Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government–And How We Take It Back
Crown / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
Publication Date: 05-15-2006
384 Pages; $24
Date Reviewed: 06-16-06
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2006
Our government, contends David Sirota in 'Hostile Takeover', "once protected workers...once demanded better wages." In the sweet bye-and-bye, perhaps, but surely no longer. Now, the government formed to protect the people has been subverted to protect the corporate interests that ensure the election of those who run the country. At least in Sirota's view, and he's pulled together a pretty amazing compendium of information to support his thesis. 'Hostile Takeover' is meant to be a sort of guidebook to the ongoing apocalypse of American "little d" democracy, and as such, it does not paint a pretty picture. But it's not all nails-in-coffins and bullshit-from-boffins. There's some good news to be found, and some good apples that keep the bad ones from not just ruining, but becoming the whole batch. Still, it's an uphill struggle.
Sirota is direct and to the point here. You get an introduction, where he lays out how the book is put together, and more interestingly, whom the book is for and not for. "This book is not for mindless partisans," he writes–so you among us who would call yourself a mindless partisan, begone! More entertainingly, "This book is not for Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist who, from the comfortable confines of his cushy, six-figure job, regularly insults ordinary workers by telling us the keys to America's success are for us to work longer hours at lower wages and sit quietly as our government sells off our jobs to the last Third World "hotspot" he just visited on vacation." Well, he's cut down his audience by at least one reader, I'll wager. But he's also given readers a preview of the sort of wit that illuminates this take-no-prisoners handbook to the handbasket we're riding towards hell.
The introduction past, Sirota proceeds to dissect the major political issues of this day and many others. Taxes, wages, jobs, debt, pensions, health care, prescription drugs, energy, unions and legal rights comprise a list just short of life, the universe and everything. But Sirota covers them all in some 300 pages, with over 80 pages of tiny-type supporting notes.
I'm not going to rehash Sirota's points here. Suffice it to say that he makes case after case for his overarching theme, to pull the quote that fires off this book, "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations." Sounds like something off the Al Gore Channel, but it proves to be Thomas Jefferson, who'd probably enjoy the bad science fiction novel based on our current reality, even though he might think it outlandish. How could nearly universal communication result in such apathetic voting? Perspective is truly the key here.
Well, actually, the key is that Sirota, for all his dogged organization, for all his point-by-point takedown of the opposition, and let's be frank, it's mostly the conservative, corporate-friendly Republicans who are his targets, is a good writer. It's easy to think that when right is on your side -- whether it is or not -- that right will result in good writing. Alas, usually the opposite is true. Those convinced they hold the truth usually wind up making it either dull or repugnant. Whatever you might want to accuse Sirota of, he surely does not render what he takes for the truth dull or repugnant. This is writing to help you get your back up, as they say in some part of the country that is most assuredly not the left coast upon which this review is being composed.
But Sirota is an equal opportunity offender. Perhaps it is germane to discuss the construction of each subject-oriented chapter. He opens with a general statement, and then goes straight to debunk "lies", "myths", "half-truths" and "misperceptions". He calls out "Heroes" and "Hacks", the former being his nod towards a less-than-dire outlook, the latter like meat to the hungry masses. Readers will note that he excoriates more than a few "big D" Democrats as well as the Usual Suspects.
Sirota contends that 'Hostile Takeover' is a sort of handbook, so that when you see someone on your television spouting words on a subject, you can grab it and compare and contrast reality as Sirota presents it (backed up by pages of tiny-type notes) with the words flowing from your screen. This of course presumes that the people who would seriously watch television news would also have a book or two in their house beyond that book, Leonard Maltin's Guide to Movies from three years ago and a crossword-puzzle dictionary. But those who do happen to have Sirota's book in their house will surely mull his words, particularly when you hear key phrases like "free trade". One wishes that books like this came with instructions for rolling one's eyes when the inevitable beyond-the-book bloviating begins.
Running through Sirota's Laundry List of Woes are some pretty fascinating themes, and free trade is nearly at the top of my list. But not quite. That hallowed spot is reserved for "the race to the bottom," Sirota's notion that the concept of freedom has been tweaked by profit-minded corporate interests to ensure that everything goes down with the exception of profits and the net worth of our New Corporate Aristocracy. Race for the bottom, hell in a handbasket, it's all the stuff of a very dull science fiction novel set in the early twenty-first century. Titled 'Watching Paint Dry', this novel tells the origin story of the handful of moneyed immortals who managed to escape just before the planet-killer asteroid struck the Earth early in the twenty-second century. Frankly, 'Hostile Takeover' is a hell of a lot more interesting to shout at (or with, depending on whether or not you’re a mindless partisan) than 'Watching Paint Dry'. As soon as I finish writing this review, I'm going back to my part as a nameless number. This nameless number has some chores to do.