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Wingnuts brings us no closer to the middle
on April 19, 2010
Avlon has his heart in the right place, but the execution misses the mark. When bookshelves are dominated by legitimate wingnuts, its refreshing to see this book, calling for what essentially amounts to a third-party, one not beholden to irrational extremists. Millions of independents are waiting for a group of intellectual leaders preaching moderation and rationality. I certainly appreciate Avlon as he attempts to lead the charge.
Content-wise, I found the first half of the book uninspired. He spends endless pages quoting the nutcases he finds at rallies and town halls. Sadly, he adds little of his own insight. The net effect is that you feel like you're at a zoo, marveling at curious creatures from a distance. Fine, but we've all been exposed to these "wing-nuts" on television (either put into positive light by Fox News or cast as morons by MSNBC). If you're politically aware enough to pick up this book, you're already aware of all of its contents. This book is essentially a series of conceits, an opportunity to look down on the Sarah Palin's and Glenn Beck's of the world in order to feel some sense of moral superiority. When Avlon DOES come up with his own hypothesis, it is merely a rehash of Paul Krugman's theory that Republicanism has devolved into racial fear-mongering (to be fair to Avlon, he only really pins this generalization on the new fringe of conservatives). I wasn't impressed when Krugman wrote his political theory, and I'm not impressed now.
Stylistically, I understand what the Daily Beast is doing. They want to translate a series of blog articles into the print world, increasing the speed of publication, allowing on-topic books to hit the shelves while they're still pertinent, while gaining some intellectual capital. This didn't work for me. The chapters FELT like blog posts, meant to generate google hits, Diggs, Facebook mentions and reTweets, but not necessarily to form air-tight arguments. Whenever Avlon threw out a half-baked conjecture, I instinctively looked for a comment box below to vent my frustation. His thoughts needed more time to develop, as well as real discussions with a series of editors.
I respect Mr. Avlon and wish him the best. Hopefully, his next effort will put more of an emphasis on a new direction the country can take, and can offer something positive, instead of taking snipes from a distance.