy".

Max Blumenthal, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party (2009) The Christian Right – essentially white conservative Protestants – are the main voting base of today’s Republican Party.

But long after that became a reality, most of the traditional media still does a pitiful job reporting on that movement and the organizations and individuals who lead it. Max is a good example of how a journalist can be both partisan and an excellent reporter. This recent study of the Christian Right focuses on Republican Party politicians closest to that movement but he also looks at the rank-and-file, coming up with a provocative observation about the role that the "politics of personal crisis". plays with Christian Right voters.

Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton (2000) Investigate, slander, pimp pseudoscandals: the Republicans pursued these methods throughout the Clinton Presidency. From their point of view, they were successful and justified. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently explained that the problem was that they didn't focus single-mindedly enough on wrecking the Democratic Presidency. We’ll see more of the same, much magnified by the Republican Noise Machine including FOX News, but also by a mainstream media happy to play along. Perhaps the most important aspect of this book is the way it explains how the traditional media outlets took a serious dive in quality circa 1992. And they haven’t hit bottom yet, e.g., ABC News inviting white racist propagandist Andrew Breitbart to be an election commentator. Joe's work appears in Salon and the New York Observer. Gene's column normally appears on Thursday in the Cagle Post.

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment (1992) This book by the late Kenneth Galbraith is nearly two decades old. A lot has changed in American politics since then, not least of which is the appalling drop in quality of the traditional news media, especially TV news. But a lot remains the same, including the central framing concept of this book: in a political system where only about half the eligible voters actually go vote even in Presidential election years, and those voters are demographically considerably more affluent on average than non-voters, American politics revolves largely around comforting the comfortable. The main difference in that regard is that the Republicans focus on comforting the already very comfortable. This results in considerable neglect of consequential problems of both the short-and long-range kinds. Galbraith’s rather pessimistic conclusion on the immediate prospect of breaking out of that framework are even more sobering now with the experience of two disastrous wars and an economic collapse that looks like the beginning a depression having occurred, our politics appear to be even more locked in the comfort-the-comfortable mode - even though the teapartiers theatrically claim to be more than uncomfortable. In fact, the outrage of affluent older whites at the policies of the Obama Administration is exactly the sort of attitude he discusses in this perceptive work.

James Galbraith, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008) The subtitle provides a short summary of the theme. Conventional wisdom – a phrase popularized by his father J.K. Galbraith – insists that in the early years of what looks a lot like an economic depression, we should be applying Herbert Hoover remedies: slashing government outlays, balancing the federal budget, phasing out Social Security, etc. Galbraith the Younger explains why those are terrible ideas. His discussion of the relation of the federal budget deficit, private savings and the trade deficit is especially interesting.

Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (2006) A clear-headed journalistic account of the Christian Right based on extensive interviews and field work. As the subtitle suggests, she focuses heavily on the nationalism and militarism of the Christianists, but also on their theocatic ambitions. The degree to which forms of Christian dominionism influence the Christian Right and the Republican Party today are not generally well understood. Michelle writes, "The things so many Islamic fundamentalists hate about the West ... are what the Christian nationalists hate as well. And so, in a final grotesque irony, we come full circle and see defenders of American chauvinism speaking the language of anti-American radicals."

Al Gore, The Assault on Reason (2007) The late astronomer Carl Sagan used to worry that as American society became more and more dependent on science and technology, that we might wind up with a huge portion of the population walking around clutching their crystals and trying to read their auras while lacking even a basic understanding of the science on which our civilization increasingly depends. Al Gore has a similar worry. But his focus in this book is how pseudoscience, bad information, irrationality and the manipulation of religious fundamentalism affect important areas of public policy and represent a real threat to American democracy.

Chris Hedges, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002) After the First World War, there was a famous exchange of letters between Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein that was published under the title, "Why War?" Chris Hedges looks at that question in this thoughtful and provocative book. Chris has the unusual combination of experiences of having been a war correspondent and also a trained theologian. His book is a reminder that war is a chronically seductive weakness of the human race.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., War and The American Presidency (2004) A collection of essays from the late historian's last years. In one of them he quotes Hegel, "People and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." Schlesinger himself doesn't go that far. But he does argue that people need to keep both a sense of skepticism and hope for the future, based on a realistic understand of what we know about ourselves. A large part of the book deals with the issues of war and Presidential power and the danger they represented to American democracy. "The American president as the world's self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner? - the road that lead straight to Abu Ghraib." Sadly, Obama has claimed Executive power in foreign and military affairs that in some cases exceed those of his immediate predecessor.

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