Invasion of the Party Snatchers
Invasion of the humor snatchers
By W. James Antle III
A more natural target audience for such a book would include lifelong Republicans who were disgusted to watch their party's congressional wing behave like Democrats circa 1994 and end up suffering the same electoral fate; Bush voters who misunderestimated how much compassionate conservatism would grow the federal government; conservatives who opposed the Iraq war. People like, well, this reviewer.
Yet this reviewer wasn't impressed. Invasion of the Party Snatchers recycles every clichéd liberal joke about the current administration and strangely mixes them with nostalgia for Bush's father and Barry Goldwater. The resulting cocktail is completely unrecognizable and barely digestible. Even Gold's trademark wit, which normally enlivens his writing, seems forced. In its place is something more like the prose of pseudonymous columnist Ed Anger. Reading along, one half expects Gold to exclaim, "I'm madder than a monkey with a rotten banana!"
Throughout the book, Gold prefers name-calling to argument and insults to analysis. Dick Cheney is, predictably, "co-president" and "out of control." Tom "the Exterminator" DeLay is a "hypocrite" and a "Bible thumper." While many of his targets deserve serious criticism, Gold's problems with the contemporary GOP are obviously more visceral than intellectual.
Gold's contempt for the religious right sometimes leads him to make careless errors. Ronald Reagan made his famous "I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you" proclamation at the Religious Roundtable's National Affairs Briefing, not in front of the Moral Majority, as Gold claims. Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt did not actually say that "[a]fter every tree is felled, Christ will come back." Gold warns conservatives not to emulate the political ethics of Bill Moyers, but the liberal journalist apologized for his use of the apocryphal quote while Gold repeats a version of it in his book.
In Gold's world, the Reagan Mexico City policy amounts to "theocratic funding restrictions" and there are no rational arguments against taxpayer-financed embryonic stem-cell research. The Fairness Doctrine should never have been repealed, lest something like conservative talk radio come into existence. And Alan Keyes's 2004 Illinois Senate race against Barack Obama is definitive proof that theo-cons have taken over the party of Lincoln rather than an isolated act of bad political judgment.
As if to remind readers that Invasion of the Party Snatchers isn't a left-wing book, Gold interrupts these jeremiads to recall wistfully his work for Goldwater and George H.W. Bush. While the remembrances are frequently charming, they are telling for what they leave out. Goldwater wasn't outspokenly pro-choice until after he retired from the Senate; his memorable jibe about kicking "Jerry Falwell in the ass" came in the context of his friend Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The 1988 Bush presidential campaign was heavier on flag-waving and conservative symbolism than any subsequent GOP bid.
Gold criticizes Newt Gingrich's slash-and-burn budget tactics even though they were arguably closer to his hero Goldwater's anti-statist politics than many other successful Republicans. Neither does Gold like the big-government conservatism the GOP adopted in response to Gingrich's unpopularity, suggesting he is being disputatious for its own sake.
The biggest disappointment is that at a time when a real conservative debate over Iraq is needed, Gold merely dusts off Halliburton jokes from Michael Moore's reject pile. Conservatives would profit from introspection and sober self-criticism. But temper tantrums won't get us very far.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.
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