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This is probably the only book ever written that manages to make the SEAL team raid that killed bin Laden seem dull. And on the few occasions when it accidentally veers toward readability, Clinton quickly clamps down the hatches. If you're going to quote Nicolas Sarkozy calling another world leader "a drug-addled maniac," at least tell us which one.
Quite the opposite is Scott Walker's Unintimidated. When it was first published in 2013, George F. Will called it "a nonfiction thriller." That's not hyperbole, at least for the first 170 pages or so, which offer the Wisconsin governor's account of the tumultuous battle with unions at the beginning of his term. Protesters were so bent on disrupting Walker's every public appearance that they even dressed up like rotting zombies while protesting his appearance at the Special Olympics. Walker and his legislative allies had to make their way around the capitol in secret underground tunnels.
The unions were widely successful—at least outside Wisconsin—in portraying Walker as a reactionary barbarian trying to abolish collective bargaining and reduce education funding to Stone Age levels. But the issue that really touched off the war was his attempt to abolish automatic withholding of teachers union dues from their paychecks.
The automatic deductions were the foundation of a cycle of corruption. The dues went to the unions, which kept some of the money and turned the rest over to politicians in the form of campaign contributions. The politicians then negotiated sweetheart contracts with the unions (particularly when it came to pensions, a deferred expense that could be kicked down the road at no cost to the pols).
There was also a direct kickback to the unions—the contracts usually mandated that medical insurance be purchased from union-affiliated companies that charged well over the market rate. This game of footsie reached such epic levels that in Milwaukee, some of the county supervisors actually suggested bringing the unions in to help shape the county's bargaining positions before negotiations began.
No wonder that, as Walker writes, "the unions were willing to do anything to keep their hands on that cash. They were worried that given a free choice, their members would choose to keep the money for themselves." As it turned out, that's exactly what happened. In the 18 months after automatic deductions were finally outlawed, membership in some public sector unions fell nearly 90 percent. The state senate ultimately passed the bill as a police SWAT team stood watch.
Sadly, the excitement of Unintimidated does not extend to its policy prescriptions. There are any number of conclusions that might be drawn from Walker's ordeal, starting with whether Wisconsin schoolchildren really should be left in the custody of people whose idea of political discourse is donning ski masks, seizing buildings, and chanting, "This is what democracy looks like!" Walker considers none of them and pish-poshes the idea that ideology of any sort was involved, even at as simple a level as shrinking the government a little. ("We rejected the false choice between raising taxes and cutting government services.") The real lesson, he writes, is that our country needs to be more like a Frank Capra movie: "Americans want leadership. And in times of crisis, they don't care if it is Democratic leadership or Republican leadership—they will stand with those who offer bold ideas and have the courage to take on the tough issues."
At best that's the babbling, value-free civics of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. At worst it's a recipe for fascism, which, whatever you may think of it, certainly does not lack for determination or bold ideas. What it isn't is a battle cry likely to rally the GOP: "Elect us! Or somebody!"
Equally faint are the chances that Republicans will swarm to the redneck chic of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. From his puzzled questions about the lack of garlic-cheese grits or chocolate gravy on New York restaurant menus to his complaints that there's no duck-hunting allowed in Central Park, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy reads less like a campaign book than a lost episode of Beverly Hillbillies.
Huckabee is making several bad bets here. One is that the entire swath of what coastal progressives like to call "flyover country" is cut from identical sociocultural cloth, that grits and catfish and frog gigging are the same touchstones in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Laramie, Wyoming, that they are in Pine Bluff and Baton Rouge. Another is that these populations are simpleminded enough to think that what we really need in the White House is a guy who watches Duck Dynasty. (Huckabee's condescension to his target audience is anything but subtle. "I've written my book for you to easily understand and enjoy," he promises. Hey, Jethro, a book for you!)
Then there's the problem with reconciling Huckabee's social conservatism with his purported belief in smaller government; or, indeed, with any governmental policy at all. How can an American president make kids more polite or less likely to knock one another up? Short of repealing the First Amendment, how do you get rid of reality TV? No mocking hyperbole there. Huckabee actually devotes an entire chapter to the moral scourge of Temptation Island and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
The sad thing about the phony redneck chip on Huckabee's shoulder is that it will put people off from reading the substantive parts of the book, which can be surprising. Who would have guessed that Huckabee regards Edward Snowden as more of a patriot than the National Security Agency? Or that he believes heterosexuals have done far worse damage to the institution of marriage than have advocates of gay matrimony? Or that the PATRIOT Act was a massive Bush administration overreach: "One mistake the government made was to assume that because the enemy hid in a crowd, it was okay to treat the entire crowd as suspects."
And while it's surely no shock that Huckabee thinks overtaxation and overregulation have made California a less desirable place to live than Texas, his use of a U-Haul trailer price index to prove his point is admirably clever. (Turns out the trailers are much cheaper to rent if you're picking them up in Dallas and dropping them in Los Angeles because the traffic overwhelmingly runs the opposite direction.)
The most astute critique of current-day progressivism—the idea that the economy is a zero-sum game, that Bill Gates can only be rich if everybody else is poor, that what matters is not the creation of wealth but its redistribution—comes from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's American Dreams. His arguments are not only squarely on-target but stated more simply and more forcefully than in any other Republican candidate's book. "Growing the economic pie to benefit the poor and the middle class is no longer possible in the view of Obama," observes Rubio. "The only just course is to adjust the size of the slices."
He offers good examples of how business regulations are often actually crony capitalism, in which big corporations stifle competition by supporting rules they can afford to comply with but smaller rivals can't. He also explains the danger that raising the minimum wage poses to workers using simple, instantly recognizable examples, like the little computerized menus on the tables at some Chili's restaurants that enable customers to place their orders without ever speaking to a waiter: "If we raise the minimum wage, companies like Chili's will be driven to replace workers with machines sooner than planned."
Unfortunately, his solutions to these problems often have less to do with market economics than technological tinkering with the welfare state. Instead of making Chili's pay its waiters $15, the government will shell out the money via "wage subsidies"—essentially an expanded earned-income tax credit, distributed monthly, that simply shifts the cost from businesses to taxpayers. Rubio regards as a bragging point that it wouldn't "force employers to pass higher labor costs to consumers." But it also encourages the preservation of outmoded jobs. The top priority of a Rubio presidency might well turn out to be the resurrection of the buggy-whip industry.
The bottom line is that Rubio and other so-called "reform conservatives" have embraced the welfare state. They think it merely needs a new set of technocrats to do the fine-tuning. It's hard to believe he was once called the crown prince of the Tea Party movement.
Contrasting Rubio's book with Ben Carson's One Nation and Carly Fiorina's Rising to the Challenge raises the question of which is worse: a candidate with bad ideas or a candidate with no ideas?