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Now or Never: Getting Down to the Business of Saving Our American Dream Hardcover – March 1, 2009
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
From Publishers Weekly
In the irascible style of his on-air CNN soap box The Cafferty Files, veteran political reporter and talking head Cafferty (It's Getting Ugly Out There) delivers an uncompromising account of George W. Bush's presidency and the current state of affairs in the U.S., focusing on the invasion of Iraq and the insider deals between the Bush/Cheney administration and corporations like Exxon and Enron. Also scrutinized is Bush's lackadaisical attitude toward the growing threat of inner Afghanistan turmoil, the brittle relationship between the U.S. and China, and new class warfare in a cratering economy. Perhaps more importantly, Cafferty recaps the 2008 presidential election, addressing the strategies that lost McCain-Palin the presidency and the cascade of problems Obama has inherited. The stolid Cafferty even takes an occasional step back from politics to offer glimpses of his family and his own climb to success, a personal touch that should surprise Caffety's fans almost as much as his sincere belief in a coming turn for the better.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Inside Flap
In this take-no-prisoners survey of a nation in the grip of multiple crises, Cafferty turns his unflinching sights on what needs to go right in President Obama's first term. Putting his own signature stamp on Obama's campaign slogan, he tells the charismatic new leader that this is a time for "change we will believe in when we see it."
Cafferty applies his heat-seeking scrutiny to the hot-button issues that will top the 2009 agenda, including the continuing economic and energy crises, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, the global war on terror, and our broken immigration, education, and healthcare systems, as well as other issues of domestic and international instability. He cuts through the spin and the blame games to reveal the truth about how these disasters happened and what we should expect our new president to do about them. He also offers ways we can monitor whether the new administration is really turning things around or just settling into its own version of business as usual.
While Cafferty certainly pulls no punches when detailing the misdeeds of Bush, Paulson, and the usual Republican suspects, he is, as always, an equal-opportunity critic of the rich, powerful, and complacent in both parties. He goes after the Democratic Party (examining its fiercely contested primary campaign), Nancy Pelosi, the ACLU, and causes beloved by liberals that he believes may threaten America's future.
One of Cafferty's most valuable skills is his ability to connect big-picture politics with the realities of day-to-day life for most Americans. Through moving stories of his experiences struggling to raise his own kids with values that seem to be disappearing in our culture, he brings seemingly abstract issues down to earth and reveals why they should matter to every citizen.
Jack Cafferty's distinctive combination of skepticism, patriotism, and caustic wit has long given voice to the fears and hopes of people from all around the country. In Now or Never, he joins the majority of Americans in offering President Obama his full support along with profound wishes for the new administration's success. On the other hand, should Obama be tempted at any point to emulate his predecessor's arrogance and try to hoodwink the great American middle class, he should remember: Jack Cafferty is watching.
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But like most reporters, he doesn't know what to do. So his critique has no teeth. He doesn't fully understand what's wrong. He's correct to be angry. Yet I really can't fault him for his lack of knowledge because he hasn't had time to reflect, to think deeply, to understand history or political philosophy, to take a step back and see the larger picture. He's been too busy watching the news ticker. He's a mental prisoner to the thousands of images from TV news stories flashing by at light-speed through his mind that he's lost perspective on the underlying problems. His book should be a warning to people about the dangerous effects of watching too much television news -- it can impair mental function.
As a result, "Now or Never" is old news with a caustic attitude. It's like rewinding news headlines from the past eight years with Mr. Cafferty's caustic commentary inserted. Sometimes he quotes his own on-air exchanges with sources, but it's hard for readers to see why such exchanges are relevant. He's correct that former President Bush should have been impeached, and I applaud him for making this declaration; others have made similar statements. But there is little intelligent analysis in his book about how to handle educational issues or cope with immigration (he's opposed -- "just enforce the law" he writes). He fails to understand terrorism and how it relates to foreign policy; for example, he touches on the issue of Afghanistan without serious discussion about legalizing narcotics. He doesn't have a good handle on the debt problem. He hasn't done his homework. It's good to recycle newspapers, but Mr. Cafferty is trying to recycle the news itself -- to replay old stories as if they're important this very minute.
Mr. Cafferty hopes President Obama will "take care of us, and be our Daddy". But expecting the president to solve our problems for us is a mistake. Sharp non-partisan thinkers such as Dana D. Nelson, author of "Bad for Democracy", faults the public for expecting the president to do all of the heavy lifting of democracy while remaining aloof from politics. Other thinkers such as Benjamin Ginsberg, author of "The American Lie", warn of an excessively powerful presidency. Constitutional scholars such as Kevin R. C. Gutzman, author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution" note serious flaws in our legal system. Mr. Cafferty is not in their league. He writes much, says little. He's a reporter, not a thinker. He's a good man, nevertheless.
Overall a rant suitable for CNN viewers who like Mr. Cafferty, but not a substantive book in a dangerous time for America. I think America's problems are so serious that only a Constitutional Convention can solve them.
Thomas W. Sulcer
Author of "The Second Constitution of the United States"
(free on web; google title + Sulcer)
What follows is an It's Getting ugly Out There, his previously published book. The comments are shared for reasons to be explained later.
