Free Minds & Free Markets

The Unbearable Awfulness of Campaign Lit

We read seven 2016 presidential wannabes' books so you don't have to.

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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?

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • AlmightyJB||


  • AlmightyJB||

    I wrote a book with only one word. It's called First.

  • Blowhard Woodchip||

    That's even smaller than Black Libertarian Women I Have Known, available now in the remainder bin for a low low $.99.

  • AlmightyJB||

  • Blowhard Woodchip||

    We might be small in numbers; but we are growing.

    When they get to 1000 pledges, they're going to move to Greenwich, Connecticut, in order to make the city a stronghold for libertarian ideas.

  • ||

    I have always been a bit puzzled as to why there aren't more people, especially blacks, with that outlook.

  • RBS||

    I know a bunch, but I'm Judy a white South Carolinian, so what the fuck do I know.

  • RBS||


  • Ted S.||

    Hi, Judy!

  • defenestrate||

    While much of the state may be somewhat resistant to change, I think SC could make for a good libertarian settlement. Inexpensive land and a far lighter contingent of police compared to its northern neighbor.

  • The Elite Elite||

    "No defensiveness and no judgements based on the color of my skin."

    So do I break that rule of no judgements when I say I'm more likely to find you attractive if you're black?

  • Aloysious||

    I'd buy her a beer.

  • SIV||

    Is that prog false flag operation over? No 2015 posts that I can see..

    Two students agree to have vaginal intercourse, but without warning or asking permission, the male student begins to have anal intercourse. Of course, the female could say no immediately after taking a few seconds to register what happened and the male could oblige. However, the sexual assault has already occurred.

    This is from a post demanding colleges ("society"?) mandate affirmative consent ass sex contracts.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "without warning or asking permission"


  • RBS||

    I don't know, unless your butthole is super loose or everything is really lubed up there would be some warning...

  • Libertarian||

    "...the female could say no immediately after taking a few seconds to register what happened and the male could oblige. However, the sexual assault has already occurred."

    So "just lie back and enjoy it" is now something proggies say?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Voters aren't reading these things, anyway, when choosing which candidate has the best hairdo and deserves the lever pull. I doubt many journalists read them, either, since they know they'll surely find no gotcha racist quotes in the ghost-written pages. Plus, they can't all be the inspiring The Audacity of Hope.

  • Blowhard Woodchip||

    Not to mention Profiles in Courage.

  • AlmightyJB||

  • lap83||

    Hopefully if it's between Rand and Hillary on election night, it won't come down to the height of her heels.

  • Blowhard Woodchip||

    The political-bio genre is like a fully loaded oil tanker. It's how they've been doing it for decades, and it has a mass and inertia that makes it difficult to turn and stop.

  • JFree||

    If a candidate cannot support jobs for ghostwriters, then they are hardly someone to be taken seriously

  • Chipper Chipping Rodrigue||

    From Esquire: When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job

    There isn't as much mask-slippage in the article as the title suggests. But it does have most of the alarmist heavy hitters. And some not-so-heavy...

    Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth slide-show training

    Really, the article is about how tortured the climate heroes are. Which was an enjoyable bit of schadenfreude for me...until I read about how Michael Mann makes his daughter cry when she reads the Lorax. What an asshole.

    One more quote for the anti-RTFA crowd (and I proudly include myself in that group):

    "You reach a point where you feel—and that's the word, not think, feel—'I have to do something.' "
  • Flaming Ballsack||

    yanno thats pretty smug comig from someone whos economic philsophy is not only unproven empirically but according to its own founder) cant andsh ouldnt be tested empirically. looks like your the ones trading in feelings bub

  • Sevo||

    Flaming Ballsack|7.11.15 @ 10:10AM|#
    "yanno thats pretty smug..."

    Hi, shitbag! Happy to see you back to prove once again what an ignoramus you are!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Routine way off. Totally fucked the landing. Need more practice. Try again in 4 years.

  • MarkLastname||

    You have trouble with words, don't you?

