I'm more of a man than any liberal.
I never meant to say that Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally
-John Stewart Mill
I thought this pair of recently read books complemented each other rather well. Like most of the books featured on this website, I found both of them on the shelves of my local public library. You know, considering just how many of the books I that I've read this year are library books, I starting to wonder if I can ever justify buying my own books. But, I'm sure I will be buying a book or two for myself before I know it. But enough talk about my shortcomings, on to the two books.
First up is Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America by Eric Alterman. Alterman, a columnist for The Nation magazine, as well as author of What Liberal Media ?
, writes a firm, comprehensive, but most perhaps most important an even-handed "refresher course" on American liberalism. Starting with a "post-mortum" on the failed policies of the Johnson administration, chief of which was the Vietnam war which divided the Democratic Party and for that matter, America as a whole. Another huge self-inflicted wound by the Democrats was their unwillingness to clearly articulate programs and policies that would be seen by all working class Americans, regardless of race, as being beneficial to them as a whole, and not merely a selective redress for the past injustices against non-white racial groups. Add to the mix years of perceived special interest politics, "stagflation", working and middle class economic wage stagnation and white flight/rust belt political dynamics and presto, you have the demise of the traditional working class affiliated Democratic Party. Of course enter the resurgent Republican Party headed by a charismatic former actor/California Governor turned President, coupled with the newfound political might of Conservative Evangelical Christians as well as dissatisfied working class whites, (many of them Southerners) and bingo, there you have it. Welcome to the recent Bush Administration.
Perhaps though the best thing about Alterman's book isn't his criticism of the Democrats, it's his complete aniliation of the standard Fox News/Rush Limbaugh attacks on anything slightly left of the Republican Party. Alterman provides tons of well documented evidence which reveals the flaws in their arguments and above all, the shear hypocracy of their pundits.
This is an excellent book and a strong candidate for my "Best Books Read in 2009" list. If Alterman hasn't already done it, I would like to see an updated version of this book with a chapter covering the recent Presidential election and the Republican/Conservative response to the efforts to reform health care and Sarah Palin's future role in the Party.
Next up is Randall Balmer's 2006 book Thy Kindom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America-An Evengelical's Lament. I've liked Balmer ever since I read his Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into Evangelical Subculture a few years ago. Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Columbia University, uses his skills as a historian by showing the reader that the Founding Fathers despite what some New Right apologists might be saying, did specifically want a "wall of seperation" between church and state, with no one group or denomination being favored by the government. Remember, this nation was founded by religious refugees and Enlightenment-era thinkers who had seen enough of Europe's bloody religious wars. As a matter of fact, the ancestors of today's Evangelicals were actually a persecuted minority, the last thing they wanted was to be on the losing end of a theocratic arrangement. They too wanted a secular state to ensure their freedom.
Balmer then shifts gears to more recent history, charting the use of Biblical "selective literalism". As the divorce epidemic started to hit the Church just as it was hammering the rest of America, suddently it became harder to preach endless sermons on the evils of divorce, (of course, having an Evangelical-friendly Republican President made it harder, too). Eventually Evangelicals would turn their attentions to the new dangers of homosexuality and abortion. Both were seen as being problems outside the Church, and unlike divorce, "safer" ills to target their wrath. Of course, the irony being while there are a number of Biblical commands againts divorce, Jesus never once mentions either homosexuality or abortion in the Gospels. Abortion for that matter is never explicitly mentioned in either Testament. Of course the lesson here is, if you need to be literal in interpretation of the Bible, at least be selective about it.
Balmer also goes on to the address the demise of public, especially urban education, contrasted with the rise of religious-based and increasingly tax payer supported charter schools, not to mention the growing number of Christian parents bypassing classrooms altogether and opting for homeschooling. Balmer points out role public education has had over the last few hundred years in not only in teaching our children a common language and shared citizenship but perhaps just as important the appropunity to meet children and young adults who are different from you in race, economic status and religious belief. This diversity of experience promotes respect of a wider culture and leads to tolerance and understanding.
I said Alterman's book was one of the best books I've read this year and so is Balmer's book. And just as I recommended Alterman's book, I will of course recommend Balmer's.