Customer Reviews: Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge
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on June 20, 2004
The recent death of Ronald Reagan inspired many recollections of the former President's remarkable talent for disagreeing without being disagreeable. Even his fiercest political opponents found him to be an amiable man who did not take political differences in a personal fashion. Sadly, politics today is played by a different set of rules. To see how the game is played today, one need only start with a current list of some of the bestselling books from either side of the political spectrum. Bookstore shelves yield discordant titles such as DELIVER US FROM EVIL: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism by Sean Hannity; BIG LIES by Joe Conason; TREASON: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter; and THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE: Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy by David Brock. These are just a few of the representative titles found in the politics section.
STAND UP, FIGHT BACK by E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a call to arms to those people who, regardless of political views, are troubled by the fiercely personal nature of American politics and the growing tendency to make every political debate partisan. Dionne worries that one side in the current political climate, liberals and progressives, have lost the will to fight for traditional principles supported by the vast majority of Americans. The current political atmosphere, Dionne argues, is damaging not only to democracy but also to important political institutions as well.
At other moments in our history, revenge has been an important theme in American political life. From the era of Andrew Jackson to the post-Civil War period to the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy, American politics has experienced cycles in which each side depends for victory more on mobilizing its loyalists than persuading the uncommitted. So divided are we along party and ideological lines that we cannot even agree on what event triggered the current cycle of revenge. Some believe it started with Watergate, others point to the confirmation battles over Supreme Court nominees, and still others would suggest that the Clinton Wars were the commencement of the battle. Regardless of when the struggle began, there has been no peace in American politics for many years.
One of Dionne's core themes in STAND UP, FIGHT BACK is that an opportunity was squandered to once again unite the country and create a better political atmosphere in America. After September 11th, President Bush had the opportunity to reunite the country. Indeed, for a brief period of time, the country was unified. But instead of building upon that opportunity to avoid divisive politics, President Bush chose to divide the country on issues such as homeland security, tax cuts and the war in Iraq. Dionne firmly believes that historians will not judge the President well for his conduct.
But Dionne does not limit his disapproval to the right wing of American politics. Liberals and progressives have both been unable to articulate an agenda to advance their political positions and unwilling to engage in the same tactics that have brought success to the Republicans in Washington. Recent events do seem to suggest that Democrats now appear willing to engage the right wing in a more vigorous fashion. In this current election year, candidate John Kerry has not been reluctant to respond in kind to attacks on his record and his patriotism. Democrats know all too well that the failure to respond quickly and vigorously to these types of attacks often results in defeat at the polls.
Still, strong words and a backbone are only part of what progressives need to succeed in order to once again become the majority in American politics. Dionne spends a great deal of his book discussing tired and useless arguments that liberals and moderates cannot seem to avoid and new arguments that they should start making. He calls these two areas "The Wrong Stuff" and "The Right Stuff." The discussion here is illuminating because Dionne destroys several myths and stereotypes of American politics, including issues such as deficit spending, judicial activism, big government and national defense. All too often, liberals have run from these debates. If they stood up and engaged conservatives on these issues, Dionne maintains that those voters who occupy the middle of the political spectrum would join their cause.
STAND UP, FIGHT BACK is a well-written and thought-provoking call to arms to those people who feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Much of what Dionne has written here he has espoused before in his regular columns on the editorial pages of the Washington Post. Dionne is a prescient observer of American politics. The sad fact about most political books is that they sway very few opinions or change very few minds. It is sad because E. J. Dionne offers a wise statement of what will best serve the future course of America's well being, and all sides of the political debate would do well to heed his advice.
--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
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on July 30, 2004
E.J. Dionne is a mild-mannered, highly erudite Oxford graduate who pens reflective and intelligent political opinion pieces for the Washington Post. This book is a wakeup call to liberal-progressives that the battle so long thought lost by so many is far from that; the seeds for victory are at hand as long as the case is correctly made.

Dionne tackles the proposition that, because of a well-financed Republican spin machine, which has sought to demonize the word "liberal" and put forward the proposition that those who follow the philosophy's principles are misguided or worse, too many progressives have backed away from the fight and often taken apologetic positions. Dionne believes that any posture of defensiveness should be abandoned for an aggressive campaign. Dionne points out that, while moral fiber and patriotism are trotted out as staple Republican core values, the record tells a different story in instances where tax cuts are sought to please a wealthy coterie of party supporters and traditional beliefs about war and peace are turned upside down by neoconservatives who all too frequently seek to attack first and ask questions later.

