Most helpful critical review
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I wish Joan Walsh understood both sides
on June 20, 2013
First, thanks to Joan Walsh for being relatively frank (for a TV type) about her political background and therefore baggage. I wish that she taken a moment to spell out what the various key leftist talk items mean to her... I mean I could say "class war" and "working class" and quite possibly mean something very different from her. There are many examples of fuzzy 'movement terms', and if you can't read Joan's mind, you are out of luck if you care what it 'precisely' means. Also, the historical sections on the Black Irish were new to me... I had not heard the story every told quite so concisely and personally. Read this book (at least the first several chapters) to get this story, which has been overlooked in many, many other books that discuss American History.
The book has convinced me that Joan still, after all these years and no doubt endless pummeling by conservative commentators who she evidently did not listen to, cannot come up with a convincing list of why on earth anyone (other than the rich elites) would even consider voting Republican. Her go-tos are the obvious 'have vs. have not', various racial divides, etc. And none of these are convincing for Joan to believe that the motivation for voting Republican is anything other than fear... of having to give up one's social privilege ... etc. Hmmm. On this point, the book seems profoundly poorly researched, somewhat like the people who pontificate about the motivations of Al Queda (destroy our freedom?) without ever studying their rhetoric to get at what is really motivating them (preservation of the traditional family?).
At many points during this book and was scratching my head at her seeming life long failure to understand Republican motivations and intentions. If it really were a face value matter of voting to further enrich rich elites, then the Republicans would get about 1% of the vote and that would be the last we heard from them. There just has to be much more to the story beyond the politics of fear, which is equally applicable as a motivator on the Democrat side. What about "Makers vs. Takers"? How about the basic story of what motivates humans to do something useful vs. do something fun vs. do something harmful? What about 'a competitive world is better than a monopoly world' angle? (This latter view motivates both de-regulation and anti-statism) Don't look for anything like this in this book.
Joan thinks that it is high justice for coalition builders to string together a bunch of narrow interest groups to vote in the democrats, somehow missing that this is cynical and Machiavellian at best, given that the whole point is to advantage one group (of groups) vs. others. She seems to never have considered that "social justice" in practice means a mechanism for power to deliver individual injustice. Check into Nazi social justice regarding Jews, Gypsies, etc. Thinking and talking about social groups create dog-eat-dog dynamics with a huge burden of name-calling. Justice is a singular thing, and it exists only in context and that context is created only by individuals, choices and relationships.
Not that I am a Republican! I have worked hard to understand Rs and Ds, and the Rs have their severe blind spots, often revolving around property and money. Math (real rates of return) eventually drives all wealth into the pockets of those with assets attracting real rates of return, so the 'redistribution problem' is not only real but a consequence of the 'physics of money'. So concentration of wealth and power is a chronic problem in human history, and at the root of much conflict. The Democrats at least seem to get this.
But what about Joan? She's confused. And somewhat clueless beyond the old labels, categories and politics. And the reader? Annoyed that they spent so much time with someone who is not really that good of an analyst. Maybe Joan is good enough for Salon and TV, a depressing thought. Too bad this level of political discussion is so typical on all sides... lots of stuff being decried but not much of the hard project specifics that get everyone excited and on board.
This books three stars because of the Black-Irish story and the fact that it adds value to typical talking head commentary, which I suppose it is all of our fates to get stuck watching every now and then.