First is The Great Derangement by Matt Taibbi. I first became familiar with Taibbi as a columnist for Rolling Stone, when my friend Darren recommended his writing to me; one of Taibbi’s most memorable articles there dealt with the tea partiers. Taibbi’s style is irreverent and, to borrow a word most often used with another RS writer, gonzo. The subject of this book is twofold. He writes about our broken political system, in which our politicians follow the money and influence. Public airing of legislative procedures on C-SPAN is usually limited to important things like renaming post office branches; the big-ticket stuff goes on behind the scenes, in late-night meetings, with little public discussion. Taibbi is obviously left-leaning, but he shares equal contempt for the politicians of both sides.
I try to stay engaged and informed when it comes to politics, but it’s disturbing to think that my participation matters very little in the process. I’m not going to relinquish my right to vote, and I’m not going to become overly cynical about politics in general. It’s easy to do that, and the truth of the matter would probably lead any halfway intelligent person to that conclusion. But simply opting out is not a viable alternative to me. It’s still discouraging to think about just how much corruption is taking place, though.
The other subject matter I found even more fascinating. The heathen Taibbi decided to check out the fundamentalist evangelical faction by going undercover and joining Pastor John Hagee’s church in San Antonio. You might remember Hagee as the guy who said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on a New Orleans that embraces and celebrates homosexuality. Yeah, that guy. I found Taibbi’s experience to be fascinating. I wasn’t really surprised at any of the dogma expressed by those in the church; I’ve heard plenty of similar things throughout my life. I suppose I found it fascinating because I’ve heard it all before. It’s the party line.
Taibbi participates in a weekend getaway with the church. He progresses far enough up the ladder to be invited to a workshop about how to witness to people, and joins two other church members in a rather embarrassing visit to a mall to evangelize. One exchange that I found particularly amusing is when Matt role-plays with the group leader in learning about how to talk to people about the good word. When the group leader asks him if he feels that God would judge him according to the ten commandments, Matt says it’s an irrelevant question because he doesn’t believe in God. When the group leader protests that it’s written in the Bible, Matt says he doesn’t care, because he doesn’t believe in the Bible. This throws the group leader for quite a loop. Matt says, “I’m just repeating what non-believers might say. That’s all.”
In a previous life, I recall having discussions with someone who just kept quoting scripture. I said something to the effect of, “Can you please just talk to me and tell me what YOU think, rather than quoting scripture at me?” He couldn’t do it. He was so far up the ass of the church he’d joined that he just couldn’t stop the conditioned response and rote regurgitation of what what being fed to him. I found Taibbi’s conversation so fascinating because it’s interesting to see how people respond to someone telling them that not only do they not believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, they don’t even believe in God. It seems to really perplex them...like it is just so far outside their realm of possibility that they just can’t wrap their minds around it.
The book ended on a rather sad note. After heading back to New York, he eventually came back to San Antonio to have lunch with one of the women that he’d become friends with in the church. She was having a hard time, because she was wasn’t fitting in at the church...she didn’t know how to play the political games there (and just like any place that involves a large number of people, there ARE political games), and she wasn’t feeling accepted. (I’ll have more to write on this topic soon.) Anyway, Taibbi is an excellent writer, and this is an excellent book. Highly recommended!
Next was Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. This was an account of the presidential primaries for the 2008 election, and the election itself. Like many of you, I followed that election very closely, and I remember so much of what is discussed in this book. Sometimes verbatim. The title of the book comes from how seemingly small things loomed large in this particular race, and ended up being game changers. A phrase, a look, an indiscretion, a misspoken word, a wrong note struck. A vice-presidential pick that came as a complete surprise, and after initially firing up the base, went horribly awry.
This book is worth a read just for the chapter that deals with McCain’s choice of Palin as his running mate, and his campaign’s attempts to...dare I say it? Yes, I dare. His campaign’s attempts to put lipstick on a pig. Inadequate vetting and a candidate unwilling and perhaps unable to learn the basics of what she needed to know were a recipe for disaster. I don’t take this book as the full truth, but based on everything I’ve read and what I’ve seen of Palin, I know that this woman doesn’t belong anywhere near the White House. When McCain chose her, I felt that he was pandering to the conservative base and attempting to garner female voters, and I condemned him for making a purely cynical choice; I still feel that way, and I still feel that he traded what little honor he had left in order to make a last-ditch attempt to get votes. If he truly thought that she was capable of being the leader of the free world if something happened to him, it shows what a doddering old fool he is, and that he put his victory in November above his country. I’ll just say it outright: if you think Sarah Palin is capable of running this country, you don’t have its best interests at heart. Neither did McCain.
Halperin and Heilemann aren’t lapdogs for the Democrats. They speak of Obama’s sometimes overwhelming arrogance; they speak of Clinton’s poorly managed campaign and the harm that President Clinton inflicted upon it; John Edwards’ all-too-human failings are examined, and Elizabeth Edwards’ irrational behavior is addressed.
I suppose that much of the book was political gossip, but I read enough during that campaign to know that it wasn’t far off the mark. It was a fun and interesting read, and an enjoyable reminder of what was truly a historic and game-changing election. I think it had a happy ending, too!