"I'm the product of a very dysfunctional, sometimes violent, Irish background...my backstory...may help you to make sense of the way I see and interpret what's going on around me. People don't wind up with this kind of jaundiced, offbeat take on things without going through some interesting stuff...But I'm no victim - far from it. I'm fortunate. I learned self-reliance and how to survive. When you get old enough to understand the role that money takes in your life - and in your dreams - and you remember how you watched it all thrown away, it can eat at you for a long time. But it can also teach you some lessons that will shape how you make decisions in your life for your own family. It did that for me...I get paid to ask questions I don't know the answers to and complain about things that bother me... I wasn't [and am not] on the air to pull punches...I've always viewed my career in pragmatic terms - as a paycheck, not a pulpit... As a commentator on The Situation Room, I get to push about two million people's buttons three times every afternoon...I `m under no pressure to be `fair and balanced.' But then neither is the F-word network when you think about it, are they? God, they hate me when I call them that! I couldn't care less about political spin. My guidance comes from my own BS detector...I like to get under people's skin as a way of salting the mines for the e-mail gold I read on the air...[from] some of the brightest, most engaged electronic pen pals in the world...Viewers who connect with me - whatever their positions [and views] - are a major part of whatever success I've enjoyed at CNN, and a bunch of their finest, funniest e-mails are included here. The news can be a very depressing place. Maybe that's why I have developed a tendency to look at stories with a slightly twisted and jaundiced sense of humor... I react viscerally when the headlines get my blood boiling...I attack the status quo because it's flawed and dangerous...Are there solutions to turn around this crisis and fix it? Absolutely."
I share this excerpt concept because many people who are thinking about reading this book know little (if anything) about Jack Cafferty's background and, more specifically, what he sees his role to be when discussing whatever agenda of subjects he does each day on CNN. It is important to keep in mind that the "Cafferty File" blog sometimes attracts millions of hits in one day and just as many e-mail replies. (Yes, that's true: one day.) In this volume, he examines the issues, turning points, and personalities that shaped the 2008 presidential election and Obama's victory. He also examines" the astonishing two-year economic slide toward the unprecedented $700 billion bailout plan signed by Bush a month before Election Day; the treacherous new phases of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the rival characters and strategies of the Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin tickets that made the '08 campaign such an extraordinary moment in our history." And it should be added that, "ugly" as Cafferty thought the situation had become when he wrote the previous book, "I underestimated how bad things would get."
There is plenty of blame to go around for the problems persist if not worsen, not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world. When discussing what Cafferty calls "our last best hope," he means this: "Change comes about in a democracy only when millions of ordinary citizens get riled up enough to be mad as hell about the status quo that's crushing them and leaving the country teetering on the edge of economic collapse." Previously too many people "abdicated the role of a vigilant citizenry, surrendering the country to the people whose self-serving agendas and more active and vested interests in working the system screw us year in and year." It is time for them and their fellow citizens to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Abraham Lincoln articulated Cafferty's fervent hope best at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us... [that together we make certain] that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Whether or not one agrees with Cafferty's opinions, there is no doubt whatsoever abut how much he loves the United States and how deeply concerned he is about doing everything he can to help "save" the American dream, a recurrent subject of comment by him as well as by those who communicate with him. "The term 'American Dream' was born during the Depression," Cafferty once noted on the air. "Economists now refer to the period between 1945 to 1973 as the `Golden Age' when both the rich and the poor and the poor prospered. Not anymore. These days it's almost always been the rich who benefit from economic growth. One expert says the top 1 percent of American families - those earning more than $382,000 - benefited from about three-quarters of the nation's overall growth from 2002 to 2006. This suggests that the other 99 percent of the country may no longer be able to count on the idea of better times ahead. And if that's the case, we are in big, big trouble." (Page 189) Few would deny that today (April 2, 2009) as I compose this review. Worse yet, it seems likely that the economic situation for most people will become even worse than it becomes better.
As noted earlier, Cafferty's purpose in this book is to share his thoughts about the 2008 presidential campaign and the major developments that occurred between the election and inauguration of Barak Obama. Throughout the narrative, he also shares personal experiences that help to illustrate some of his values, insights, articles of faith, and concerns. Here is a representative selection of brief comments that suggest the thrust and flavor of his thinking:
"McCain's persona is like two people living inside one suit: one of them is a charming, funny guy with a great and easygoing personality; the other is a nasty, hot-headed, short-fuse guy who will verbally cut you in half in a heartbeat of you rub him the wrong way." (Page 21)
"That's one curious part of our character. We go along, a fairly peaceful, fairly tolerant people who are reasonably easy to get along with. We put up with a lot of crap. But there comes a point when Americans say, `That's it, you're done. Crew you. You are not going to do this to us anymore.' The history of America is a lot like that. I sure hope the immediate future of America is like that as well." (Page 115)
"Kids are relieved and secure knowing that someone who cares is looking out for what's best for them. My tough love caused my younger kids to sweat things and wonder. [begin italics] How am I ever going to explain this to my dad? [end italics] I'll take that, if it produces the kind of young women they've become. Whether they behaved as they did out of love, fear, intimidation or simply not wanting to disappoint me, the ends justified the means for me." (Page 182)
Born in Chicago in 1942, Cafferty became an alcoholic while a teenager and that created serious problems for several decades. "For years, the most complex and stressful situation Carol Cafferty had to cope with was my drinking problem" and it was "also keeping me down in my career." Fearing that he would lose his beloved wife (whom he referred to as "my life"), he went "cold turkey" in January of 1989. She suddenly died last September of unknown causes. They had been married for 35 years. Cafferty has four adult daughters - Julie, Jill, Leslie, and Leigh -with whom he remains close. In the Epilogue to this book, on one of the very few occasions when has publicly referred to his tragic loss: "If it were not for the strength and support of my four daughters, you wouldn't be reading his. But you are, and I'm glad. To the many thousands of viewers who sent beautiful condolences, I say thanks for taking an interest in a cranky old man who desperately hopes that country that has been so good to him for forty-six years can do some much-needed healing of its own and find its way back as well."
It is not important to agree with all of Jack Cafferty's opinions (or with all of anyone else's, for that matter) but it seems imperative that we become once again a "vigilant citizenry" and steadfastly oppose those forces that threaten to deny or compromise the bedrock values of "The American Dream." If not now, when?