Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Wingnuts" Book Review

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling on one of the more remote stretches of the Interstate Highway System between Fillmore and Nephi Utah. There isn’t a lot of FM radio reception to be had on this stretch, so I flipped the dial over to AM where I can tune stations from more distant locations as the sun sets lower. On this particular evening, I was able to pick up a right leaning independent radio host who was interviewing the Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Utah. I can appreciate a healthy skepticism of candidates of the Big 2, but the gist of the Constitution Party tenets seem polar opposites to me.

The radio show guest, Senate Candidate Scott Bradley more or less stated that we need to get back to the constitution in its original form (I'm paraphrasing from memory). He went on to postulate that every public or civic action could and should be settled by an examination of the U.S. Constitution. And therein is the paradox. This approach would mean city governments could be done away with and that state legislatures would only need to carry out those duties specifically detailed within the constitution. However, the constitution was a framework for a system of self-governance “by and for The People”. The Bradley plan is kind of a throw it out and embrace it at the same time kind of logic.

As for me, I support a different paradox, one embraced by the authors of the constitution; a system of by the people government that envisioned competing and divergent interests which made allowances for amendments and for differences to be voiced and settled. The Big 2 have embraced a very partisan model of what Mr. Bradley thinks will work; a top down autocratic inflexible application of the constitution as they understand it. Wrong. Though there are vast portions to be rigidly adhered to, the whole of the mission and intent is to establish a republic to be governed by the people—a statutory state of rigid flexibility if you will.

When I sat down to begin writing this, the Scott Bradley interview synopsis was supposed to be a segue into a review of John Avlon’s book Wingnuts, How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, so I better get started.

John Avlon is clearly an independent and a successful writer, but I started the book not looking for something to disagree about, but not wanting to be the centrist version of a super-ultra-mega-dittohead if you know what I mean. I would say I like 90% of the book. It is for the most part an insightful chronicle of the inciteful (its in the urban dictionary, good enough:). From a literary standpoint, Wingnuts is heavy on inflammatory quotes that are admittedly way over the top and problematic as the book indicates. I found the quotes overwhelming. They shed light on the crazy talk crowds, but I had a hard time keeping up with who was currently shouting.

My 10% disagreement was probably the first 10% of the book, predominantly his criticism of and "Bush Derangement Syndrome". I'm not defending, I am not even sure I've ever visited that website, but Mr. Avlon portrays radical reactions to Bush administration policies as "wingnutty". I was independently incensed by a number of Bush administration blunders, and I mean livid mad--and I voted for the guy......twice. Oops. I'll give you my personal stories.

First, I was in Iraq with the Army in 2004 and I was well, quite unimpressed about stories emerging about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and torture and injustice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I was particularly concerned about these abhorrent acts because it could and did elevate my personal risk of injury or death, though thankfully I came through unscathed.

Second, and this is still a very disturbing insult to me. I was driving to work in Draper, Utah, just listening to NPR when they broke a disturbing story that a U.S. Army and Navy whistleblowers revealed, without meritable dispute from the NSA, that NSA personnel were recording, transcribing, distributing and mocking intimate conversations between GI's in the Middle East and their spouses or partners here in the states.
So, on this point, I will disagree vehemently with Mr. Avlon, I don't think any vociferous objection to that breach of the law and decency is vociferous enough. It is crazy and wingnutty NOT to be incensed by such immoral and illegal activity directed against the real warriors and their families in these wars.

All that being said, I am going to give Wingnuts 3.5 stars on my review for being better than average but not great. And now I have a new book to add to my booklist--"The Shadow Factory" by James Bamford.

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