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Sunday, October 29, 2006 | 9:31 AM

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My first book review. I saw it on Amazon for $8 including shipping, so I figured it would be worth a shot. The book is Whistling Past Dixie: How the Democrats Can Win Without the South by Thomas Schaller, a UMD political science professor. I already did a review on the Amazon page, which should show up in a day or so, so here I'm just going to focus on the policy aspects.

The most notable thing I saw was that for a book about the south, and all of its problems, there was not a word about Katrina. Perhaps he was trying to protect the line that the problem was with the feds, not the local governments, but if his argument is that we can abandon the south, then there's no reason why we can't have our cake and eat it too. This would have been a huge bolster for his argument.

In terms of policy recommendations, his first argument is about "saliency." According to the argument, Democrats need to make it clear what their priorites on issues are. The example he gives is that democrats need to make it clear that they don't care that much about the abortion issue. But this isn't a real policy. In fact, the only thing that would do is deliver the abortion voters straight to the Republicans, because they certainly do care. Especially strange since abortion rights are a majority position in this country.

The issue of "efficacy," that people should run on issues that they can actually do something about, is so obvious that I don't quite know what to say about it. His next suggestion, that we should "plant a flag" in order to show resolve, is a good idea. He says that we should make an issue out of our opposition to NAFTA and CAFTA. He doesn't have any examples of things we should stand for, though. He even acknowledges the need for positive policies in the beginning of the chapter, with a couple of insightful quotes, but for some reason, just doesn't follow through.

Finally, we get to actual policy. (Wasn't that supposed to be what we were talking about all along?) His pitch is that
Democrats believe in a strong defense but a smart offense, a culture of investment, and the excercise of inalienable liberties.
and in fact, he believes in it so strongly that he thinks that all democratic politicians should begin their speeches with it, word for word. He goes into a bit about what the national defense portion of it means, but he doesn't even mention the name of a single country, other than the US and Iraq. He also goes into a little section on freedom, which I found interesting.

It turns out that Schaller is pro-gun rights, which I found a bit surprising. He said we should weave that into a larger freedom platform, which I totally agree with. The thing is, usually when people talk about owning guns, they're just social conservatives who don't have much in common with us anyway, not libertarians. When you start talking about legalizing pot, for instance, they go silent. Schaller didn't go into this much, but I would be curious to hear his take.

I basically agree with most of Schaller's argument, but he doesn't always develop it to the fullest extent possible. He's more of a poll-watcher than a policy person, and we really need more of the latter than the former to fight our way back to the top.


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