Books for Conservatives in Time for Christmas

Given recent events, we may be tempted to forget about politics for a while to better enjoy Christmas with our families. But now is exactly the wrong time to give up the fight. A bevy of new books offer conservatives insight, inspiration, and new energy for the coming battles we must win.

In Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, Robert Spencer once again succeeds in cutting right to the heart of the threat that Islam poses. “Forget ‘Why do they hate us?’” he advises. “The real question is ‘What do they want?’” And Christopher Horner, author of the bestselling Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming, returns this season with Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed. Below are eight short recommendations for more books that are perfect for conservatives this Christmas.

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New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America
By Burton Folsom

In a political environment in which we’re hearing calls for “a new New Deal,” Burton Folsom lays out the case against the original. The circumstances that prevailed in the early 1930s bear some striking resemblances to our own: a historic market collapse, dire prospects for the economy as a whole, the last weeks in office for a despised Republican President who engaged in unprecedented economic interventionism. It’s also been noted that Barack Obama resembles FDR in some remarkable ways: especially in the “first-class temperament” that allowed Obama to remain unflappable through the recent campaign.

Obama’s Overconfidence

We can all hope that President Obama’s temperamental advantage may make up for some of his deficits in experience and sound principles — especially in foreign affairs. After all, even fierce critics of the New Deal find much to applaud in Roosevelt’s World War II leadership. But there’s good reason to fear that Barack Obama’s serene confidence in his own judgment may do us more harm than good. Thomas Sowell’s pre-election column summed up the case against Obama in these devastating words: “Barack Obama has the kind of cocksure confidence that can be achieved only by not achieving anything else. Anyone who has actually had to take responsibility for consequences by running any kind of enterprise — whether economic or academic, or even just managing a sports team — is likely at some point to be chastened by either the setbacks brought on by his own mistakes or by seeing his successes followed by negative consequences that he never anticipated.”

FDR, Folsom’s fascinating account makes clear, was exactly the kind of President that Sowell fears Obama will be. Inexperienced in business and lacking knowledge and even interest in financial affairs, Roosevelt fearlessly plunged into “bold, persistent experimentation” on the U.S. economy. His scapegoating of Republicans and businessmen created financial uncertainty and prolonged the Depression. But it helped Roosevelt build a coalition that allowed him to win reelection for unprecedented third and fourth terms — and to cement a political realignment still operating today. Folsom documents the appalling abuses of power that emerged in an environment shaped by economic disaster (on the one hand) and by Roosevelt’s political genius (on the other): FDR’s irresponsible monkeying with the currency and with the price of gold, small businessmen thrown into jail when their need to earn a living collided with government schemes to keep prices and wages artificially high, the creation of massive new entitlements whose unintended consequences continue to plague us today. Let us hope and pray that the parallels with our current situation turn out to be only superficial.

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Liberty vs. the Tyranny of Socialism: Controversial Essays
By Walter Williams

This new collection of columns by Walter Williams (Whose work often appears in HUMAN EVENTS) will delight liberty-loving readers — plus anyone who simply enjoys watching a fine polemicist make a great argument. Williams specializes in cutting through cant, political correctness, and polite nonsense. Whether he’s writing about the founders’ ideas about democracy (they didn’t think much of it, for some cogent reasons that Williams does a superb job of setting out in one wonderful column); how the U.S. government has repeatedly broken its promises on Social Security (you won’t believe what they were guaranteeing in 1936), or why the Greatest Generation wasn’t really all that great. (“Tragically, the greatest generation did not instill in their children what their parents instilled in them”), Williams gets right to the heart of the matter.

And his columns are enormous fun to read. Longtime fans are familiar with the Walter Williams style, a kind of distillation of a master teacher’s down-to-earth dialogue with his students. “Guess who’s creating the debt instruments that foreigners hold?” he asks. “If you said our profligate Congress, go to the head of the class.”

There’s one heartbreaking note in this generally upbeat collection. In his acknowledgements, Williams refers to the recent death of his wife of 48 years. Readers of his column, who are used to the author’s regular references to “Mrs. Williams,” whom her husband very obviously had delighted in, teased, and respected for a lifetime, will be saddened to read, “I have never had so much sorrow or been as lonely.”

