A Fair Trade Book
Book Review: If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat
Author: Hugh Hewitt
Author’s blog: www.hughhewitt.com
Length: 258 pages
Quote: “If you pick up the phone and call with a message of support...preceded by a statement of fact concerning his record, you have assisted the effort.”
Whew. Where do I begin a review of this book?
“This book outlines the Republican strategies that got President Obama elected in 2008”?
“Thomas Nelson is known as a religious publishing house. Nelson, shame on you”?
“From time to time certain people, not the Kilgore twins themselves but their mother, and my own, have reproached me for never having joined the Republican Party. This book explains why”?
But it's Christmas, and Hewitt's web site is generating pop-up ads for us to "donate to his virtual Salvation Army kettle"...This is a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it to analyze its shortcomings, we'll donate to his kettle. (Virtual kettles are active year-round.)
I like to describe my politics as liberal. By this I don’t mean “part of the twentieth century’s Left Wing” but generally inclined to try to work toward points of agreement; not inclined to dispute that people are self-serving, but inclined to believe that most of us, most of the time, can best serve our own interests in ways that also gratify our feeling that we ought to be impartial and public-spirited. I am one of those registered Independent “swing voters” you’ve read about.
I am, however, aware that some people are beyond the boundaries within which we can work together. Young, overprivileged people like very much to believe that our only real enemies are our own moral failings; I’m not able to believe that any more. Most of the time, reclassifying people as nuisances rather than enemies works for me too. Sometimes it can hurt us. Trying to defend myself against evil with niceness cost me my husband’s estate (several hundred thousand dollars and a few rental properties) and a business I’d merely built up from bare ground over twenty-three years.
In theory, “inner enemies” like lethargy, timidity, or envy might be able to do me more harm than my enemy did. In fact, America’s collective “inner enemies,” such as drugs (legal or illegal) and motor vehicles, killed more Americans in the year 2001 than The Events of September 11. But whether or not “inner enemies” are capable of doing as much harm as a real-world enemy, in theory or in fact, the enemies outside ourselves do have to be dealt with if we want to survive.
So the “enemy” mindset has some survival value, sometimes. However, in If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat, Hugh Hewitt documented a belief that his country and his party (the Republicans, of course) needed to adopt the “enemy” mindset, not only toward hostile nations, but toward the other political parties and platforms (including the extreme Right Wing) at home.
He drew inspiration from the political history of Victorian England. Some Brits are embarrassed by the often counterproductive, and occasionally violent, “Party Spirit” Joseph Addison used to skewer. Hewitt liked Party Spirit and thought we needed more of it. One of his heroes, Lord Salisbury, blamed all the horrors of the French Revolution on “men such as...Lafayette” who “were kind-hearted, and charitably fancied everybody as well-meaning as themselves.” Hewitt’s sermon on this historical text blamed Bill Clinton, not for his habit of supporting bad ideas, nor for his truly tacky habit of blaming those bad ideas on subordinates, but for not declaring war on Kim Jong Il.
In a rather confused passage that seemed to identify Clinton with Neville Chamberlain, Hewitt wrote, “The reason that politics must become very tough indeed is that we cannot afford another run of such leaders...The Clintons and the Carters and the Baldwins and the Lafayettes—the cost of their pageants is unacceptable.” Apparently Andrew Roberts’ biography of Salisbury may have detailed Lafayette’s political mistakes in France, or one of Hewitt’s earlier books may have done that, but if Hewitt wanted to use Lafayette as a bad example in the United States, he should have cited a few things Lafayette did other than what Americans remember best, which was supporting the American Revolution.
So, according to If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat, what Republicans needed in 2004 and thereafter was more of that good ol’ illiberal, intolerant Party Spirit—no Lafayette humanitarianism, no Carter caring-about-the-person, no Clinton “triangulation” toward the area of agreement in between the extremes. No serious dedication to principles, either, including principles that might relate to a current hot issue on whose strength a politician might have been nominated or elected. “When next you hear an activist...judging a candidate by his fealty to this or that statement of principle...try to explain the reality of progress versus the comfort of feeling that you have fought the good fight,” Hewitt advised on page 194. On page 67 he quoted approvingly: “Throw conscience to the devil and stand by your party.”
And whose progress would that be? The progress of the Republican Party, of course, consisting primarily of White male country-club types who respect Ronald Reagan or John McCain, and consider Sarah Palin cute, but really support people like W Bush and Dan Quayle because W Bush and Dan Quayle represent their demographic type. And what about the progress of all the individuals out there whose interests have been neither served nor represented by the Democrats as the Party of Big Government, who support the Republicans, to the extent that they do, as the Party of Big Businesses That Can Usually Afford to Leave Small Businesses and Private Citizens in Peace? In If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat Hewitt basically advised his fellow Republicans to sell those people down the river, just as the Democrats have, as a party, been doing for the last 75 years.
