Monday, October 16, 2006

How I Got Here

David Frum is a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a contributing editor to The National Review. So when I picked up his book, How We Got Here: The 70's I was fully prepared for the author to regard that decade as if it were the last two chapters of the Old Testament before Ronald Reagan came to redeem mankind. I still was looking forward to reading it.

That being said, enough already! From the sexual revolution to the economy, every chapter is a continuous rant about how everything was fine until the liberals came along and ruined it. You know how on "E! True Hollywood Story" or "VH-1's Behind The Music," where you have the celebrity going on this upward trajectory to stardom and then inevitably, "But there were dark times ahead," or "But then everything began to spiral out of control"? In this book, you get about two or three paragraphs into every chapter and then, like clockwork, "But then the Democratic Congress decided...." "But then the liberal courts ruled..."

And that's a shame, because the premise of this book is a good one. A lot of the social changes we associate with the '60s actually came about in the '70s, and I want to read a social history about that decade beyond the usual Disco/Polyester/Big Hair treatises. The '70s were supposedly about getting rid of all the "shoulds" we'd accumulated and becoming liberated and self-actualized. But they actually super-imposed a whole new set of shoulds on top of the old ones, and many of us who came of age in that era have spent the past 25 years chipping away at all these layers of shoulds—and, in some cases, making our shrinks wealthy.

In fact, if Frum had called his book "Why Conservatives Are Pissed" I would have agreed with him on several of those points. I enjoy challenging unquestioned assumptions, even momentarily entertaining Frum's contention that Nixon got a bum rap. But this book is one long polemic and after a while it's like listening to a bootleg concert at a high volume on your iPod: All you hear is noise, and you tune out.

I would welcome a book by op-ed columnists David Brooks or E.J. Dionne covering the same ground, but even Brooks and Dionne have expressed a lot of partisan ire in the past few polarized years. So it looks as if a contentious era will have to wait for a less contentious era before we can fully explore it.

Oh yeah, with all the rants about excess, there's one type of excess about which Frum actually writes positively: People running up an excess of consumer credit. This would be a good point of departure for a sequel: "How We Got Here: The 80's."

He writes about it positively??

Plenty of people I know who survived the excesses of the '70s all right were done in by the excesses of the '80s (and '90s: playing the Internet stock bubble, badly).
Yeah, he writes about it positively, or at least I perceived it as such. Something about "people investing in their dreams." So whatever type of conservative Frum is, it's not "fiscal."
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