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Lessons on Liberty: A Primer for Young Patriots
By Peter A. Lillback and Judy Mitchell

As editor of the Conservative Book Club, I read through mountains of publishers’ catalogues every year. And one sad thing I’ve learned from them is that children’s publishing is in even worse shape (from the conservative point of view) than book publishing in general. Actually, maybe I should say “had confirmed” rather than “learned.” Before I was an editor, I was a stay-at-home mom, taking my little boy to the library — and regularly dismayed by the selection of books on offer there. There was plenty of cultural diversity, plus stories in which children learned to live with divorce or overcame racism or bullying. There seemed to be very little that was patriotic or respectful of the wisdom of the past, and even less in those categories that I’d call really substantive.

Lessons on Liberty is refreshingly different from that standard fare. One unusual virtue of this book is its richness. It makes other patriotic children’s books seem bland and bleached in comparison. Visual abundance isn’t difficult to find in children’s books—beginning with Richard Scarry’s clever books for small children. Lessons on Liberty is similarly full of things to look at. But they’re things in a rich variety of visual styles, from the new drawings by Judy Mitchell to reproductions of 18th-Century portraits to colorful state flags to the architectural plan of the Supreme Court.

And that visual abundance is matched by verbal abundance, a much rarer find. The authors have excerpted manageable, child-sized chunks of important texts from America’s past — the King James Version of the Bible, Poor Richard’s Almanac, and the 1828 edition (before it was scrubbed of Christian elements) of Noah Webster’s dictionary — to create a wonderful environment in which the reader is exposed to features of classic American patriotism, erudition, religiosity, and responsibility that have now fallen out of style. If you’re trying to raise old-fashioned, independent, red-blooded Americans — a project made increasingly difficult by our taxed and regulated times, not to mention by the Leftists who run our schools — this is the Christmas present for them.

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Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations
Edited by Richard Langforth

Churchill is one of those great historical figures whose public accomplishments and fascinating lives have inspired innumerable biographies. But Churchill books almost always disappoint. It’s nearly impossible for a biographer to be as interesting to read as Churchill is. In Churchill by Himself, Richard Langforth gives us the great man’s own great words, both spoken and written, across the course of his remarkable career and across the scope of the enormous variety of subjects on which he had interesting things to say. Sir Martin Gilbert, who has written the preface to this volume, describes the delights of reading Churchill: “I am continually surprised by the truth of his assertions, the modernity of his thought, the originality of his mind, the constructiveness of his proposals, his humanity, and, most remarkable of all, his foresight.”

Churchill was a truly extraordinary man. He was a genius of a politician in opposition. When he was out of power his invective against the government was splendidly devastating. (Consider, to give an almost trivial example, the famous “boneless wonder” speech.) And yet — most unusually for any composer of powerful Philippics, from Demosthenes on down to modern times — once Churchill was in power, he proved that he was also a genius in command.

This compendium can be taken in great gulps of refreshment, admiration, and education. Or you can treat it as one of those classic nightstand treasures, a book a little like Boswell’s Life of Johnson, with bite-sized bits of interest and profit — selections organized in such categories as “The Immortal Words,” “Anecdotes and Stories,” “Education,” “Political Theory and Practice,” and “Churchill Clairvoyant” — on every page.

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The 10 Big Lies about America: Combating Destructive Distortions about Our Country

By Michael Medved

Hard-punching Michael Medved takes on myths about America — including some that even conservatives fall for.

Most of the distortions are perpetrated by the Left: that we’re “uniquely guilty” of slavery, that “America’s founding brought genocide to Native Americans,” and so forth. These beefs will be familiar to conservatives. Some of the details, though, will be new — and quite striking. Just picture the Thanksgiving lesson in one third-grade classroom: The teacher wore a construction-paper Pilgrim hat, grabbed the children’s backpacks and school supplies, and announced they were now his because he had “discovered” them.

But Medved also addresses delusions shared by some on the Right — most interestingly, the perennial faith that third parties are an effective platform for ideas (including conservative ideas) shut out by our two-party system. Medved’s got logic and a number of telling historical examples on his side. And his argument on this subject is particularly timely after an election in which numerous highly articulate freedom- and Constitution-loving Americans were heard to explain that they would be making protest votes for third-party candidates.

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Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America
By Mike Huckabee

In the aftermath of McCain’s losing presidential bid, it’s natural to wonder whether some other — and more conservative — Republican contender might not have been able to win the 2008 election. In Do the Right Thing, Mike Huckabee tells the story of his little-engine-that-almost-could campaign for the nomination and, mostly indirectly, makes the case for himself as a Republican contender in the future.

