- - Monday, April 7, 2014

By Lou Dobbs
Threshold Editions, $26.99, 288 pages

By Steve Deace
Post Hill Press, $26, 220 pages

You won’t want to read either Lou Dobbs’ “Upheaval” or Steve Deace’s “Rules for Patriots” if you are looking for a lift or a joyous evening.

Both are full of bad news — very bad news — about the state of the country, the economy, the political system and the political class in charge of our fate. Mr. Dobbs and Mr. Deace leave no doubt about where they are coming from, what the problems we face are, and, in very different ways, what we should do about them.

Mr. Deace, a popular Iowa-based radio talk-show host identified by pundits as a conservative kingmaker for his role in the Iowa caucuses, wastes no time in telling his readers that America is losing its grip, that American exceptionalism is running out of steam, and that without a plan of attack there is little hope for lasting freedom.

He makes no bones about the fact that America’s greatest threat isn’t the radical left or even traditional liberalism, but from people he labels “Republicrats” — Republican politicians who campaign as conservatives, but govern from the middle-left and are largely undistinguishable in their approach to government from Democrats.

In fact, his stock-in-trade, and the gist of “Rules for Patriots,” is the ongoing battle between conservatives and the Republican Establishment, which he thinks is dominated by his “Republicrats.” The question of whether this essentially intraparty battle for what amounts to the soul of the Republican Party will — even if the “Republicrats” are driven out — result in either electing enough Republicans to enact a conservative agenda or allow a dedicated minority to turn the country around is what is at the heart of the dispute.

Mr. Deace clearly thinks that an uncompromising minority might be able to do the job and, in any event, that minority’s dedication to principle will attract the voters needed to make it a majority.

Maybe, but Mr. Deace also thinks there are other, deeper reasons for the conservative failure. Conservatives are losing elections because they are losing the fight for the culture.

No secret there. But, according to Mr. Deace, conservatives know that, they know what needs to be done to fix the problem, why it needs fixing and who needs to fix it. All we need to know, he says, is how to do it. In this book, he tries to tell us.

Setting Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” on its head, Mr. Deace’s fix is set forth in 10 commandments, all of which make pretty good sense in their own right and are, for the most part, the way a solid conservative would combat the left. Never trust Republicrats. Never accept the premise of your opponent’s argument. Never surrender the high ground. Play offense. You get the idea — be a hard-liner; don’t apologize for what you believe; don’t let your opponent lie, cheat and steal; be true to your political base.

Unfortunately, sometimes his commandments get lost in the commentary that brings up every kind of political point imaginable. In fact, “Rules for Patriots” almost sounds like a radio talk-show transcript, where the host is trying to fill out his nightly three hours.

Writing books and hosting a radio talk shows are two different exercises, but talk-show hosts, probably because they have a built-in audience who they hope will click onto Amazon and buy their book, are prolific authors. (I published a few myself.)

There is an old line in book publishing that most books should be articles (and in magazine publishing that most articles shouldn’t be written). Mr. Deace’s book makes some good points, but like a lot of such, would have profited from a good editor.

Mr. Dobbs was one of the first reporters to join CNN when it started up in the early 1980s, and became a fixture there before leaving, in something of a huff, and eventually joining Fox Business, where he remains to this day.

He fashions himself an independent populist, probably a good description, and has a long history of opposing free trade and immigration reform. Affable, entertaining and a straight-shooter on the air, Mr. Dobbs has impressed his audiences with his good sense and great capacity as a teacher.

“Upheaval,” Mr. Dobbs’ sixth book, advertises itself as the volume that will win back the country with “knowledge that empowers, ideas that matter and solutions that work.” It is, to be sure, a rich catalog of the things wrong in America, from the money spent on elections to the excesses of the regulatory state to wasteful spending, too much federal debt and our failure to adequately confront Islamism, among many other issues.

The problem is that while Mr. Dobbs is long on problems, he’s short on solutions. Oh, the solutions are there, all right, but for the most part are oft-repeated platitudes that don’t make the book the value it could be if the author had gone into more detail on what might be done or what his readers can do to affect the country’s future.

Is the American family coming apart? No doubt it is, but if all we need to do is elect “political leaders who will commit to enacting policies to help families,” will the problem be solved? Is it really that simple?

Does China pose a threat to our economic well-being? Sure, and that won’t change, according to Mr. Dobbs, without leadership that “recognizes the challenges ahead of us and commits to winning our economic contest with the Chinese.” True, but how?

Is our infrastructure falling apart? You bet, but is it really true that all that needs to be done is for Barack Obama to “encourage governments at every level to build partnerships with business and academia to create strategies for its rehabilitation”?

And what do Republicans need to do to start winning elections? That’s a question GOP leaders haven’t been able to answer, but Mr. Dobbs has the answer. The GOP just needs to turn the Republican “big tent” into reality. No big problem, says Mr. Dobbs, and offers what he sees as a simple, straightforward solution: “Republicans just have to be the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.”

It’s difficult to see how they’ll do that in today’s world. If these former GOP presidents were alive today, they would be arguing about many of the same issues as current Republican leaders because their views, particularly on domestic issues, are as varied as those of Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell.

It’s just as certain that if Mr. Deace and Mr. Dobbs sat down, the advice they would offer the GOP would differ in significant ways. Those who read their books will, like the country’s political leaders, have to decide how much of what each has to say is worth heeding.

Alfred S. Regnery is the former president and publisher of Regnery Publishing Inc.

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