A Little Book with a Big Plan

I have before  me Spencer Gantt’s  Vote the Bastards Out!: Democrats, Republicans, Incumbents  (2nd ed.  Denver: Outskirts Press, 2010) and I  heartily recommend it.  If mass distributed — and considering its brevity, cheap price, and punchy writing, it’s a natural for mass distribution — it could help spark a (peaceful) revolution in our country.  Not just among right-wing Tea Partiers but among Americans of all stripes and persuasions.  Its 100-proof message cannot be easily co-opted by politicians or the big parties.

I’m a political science professor.  This book isn’t written by a member of my profession, nor is it aimed at academics like myself.  The title is a tip-off, of course.  This is written by an average American and its target audience are ordinary working people.  His targets are PRCs: professional politicians, ultra rich, and celebrities.  He points out that 20 per cent of the population control all of the power and 80 per cent of the wealth.

This is a 2nd edition, published in 2010, during the Age of Obama . . . which has been suspiciously a lot like the Age of Bush II.  While Vote the Bastards Out will never reach Glenn Beck levels of popularity, it is in the honorable tradition of Tom Paine’s little publication Common Sense.  Unlike Beck’s book of the same name, Gantt is not limited by identification with one party or with a one-sided entertainment corporation.

The book contains no references to hot-button issues and takes no position on most of the controversies of the day.  It’s non-ideological, and even timeless, in that way.  But there is an ideology: populism.  It’s not a Left-Right thing. You can be a liberal populist or a conservative populist.  As long as you believe that We the People ought to rule.  Somebody has to be in charge.  Will it be one, the few, or the many?  When the people are in charge, they can debate and decide among themselves regarding the various issues that divide us.  Until that day, those issues are mostly tools used by the elitists with power to divide-and-conquer the rest of us.

Gantt is a good writer.  He strikes an earnest but folksy tone, peppered with just the right amount of humor and sarcasm.  The book is well edited—almost error-free.  Vote the Bastards Out has a simple solution: vote against all incumbents.  He adds to this maxim by proposing some reforms, some quite innovative (e.g., his take on term limits).

The book’s simplicity is a strength and a weakness.  He is prone to generalization.  Not every incumbent is self-seeking and bought-off.  Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson aren’t hacks. (Granted, they are exceptions to the rule.)  But it works well as a rallying cry for Middle America—the 80 per cent who lack political and economic power.  The book is more rant than analysis but it does contain facts and sensible recommendations.  It’s indignant but not angry, funny but not frivolous, radical but not crazy.  I urge you to read it.

JEFF TAYLOR is a political scientist. His book Where Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy was published by University of Missouri Press. He can reached at wherego@aol.com

Jeff Taylor teaches politics and writes books.