exercises in compound storytelling

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah (part two)

I'm fifteen chapters into Max Blumenthal's book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party and I'm still waiting for the book to gel. Apart from the fact that Blumenthal is a reporter who has dealt with some of the principal players in the book, the fact that he clearly doesn't like Republicans, or Christian political activists, there's not much I can get my hands on.

The current section of the book (chapters 7-15) deal mostly with the impact James Dobson had on national politics during the Clinton and Bush years, with sections devoted to various supporting actors, most of them unsavory characters, including:
I haven't paid much attention to Dobson, and I had no idea he had been part of the media circus surrounding serial killers Bundy and Berkowitz; I was aware that Dobson has made some peculiar calls when choosing candidates to support and candidates to spurn, and that he's not always consistent in the choices he makes.Like Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, etc. before him, Dobson has at times seemed at best naive in his dealings with politicians.

Unfortunately, Blumenthal doesn't really delve into the question that interests me, which is why Dobson believes what he believes and/or apparently makes snap judgments regarding who to support and who to spurn. Instead he wastes pages trying and failing to connect pieces that just don't quite fit together: he tries to suggest that because Dobson associate John Tanner defended Ted Bundy and prosecuted Aileen Wuornos that someone (Dobson? Tanner? The Christian Right?) hates women; he tries and fails to connect Dobson with Jack Abramoff just because they both had political and financial dealings with Ralph Reed.

Blumenthal is right about several things: the Terry Schaivo episode was at best a misguided disaster; Newt Gingrich's rehabilitation is probably a sick joke; the Christian Right's civil rights record is middling to poor. Unfortunately he handles these stories so poorly, so pointillistically, that no real theme ever really emerges. Unless maybe that point is "James Dobson is a bad person," or some such. His recurring references to Erich Fromm's 1941 book Escape from Freedom offer this book its only real theme, but his reading of Fromm is shallow and the Fromm references don't gel either: the things he says about people trading freedom for certainty are not new and not peculiar to the Christian Right; they're a problem on the other side of the aisle as well, and the fact that Blumental ignores this more basic question undermines his application of Fromm.

I didn't know anything about Blumenthal before opening this book, and it wasn't until I reached the point where he mentions having been somewhere on assignment for The Huffington Post that I realized where he's coming from. And I guess that's disappointing: I get the feeling that when Blumenthal makes poor distinctions he's doing it on purpose: instead of looking for a solvable problem he's looking to smear various Christian leaders and make their involvement in the political process suspect, suggesting that because they believe what they believe they shouldn't be involved in opinion-making. This strikes me as an oddly partisan viewpoint, and ultimately unhelpful.
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