A Failure to Communicate
A Comedian and John McCain's Daughter Try to Fix America
If you've seen Stella, The State, or Wet Hot American Summer, you know that Michael Ian Black is a funny man. And there are a few moments in America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom (Da Capo, $26), the new book he's coauthored with John McCain's daughter, that are pretty funny. A description of his favorite game to play when in Salt Lake City, spot the Mormon, is funny and true. ("It's easy. You just look for anybody who looks happy.") But half of this book is written by Meghan McCain, who is not funny and, for that matter, not particularly interesting.
Bitch is an account of Black and McCain's RV road trip around the United States to discover the "real America," just in time for the 2012 elections. It's one of those pop political books that gets really mad at the bums in Congress and promotes "common sense" ideas that "everyone" can supposedly agree on. Here's Black, trying to play the median:
So, no, I'm not loyal to the Democratic Party. I'm loyal to my beliefs. Right now the Democrats come closer to embodying those beliefs than the other guys, but I don't trust them because I don't trust power.
This is bong-side philosophy at its worst, a truism that's been simplified to the point of idiocy. It's the most uncontroversial, unhelpful political statement ever. That is, until McCain emotes it up over freedom, supporting the troops, and—gosh darn it—loving the heck out of America, no matter how unpopular loving America has become these days. McCain is supposedly a different kind of Republican, because she maybe believes global warming might be a little problem we ought to take a look at sometime, and that gay people totally ought to get married, even though her preferred candidates all promote anti-gay bigotry. Both Black and McCain seem to believe the parties are victimizing the good, decent American public.
And the facile moral of Bitch—that it's not the proud, perfect American people who are at fault, but the process—is highly frustrating. By absolving the American voter of all responsibility, they ignore the central problem. Maybe if voters educated themselves a little more, we wouldn't have such a regressive political system.
If you're interested in how to best resolve the never-ending arguments between Republicans and Democrats, I urge you to skip America, You Sexy Bitch and instead pick up George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling's The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (Free Press, $11). Wehling and Lakoff contend that language is the most divisive force in America right now—that, in fact, Republicans and Democrats are communicating in totally different dialects.
To put it crudely, Little Blue Book teaches Democrats how to speak Republican. It offers a crash course in what to consider before engaging with the frustrating literalness of Republicans—as you consider each word in your argument, think to yourself, "Can I take a pen and draw a picture of it, even a line drawing that people would recognize?" And then it offers a series of chapters reframing vital issues into moral arguments in such a way as to give Democrats a linguistic advantage in coercing Republicans to consider their side. (This is not a new idea: Republicans have dominated the abortion discussion by staking a claim on the morally charged "pro-life.") Rather than complaining about corporate farms, make the argument about "sun food" versus "oil food," for example, and whenever possible, refer to workers as "profit creators" and suggest that corporations are not "pay[ing] in full for work done."
It's a far-fetched idea, but maybe if Little Blue Book was distributed far and wide, it could work. For a little more than the cost of America, You Sexy Bitch, you could buy three copies of Little Blue Book and hand two out to friends and make a meaningful effort toward cracking the rhetorical stalemate that simpleminded thinking helped create.