In an attempt to keep my brain sharp, I turned to this tome by current US Senator Rand Paul, which seeks to dispel any notion that socialism ought to creep onto American shores. The title alone depicts the negativity that is to be found in the book and Paul did not disappoint, tossing in anecdotes and stories that would support his views, but failing to balance the discussion, though this is to be expected. From the outset, the reader is in for quite a ride, as the opening pages explore the Venezuelan socialist president’s close assassination and what Paul feels has been done to the country under the leftist ideology. Paul’s vilification does not stop there, though for the first part of the book, this exploration of South and Latin American countries and their dictators leaves the reader wondering if Paul spun the globe and let the text bemoan the area on which his pointer finger landed. Looking at the economic downside of socialism, Paul rambles on about how this ideology will only lead to those on the left getting the ‘economic disparity’ loop closed, which would be tragic for Americans. Paul touts that rather than attacking the rich for more of their money, society should allow everyone to prosper. He cites how much better off Americans are on the lower part of the economic spectrum than even a century ago and calls any notion of bridging the gap as simply a tool to punish the (‘meritocratic’?) rich, rather than allowing the system to add more to the coffers of the middle-class. Paul chooses to toss the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez under the proverbial bus for being democratic socialists, as though he wants to vilify them to the reader early and often.
Moving on to explore some of the social aspects of socialism, Paul debunks the common held belief that Scandinavian countries are socialist, citing right of centre leaders who beg for this label to be removed, post haste. Stop for a moment and re-read that last sentence… yes, Paul bases his stance on a party leader who does not hold the view to speak about the history of the political leanings of the country. To ensure the reader remains soured on social democracy, Paul explains that universal medical coverage is clouded over by a system where the citizen is only able to get the types of medication available to all and how horrible it would be to have to be on par with others. Additionally, he cites the atrocity of entrance examinations to post-secondary, where all fees are covered by the government, as being a horrible offence to the public. All this while continuing to explain that ‘Denmark is not socialist and this guy will tell you so’. Something’s rotten here, Senator, and it’s not just your posteriorly-shoved head when it comes to reality.
Perhaps the greatest issue woven into the text of this tome is Paul’s repeated interchanging of ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’, even muddying the waters further by calling national socialism (fascism) the same as Marxist views. Paul pulls names like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, and Mao out to show how horrible the ideal of socialism (both traditional and national) might be. I am not going to sit here and deny that all these men were horrible to their people and used their own bastardised version of socialism to suit them, but there is no balance whatsoever. It is talk of blood, murder, beatings, and thought suppression in the name of the state, missing some of the social balancing that did occur. If we are to use this logic, perhaps we ought to call democracy horrible because of the way President Trump is acting under that ideology. It makes little sense and serves only to add fuel to the fire, but to follow your lead, it seems only fair. As a former student of political science, I can attest that textbook ideologies rarely play out in the real world, but to sit here and harp about the extremism seems to make little sense and serves only as a scare tactic. What about speaking to the governments of Sweden, Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, and even (gasp) Denmark, all of whom have degrees of socialism that Paul despises? What of their bloodthirsty leaders who killed so many? I suppose it only serves a purpose to speak of the scary monsters and not those who pulled on the reins of power to limit themselves. In a mix of scare tactics and attempts to inculcate the reader with troubles from history, Rand Paul does little but offer up a 21st century Chicken Little story and hopes everyone will hide out long enough for America to remain horrible until 2024.
In the latter portion of the book, Paul injects new rounds of confusion and philosophical arguments to muddy things even further. His citing of Plato, More, and (more recently) the writings of Francis Fukuyama, seek to expose the ridiculous views of socialism and the utopia it claims is within reach. While I applaud the senator for pulling these names out and expounding on their mind numbing orations, it is more distraction than anything, surely the point when grasping at straws. Tossing philosophical mud is all that comes of this, particularly when citing Fukuyama, whose writings about the end of (ideological) history came as the Berlin Wall’s dust was still in the air. Of course the rhetoric and stigma of anti-socialist and communist sentiments seemed strongest at a time when one world superpower was collapsing, though Paul seems to make Fukuyama’s pronouncements to be some heralded foreboding of evils, perhaps centuries before. From there, the narrative moves to the scare tactics that the left and socialists seem to be injecting into the debate, trying to frighten people from the right and centre. While this is all fine and good, Paul shoots himself in the foot as he pushes his conservatism to the extreme and sounds like the child who will not share their ball if the game is not one he chooses. He happily pulls his fearless leader into the mix and tries to show that POTUS and the current Administration is to be lauded for not showing leadership, but rather storming off when things do not go their own way. Whingeing is pathetic to see, but when one reads the excuses that pile up, it is more embarrassing than anything else. Funny, we are to applaud the GOP for being there to watch over all ills for America, but never there when it comes to being a shining example for the world to admire. Then again, what can we expect of a collective more eager to tear things down and destroy anything with a whiff of general wellness for the entire population? I’m no hard-core socialist, but I can see how there are benefits to a mix of the ideological approaches, something that many readers might share, rather than Paul’s incessant fire and brimstone sentiments that seem to emerge when trying to coddle those with the coffers to see him re-elected. Recommended for the open minded and politically savvy reader who is interested in a good laugh, as well as those seeking to see how not to write a persuasive and balanced piece of non-fiction.
I came into this book knowing that I would end up banging my head on the table many times. While I know little about Rand Paul as a person, I could see his Trump sycophancy from a mile away in the early pages of the book. He seeks to tear down anything he can that might offer a left of centre approach any chance of decrying the problems with the current American system and how to fix it. Rather than address disparities, Paul tells the reader to ‘worry about you and not the American whole’, fearing that if anyone were to look past their own nose they could be called a socialist sympathiser. The repetitive attacks on the extremes fills many pages, though I will admit that Paul has paid his researchers well to come up with long-winded and scary tales of the evils found within the most vilified countries who have held the socialist banner high. The book is at least laid out well and the chapters are full of information, even if some barely get started before their conclude, which goes to show that Paul sought content rather than empty rhetoric. I was pleased to have learned so much throughout the book, though the uneven balance and Paul’s clear thesis to vilify leaves me wondering if there were stretches of the truth in order to fit his needs (knowing that no sane reader would check all his sources). While I did find that I gritted my teeth at times and “what the hell”ed out loud as well, I was able to make my way through this book with relative ease. Paul sure can write when he wants to distract the reader from the shiny bauble in their periphery, in hopes of insulting those who are speaking out against a system they find repressive and which exacerbates socio-economic disparity. If he read, I am sure POTUS would be proud and might even offer up a 240 character pat on the back.
Kudos, Senator Paul, for an entertaining and educational look into how some within the GOP will go to extremes to smear and toss mud.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons