2010 Fall Book Review

There’s plenty on offer in the fall crop of conservative books whether you’re shopping for Christmas presents, intellectual stimulation, or ammunition for that argument with your liberal cousin across the Thanksgiving table.

The Roots of Obama’s Rage
by Dinesh D’Souza
Regnery, 2010
$27.95, 258 pp.
   
Dinesh D’Souza’s latest controversial bestseller is our first entry in the guess-the-President’s-real-motivation-for-running-the-country-into-the-ground sweepstakes. (Radical-in-Chief and Crimes against Liberty, below, are competitive and complementary titles). Socialism at home is what most conservatives expected from Barack Obama, and he hasn’t disappointed us. The government takeover of healthcare alone, unless it’s reversed, will make it impossible for us to get off conveyer belt to European-style Social Democracy. But Obama’s apparent incompetence in foreign affairs has been something of a surprise. It seems odd that a veteran of the Chicago political machine, a man who doesn’t hesitate to bully his domestic opponents (even if they’re Supreme Court justices), is on a trajectory to outdo the hapless idealist Jimmy Carter at decreasing America’s influence in the world.

D’Souza puts forward the thesis that the President’s strange choices are explained by a post-colonialist mindset. Obama, he argues, is in fact following the “dreams” of his father, an anti- and post-colonial politician in Kenya. The evidence for his insight into the Obama’s real motives, D’Souza urges, is in plain sight in the President’s own autobiography. D’Souza certainly has the expertise and the personal experience to make the diagnosis. He himself is an immigrant to America from post-colonial India; his childhood was similar in some ways to Obama’s school days in Indonesia. And D’Souza first made a name for himself by exposing the intellectual fads—anti-colonialism significant among them—that were sweeping American academia in the eighties when Barack Obama was at Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard.
   
D’Souza reviews some interesting evidence that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, including Obama’s father’s writing. And he is able to explain some of the more bizarre apparent missteps in the Obama administration’s foreign relations, including the strange Presidential bows, the Churchill bust give-back, and other gratuitous insults to the British. Whether you’re finally convinced that he’s found the key to the Obama Presidency, D’Souza has once again produced an intriguing interpretation of the history we’re living through.
   
Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism
by Stanley Kurtz
Threshold, 2010
$27, 496 pp.

Stanley Kurtz argues that Barack Obama’s entire political career and his actions as President are best explained by his socialism—a well-entrenched American strain of socialism that, Kurtz demonstrates, is both a significant player in American politics (A.C.O.R.N. is just the tip of the iceberg) and almost completely unknown to the American public in general. Like a lot of responsible conservative writers in the 2008 election, Kurtz took it for granted that the “Obama is a socialist” meme was a distraction from legitimate criticism of the candidate’s radical platform and dangerous lack of experience. But then Kurtz uncovered evidence of Obama’s socialist past. And Kurtz himself became a victim of the kind of socialist tactics he reports on in the book, when the Obama campaign attempted to shut down his appearance on a Chicago radio show to discuss his research.

Kurtz marshals painstaking research and careful argumentation to establish that Barack Obama can credibly be called a socialist. He follows Obama through socialist conventions, socialist training organizations, and socialist alliances with mainstream Democratic politicians. Kurtz also provides a fascinating history of American socialism since the seventies, when the far Left largely abandoned terrorism and hopes of immediate revolution for a long-term strategy involving cooption of electoral politics and the welfare state.    
   
After reading Kurtz on Obama’s socialist past, on the one hand, and the Cloward-Piven strategy to bring down capitalism by flooding the welfare rolls and overburdening the state, on the other, it’s suddenly less of a stretch to think that President Obama was willing to give up on “single payer” only because he knew that the mixed government-private sector regime created by Obamacare would so stress and undermine the medicine in our country that the eventual nationalization of medicine would be guaranteed. During the 2008 election, Barack Obama claimed that Senator McCain would “be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” Thanks to Stanley Kurtz, we now have some more substantial evidence on which to base our suspicions about Obama’s political past, and his good faith.

Crimes against Liberty: An Indictment of President Barack Obama
by David Limbaugh
Regnery, 2010
$29.95, 512 pp.
   
David Limbaugh’s monumental indictment of Barack Obama weighs in at over 500 pages. While D’Souza and Kurtz focus on Obama’s motivation and political beliefs, Limbaugh gives more ink to the appalling results of the President’s actions for our liberty and the health of the Republic. Limbaugh’s indictment is wide-ranging. He begins with Obama’s “Fraud against the Electorate,” covering the very effective false-flag operation that the candidate’s much-touted bipartisanship turned out to be, goes on to treat his broken—and apparently disingenuous—campaign promises, and just adds steam and more exhaustive data from that point on. Obama’s bullying style of governing is treated at length, as is his demonstrated indifference to Constitutional limits on Executive power.
   
But Limbaugh does also make a suggestion about Obama’s motivation. And while he may overplay his hand in suggesting that our President is a “malignant narcissistic” (though no more than Dr. Scott Peck originally overplayed his in the bestselling People of the Lie, on which Limbaugh bases his analysis), Limbaugh may very well have put his finger on something even more fundamental to the President’s motivation than the ideologies D’Souza and Kurtz explore.