A reporter who took the Howard Dean movement seriously from the beginning and was on the scene during key periods of the Vermont populist's presidential campaign, Dionne quickly noted that the fresh new face on the block was attracting a large support base by tackling the issues and asserting hard-core progressive positions on taxation, health care, and the environment. While Dean might not have won even one primary, Dionne was perceptive enough to notice that other more successful Democratic candidates, including John Kerry, began adopting a position of "We're fed up and we're not gonna take it anymore" rather than the more vanilla brand of "play it safe" politics earlier prevailing. By being afraid to tackle the bloated Republican special interest culture the twin dangers of 1) losing voters to the sidelines through apathy, or 2) losing them to Ralph Nader and Green Party candidates based on conviction are more likely to be realized. A solid agenda needs to be projected to counter an increasingly sharpening rightist Republican tilt. As Dionne notes, when this happens people become engaged, as was the case with the Dean movement.

Dionne believes, as does conservative political author Kevin Phillips, that the Republicans have abandoned the vital center. While they attempt to attack Democrats as being out of step with mainstream American voters, Dionne believes that the opposite is true, that the Democrats have the vital American center in reachable co-opting distance, and what is needed is the resolute tenacity and clarity of message to take control of mainstream America at the polls. Dionne argues that it is time to stop being timid and come forward with alternative proposals to a current Republican philosophy of hard core rightist rigidity that is a far cry from the conservatism of Senator Robert Taft and the centrist Republicanism of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
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on June 14, 2004
In addition to delivering a insightful view of where the left and right are today, Dionne offers a slogan the Democrats (and yes, liberals) wold be wise to use: "Patriotic Progessives."
For too long, conservatives have pushed the center to the right and railed against those who have dared disagree or didn't reflexively fall in line.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 3, 2004
E.J. Dionne is a levelheaded and experienced Democrat and here he tempers his criticism of the Republican Party's harmful policies with deeper examinations of how the Democrats have failed to remain part of the scene and to stand up for their own ideals. The root of both problems is the current American political climate of revenge and power grabs, rather than the constructive advancement of strong ideas. Dionne realizes, much better than most of this year's political writers, that the arrogance and unyielding ideology of the Bush camp is really just a symptom of the current political culture.

Dionne does a great job pointing out the ridiculous double standards employed by the Republicans. Examples include calling even the mildest criticism of Bush unpatriotic even though Republicans continuously heaped far worse on Clinton; claiming populism while slavishly kowtowing to corporations and wealthy campaign contributors; or piling on rhetoric against "big government" at home while acting in Iraq as the most heavy-handed government the world has ever seen. But Dionne also has plenty of constructive criticism for the hugely disappointing failure of the Democrats in opposing the relentless push of far-right conservatism, not just in politics but also economics, moral values, media, and even language. The Democrats have failed to present a united front (as can be seen in the vastly different behavior of the two parties during the Florida recount travesty of 2000), are afraid to stand up for their own beliefs, are prone to watering down their agenda to avoid Republican name-calling such as "liberal" or "un-American," and have failed to inspire the large percentage of Americans looking for an alternative to the elitist policies of the neo-conservatives.

