Sunday, April 10, 2011

Theme Tablet

My reading table is filled with 90% political books, which many would describe as part of the fictional genre (maybe even science fiction to some).  These books, along with the other 10% various and sundry tomes on workforce issues, the science of human behavior, and historical texts, inform my thinking, and by default (since you are reading this today) your thinking, too.  Here’s a brief summation of three books I’ve recently finished.  This will help you understand the source of your indoctrination.  See if you can identify the connecting theme:

The Upper House, by Terence Samuel.  This isn’t about the Big House or the Out House, although the members of this body could from time to time be assigned to either.  The Upper House refers to the US Senate, the big brother to the feisty and rambunctious lower house, the House of Representatives.  The upper house is where the grown-ups are supposed to reside, and throughout history, they occasionally spent a free weekend.  The book focuses mostly on the last 6 years of Senate activities and personalities, but was particularly focused on the 2006 incoming freshman class (8 Democrats and 1 Republican, if memory serves). It started as a non-partisan retelling of the orientation of these new Senators to the Washington scene, and the Senate rules and protocols in particular, using interviews and personal stories from the Senators themselves.  It devolved into a sympathetic story about poor lonesome cowboy Harry Reid and his problems leading a dysfunctional group of rich folks, but I digress a bit.

This was not a great book, but there was one good takeaway (reminder, really) for me after reading it cover to cover.  The Senate was designed by the Founders to move slowly and deliberately, and to act as a counterbalance to the passions of the moment, usually embodied by the actions of the House.  It was designed so that the minority could stop just about any action, any piece of legislation, and by minority, I mean even just one person.  This feature makes compromise a necessity in the Senate.  Majority does NOT rule in the Senate.  You might say that the “Do Nothing” Congress was exactly what the Founders were hoping for when they drew up the Constitution, so Mission Accomplished. 
Dirty Sexy Politics, by Meghan McCain.  This book was a guilty pleasure, like looking through the pictures in this month’s People magazine, or watching the season finale of Celebrity Apprentice.  There’s no redeeming social value in the activity, but for a few moments, it’s fun and mostly harmless.  I love all the campaign trail books – can’t get enough of them (surprising, right, given my exploits in New Hampshire 4 years ago).   I read Game Change and Renegade about the 2008 campaign but I knew this would be different.  It was, mostly because it read like a teenager’s diary and not like a political columnist’s attempt to channel Theodore White.

The book follows Meghan’s travails as a blogger for her dad’s campaign - the seedy hotels, the back stage ennui, and the conservative paranoia about cultural diversity.  It did not offer as much political intrigue and strategy as I like, but it was a lazy read, perfect for the beach or the restroom. 
Meghan represents the more socially libertarian wing of the GOP (soon to be known by its other name, the Democratic Party).  She whines on about her exclusion from the national party because of her views, views that she claims in the book are more closely aligned with Goldwater and Reagan philosophies than the current mainstream GOP thinking.  She states that the GOP is too homogenous, not tolerant of diversity in thought or appearance.  Typical young person, you say?  If you said that, you might be right.

In all fairness, Meghan’s rants could merely be someone close to the center of the campaign who could not grasp why she couldn’t “go rogue” and just be herself.  Differences of opinion at the top of a national campaign are not signs of inclusiveness.  They are signs of dysfunction and loss of control over the candidate’s message.  A presidential campaign must speak with one singular voice.  At the top, I am certain that Obama’s campaign was no different in touting a big tent on the trail and a small, insular homogenous message on the inside.  It was the Dems, you’ll remember, that did not allow Bob Casey a speaking role at the 2004 convention because his pro-life message did not jive with the top of the ticket.

That said, McCain warns of a shrinking party if their issue appeal continues not only to narrow, but to repel the young and minorities.  On that point, she could be right.  The demographics in this country are trending blue voters (i.e. minorities) more and more each year, and the GOP is becoming more and more rigid in its ideology more and more each year.  If the national leadership can get past Meghan’s whining about her clothing choices for public appearances, they might learn something from her book.
Third World America, by Arianna Huffington.  Like many of the other Far Left or Far Right 50,000 word diatribes I have read before, I found myself arguing with an example or an assumption on almost every page.  The book read like a statistician’s delight.  There are numbers to support every argument she makes, yet I found myself arguing with every number.  To be more accurate, I was arguing with her conclusions gleaned from the numbers.  Her writing didn’t come around to the Left’s version of the optimistic “Morning in America” theme until about page 180, and by that time, I was ready to emigrate before a bridge collapsed, before I drank poisoned water, and before we elected Bank of America’s Board of Directors as President.  It almost made you forget that Arianna just sold HuffPost for $315 million.  Poor woman - what a country.

The Right is often accused of wanting to return our nation to the cultural and social values of the 1950s (some of which were good, and some of which were not).  Huffington at times represented Left thinking that wants to return our nation to the economic moorings of the 1950s – union shops, little neighborhood banks, and lots of assembly lines.  To both sides I would say, “Wake up, van Winkle – it’s 2011”  Conditions have changed, so assumptions must be challenged, and approaches need to change.  We all know the definition of insanity, right? 
One takeaway from this particular book: Nations are rarely murdered; they usually commit suicide.  According to the book, one effective way for a nation to kill itself is overspending and debt caused by military expenses.  This was a cause of Rome’s demise (trying to protect too large an empire), and it certainly hastened the fall of the Soviet empire.  Could the same thing happen here?  Ted Koppel has written about, and Colin Powell has spoken about, the terrorism-industrial complex, and its potential to slowly drain financial and other resources away from other priorities in our country.  This could be the genius of bin Laden.  Watching our country try to defend against every possible threat drains our financial strength, and his band of merry terrorists never have to actually attack anything – just tweet that they might. 
So what’s the connecting theme for these three books?  That’s right!  Joe has too much free time if he can read all these books, and write about them.

Next up on the bedside table: The Tiger Mom book that's all the rage!

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