  • Ted S.||

    We must do something.
    This is something.
    Therefore we must do this.

  • Eman||

    after the first line i thought it was gonna be a haiku =(

  • AlmightyJB||

    But what we need to do in this country is back up mandatory wages. What could go wrong.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That should have been jack up. Damn android.

  • F. Woman Logistics, Jr.||

    Alas, his good points are utterly drowned by the tidal wave of stupid ones, particularly that the tax code should be employed to "encourage certain behavior and punish other behavior."

    I can't imagine anyone calling themselves conservative suggesting something like this with a straight face. It's like a libertarian calling for parental licenses.

  • Jay Dubya||

    Welcome to the United States. You must be new here.

  • Blowhard Woodchip||

    I didn't read this article because I didn't have to.

  • AlmightyJB||

    There's going to be a test later.

  • Sevo||

    Madness explained:
    Near SF, there is a golf course wherein dwell red-legged frogs and SF garter snakes. An 'environmental group', the Wild Equity Institute, is suing to keep people from playing golf there since it endangers those animals, while the other side claims those animals wouldn't be there if it weren't a golf course.
    The other side won. Many times, and is now fighting a 4th or 5th lawsuit.
    So how can the WEI keep it up? Because, under the EPA rules, they get to bill the SF taxpayer even if they lose. Last year's take was over $100K.
    It's behind the pay wall here:
    In a couple of days, it'll show up on a search.

  • Chipper Chipping Rodrigue||

    So those environmental lawyers actually have no incentive to actually win. That would stop the gravy train.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "But more surprising than the price it commands is that the genre exists at all. In an age when even the old and much-despised 30-second TV soundbite is considered windy, when all political thought must fit into the confines of a 140-character tweet, it seems quixotic and even mildly deranged that candidates spend time committing tens of thousands of words onto the corpses of slaughtered trees."

    Books aren't competing with that.

    The purpose of a book is to distract the reader away from being packed in with a herd of other miserable people for the flight between LAX and JFK.

  • Blowhard Woodchip||

    all political thought must fit into the confines of a 140-character tweet

    And whose fault is that? Certainly not the professional repasters and gossipers in the news and social media who harvest tweets as an intellectual shortcut and space-filler.

  • Wizard with a Woodchipper||

    OT: Another awfulness this way comes: Ash vs. the Evil Dead (trailer)

  • Wizard with a Woodchipper||

    and by awfulness I mean awesomeness!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, that looks pretty awesome.

  • Suicidy||

    Ash V Progtards! Same thing really.

  • AlmightyJB||

  • F. Woman Logistics, Jr.||

    Hey Hihn - since you are the One True Keeper of the Libertarian Flame (though not by the label, since 91% of us reject it), what's a tax reform plan we can all get behind?

  • Sevo||

    "REAL libertarians know that cutting spending is far more important than tax cut bullshit."

    I see our fave jackass has returned!

  • ||

    Libertarianism will never escape its fringe reputation as long as you're alive and drooling on your keyboard.

  • JPyrate||

    "So, what does your cult have for tax and governance reform? "

    I am going to make a living despite your "Ideas" of Tax, and Governance Mr. Hinh.

    Ordinary People are starting to reject your fascist "Ideas".

    Fuck Off.

  • JPyrate||

    91% of Libertarians reject my authority !!!!!!




  • JPyrate||

    WAHHH !!!!

    No one does exactly what I tell them to do !!!!

    WAHHH !!!!!


  • Mrs. Lemuel Struthers||

    I feel sorry for dummkopfs who buy these books and think they offer insight. Spend your $35 on a bottle of wine and a steak.

  • JPyrate||

    And Hinh once again does not not what a bottle of wine, and a steak cost's.

  • JPyrate||

    No one is exercising their rights, and liberty like I tell them to !!!!

    WAHHHHH !!!!

    WAHHHHH !!!


  • JPyrate||

    WAHHH !!!!!!!!

    No one listens to me !!!

