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Ted Rall: Wake Up, You're Liberal!

Rall, Ted. Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right (New York: Soft Skull Press, 2004)

George McGovern, who Rall calls "the last liberal presidential nominee of the Democratic Party," (p. 225) wrote the book's Foreword, where he likens Rall's writings to those of our most neglected Founder: McGovern calls Rall's book a "modern-day Common Sense," and claims that "Tom Paine would be proud of Ted Rall, just as I am." (p. ix)

Rall's book is less a description of America's liberalism (covered in chapters 2 and 3) than a paean to political pugilistics. Rall asks, in several different ways, why Democrats don't take off their gloves and fight the GOP on their own terms, culminating with this anguished cry: "why are Democrats such pussies?" (p. 3) He makes no apologies for wanting Democrats to win, even if they must "get down in the gutter" with the GOP to do so. Rall suggests--nearly demands--that Dems start playing dirty, too:

When Democrats finally win, they ought to strive to make a profound ideological impression. They should claim a mandate, demand enormous reforms, ask for twice as much as they want, pretend that their victory proves that their opponents have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Burn the crops, salt the fields, melt down their art and use the metal to raise a statue in your own honor. (p. 207)

Now for the book's shortcomings: The number of typos is annoying, but not fatal, to Rall's first all-prose effort. The bibliography, organized by topic, is not an adequate replacement for endnotes. Rall errs in several attributions, including the following:

"That government governs best that governs least," wrote Thomas Jefferson, hardly a conservative himself though his words have become a credo for right-wing attacks on big government. (p. 46)

That saying is commonly misattributed to Jefferson, but it actually came from Thoreau. HDT opened his essay "Civil Disobedience" with the phrase "That government is best which governs least," but had apparently borrowed those words from United States Magazine and Democratic Review.

Mussolini, who famously observed that "fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power"... (p. 138)

Chip Berlet explains at Public Eye that this quotation is almost certainly spurious.

There was also this bothersome passage:

The outspoken new speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, declared the [1994] election a mandate for a "Republican Revolution" and unveiled a thereto-invisible "Contract with America" that attempted to elevate the GOP legislative wish list to the level of a direct mandate for radical change from the American people. (p. 159)

In all fairness to Newt, the Contract was not exactly "invisible" before the election, at least not in the sense of Rall's implication that it was "unveiled" afterward; as AB Stoddard writes in this retrospective:

"On Sept. 27, just six weeks before the 1994 election, Gingrich and his loyal soldiers signed the Contract in the Cannon conference room and then walked to the Capitol steps, where a band played in the sun."

Rall is correct, though, that the Contract was not a "mandate" for Newt, having had little effect on the electorate: this MediaMatters article cites numerous studies showing that "less than 30 percent of the American people had ever heard of the Contract With America [...] ...only about 18 percent of voters -- mostly committed Republicans -- gave it a second thought."

Someone with such an incendiary reputation isn't usually expected to put together a 300-page book of political analysis, but cartoonist/columnist Ted Rall has done a fairly good job with Wake Up...You're Liberal! Rall still skewers Republicans ideologues and throws the occasional jab at their enablers in the media--as well as feckless Democrats--but he also makes a few serious points along the way.

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