Don’t get into the exceedingly difficult, touchy, and to some extent unanswerable questions that oil drilling in nature preserves raises, Hewitt advised those whose job was “marketing” Sarah Palin in 2008. Don’t even try to win an election following an informed and informative debate among intelligent, ethical Americans who are young enough to want to think twenty or fifty years ahead. Campaigns have to be pitched to people who are not really qualified to pump gas or run cash registers. Don’t risk confusing illiterate voters. Market the Republican Party on raw—and unfounded—fear alone. Base elections on the premise that Joe Sixpack needs Republican macho men to protect his life, that (page 220) “the Democrats are going to get you killed.”
Of course, a dominant party that rules by a “machine” that wins elections with this kind of appeal will have to depend on nominating and electing leaders who will keep up “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” (A version of this has actually been stated, and published where it can be held against them, as the strategic goal of some Republicans.) No problem, Hewitt thought; the War on Terrorism could target every foreigner who’s ever been known to spout off any ideas other than total and permanent fealty to the United States. Since billions of people around the world have criticized the United States and losing a war to the United States has paid off for several smaller and poorer countries we’ve felt obliged to help “rebuild” after helping to topple a particularly disastrous leader, the War on Terrorism will never end.
Hewitt had not seriously attempted to calculate how long even the United States could actually keep throwing its money into “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” All he seemed to be thinking about, in 2004, was that after Saddam there’d be Kim Jong Il, and then Mugabe, Chavez, and what are the odds that a country the size of Cuba will ever produce a second leader as charismatic and as undeservedly lucky as Fidel Castro? and he, Hewitt, could go on campaigning for former West Point football players for the rest of his life.
It was enough to make readers feel sorry that Hewitt is younger than his picture on the inside back cover suggests. Even country-club Republicans, you might think, would remember that what we really admired about President Reagan was his presiding over the end of a war.
If I’d read this book in 2004 I might have felt unable to resell it. (I have bought, or been given, books that I didn’t believe there was any ethical justification for trying to sell.) Luckily I saw it for the first time in 2011, by which time even Joe Sixpack should be able to subject it to trial by history. Hewitt’s strategy succeeded in alienating Sarah Palin from the Republican Party...strangely, although I find it difficult to give Palin’s best known slogan the fair hearing it deserves, I find it easier to like Palin than to like the mainstream Republican Party. Hewitt’s strategy also succeeded in getting a young untested politician like Barack Obama elected ahead of a certified hero, proven campaigner, and shrewd thinker like John McCain. And although the only reasonable way to account for Obama’s election is that voters wanted him to end the war, preferably with a clear victory, and he didn't do that, at least he did not “get us killed.”
Therefore, this repulsive book now has a valid reason to exist and to be read. History has demonstrated that the well thought out and well explained strategy outlined in If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat is wrong. Intolerant us-or-them thinking is a useful approach only toward genuine enemies; the many different positions large numbers of people occupy on the American political spectrum are not hostile enough to make us genuine enemies to one another. If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat is an excellent explanation of what did not work for the Republican Party.
Personally I enjoy being a swing voter, and as such I would advise Republicans: Don't sell me short. Don't sell me out. Character and principles matter a great deal to me. National security also matters to me, but if I had to rate the potential dangers to the security of a vast, strong, rich nation (not that I claim to be an expert on military matters), that nation’s wasting its resources on unnecessary wars against puny nations, calculated to feather the nests of unethical leaders, would be one of the most alarming. It may have been good for whatever Kim, Mugabe, Chavez, Taylor, Ahmadinejad, Raul Castro, and company had in the way of souls to see Saddam Hussein twisting slowly in the wind, but it’s not good for anybody to entertain any ideas about “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
And if you happen to be one of those aging frat-brats who identify with W Bush for purely demographic reasons, bear in mind that very soon your country, and your nursing home, are going to be in the hands of people who identify with Sarah Palin--or with Bristol Palin. The way the Republican Party treats them is the way we have to expect it to treat us. Tea Partiers may not be good game players, but possibly, just possibly, that’s because Americans want and need to play a better game.
Now that we've reached a consensus that we're all worse off after eight years of the Republican Party having been crushed by the Democrats...Donald Trump is neither a Real Republican nor an honorable man, but we need to give the devil his due. Joe Sixpack believed that Trump, who is indisputably a business success, will at least set a policy that's based on financial reality and does not depend on chronically bleeding the nation dry to support "perpetual war for perpetual peace." If that means a "hot war" that "gets us killed"--"us" meaning people a comfortable bit younger than Joe Sixpack and his own children--that may be what some of the Joe Sixpack types want, and may even be what they'll get, but a vote for Trump must be considered a vote against the "perpetual war for perpetual peace" mentality.
Currently this book's value is low enough that you can get it cheaper on Amazon than you can here. Nevertheless, there are two valid reasons why you should buy it here, apart from supporting your fa-a-avorite web site, har har. (1) When we receive your $5 per copy of this book + $5 per package+ $1 per online payment, we will send $1 to Hewitt or his virtual Salvation Army kettle, blessed may they be. (2) You can add at least five books of this size to the package and pay only the one $5 shipping fee, which is likely to add up to a savings over the price of buying the same books on Amazon, and if the authors of those books are also still living we'll send them and/or their charities $1 per book too.