4.20.2010

Terri at the Tea Party: A review of "What Sex is a Republican?"

Bloggers are in the opinion business, with no apparent ethics or professionalism required. Often, bloggers vent from the shadows and attack others for sheer enjoyment. On rare occasions, you may find a blogger who has credible things to say, but overall, stick with Reuters or the Wall Street Journal as credible news sources.
An odd collection of political books stands in one corner of my bookshelf. There is Joe Trippi's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised -- in which he told us all how to win elections using the Internet, fresh off of Dean's implosion. Best is a signed copy Robert Burrows's The Great American Parade, attained at a College Democrats state convention I attended. So my curiosity was piqued when Terri McCormick's publisher sent me an e-mail asking if I'd review her book, What Sex is a Republican?

Spoiler alert: The political gender referred to in What Sex is a Republican? has no biological or anatomical designation. Rather, it refers to a silent coup -- a class warfare unlike any others. If you enjoy that mangling of the English language, read on!

*full disclaimer: I did not read the appendices, and make no assumptions as to the quality thereof.*



It is very clear that Terri McCormick wants to tap into the Tea Party. If it was her choice, she'd be at that tiny table right now, pouring out tasty imaginary beverages to all the good grassroots integrity leaders (a term she makes up and then forgets about in the course of her 312-page book -- I'm not sure where Playground Politics gets 344). I'm sure her tea is wonderful.

Her book, however, is not. Instead, it's a tangled knot of malapropisms, bizarro-world logic, and slipshod advice. There is, for example, her insistence on the idea that "normal" politicians are absolutely, hopelessly incapable of doing anything independently. New politicians are ordered about by the establishment. The establishment itself seems to be directed by some odd coercive agency that isn't ever made clear. Corporations alternately control everything or are totally at the mercy of a malicious government. Nobody has any agency, no one has any free will. Take the story of Paul Ryan, as McCormick tells it. It's worth excerpting at some length:
I was wrong; merit and accomplishment would have nothing to do with our meeting... His shakedown skills were reminiscent of the guttural scenes from the movie Gangs of New York.

Ryan aimed his questions in a young-gun accusatory fashion: "Who are ya? Why are you here? Who do you work for? Vito? Hah-- the congressman from New York? I'm going to give him a call."

That day in 2005 Ryan appeared to be a brash political animal, operating out of fear and survival. Something was motivating him and I was about to find out what it was. Ryan was a member of the political class, a typical insider...

...My opponent's wife was a former appointee of a GOP governor. She evidently had enough authority to give orders to Congressman Ryan.
It's a rotten hit. It suggests there could be no possible motive for opposing the good and pure McCormick -- only base, craven cowardliness. There can be no independent though, no fair analysis. I call it the Palin effect: everyone who is against me must be part of some evil system of "old-style" politics. It's the loser as perpetual victim. She sums it up elsewhere, and typically misses the point: "vetting" doesn't mean nearly what she thinks it does. Here, a good-guy lobbyist (good because he supports Terri) tells her how Madison (den of villainy that that city is) works:
"It begins with the staffers, Terri. They recruit these staffers when they are young; they get something on them, 'vetting them.' They hold these secrets over their heads and threaten their jobs and their families to keep them in line."
That brings us to the broader difficulty with McCormick's book, and my mention of the Tea Party: McCormick would style herself as a populist, except she really has no idea what that means, and no understanding of the implications. She rails against "plug-and-play politicians" and "retail politics" (another word she doesn't seem to understand). "Staff run offices" are also sinister! For Terri, anyone she happens to like is suddenly a "populist." Anyone she doesn't like is just a tired reiteration of "elitism." Only a populist can have good ideas and get things done in Terri's world and therefore, anyone with anything Terri thinks is a good idea (which at various points includes both John McCain and Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy) is a populist.

And that's the trouble. There's no understanding of the dangers of straight populism, untempered by informed policy and cohesive ideology. There's no mention of the demagoguery and the pitchforks at night, no worry that people can go too far. There's no thought given to the tyranny of the majority, to the populist histories of the Latin American dictators or African strongmen promising everything to everyone, or even to the problems with unions and the populist socialism of Depression-era America. Transparency and a common touch are good, and the Republican Party has clearly gotten away from its roots, but there are benefits to having technocrats in office, too, of electing people who have experience and a depth of knowledge -- indeed, Paul Ryan is a pretty good example of a very effective leader who has solid ideas, and Terri doesn't recognize that to her own detriment.

But ramping up for a campaign in which the Tea Party is very clearly going to be a factor, Terri wants to cozy up, to be part, to run with the cool kids. She wants to position herself as the smart, hip chick who's going to be effective in office despite her lack of resume; she wrote a book, after all! One wonders if the effort is entirely transparent...