American Patriots, by Rick Santorum

January 5, 2013 at 11:04 (Book Reviews, Historical, Politics) (, , , )

AmericanPatriots

3/10

3/10

The striking thing about this book (one of only two that Santorum has written) is its pithy and generally amoral tone. Santorum himself has some decidedly outspoken views, and is a divisive figure in American politics, but one would hardly know it from reading American Patriots. He is loath to make strong statements, instead cataloguing a series of second-rate personalities from a war distant enough to be non-controversial with a milquetoast, ingratiating sort of voice. He takes great care to include chapters on ethnic minorities, different religions and denominations, and women; and on working-class men, merchants, and aristocrats–no matter how mundane their so-called achievements. Each chapter and each section is meticulously and clinically laid out to produce a disinfected and harshly scrubbed book that ought to appeal to any conscientious American voter. Santorum might not be seeking office right now, but he is plainly still a politician, and his ghostwriter (or writing persona) is much more of a sanitised middle-American than his more forceful image from the 2012 election.

“Having represented the state of Pennsylvania and the Cradle of Liberty–Philadelphia–as a United States senator for twelve years, I wanted to share what I was blessed to be exposed to there: the rich history of the American Revolution”

-American Patriots

It is with this general blandness in mind that the precise nature of the heroes Santorum chooses to venerate falls into sharp contrast. His scattering of “forgotten patriots” is a seething nest of pirates, liars, perjurers, murderers, blackguards, slavers, and traitors. The pages are soaked with blood, and provide a grizzly litany of prisoners-of-war shot and hanged in cold blood, men worked to death in the fields of masters who are held up as shining examples of benevolent slaveowners, knives flashed in the dark, and all sorts of other unsavoury actions. Beside these stories, preachers and statesmen are unironically compared, and the question has to be asked: does America have no more worthwhile heroes, or does Rick Santorum display a stark and confusing hypocrisy in his application of his Christian faith to history?

“Benjamin thought they should simply shoot them all. Not Nancy. Shooting was too good for these redcoats; she wanted them to hang. So they strung up the five remaining soldiers on a nearby tree.”

-American Patriots

This two-faced nature of Santorum’s compilation contributes significantly towards a lack of purpose in this book. There is neither a strong moral message, nor indeed a central exposition: only a seemingly-random series of various historical footnotes, stretched nearly to breaking point to scarcely fill out a hundred pages. Admittedly in spite of the bowdlerised and offensively inoffensive editorialising, the writing is smooth and constructed with care and skill, but the simplest answer to the problems in this book is that it is not really intended to be read. It is a very pretty book, with an excellent cover design and some fancy printing in the pages, but this is a book made to be gifted and displayed upon one’s bookshelf to announce a political worldview, and perhaps to be idly glanced at to pass time. To say that it is an empty book written by an empty writer would perhaps be calumnious; but it might at least be close to the mark.

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The Tea Party Goes to Washington, by Rand Paul

February 8, 2012 at 20:02 (Book Reviews, Mediocre Books, Philosophy, Politics) (, , , )

5/10

To glance the crudely-sketched comic on this book’s cover and take in the name emblazoned above its title, readers might fear the worst. How much political theory can really be compacted into a two-hundred page book? Which chapter might detail a raving warning about Liberals murthering us in our beds with the guns they’ve plucked from our patriotic hands?

But it is a welcoming surprise to find that Senator Rand Paul does not quite fit his caricature. He is full of the whimsy and self-important gas that most politicians of this age are, and his book is equal parts a clarion call to casual libertarians, and waffling autobiography. For the first fifty pages or so, Paul speaks softly and waxes conciliatory. He goes so far to acknowledge that some of the points he makes have another side to them, and that some of the issues he is most passionate about have good counter-points to them.

“…saying that libertarianism isn’t conservatism is like saying communism isn’t socialism or progressivism isn’t liberalism–yet, it’s amusing the degree to which some people still seem to think the two philosophies are incompatible or exclusive.”

-The Tea Party Goes to Washington

Speaking in a literary sense, it is difficult to take any writer seriously who refuses to recognise his own faults, or who makes pretend that his opponents are fiends in human guise. It is hard to stomach the blustering tirades of writers whose fanaticism pours out colourblind manifestos rather than carefully constructed arguments. Rand Paul is guilty of neither of these sins; not here, anyway. For this reason his book remains palatable, and will not be too difficult to read through to the end, for Republicans, for Democrats, or for the rest of us.

It does grow difficult, however, when his passion and fervour take him in dangerous directions. Where he stoops to childish parroting of stock phrases and hackneyed slogans, long bereft of any real meaning and designed for emotional impact only. To a rational reader, his constant invocation of the ghost of Reagan, the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, liberty, small government, freedom, the spectre of communism–all these are swiftly denuded of any actual meaning, and become as useless as old socialist dogma about the working class, the bloodstained flag, the bourgeouise, the reactionaries–and all that claptrap. Seldom does he stop to explain what he even means with some of his key phrases.

“My father also made the point that Obamacare, or the very concept of having a ‘right’ to healthcare, undermines not only the free market but some of the most basic precepts of American life and liberty.”

-The Tea Party Goes to Washington

Does he believe in the liberty to speak one’s mind, the liberty to wreak vengeance upon one’s enemy, the liberty to starve in the street, the liberty to own tanks, or the liberty to give children halucinogens? He never really explains. His definitions are fuzzy around the edges, and limited to one or two hard cases that are nonetheless themselves without context.  For instance, he loudly trumpets his cause against domestic espionage and wiretapping, presenting it as an obvious case where the Fourth Amendment is being violated. He may very well have a point there; but he makes a very poor show of demonstrating his point, contenting himself instead with leaving the point as self evident. This hurts him when he comes to more complex issues. He is simply not willing to venture beyond his catchphrase politics.

So what of this book? It makes a pretence of being some kind of systematic treatment of the Tea Party’s beliefs, but it is long on rhetorical posturing and short on substance. Rand Paul makes a fairly convincing case here that he is not a bad person, but that does not necessarily make him a good politician, or a good writer.

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