I wasn’t sure if I was the right person to write this review. I picked up Confessions of a Former Dittohead because it looked interesting. I didn’t know who Jim Derych was or that he wrote on the Daily Kos. I didn’t even know what the Daily Kos was until I started researching the author. After all, I don’t hang around the political blogosphere all day. Hell, I don’t hang around any blogosphere. I’m one of those anti-social bloggers; I do my own thing, quietly and unobtrusively, in my own little corner of cyberspace, and my recent venture into BlogCritics land is as social as I’ve ever dared to get in my blogging.
But just because I don’t hang around the political blogosphere doesn’t mean I don’t have political concerns. I sign petitions, I write my representatives frequently — perhaps more frequently than they would like — and I even engage in peaceful demonstrations and attend rallies for the many causes that I care deeply about. So maybe I am the right person to review this book, after all. The people who hang out at Daily Kos already know Derych’s story. The people most likely to pick it up from the bookstore shelf are people just like me – people who think it sounds interesting.
So is it interesting? Sure is. Not only that, it is enlightening and funny too.
In Confessions of a Former Dittohead, Jim Derych tells us the story of his slow and sometimes painful metamorphosis from Dittohead to Democrat. So what is a dittohead? According to the book’s cover, it is:
A self-identifying term used by fans of Rush Limbaugh. Characteristics include: a belief in the infallibility of Rush, the Republican Party and Fox News; a hatred of all things liberal; and the uncanny ability to deny any information or ‘facts’ that contradict their worldview.
Sounds like my brother-in-law.
Part I of Confessions details Derych’s journey from right to left, and how his conservative political leanings died “a death of a thousand cuts.” He was anti-choice until he heard his friend Amy’s story. He was a homophobe until he found out his college buddy was gay. He began to wonder where all this hatred had come from. His faith in his party, and Rush, was slowly eroded over the years by the war in Iraq, by the strange and unfathomable system of mathematics that informs conservative economic policies, and by the incessant war on “things the Republicans think are immoral.”
[ADBLOCKHERE]Part II is a revealing schematic of the dittohead mind, the underlying fear and ignorance that informs it, how to talk to a dittohead, and how to perhaps crack open the dittohead skull, just a fraction, to let in a smidgeon of light. Over the years I’ve learned how not to talk to dittoheads. I now realize that saying things like, “Wow, that Fidel Castro is really sexy,” and “Gotta run, I’m late for my quarterly abortion,” are usually not the way to go. I think next time I’ll try some of Derych’s tactics instead.
Confessions of a Former Dittohead is a short, easy-to-read, and well-written book. Derych’s style is friendly, almost conversational, and makes for enjoyable reading, even when he’s hitting some hard subjects. Derych has a sharp sense of humor and a couple of times I laughed out loud. There is also a straightforward sincerity to the book; at all times Derych seems to remain aware that this is his story he’s telling. He doesn’t get preachy or tyrannical – he just tells it like he sees it, like he experienced it.
There were times I wish he’d gone into a little more depth on certain subjects, particularly Katrina, which is an issue that is close to my heart. But Confessions isn’t meant to be an in-depth analysis of the issues. It is Jim’s story, and he tends to go into greater depth on matters with which he’s more personally familiar; for instance he does a great job of breaking down economic issues and tax-reform (which sounds kinda boring, but isn’t).
I don’t agree with every single thing Derych says, but then I don’t have to. Having a liberal brain, I am free to free-think as much as I want to, and I don’t have to toe any party line, or mimic the words and attitudes of more famous and influential liberals. One point of minor contention is Jim’s views on social Darwinism. I don’t believe that social Darwinism is the strict provenance of the Republican party. Democrats may not be as rabid in their embrace of it, but in a country where the “American Dream” is defined by a grueling work ethic and an underlying sense that poverty somehow equals immorality, social Darwinism is, sadly, prevalent on both sides of the party divide.
But again, this isn’t my book and this isn’t my story. This is Derych’s story and, overall, it is an engaging and entertaining one. It also gives me hope for my brother-in-law.