(This column originally appeared in the September, 2011 edition of Smart Girl Nation magazine, found here. Please check out the magazine, and past issues for more of my columns as well as some very good work by a bevy of very smart women!)
I’m going to start this month’s column with a proposition that will probably seem odd considering this is a book review of sorts: Most political conservative books are junk.
Go down to your local bookstore, assuming you still have one, and check out the political book section. Most of what you’ll see from conservative writers you can boil down into two categories: 1) “Barack Obama is a Horrible Man”, written by a pundit who is either established and wants to make a buck is or is up-and-coming and wants to establish their conservative creds for that eventual spot as a Fox News show guest; and 2) “How I’ll Fix America”, by a Republican politician who has managed to string together just enough talking points to pad out a 200-page book in the hopes it will land him a few free press appearances so he won’t have to shell out quite so much for campaign commercials. Your choices run from pablum to polemic and back again.
However, there are some real gems to be found, and I have two of them in front of me right now: Mark Steyn’s After America: Get Ready for Armageddon and Marybeth Hicks’ Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid: Confronting the Left’s Assault on Our Families, Faith, and Freedom.
The pair of books from Regnery Publishing are not, I warn you, for the faint of heart. Neither Steyn nor Hicks are out to make themselves look good for a television appearance nor are they running for office. They are not cheap hacks out to score an easy best-seller. They are skilled writers who have delved into the current cultural and political lay of the land and found hard truths. So here’s your warning. If you’re given to the sort of melancholy that drives you to black nail polish and Morrissey albums, you may not want to tackle both within a month of each other. However, if you can take the hard medicine that Steyn and Hicks serve up, tablespoon by unrelenting tablespoon, you will be better off than when you started.
I decided to write about these books together because they tackle, at a different level, the very real malady that has struck our country. While Steyn’s book diagnoses, in stark and unflinching detail, the cultural cancer that continues to eat away at the vitals of America, Hicks’ book zeroes in on how the left spreads that cancer cell by cell.
The premise of Steyn’s book is simple: what has befallen Europe over the past several decades is happening to America right now. But unlike Europe, the world can not handle a Fallen America. There is no guarantor of freedom and enterprise to catch us should we fall, as we caught Britain when she fell so quickly into decline after World War II. The good news, woven cleverly through the threads of bad and worse news is that we have the advantage of history. We can see where Britain and France and Spain went awry. We know how Europe became home of the indolent and ungrateful. That knowledge can help us fight back the same problems we have here. We need not become a nation where people believe they are entitled to a never-ending series of handouts from a government that can ill-afford them because he shows us how that’s working out in Germany and Greece. We should not take our belief in American Exceptionalism for granted because we know what happened when the British people stopped believing that they lived in the greatest nation in the world.
Steyn’s book is indeed a Jeremiad, but we can’t forget that Jeremiah did not prophesy without a purpose. His message was not “Hope is lost and defeat is unavoidable” — that was Cassandra from the Greek myths — but “If you turn now, the pain will be temporary”. That is the essence of After America. Like the Eloi of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, America has declined and Americans have become mewling, dependent, and passive. Our national spirit is weak. We have lost our way. Our culture is shot through with rot and the rot gets worse every day. There is a group of Americans who put their own selfish whims above the greatness of the nation and our best interests and they have a forty-year head start on us. However, the damage is not permanent. It can be reversed. What has been done can be undone. It is not too late.
Which brings me to Marybeth Hicks’ book. Unlike Steyn, whose book looks at the larger effects of government on our liberty and culture, Hicks narrows the focus to our children and the daily relentless efforts by determined individuals on the left to turn them away from the traditional values that underpin the American identity. The fight against the cultural cancer spread by the malignant left goes on every day in schools and on playgrounds, in the movie theater and on radio stations. These thousands of little battlegrounds are there the left spreads the propaganda that slowly turns strong, independent, entrepreneurial Americans into the Eloi of Steyn’s book. She find dozens of examples how this happens and, more importantly, details how the left’s propaganda slips past vigilant parents to get into the hands (and minds) of their children. She shows you the artful dodges and clever appeals to our better nature that seem benign but are not.
But, like Steyn, Hicks also shows you how to push back against the stultifying propaganda. She shows you that there is hope, but only if we are willing to work at least as hard as the left has worked. Her message, also, is simple: we are falling, but we have not fallen. We can win back what we have lost if we use the values so despised by the left — entrepreneurship, confidence, independence — to fight now.
I am very happy that these two books came out so closely to each other. They work very well together and will be among the very best books you’ll read all year. If we are very fortunate, we’ll get more work from skilled and fearless authors like Mark Steyn and Marybeth Hicks to counter the pap that fills the political book shelves all year.
POSTSCRIPT: I did receive a free copy of each book. Only in the case of Hicks’ book did the publisher ask me to review it and they did not ask for anything but an honest review. I do get a little bit from any books you buy if you click the links in my post. There. Obligatory disclaimer given. Stupid Federal Trade Commission.
Category: Political Pontifications