In the primaries, Huckabee horrified some of the same people who tend to run screaming at the sight of Sarah Palin. Remember that scary, scary image of a cross in Huckabee’s Christmas ad? (Actually, it was just a piece of a bookshelf that reflected light into the camera.) Frankly, I never could understand why that supposed subliminal image could be more frightening to anyone than the overt message of the ad. Huckabee was defying political correctness to wish Americans a Merry Christmas from his platform as a serious contender for the Republican nomination for President. The movement that’s succeeding in pushing religion out of the public square, inch by inch, had to consider that a frustrating setback.

The debate is already raging fiercely. Did conservatives lose the election because the “God, guns, and babies” wing of the Republican Party got so much TV time that it scared the rest of the America? Or would we have done better with someone at the top of the ticket more comfortable with those very themes? Where does “social conservatism” fit in the Republican Party of the future? Mike Huckabee and this book are an important part of that conversation.

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Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers
By Carl J. Richard

It’s a casualty of the American Founding Fathers’ success, Carl Richard argues, that the Founders themselves replaced their own heroes for future generations of Americans. We know Washington and Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. But we don’t know Leonidas and Pericles, Horatio and Cincinnatus, Fabius Maximus and Scipio Africanus as they did. That lack is our loss, Richard ably demonstrates in this engaging account of what the founding generation knew about the classical world.

The education that that first generation of Americans received — its rigor, its depth, its breadth — helps explain how they were able to make the American Revolution (a revolution almost unique in world history in its benign consequences) and to craft the spectacularly successful American Constitution. Sadly, the difference between what they learned then and what American children learn today helps explain why we have fallen short in maintaining the institutions the Founders bequeathed us. For them the works of Thucydides, Livy, and the rest were the great textbooks of human nature and political economy. The histories of Greece and Rome taught the Founding Fathers what greatness was possible in human affairs and — even more important — what was hopelessly and dangerously utopian.

Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts has its imperfections. Richard seems to have caught (thankfully, mild) cases of two intellectual diseases prevalent in our time: the modern tendency toward adulation of democracy, and the postmodern habit of chalking people’s opinions up to their circumstances. He tends to discount the Founders’ criticism of democracy as a product of their social class. For my money, the death of Socrates at the whim of the Athenian mob is evidence from which any reasonable person — 18th-century aristocrat or no — could deduce inherent problems in pure democracy. But despite its limitations, this book is well worth owning. Beyond showing what kind of education the Founders had and sketching out how it shaped their own accomplishments, it serves as an introduction to the kind of education that most of us have missed out on — and reminds us that it’s never too late to get started.

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Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution — and What It Means for Americans Today
By Thomas DiLorenzo

The neocon vs. paleocon split within the conservative movement has brought new attention to a long-past political divide — the enmity between the Federalists and Democratic Republicans in the early years of our Republic. Especially to right-wing opponents of the Bush Administration — folks who approve of neither the war in Iraq nor the expansion of government under our current President — Alexander Hamilton looks like the villain of the Revolutionary Era, and Jefferson looks like the hero.

Thomas DiLorenzo, whose previous books include How Capitalism Saved America and Lincoln Unmasked, weighs in on the paleocon-Jeffersonian side of the argument with this exposé of Alexander Hamilton. In DiLorenzo’s telling, Hamilton is the imperialist, big-government conservative who sowed the seeds of destruction at America’s founding. Without Hamilton and later politicians of his stripe, there would never have been, for example, an income tax — or a World War II.

You don’t have to agree entirely with the case against Hamilton-style national-greatness conservatism (or with DiLorenzo’s almost unqualified admiration for Jefferson — whose enthusiasm for frequently refreshing the tree of liberty with blood might also give one pause) to thoroughly enjoy this retelling of America’s first political clash. There is truth in DiLorenzo’s brief against Hamilton. It is entirely accurate that the powers that Hamilton and the other Federalists won for the federal government have been abused — often in the very ways the Jeffersonians warned they would be. We can deplore those abuses, and even the fact that the national government has those powers. But we can also marvel, once again, at the remarkable geniuses (Jefferson, Hamilton, and the rest) whose shifting enmities and alliances somehow gave us the best form of government and the most flourishing republic the world has seen.