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We're Right, They're Wrong.

It's handy, it's dandy, and James Carville's pep talk for dispirited Democrats even has a great barbecue recipe in it. Tired progressives should snap this sucker up: It's a bargain at the price - ten bucks for a good dose of heart, pride, and righteous anger.

Coach Carville is of the school that believes the best defense is a good offense, and he blasts away with manic Cajun cheer. I follow politics by trade, but even I found some Republican outrages in this book that had slipped by me. "Geeezus, how did I miss that?" I kept saying. Of course, Gingrich & Co. are a never-ending source of wonder to us all, but the extent to which they have pooped all over the field is amazing when you see it added up like this.

We're Right, They're Wrong is a pithy compendium of every shoddy, shady, anti-common sense, anti-people measure the dimwitted twits of the GOP have produced so far. Carville's response, delivered with gleeful relish, is "LET's FIGHT!"

The organization of this pep talk is pleasantly eccentric. It's pocked with lists and charts: Carville's Top Five Ridiculous and Pathetic Republicans, Most Expensive Boondoggles, Biggest Hypocrites, Tips on Potato Salad, and an odd assortment of stuff Carville just wants to emphasize. At 183 pages this is barely a book, but Carville joins a distinguished company of American political pamphleteers. His writing is only serviceable and his political philosophy is not new, but by God the man has energy. Which is more than can be said for most Democrats these days. He muses on how we got into this ridiculous debate - instead of talking about how to make government work better, much of the country mindlessly insisting Government Is Bad - but offers no insights. He describes the takeover of the Republican Party by right-wing nut-hatches, but offers no explanation for it. Carville is not given to Deep Thoughts. But as his subtitle, "A Handbook for Spirited Progressives," suggests, his purposes here are motivation and game plan, not explanation.

The only chapter in this pep talk I disagree with is Carville's chapter on race. As a fellow white Southern liberal, I sympathize with his feelings - he is frankly discouraged about race relations - but I think he misreads them a trifle. The separatist sentiment represented by Louis Farrakhan is nothing new - the same split has appeared among black leaders for generations - Marcus Garvey and A. Phillip Randolph, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson. And it's sure as hell understandable.

It may well be that the best thing about President Clinton is his ability to talk to this country about race. He's as good as any white person I've ever heard. But I'm not sure the problem is in the hearts of Americans: Stereotypes may still abound, but there just aren't that many Americans walking around with hearts full of hate. Racism seems to me more a matter of real, concrete barriers that prevent people from getting education, jobs, apartments, mortgage loans, any loans. And those barriers can be broken by government.

For the most part, Carville's little book is a pip, packed with stuff you'll want to underline and use in arguments with your brother-in-law. Carville claims to have nobly restrained himself from denouncing the press (much), which is a shame. Because what's really changed in this country is the echo chamber in Washington. The reason this book comes as such a shot-in-the-arm is because we haven't been hearing from progressives. I get dozens of letters every week saying, either literally or in effect, "Thank God there's someone else out there who still thinks the way I do." The sense of isolation is extraordinary and it ain't caused by "the liberal media."

So Coach Carville is just in time with his handy-dandy half-time talk. Let's hustle back out there, team, raise hell, have fun, and fight, fight, fight.
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Author:Ivins, Molly
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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