Monday, May 2, 2016
Reviewing 'Going Red'
I've written a number of movie reviews in my short time blogging, but despite the fact that I am an avid reader, I've never had occasion to formally review a book. This particular one is special though because it was written by my good friend Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com, and it happens to be his first.
The book is called Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President - and How Conservatives Can Win Them. Can I just stop here for a second to ask...what is it with political books and ridiculously long subtitles? Imagine if we titled movies like that: The Shawshank Redemption: The Story Of A Man Who Crawled Through A River Of Shit And Came Out Clean On The Other Side.
Anyway, while I was helping to fill in for Ed over at HotAir, he was traveling the country talking to people about their their previous election experiences and their views on the Republican Party. In particular, he visited counties in 7 states whose voters he believes are poised to determine the result of the 2016 Presidential election, and Going Red chronicles what he learned on his journey.
It opens with Ed describing something that was both unsurprising to me and incredibly sad: Republicans truly believed that Mitt Romney was going to win in 2012. As Ed tells it, he and the other GOP members watching the returns were totally blindsided by Obama's near total victory that election night, and as you read each successive chapter, you learn why: the Republican Party is completely out of touch with the every day Americans who decide these elections.
Using a dizzying array of statistics (I was told there would be no math, Ed!) and an even more important series of local interviews, Ed paints a picture of a Republican Party that has simply failed to approach voters on their own terms and instead assumed they could convert people just by talking about lofty ideals and conservative principles at a macro level. Not only has that strategy failed to attract new voters, in many cases, Ed found that it actually turned people off because their primary concerns were not addressed or worse, actively at odds with rhetoric being espoused by GOP campaigns.
In a particularly facepalm-worthy example, Ed relates the story of a candidate that did show up to talk to some of these voters but who spent most of the time railing against the Democrats...which just happened to be most of the audience. Having felt abandoned by their party, they came out to see what the other side was offering, and they found out it was offering to insult them to their faces.
Meanwhile, as Ed's stats so aptly demonstrate, the demographics of these swing counties are changing rapidly, and not just because they're filling with minority voters. Economic changes, political shifts, and simple turnover due to aging have all swapped out traditional GOP voters with new people who thus far have been left out in the cold by Republicans. This is perhaps where Ed's at his best as he pulls together the numbers, the local stories, and his impressions from actually traveling through these counties to show just how incredibly diverse this country actually is. It's astounding we get along at all when you can't even order chili the same way in different parts of the same state.
You'll find this isn't just the Google Maps view either. If you live in or around one of the places he visited, chances are you'll be find yourself reading about the local area and nodding along as I did. I even had occasion to exclaim "the same thing happened to me!" when reading a passage about an experience one of Ed's contacts had while getting a haircut in New Hampshire.
Going Red also underscored just how technologically inept the GOP has been, as Ed's discussions with local pols indicated they didn't even know who their own voters were half the time, much less how to get them out to the ballot box. Their Democrat rivals, however, have enormous data mining operations and social media presences.
Unfortunately, most of this I figured out long before Mitt Romney accepted the GOP nomination for President, so at times reading Going Red felt a little redundant. "The GOP doesn't go talk to black voters in black neighborhoods? Say it ain't so!" However, that's actually what makes his book an important read for everyone concerned with politics, especially those on the Right. What I have only been able to assert with anecdotal analysis from my unique position as an independent, but right-leaning, voter on the cusp of the millennial generation living in a deep blue state, Going Red proves beyond a shadow of a doubt with actual facts and evidence from around the country.
And, like he does with the blog posts that got me reading HotAir every day for my news, Ed breaks it all down into easily digestible chunks that cut right to the heart of the matter. So there's no excuse for anyone reading Going Red to remain under the tired delusions people like me hear from the GOP all the time. You do have to suffer through some really bad puns though, since Ed's clearly a fan of them. (Seriously, a Mile High joke for the politics of pot in Colorado, Ed?)
As someone who believes the pop culture will drive election results far more than get-out-the-vote operations, I do wish Ed had spent more time on what each county is watching, listening to, and playing. Are they Netflix binge-watchers, or do they still do cable TV? What movies get them to the theater? What are their favorite Youtube channels? What video games do they spend the most time playing?
I realize those seem like asinine questions in a book whose primary purpose is to teach the GOP how to win elections, but knowing the answers to that is just as important as understanding the local cultural predilections that Ed outlines so well. If the Right had a better grasp of the culture, we wouldn't really have to worry about elections coming down to 2 million voters in 7 swing counties.
That, of course, is my personal hobby horse so I can't really fault Ed for not cluttering up his book with things that would probably confuse or otherwise distract the Right from picking up the essential common sense wisdom he is imparting, but I think it's worth investigating. Maybe that can be Going Red 2: Going Redder.
Ultimately, I do recommend anyone interested in politics pick up a copy of Going Red, not just because it's a book by a friend of mine, but because it really does a fantastic job of illustrating the axiom "all politics is local." Perhaps if the GOP had understood the basic truths found in Going Red before the last election, we would not have had to put up with another 4 years of Obama. One can only hope it has arrived in time for us to avoid having to deal with a Hillary Clinton Presidency.