In Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It, Clinton cabinet member and progressive favourite Robert Reich continues the themes, and reframes the arguments, that made Aftershock (2010) — reviewed here — one of my favourite political books since the Crash of 2008.
This time the arguments and examples are smothered by such a polemical tone that Reich’s content makes a liar of his title. That’s too bad. I share Reich’s opinion of Big Money, but I fear that his current approach is counter-productive.
Reich’s case against Big Money is, as always, clearly-focused. He reduces complex financial situations to straightforward political choices, and the examples he chooses are pertinent and instructive. Again, too bad, for Reich can’t resist the impulse to make his case in such a shrill way.
What’s wrong with this book is its, for lack of a better word, outrage. While in Aftershock Reich maintained for the most part a calm and even-tempered presentation, in Beyond Outrage there is just too much spleen, not only in the language but also in the broad class warfare of the cartoon illustrations (drawn by Reich). The cartoons reminded me of an old “illustrated edition” of The Capitalist Manifesto that I picked up in the ’60s, a book that featured pictures of fat, cigar-smoking capitalists heaping various inequalities and other iniquities on the cowering and oppressed masses.
As for the language, while there certainly are relatively cogent and thoughtful passages sprinkled throughout the book, there is just too much invective like this:
Meanwhile, nonprofit political fronts like Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican political guru Karl Rove, gathered hundreds of millions of dollars from big corporations and wealthy individuals like the billionaire oil and petrochemical moguls David and Charles Koch and poured the money like poison into the veins of American politics.
OK, so Karl Rove is Satan, and the Koch brothers are evil incarnate. We all know that. But how does one take seriously a book that embraces language like “poured the money like poison into the veins of American politics”? I love Hamlet, so a reference, no matter how distant, to pouring “The leperous distilment” into “the porches of mine ears” is always fun. And yes, I get the “money is the most addictive drug” point. But this kind of writing does not support a serous political or economic case. It’s just not an effective way to argue.
It’s as if Reich doesn’t trust his audience to be sufficiently motivated to move “beyond outrage” until he’s pumped up that outrage first. Or maybe he just didn’t have enough new to say to fill up another book, so he took chunks of the last one and zipped up the language to make it feel like something new?
In either case, I suggest that readers who are interested in Reich’s take on what’s wrong with American politics avoid Beyond Outrage and read Aftershock instead.