Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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Book Review No. 4 takes up David Coates's A Liberal Tool Kit: Progressive Responses to Conservative Arguments, is a Praeger offering that has been promoted in mailings to academicians and it's on offer at academic prices (read: higher than the prices Morning Sun charge for full-color railroad picture books. There are no guaranteed student loans or $700 book allowances for train-spotters.)

The book crosses the line into polemics. Professor Coates admits as much, by way of making a case for the necessity of his work, at page 7.
Debating [powerful conservative arguments] is a serious and important endeavor. But there are other arguments out there too -- arguments of less force and value -- that need to be cleared away first. These arguments have a different purpose. They exist less to stimulate debate than to close it down, and they are disseminated less by intellectuals within the conservative movement than by their more populist outriders, who collectively make up a kind of right-wing "heavy brigade." We eventually will have to compete with the pedigree conservatives, but first we need to deal with their rottweilers.
Leave aside the sloppy mixing of metaphors and the lack of knowledge of matters military in that excerpt: the shame is the opportunities the book misses.

The introduction promises more:

  • We need to deal with the alternative point of view in all its complexity.
  • We need to balance complexity in argument with clarity in presentation.
  • We need to design arguments that can run the gamut from sound bites to theses.
  • We have to anchor our case in solid and reliable evidence.
  • The problem specification has to be superior
  •  ... and the logic has to be tight.
That's what frustrates about the book. On the one hand, in some chapters it recognizes that there is diversity of perspective on the Right (Heritage is different from Cato); on the other hand, when it reverts to dealing with the rottweilers, it gives the impression that Lou Dobbs or Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage are the frontier of conservative thinking.  (Tes, I'm referring specifically to immigration policy; it's that unit where drawing a distinction between Heritage and Cato, as well as distinguishing pro-market from pro-business policies would be particulary fruitful).

Furthermore, Professor Coates fails to engage the greatest challenge to the progressive project: the culture of failure that contributes to persistent poverty and underemployment.  In urban slums, that culture provides reliable Democratic voters; in hardscrabble suburbs and rural communities, the Christian right.  Thomas Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals gets closer to the heart of that policy challenge.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: academic, current events, politics
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