For the record, I would describe my own political viewpoint as “progressive”, though I do have a libertarian streak in me. Also, I abhor both the Democrat and Republican parties, though the so-called “religious right” faction makes me dislike the Republican Party slightly more than the Democrat Party.
Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark Levin
I had gathered the impression from the ever-reliable interwebs that the author, Mark Levin, is the much-desired reasonable and intellectual conservative (as opposed to Cerberus’ offspring, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh). Unfortunately, that impression was totally wrong. While Levin indeed does come across as sounding much more intelligent than the likes of Coulter and Limbaugh, this book is ultimately just full of the same useless tripe. The entire book is soaked in the “us vs. them” mentality, which Levin defines as the “Conservatives” versus the “Statists”. The latter term is Levin’s term for the “Modern Liberal”, though he doesn’t really think liberals are classically liberal, but in actuality are proponents of a form of tyranny (Spoiler Alert: Conservatives are good and Statists are bad).
If you desire a fair and reasonable argument for the conservative position, then this book is definitely not it. Levin just provides an overly simplistic and dualistic ideological conflict between the heroic Conservative and his silly caricature of the Liberal (oh sorry, the “Statist”). While I understand this book is a “conservative manifesto”, and thus is going to argue for a conservative ideology, it would be nice if it did at least attempted to do so in a fair and balanced manner. For instance, why a complete misportrayal of what the scientific community says regarding global warming? Why no mention of deregulation of the financial industry when discussing the causes of the 2008 burst of the housing bubble? Why portray unregulated laissez-faire market exchange as a wonderful idea without a discussion on failings with the free-market? The author does his best to keep his readers at an epistemic distance from facts and arguments leveled against the conservative views (the chapter on the environment was beyond atrocious).
Demonizing the opposition is this book in a nutshell. It’s mantra is that anyone who is not entirely for us, is against us and a proponent of tyranny. I could only recommend this book to anyone wanting an exemplar of a political propaganda machine in full force which replaces thoughtfulness with invective.
I wish I had of read this when I first came to America in 2008! It would have saved a lot of time and trouble trying to cut through all the partisan BS one finds in most political writings. This is not to say that this book is the epitome of objective non-partisan political commentary (because I don’t think it is), but the author does a decent job at providing a balanced overview of a multitude of issues in contemporary US politics: foreign policy, civil liberties, the economy, the military, health care, energy, etc. I do think, however, that there is maybe a left-leaning bias that shines through in some places, though for the most part it is just the author framing the debate on an issue without offering her own judgment on it. One section in this book actually had me laughing out loud:
In the 1980s deficit hawks were usually Republicans, but now most are Democrats. That may really have to do with who is in power at any given time: it’s in the majority party’s interest to spend money, and it’s in the minority’s to criticize them for it.
Note how the author says that “now” (at the time of writing), most deficit hawks are Democrats. That makes sense once you realize the book was written in 2008 (when there was a Republican in the White House and government spending had been increasing a lot over the past five years). But now that the Democrats are in the White House, they are the ones saying its in our best interest to spend money, whereas the Republicans are now again the deficit hawks. Fickle politicians!
White House Burning: Our National Debt and Why It Matters to You by Simon Johnson and James Kwak
This book was great. In the first few chapters the authors take you on a voyage through the history of the United States and its relationship with national debt. Topics discussed range from Alexander Hamilton’s view on the economy, the financial failure of the 1812 war, the Great Depression, and (my favorite part) the Bretton Woods agreement. This is followed by a couple of chapters which discuss the factors behind today’s deficits and what it may mean for the future. The final couple of chapters are the authors’ ideas as to how we should responsibly reduce our deficits and debt.
The authors’ approach is practically beyond reproach. I mean, they do have their own views (obviously!) which do come across in the book. For instance, they are advocates for social insurance programs (e.g. Social Security and Medicare), yet they explain “why” in a good manner; instead of arguing that those who oppose such programs lack compassion and are selfish (or whatever), they explain (in a Keynesianesque manner) that it is economically rational to fund these programs by pooling the risk across the whole country. Another example is seen in how they repudiate the notion that cutting taxes is a panacea that invariably promotes economic growth, but they do so without resorting to the “Republicans are idiots” slant that you find with some Democrat commentators. No cheap shots here. Apart from the classy discussion of a very contentious political issue, another superb feature of this book are the footnotes! There are hundreds and hundreds of footnotes providing factual and substantive resources to back up their claims.
This is a great quote from the authors:
In one of history’s ironies, the economy was blown up not by the government debt that politicians had inveighed against for decades, but by private sector debt that banks had been manufacturing as fast as they could–and it was the federal government that had to pick up the pieces.