Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Review, Mad as Hell by Doug Schoen and Scott Rasmussen

Mad as Hell
How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking our Two-Party System


I was not impressed by this book initially. I started with an open mind thinking maybe the Tea Party movement is more mainstream, less ideological or effective than I thought according to the claims in the introduction of Mad as Hell. The first half of the book left me the impression they were trying to affirm the relevance of the Tea Party as means of selling books as if to say ‘See, you are mainstream. Our book says so. Now buy our book.’

It is worth noting that the editing prior to publishing was not done. The book is rife with spelling and grammatical errors as many reviews for Mad as Hell on Amazon.com will point out in detail. I can't help but wonder if this publication was just a get-rich-quick for-profit venture.

Granted the challenge to Rasmussen and Schoen is the rapidly changing dynamic of what the Tea Party movement is and who it is led by. Even since I started this review things have taken a turn with the Rand Paul campaign violence episode. Some old questions are now up in the air again: Who or what is the Tea Party? Who are the leaders? Is the Tea Party a bunch of racist hillbillies or a legitimate political force? Is the Tea Party grassroots or Astroturf? Pinning an accurate label on the Tea Party is probably not impossible. Just about anything one might say could stick with some truth and relevance. But being a groundswell movement, any labels subscribed to the Tea Party can only be transitory at best. Time will still have to tell what the movement will definitively stand for and more importantly accomplish long term.

From page 5 of the introduction of Mad as Hell: “It is not only America’s most vibrant political force “at the moment” to quote The Economist, but a movement that has unprecedented broad-based support, and the power to influence the 2010 and 2012 elections and, indeed, the future of American politics in ways that have been fundamentally misunderstood and not appreciated.”

From their own statistics later in the book on the demographics of Tea Party sympathizers: 80% are White, just 2% African-American. 68% are Protestant. Are we to conclude that White and Protestant is the new mainstream?
According to the University of Washington study on the subject (http://depts.washington.edu/uwiser/racepolitics.html) 45% of White Americans support the Tea Party movement. White support is evenly divided in enthusiasm: 23% strongly support, 22% somewhat support. White population (18 years old and older) from the 2000 Census is 205,158,752. Translation, nearly 1 in 3 Americans is a Tea Party supporter. One third is hardly a majority but still a substantial showing. Mad as Hell opens by asserting that the Tea Party movement can be classified as mainstream. I was skeptical of that assertion, but given these numbers it is safe to say that the Tea Party in general terms is in fact a mainstream movement.

Effectiveness


The effectiveness of the Tea Party can clearly be measured in the short term, but what about long term? The Obama administration has advanced a number of ideological agendas and the Tea Party is a largely dare I say ‘knee jerk’ ideological reaction. Neither persuasion addresses the issue of the necessity of systematic power to the people political reforms. Each side of this short term ideological skirmish is looking at the outcome of this skirmish as an ominous indicator of the future of this country. Although those concerns probably have some merit, where are the strategic thinkers looking beyond this relatively brief skirmish? And why or how did we wind up on opposite sides seemingly on grappling for control of our republic?

More insight into the Tea Party direction and affiliation with the GOP from Mad as Hell: “”the plurality of GOP voters (43%) say their party has been too moderate over the past eight years, and 55% think it should become more like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future.” These numbers reflect a party driven by a populist core increasingly uninterested in compromise.” (p.171) More like Sarah Palin? Uninterested in compromise? Let me know how that works out for ‘ya. I guess I draw a lot of my skepticism from the fact that factions uninterested in compromise usually have a limited lifecycle in this country or go to great lengths to maintain their control unconstitutionally and unethically (Jim Crow for example).

The Palin Factor


Perhaps my skepticism is related to the Palin factor. I just assumed that both conservatives and liberals know that more appeal is better than less when it comes to winning elections. Like, love or hate Palin, or somewhere in between, I thought it was pretty obvious that Sarah Palin only appealed to party loyalists and evidently white protestant GOP loyalists at that. Truth is, Sarah ‘Fox News’ Palin does not have wide appeal. And the Tea Party movement seems OK with these types of ideological purist arrangements. So, I guess I am skeptical why they think the inequality 33%<51% isn’t an impediment from the start. The best consensus builder (Obama) won in the 2008 Presidential election. He hasn’t done much for that consensus in the meantime, but the basic logic has not changed. I don’t know. Perhaps they are banking on continuing to manipulate the Electoral College and to gerrymander districts (something Karl Rove has unabashedly sworn to do) —another testament to how radically we need to reform the political process away from party manipulation and control. GOP 'tea party' gains in 2010 are from a different kind of establishment power assertion and manipulation of the system, not from a wider appeal and building coalitions of groups who disagree on some points. It appears to me to be a line in the sand when success depends on a successful sales pitch.

So, I started the book skeptical that the Tea Party movement could be considered truly ‘mainstream’. I’m much less skeptical now, but the definition of the Tea Party changes so much from day to day, that it will just be interesting to see what shakes out.

The Conclusion chapter of Mad as Hell was the best. The book would have held me better had I read the conclusion first. Still, if any chapter received any solid editing, I would think it would be the conclusion and the editing is noticeably absent. Perhaps coverage of such a mercurial subject as the Tea Party requires that you publish quickly to get out in front before the subject reinvents itself. I’ll give the authors that one, but I do wonder if there is a niche of sorts for a new style of relevant content much lengthier than a blog, not suited for published video content, but not worth publishing as a hard cover or even e-book as the content may not be relevant in six weeks.

About the author: Randy Miller is an independent in Utah, founder of the Utah League of independent Voters and an independent candidate for County Surveyor in Davis County Utah.

2 comments:

Jack Jodell said...

Nice review of a book I'll have to look at. I think the core tragedy of the Tea Party movement is that it is a manufactured phenomenon in which many of its followers are gripped by a rage of misdirected personal frustration. They are being manipulated by the very people who are responsible for much of what ails the country, and this rage has been skillfully and deceivingly channeled into a hatred of the very institution, our government, which could, and actually does exist, to actually help them.

Randy Miller said...

Jack,
I think you are right. I think the contrary may also be accurately shown. It is a rapidly changing and adapting process--the tea party that is. For example, birthers have been both embraced and castigated within the ranks. It is getting interesting for me. Initially I wasn't all that interested in an ideological reaction to the liberal equivalent of ideological exclusion. I guess I'm chlosterphobic in small tents.

In the end, liberty and justice for all includes those we don't agree with. At some point we are all going to have to come to the negotiating table. Obama needs to get busy facilitating that.