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Book Review: The Anti-American Manifesto by Ted Rall

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Before the 2004 election and in what we know now was the midst of the George W. Bush administration, Ted Rall wrote Wake Up, You’re Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right and challenged liberals to step forward and lead this country to the promise it offers. From its impressive opening “Credo” to the final chapter, called “The Manifesto for a New America,” I was so impressed I made sure I got a personally autographed copy.

While Rall’s book attacked the policies of the right, he didn’t give Democrats a free ride (one chapter was called “Dem Dum Dems”). Still, he provided suggestions and approaches toward changing the direction of the country. Six years later, a president of color who ran on a campaign of “change” is in the White House. What’s Rall thinking now? Well, he’s issued another manifesto — and this one calls for revolution.

Whether as an author or award-winning syndicated editorial cartoonist and syndicated columnist and cartoonist, Rall has never hesitated to say what’s on his mind. And his new book, The Anti-American Manifesto, actually does call for a revolution right here in the good old U S of A. But don’t think Rall has gone off the deep end. Instead, the book seems to reflect how people across the political spectrum have simply given up on the ability of the country’s existing political system and structure to right the ship. Look at the success of the Tea Party. It’s just that Rall takes it a step further. He says it’s too late to reform the country or the government because the existing system is not viable or open to real change. Revolution, he writes, is preferable to collapse.

“The current U.S. government must be prophylactically removed,” he writes. “Our economic and social structures must be radically reinvented. These things can only happen by using force.” Yet The Anti-American Manifesto doesn’t suggest the revolution start on the left. In fact, he invokes the adage “the enemy of your enemy is your friend, urging people to “reach out to anyone and everyone who is willing to take on the existing system.” That also means, somewhat maddeningly, that Rall isn’t specific about what will follow revolution. Although he still hews to many of the ideas expressed in Wake Up, You’re Liberal!, he believes the first priority is to get rid of the current “zombie system of government.” Only then should we begin to “split ideological hairs” on what will replace it.

Rall believes Americans have 10 essential rights: shelter, food, basic clothes, education in accordance with your abilities and talents (through college), medical care, retirement benefits, transportation, communication, competent legal counsel if charged with a crime, and job training and rehabilitation if incarcerated. Although only one of these is currently guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, an argument can certainly be made that what Rall advocates are crucial elements of the unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” described in the Declaration of Independence. Only a revolution can help protect such rights because the governmental and corporate structure that has evolved in America is incapable of doing so, he contends:

Unless you’re hopelessly self-deluded or stupid, you have to accept the painful truth. Under the current triumvirate of state power currently presiding over our lives — governmental, corporate and media — you have no more ability to change anything important — e.g. the way the economy is managed, or which countries and people are being attacked by the armies you pay for — than a medieval serf or a German under Nazism did in the past, or a detainee in a secret CIA prison somewhere does now.

Rall quite simply seems to have reached the end of his political rope. Not only is necessary change not coming, he believes it never will. Rational people, then, have only one choice, which is to take things into their own hands and start over. Even if people don’t, the system is going to collapse on itself and revolution will be forced upon us. He believes it better to be proactive than reactive. Whether that call to action will succeed is another question altogether.

In the book, Rall notes he “hated” the title of Wake Up, You’re Liberal. I would quibble with title The Anti-American Manifesto. Rall isn’t anti-American. He’s anti what America has become. Yet calling the manifesto “anti-American” doesn’t get that point across. In fact, it may tend to divide rather than unite the enemies of his enemies.

Second, I understand Rall wants to avoid infighting among those are willing to tear the system down. I’m on the opposite side of the question of having aims and goals for any revolution. Without them, fear of the unknown will always outweigh throwing the bastards out and then splitting ideological hairs. Like our government, corporations and media, Americans want to know “What’s in it for me?” before committing to even quasi-radical action. Some essential common principles likely need be expressed.

Finally, to some extent The Anti-American Manifesto has echoes of the late 1960s. Despite the youth culture and cries of revolution in the street, today we are in an arguably worse state of affairs. The America to which Rall is speaking is likely less receptive to such ideas than four decades ago. This is particularly pertinent when Rall himself admits, “It is better to do nothing than to stage a half-assed revolt.”

It’s not surprising Rall has reached his limit. In fact, he says he’s thought revolution was necessary before but was afraid to say so. In fact, in the “Credo” in Wake Up, You’re Liberal he said, “Radical problems require radical solutions.” The last item in that “Credo” is also relevant six years later: “I reserve the right to change my mind.”

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About Tim Gebhart

Tim Gebhart is a book addict living in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he practices law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs.
  • Pat

    How can he be anti-capitalist when he works for newspapers and sells books.

    The current system works if regulations are enforced, and a ‘peoples takeover’ would result in nothing more than a South African state where the unions muck everything up.

    Like Chomsky or Zinn, he writes from a provacateur angle, rather than something that makes sense.

  • DarrelB

    Boy am I scared. Ted Rall and his gang of effete Ivy League rabble-rousers are going to start killing right-wingers and Tea Partiers. With what? Organic zucchini from Whole Foods? What will all this do to their carbon footprint? Hey, Ted, you better be careful before the people who actually have the guns and ammo take you up on your little revolution. By the way, the US Military doesn’t exactly buy your Leftist nonsense either.

  • StanG

    Hey DarrelB:
    You’d be surprised how many of my guys are saying the same stuff as Rall. We’re not your average grunts.
    And don’t kid yourself, your small arms won’t decide anything. I can teach anybody to use a bullet hose in two days.
    So don’t include me and my unit in your woofing.

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