    WAHHH !!!!


  • AlmightyJB||

    Cooked filet mignon and eggs for beakfast. Twas delicious.

  • ||

    Raw even better.

  • Rich||

    "It hadn't been pretty, but we'd taken a step forward for a sensitive region."

    Wait. *Which* Clinton said that?

  • Silverleaf||

    I see what you did there. We'll played, sir. Well played.

  • Adans smith||

    How about a book that say's 'I'll not harm you if you don't try to or harm me?' Smoke your pot and meet your irl friend in the parking lot,I don't care.

  • Hyperbolical (wadair)||

    "But Captain Jack will get you high tonight"

  • Adans smith||

    and take you to your special island

  • Suicidy||


  • Chipper Chipping Rodrigue||

    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.

    Stay classy, union thugs.
  • Adans smith||

    They are ,acording to numbers,government thugs,

  • AlmightyJB||

    And I bet no one shamed them for doing that at the special olympics either.

  • Chipper Chipping Rodrigue||

    I wonder if, say, the Daily Show would find the time to play a clip of the Tea Party crashing the Special Olympics.

  • Suicidy||

    You mean.......Jon a........hypocrite? The Hell you say?

  • Libertarian||

    Don't care about political books? Be careful what you wish for. I'm shocked that politicians still write them -- it's a permanent record of their foibles and philosophies that will withstand an EMP.

  • ||

    This latest batch of dopes can't even speak coherently, but they can write a book? I don't buy it.

  • Akira||

    Politicians have these books written and published under their name as marketing materials. They're supposed to make the "author" look like the hero of some epic tale so that the reader can idolize and fall in love with them. It's just something people read to reinforce their beliefs that this candidate is truly the best one ever.

    They're basically 400-page campaign ads.

  • Paul.||

    I want my presidents to have a beard you could lose a badger in (sorry ladies), sit with stern looks on their countenance, and quietly retire each evening to the parlour for sherry and cigars-- the subtext of course is they remain mostly silent throughout their tenure.

  • block30||

    That sounds simply fantastic.

  • Stephen54321||

    "...where she could mingle with the plebes..."

    Memo to Glernn Garvin: the word is "plebs", not "plebes" (which would be pronounced "pleebs").

  • ||

    F you want to be a dick about it, the fact is that "plebs" is a contraction of the more elderly form "plebes" (which is why we get an I in the middle of 'plebeİan') and that even in the more modern form "plebs" one may occasionally encounter a plural (though whether the plural of the collective is appropriate usage in this case is quæstiónable) in "plebes"; furthemore, "plebes" will always be pronounced "plee-bees", and plebs is pronounced "pleebs" if one respects the true quantity of the native vowel (I imagine that some false quantity rule could be used to shorten the E when Englishing the word, though, for whatever reason, I've never heard it said that way.).

  • macsnafu||

    I really appreciate Glenn reading these books so I don't have to.

  • ||

    He took a bullet for all of us. Stand in silence and respect.

  • jamicanlorneica||

    Im making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do! ..

  • ||

    Are you running for president?

  • bassjoe||

    Is there a reason Sentinel is the go-to publisher for most of the Republicans?

  • More cleverer by half||

    The first and last campaign book I read was Harry Browne's "Government Doesn't Work." Somewhat fluffy, but at least he was specific in what he would do to solve some of the problems (e.g. sell the Grand Canyon, use the money to pay-off insurance companies to administer Social Security obligations, i.e. privatize S.S.). As libertarian as that was, never again though.


  • JPyrate||

    That's why you lose Hinh. People will always make a living despite control freaks like you. =)

  • JPyrate||

    It must really bother you Hinh that ordinary people just won't do as you say.

  • JPyrate||

    Keep crying Hinh. =D

  • Brian||

    We need Fiorina because we need a vijay jay to do battle with the leftist vijay jay over who gets to be the first presidential vijay jay.

    That's called getting the woman vote, people.

  • pamelamathews||

    Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,


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