Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst for numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.
Q: With August here and the fourth wave of COVID-19 coming, I’m asking everybody, what are you reading? Seriously, I’m doing political books for the next few months, any suggestions?
A: Let’s go with “something old, something new, something borrowed,” but nothing blue, as we do not wish to offend our red-hewed colleagues. Recommendations are not ranked, but rather listed alphabetically by author, and the list is not an endorsement of every small-print opinion in these books.
The Weary Titan by Princeton Professor Aaron L. Friedberg, about the “relative decline” of Great Britain before WWI, and how British leaders failed to understand and respond to this descent. A cautionary overview for an America paralyzed by its political fringes and threatened by foreign competitors.
Talking to My Country, a memoir by Australian journalist and author Stan Grant on how racism is threatening the Australian Dream. Grant’s exploration of identity and the future of democracy includes novelistic asides, e.g., his dad “sitting for hours, his eyes closed and his head bent … listening to Merle Haggard sing the story of [his] life.” The author worked for both CNN and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is of Aboriginal ancestry, from the Wiradjuri people.
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in the field of virtual reality who, in 2010, was named to the TIME 100 list of “most influential people.” You may not agree with Lanier’s prescriptions, but you will benefit from his provocative analysis, e.g., chapters that include “Social media is making politics impossible” and “Social media is making you into an @#%hole [vulgarity sanitized].”
No Final Victories by Lawrence F. O’Brien, a member of JFK’s inner circle, U.S. Postmaster General, DNC chair during the Watergate break-in (his office was the target of the bungled burglary), and NBA commissioner. To those who naively claim to have invented the “wisdom of crowds,” O’Brien was lauded by Theodore H. White in The Making of the President, 1960 for instituting political strategies that “give as many people as possible a sense of participation,” galvanizing emotions and giving the participant “a live stake” in the outcome of the election. A great behind-the-scenes remembrance that stands the test of time, 47 years after its publication.
This 2021 book explores the four identities dominating (and dividing) American politics: Free America (libertarians who favor individual freedom and resent regulation), Smart America (high earners and technocrats who attend competitive schools and embrace meritocracy), Real America (White Christian nationalists), and Just America (younger Americans focused on fixing systemic injustice). The book’s subtitle echoes our national tug-of-war: “America in Crisis and Renewal.”
Don’t hold back. I love hearing what people find useful.
Here are a few honorable mentions worth your (and anyone’s) time: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, an elegant yet common-sensical guide to getting things done by — my opinion — the top management thinker of the 20th Century.
How Ireland Voted 2020 (editors Gallagher, Marsh & Reidy), a collection of essays about another country marking the end of one political era amid great uncertainty.
What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era by Carlos Lozado, which mines subtleties and fresh ironies from the fatigued punditries of 2016-2020.
How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith, which tells the story of American slavery and its legacy by visiting monuments and landmarks throughout the US; and Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, detailing the anti-elitist, insurgent and often buffoonish Louisiana politician characterized by some as a more competent, left-wing version of The Donald.
One other thing. You can’t be reading all the time. What about podcasts?
Podcasts: Front Burner, a daily news podcast by the CBC with a “distinctively Canadian” perspective on politics, including the United States.
The Future of the Internet, a Stanford University exploration of the web’s past and possible futures.
New Books Network, which publishes episodes on 90+ subjects for a global audience; and Politics on the Couch, in which UK host Rafael Behr looks at “the way our minds respond to politics and the way politicians mess with our minds.”
OK, now do movies and TV:
A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 film by the same writer-director team responsible for On the Waterfront, starring Andy Griffith (pre-Mayberry), that is an “eerily prescient diagnosis of the toxic intimacy between media and politics in American life.” And last but never least, Borgen, the 2010-2013 Danish series about a minor centrist politician who becomes Denmark’s first female prime minister, an absolutely great show that’s neither nihilistic, like House of Cards, nor preachy, à la The West Wing. It’s simply the best.