The jacket photograph of Ryan greeting voters, an American flag in the background next to a portrait of his smiling family,...

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THE WAY FORWARD

RENEWING THE AMERICAN IDEA

Wisconsin Rep. Ryan, 2012 vice presidential candidate, enjoyed better press than his 2008 counterpart. Described on the jacket as “the intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” he makes a more substantial literary debut than Sarah Palin in Going Rogue (2009), although that is a low bar. 

Born in a hardworking Midwestern town where “everyone pitches in,” the author, who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, studied economics in college, admiring conservative, free market thinkers like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand. He interned in Washington, D.C., impressed everyone and won a House seat in 1998 at the age of 28. Rising to chair the Budget Committee, Ryan’s advocacy of spending cuts and entitlement reform was frustrated by a leadership preoccupied, in Ryan’s opinion, with winning elections instead of upholding Republican principles taught by America’s Founding Fathers. Liberal only in his love of clichés, Ryan stresses that “irresponsible tax-and-spender” describes Democrats while admitting that “heartless penny-pincher” applies to some Republicans but not him. He proceeds to deliver perhaps too many examples of compassionate conservatism. Social Security, he maintains, is a noble program, but it is incompetently administered, underfunded and headed for bankruptcy. Ryan’s criticisms are convincing, but his remedy is a cryptic mélange of pay-as-you-go and privatization to avoid raising taxes (unthinkable) or cutting benefits (political suicide).

The jacket photograph of Ryan greeting voters, an American flag in the background next to a portrait of his smiling family, illustrates the book’s problem. Genuine attempts to educate readers are sabotaged by his inability, as an elected official, to upset supporters. The result reads like a typical campaign biography: stirring, patriotic, flattering to readers and warning of national crises whose solutions will antagonize only those who will never vote for him.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4555-5756-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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