While post-colonialism does seem to play a role in Obama’s thinking, and it’s hard to believe that his socialist past isn’t important to his actions as President, it also makes a lot of sense to see Barack Obama as another Ivy League-bred elitist who bolsters his self-esteem by telling himself how much smarter he is than the rest of us rubes.

President Barack Obama is one of a large and growing class of Americans who have been able to amass enormous power over their fellow citizens in the course of careers dependent on impressing others with their intelligence and suavity, not on producing measurable results.

Thomas Sowell profiles this class in Intellectuals and Society, where he makes some frightening predictions about what their ascendancy will mean for our future. Followers of such a career path naturally tend to overestimate their own capacities, undervalue other people’s knowledge, and grossly underestimate the difficulties of achieving their goals. This dynamic could go a long way to explaining why post-colonial and socialist ideas were attractive to Barack Obama in the first place.

Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure
by Glenn Beck
Threshold, 2010
$29.99, 416 pp.

The latest Glenn Beck bestseller is a kind of multi-media extravaganza, with Beck supplying arguments, charts and telling statistics, quotes from the Founders, and outrageous gaffes from our political class—all in the service of diagnosing and curing America’s credit crisis. It’s not just about the money, according to Beck. We’re broke, but our huge financial deficits are only a symptom of the real problem. We wouldn’t be in the financial mess we’re in if we hadn’t already become intellectually and constitutionally bankrupt. Only a return to the Founders’ principles will restore our “trust, truth, and treasure.”

Glenn Beck is controversial, to put it mildly. Amity Shlaes has put her finger on why Glenn Beck annoys our elites, and why he particularly enrages the academic Left. Beck “has begun to develop a new canon for adults.” He’s introducing victims of educational malpractice—those generations of Americans who were protected from the ideas of the Founders and of free market economists by their public school teachers and college professors—to a whole new reading list. It’s a real public service. And a hoot. Like the best teachers, Beck makes learning fun.

First Family: Abigail and John Adams
by Joseph J. Ellis
Knopf, 2010
$27.95, 320 pp.
   
“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.” That’s John Adams, touching on a problem that’s suddenly getting a lot of attention more than 200 years after the Revolutionary generation made liberty the enduring theme of American political life. Joseph J. Ellis, celebrated biographer of several Founders (His Excellency: George Washington, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, and others) now takes up the life of John Adams, the most energetic, irascible, and prolific hero of the Revolutionary Era—and of his wife Abigail, an eighteenth-century woman whose competence, achievements, and lively relationship with her husband give the lie to the feminist canard that women who lived then were helpless victims of the patriarchy.

The marital friendship between John and Abigail is truly inspiring. The paradox of their marriage is that their love was made stronger by a shared patriotism, and a shared belief in the importance of John Adams’s unique talents for the success of the patriotic cause—which shared beliefs made long physical separations necessary, as John spent months and even years away from home serving as a representative in Congress a diplomat in Europe. That sacrifice cost John and Abigail many painful years apart, gave us the moving correspondence that documents their relationship, and offers an interesting alternative to the modern idea of marriage as primarily an institution for getting the spouses’ individual needs met. 
   
Ellis argues that Adams realized he would always be only human to us. In contrast to the superbly self-controlled Washington and the clever, secretive Jefferson, Adams knew he was leaving us far too capacious a written record of his burning ambition, his sometimes petty resentments, and his complicated relationships with his contemporaries for us ever to see him as a noble figure cut from marble. Adams will always be a flesh-and-blood man to us. And it’s a good thing that he is, especially today, when we desperately need models for real live statesmen who understand liberty and love it more than power.

The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America
by Daniel Hannan
Harper, 2010
$24.99, 224 pp.
   
Daniel Hannan, British Member of the European Parliament and YouTube sensation, is not the first person now chafing under the E.U.’s quasi-democratic rule to advise America not to go any farther down the road to European Social Democracy. But Hannan’s warning has special force.
Not only is he a talented politician and an astute political thinker. As an actual E.U. politician, Hannan can supply chilling examples of the erosion of self-government in Europe. And he can point to exactly what practical features of American politics may save us from a future like the Europeans’ present. Our primary system for selecting candidates, for example, sets us apart. In the U.K. and most of Western Europe, candidates are selected by their parties, not the electorate. Especially in a parliamentary system, where party bosses can move losing candidates to safe seats, whether legislators stay in office depends largely on their party, and hardly at all on their constituents.

Hannan’s descriptions of conversations with his fellow M.E.P.s are truly horrifying. One particularly appalling exchange illustrates the growing phenomenon of legislation as an exercise in expressing feelings, rather than actual governance (the E.U.’s unelected bureaucrats actually make the rules, leaving the European Parliament little to do but pass legislation that expresses worthy sentiments): Hannan complains to a colleague about the high unemployment rate. He gives statistics and suggests action, including some relief from the heavy regulatory burden on business. His fellow M.E.P. keeps responding that (in feel-good legislation that changes nothing) the E.U. has made unemployment their top priority.