I agree with some other reviewers that anyone concerned about the performance of the Democratic Party should read this book. This will both encourage strength in those interested in America's (now dormant) tradition of progressivism, and shed light on the faults and weaknesses of the Republicans. The only problem with this book is a rather irritating know-it-all attitude, as Dionne often throws around stipulations like "most Americans feel..." or " the majority believes..." with little indication of how he knows this. Dionne is certainly in tune with the electorate, but I suspect that he may be relying on inaccurate polling data just like those more out-of touch politicos from both sides. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on June 19, 2004
Dear Mary Beth Cahill,
As a supporter of the Kerry campaign, I ask that you assign this book to all of the staffers and take E.J. Dionne's analysis and suggestions to heart. I've been sitting back in Wisconsin and watching this campaign unfold, and while I believe that things are going pretty well, I feel that we could be doing better. "Stand Up and Fight" should be adopted as a manual for the Kerry campaign, and other Democratic campaigns across the country.
In Stand Up and Fight, Dionne makes several points that I think you would do well to pay close attention to: 1.) as Democrats we are allowing the opposition to frame the issues that matter, we are adopting their language. 2.) We are not doing a good job of presenting our arguments: poll after poll reveals that the American people agree with us on issue after issue; if they do not know that they agree with us, it's our fault and it's a huge problem. 3.) Most importantly, we need to adapt our arguments for the 21st century and we should not apologize for our past. As liberals we are by nature tinkerers, some of our experiments have gone awry: megalithic public housing projects, for example, seem to have been a failure. However, it's our principles that matter and they are good, American principles. We should acknowledge that large housing projects like Cabrini Green in Chicago were a bad idea, but we should stand by the principles that lead us to try them out.
I urge anyone involved in or interested in Democratic politics to read this book and to read it ASAP. Time is of the essence, and while I wish that Mr. Dionne's publisher had been able to get this book out earlier, I am deeply grateful that it came out in time for it to make a difference.
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on July 14, 2006
This was not your typical liberal, foam at the mouth, Bush-bashing/hating propaganda piece from the left. I was a youthfully naive Democrat in the 70s and then grew up and had to deal with real life. Dionne made me yearn for my younger days when things were a bit more idealistic and not so caustic. However, he didn't make me yearn too long for those days, but he did give me pause while reading the book. Not too bad for a lefty!
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on September 8, 2014
Somewhat outdated but still worth reading by the Washington Post staffer.
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VINE VOICEon September 5, 2006
After the 2004 presidential election when John Kerry went down to defeat I was angry. Not so much at the Republican electorate who seemed bizarrely awed by a man who was clearly not up to the job of presidency. Republican's, after all, are going to vote Republican. No, I was angry with Democrats and Progressives who couldn't or wouldn't support their candidate as loyally as Republican's supported their own. E. J. Dionne quotes one Democrat who said, "They seem to believe more in their ideas than we do in ours". I was angry that John Kerry ran such an uninspiring campaign that, to the casual observer, seemed to barely distinguish itself from the current president. The author writes, "The Democrats lost in 2002 because Bush - and Rove - were much tougher than they were, much smarter in the issues they chose. Republicans had passion and conviction." The book came out prior to the 2004 election but Mr. Dionne's statement was just as applicable in that election as it was in 2002.

Stand Up, Fight Back is another book that asks why the Democrats keep losing elections and what progressives can do to improve their fortunes. The publication date was back in 2004 and it's looking more and more like the Republican's are simply going to implode without much help from Democrats. However, even if the current conservative trend is dealt a heavy blow, progressives and liberals need to learn why and how conservatives were able to rise to power in the first place. The modern conservative movement developed during the golden age of liberalism and took a long term approach to rebuilding credibility. Conservatives spent millions on creating institutions to develop, hone and disseminate ideas. The author writes, "conservative foundations were `institution builders' liberal foundations were merely `project supporters'. Conservatives were able to get a lot more bang for their buck when it came to reshaping the political landscape because they weren't concerned with anything except changing opinions. The author gives a laundry list of ideas on how progressives can counter conservatives in the arena of ideas. Winning elections without changing perceptions is only a short term fix.

I have to give E. J. Dionne credit for showing a rare level of common sense. From countering the claims of those who believe in the perfection of the market to explaining how a strong government is necessary to ensure freedom the author is right on the money. If there is one quote that I'll take away from this book it's the following, "It [United States] is a middle-class nation that wants the poor to rise and the rich to know they will be respected as long as they don't seek to dominate". We are in the midst of one of, if not the most, brazen power grab by wealth in the history of this country. The Republican's have chosen their side and the Democrats really REALLY need to shed their timidity and present themselves as the opposition party truly defending the middle class and poor.
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on July 9, 2004
This is a very easy-to-read work and it addresses a lot of questions I have had about the persisting limp-wristedness of the Democrats. It tries very hard to be non-partisan (though Dionne is a professed liberal) and he asks a lot of questions begging to be answered by both sides of the political spectrum.
I only wish it could have been a little more scholarly and in depth. Nonetheless it was a pleasure to read.
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on August 6, 2004
Clear, insightful, E.J. Dionne puts things together that you may have had a gut feeling about, but haven't actually thought thru.
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