Thursday, September 9, 2010

No Ruts Review #4: Give Us Liberty - A Tea Party Manifesto, by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe

I didn't think I was going to make it to Gold on my own challenge, which would be awkward, to say the least. I did finish this book by September 1, though, so it counts - and I think I've earned my medal.

When Obama's healthcare bill was passed recently, I was startled to read some of the posts and status updates by some of my Facebook friends. If you think Seattle is full of nothing but granola-crunchy, grunge-listening, hemp-necklace-wearing liberals, allow me to assure you this is not the case.*

I worried about what might happen if politics ever came up for discussion. I worried a lot, and decided the best course of action would be to avoid the conversation entirely - I even practiced responses in my mind. Why? Not because I fear disagreeing with people about politics, but because of the level of vitriol that seems to be present in politics today. Basically, I'm afraid of being screamed at.

But I decided that since the No Ruts Reading Challenge was about trying new things, in completing the gold level, I should not only read a book by someone with an opposing viewpoint, I should be prepared to talk about differing points of view with others. So for my final challenge book I chose Give Us Liberty - A Tea Party Manifesto, by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe. Then I carried the book everywhere with me, wondering** what kind of conversations it might inspire if people saw me reading it in a public place.

I bought it at Target. I put it on top of the pile, so the clerk would be sure to see it. She rang it up without comment. Disappointing, but then, I guess that's her job.

I read it in the waiting room at the doctor's office. I put it on the counter while I wrote the co-pay check; the receptionist said nothering. I held it high so that all the other patients wouldn't miss it. Hello! Possible Tea Partier here! Not so much as a raised eyebrow. What was in those old People magazines that was so compelling? I'll never know.

Maybe, I thought, I'm not being obvious enough. So I took it to my daughter's piano lesson, and dropped it down the stairs so that her teacher would have to pick it up and hand it back to me. He didn't say a word. He didn't even complain about us being late.

That's another thing I should probably mention about Seattle people: They're incredibly polite. Annoying, huh?

I struggled a lot reading Give Us Liberty, but oddly, not so much because of the politics, which are neatly summed up on the cover: Lower Taxes + Less Government = More Freedom. Most of the book isn't really a discussion of policy points or philosophy; the reader's agreement with these points are simply assumed. Instead, the authors spend a considerable amount of time arguing that 1) Protest is right, and American (insert flag and/or historical reference here); 2) the Tea Party really is a spontaneous grassroots movement agreement (not a well-funded and -organized group); and 3) Democrats suck and everything they do is suspect, but when people whose politics the authors agree with do the same thing, they are patriots (refer back to point one).

The book is awash in constant comparisons of Tea Partiers to historical figures, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr. These people were the rabblerousers of their day, and rabblerousing is thus, a good thing - no, it's more than that - it's an honorable, important thing. Truth be known, I could not agree more: public debate and open dissent is important and necessary for people to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, it only seems to be okay to rabblerouse or disagree when you're a tea partier or have been proved right by history - if it's coming from the left, it's "part of an onslaught of attacks and smears."

Don’t identify with bewigged historical types? Maybe you’re a younger voter – in which case, there is a lengthy section that attempts to persuade the reader that Tea Partiers are really cutting-edge, what with their strategic use of Facebook and Twitter and the internets and all. The important point seems to be that the Tea Party was using modern social media before Obama so effectively utilized it in his successful campaign. Maybe they did and maybe they didn't - who cares? It’s a specious point.

An incredible number of statements of opinion were given as fact, and with no substantiation, for example: "Higher taxes degrade our standard of living, leaving citizens with fewer choices and fewer dreams." Maybe I’m na├»ve, but in the world I live in, taxes pay for things like schools, which allow my children to become educated and thus, improve more opportunity to have higher-paying jobs in the future. There’s a trade-off between level of taxes and services, and both sides has their opinion about how the government manages (or mismanages) public money, but I truly don’t understand how one can make simplistic statements like this without some explanation as to how we are going to pay for the things that we, collectively, need: Military, infrastructure, police, education, clean water, etc., etc.

The answer to this, in general, seems to be another blanket statement – the individual will take care of himself better than the government can: "The Tea Party has trust in the practical genius of the American people to be responsible for making decisions." This is because "It is naive to think that politicians will do the right thing simply because a proposed policy will benefit the general citizenry ... That's simply not how things work ... (those) in power often act in their own self-interest at the expense of the 'public interest.'"

This ignores that fact that these public officials have to explain themselves to their voters every few years in order to keep their jobs. So, why do they do this? Because “public officials act in their own self-interest, just like everyone else.” So, in short, people elected to public office are harmful to the greater good, but those same people as individuals do the right thing – not just for themselves, but for their community? Sorry, but I’m not convinced.

And on it goes. The September 12, 2009, Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C. was “indisputably one of the largest protests of any kind,” a statement followed by four pages chronicling the dispute over estimated number of attendees, which, not surprisingly, varies wildly depending who you talk to. Repeatedly the assertion is made that health care is being forced on the American public, “whether they want it or not” – as though being uninsured in America is always a matter of personal choice.  If that is really true, fine, but sway me with reason: Barbara Ehrenreich and others have written eloquent and well-researched books on being poor in America, supporting another point of view.

In the end, Give Us Liberty isn't an effort to persuade anyone to change their point of view - it provides justification for anyone who already holds these views. I read it with a willingness to be swayed by reason, but after a while, the constant bitterness and derisive tone was too overwhelming and I gave up. So, I'll just keep drinking my tea - in moderation.



*It's true we drink a lot of coffee though.
**Okay, dreading.

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