This tendency, while not so far advanced, is already detectable in U.S. government. Already, instead of passing unpopular legislation, our Congress and President depend on unelected bureaucrats and judges to impose unpopular rules on us. A very good example of this trend is the way the Obama Administration is defending Obamacare in court: Congress very carefully avoided calling the fines people will pay for being uninsured “taxes” because they knew that new taxes would break the President’s campaign promise and also make Obamacare harder to pass. But now that the Administration is defending Obamacare in court, and the case for its constitutionality under the Commerce Clause is shaky, they’re asserting that those same fines come under the federal government’s constitutionally granted power to tax. It’s high time the American people reined in our government. Daniel Hannan’s timely warning makes it clear what the stakes are, and he points us to the tools we’ll need for the job.

Leadership and Crisis
by Bobby Jindal
Regnery, 2010
$27.95, 256 pp.
   
Bobby Jindal knows both crisis and leadership. Jindal was head and shoulders above the general standard of leadership in the Hurricane Katrina horror: detached-seeming President Bush, less-than-competent Mayor Nagin, weepy Governor Blanco. And his actions as governor in the BP oil spill were widely admired, particularly in contrast with the Obama administration’s fumbles.
   
Jindal supplies inside stories from both disasters. Learning about the fiasco that followed in the wake of Katrina, the reader is forced to the conviction that we’ve bred up a horde of locust-like officials—reminiscent of the “swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance” in the Declaration of Independence—whose raison d’être is to stop other people from doing anything useful. The demand that private motor boat owners produce insurance papers before they’re allowed to rescue flood victims is one case in point.
   
Besides his accounts of Katrina and the oil spill, Jindal offers solutions for stubborn national political problems and interesting autobiographical stories, including an account of his conversion to Christianity. Bobby Jindal is a Republican politician to watch, and this book offers a closer look.

Reforming Our Universities: The Case for an Academic Bill of Rights
by David Horowitz
Regnery, 2010
$27.95, 256 pp.
   
David Horowitz is public enemy #1 to the Leftists ensconced in our universities. He’s done yeoman’s work in exposing the scandal of Leftist indoctrination under cover of education—much of it funded by the public. Two decades ago, as a graduate student, I sat in a classroom at a public university and wondered whether to ask the professor why he felt justified in taking a salary from the state of North Carolina to teach English and then, instead, attempting to convert us to Marxism. (It would have been a silly question, really—we know Marxists believe the end justifies the means.) A lot of people have complained about the bias in our universities, but David Horowitz has probably done more than anyone to put forward constructive solutions to the problem.

The illness Horowitz diagnoses is absolutely real. The question is whether the intellectual disease our universities are suffering from is curable—and whether Horowitz’s solution is the right medicine. Horowitz makes the strong and much underappreciated point that students, as well as professors, need academic freedom in order to learn. His proposed Academic Bill of Rights, which has actually gotten some traction on campuses and even in state legislatures, would make the university value-neutral, forbidding Leftist indoctrination, but also religious instruction. The Academic Bill of Rights seems appropriate to public universities constrained by the modern Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment. And perhaps it’s also the best we can hope for for schools like Harvard and Yale, now aggressively secular institutions.
   
But at the risk of sounding like one of those conservatives whose retort to “You want to take us back to the fifties” is “Yes, the 1750s!” I’d suggest that Horowitz’s proposed reforms may not be radical enough. As he points out, our institutions of higher learning were transformed in the late nineteenth century from colleges for the transmission of culture, religion, and morality into “modern research universities” on the German model with “the adoption of the scientific method as the professional standard for knowledge.” The old ideal of transmitting Western civilization to the next generation of students was abandoned for a new project of preparing them for professional life. And every subject was reorganized to fit the “scientific research” model, so that college teachers of literature came to be better rewarded for unread articles in obscure journals than for teaching their students to read Virgil or Shakespeare. Horowitz wants to return American universities to their glory days of secular free inquiry in the mid-twentieth century. The question is whether that is a sustainable ideal or a passing moment in a long history of
inevitable decline from the point at which the universities abandoned their original values. Are the principles David Horowitz rightly cherishes—free inquiry, intellectual honesty, justice between professors and students—themselves sustainable without a grounding in explicitly moral and even religious values? There’s an argument that free intellectual inquiry is more possible in a frankly religious context than a secular one. After all, Thomas Aquinas managed to have quite a respectable intellectual career in a university system that was not value-neutral!
   
Insofar as our state universities are salvageable, Horowitz’s campaign for academic rights may be their best hope. And the story he tells in Reforming Our Universities, of the progress and setbacks in that campaign, is certainly worth reading for anyone with an interest in current campus politics. Let’s cheer David Horowitz on as he confronts the contradictions of the twenty-first-century American university. But let’s also consider whether our own children and grandchildren might benefit from education in institutions that are frankly devoted to transmitting values—including the value of intellectual inquiry—to the next generation.

(Conservative Book Club and Regnery Press are sister companies of Human Events.)


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