Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Politics/Current Events
Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words
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A “regular guy” who grew up poor, but through a long stint in the military followed by a college education, has established a solid, middle-class life. On politics, he says the following:
“Gil was not someone who paid attention to American politics earlier in his life, and he has come to the conclusion that his political ignorance is a fraction of the reason that government's run astray from representing the American people. He believes that if every American takes responsibility for their own fraction of the cause, then the American people would be able to force government to represent us as a whole.”
“Thoughts of a Common American is a short, accessible message written by a regular person—a husband, a father, a former Marine, and a guy with a 9-to-5 job—who got fed up by the apathy and disregard that he felt from the political leaders who were supposed to be representing his best interests, not their own. This is more than a journal of frustration, though. This is a book of recommendations for what we can do to win back our country.”
Evaluating a book like this presents an interesting balancing act. Should I evaluate the overarching message, the specific suggestions, or both? How much weight should my own political beliefs have on the review? How should I handle things presented as fact, that I believe are incorrect? Last, how should each of these be weighted?
I’ll start with the first and the last of these. The main theme is that everyone should be paying attention to politics. That we should not only be investigating what our elected representatives are doing, but searching out multiple points of view on the subjects we feel are most important, weighing the facts and claims, and deciding for ourselves. He claims that neither party is right on every issue (maybe neither is right on some), that we need to decide on our own and, most importantly, let our representatives know our thoughts. If the people don’t do this, our representatives will decide based on those who are talking to them. He makes a good case for this and has a lot of good suggestions for how to go about gathering information. This aspect of the book is its most important and, I think, deserves the most weight in evaluating the whole.
Buying into the overall theme gives me an easy out in evaluating the specific suggestions and how they line up with my personal political philosophy. Some, I agree with; others I don’t. At least a few I’m not sure about or question, while at least a few I see as impractical. But those I have concerns with fit well within the concept of seeking out other opinions and challenging what you think you know, which makes even those worthwhile. However, when reading, follow the author’s advice and don’t believe everything he presents as fact.
I’ll touch on a couple of representative areas where I disagreed. The first is his suggestion of a specific website (FactCheck.Org) as a good source. I was set to argue that they actually lean right, politically, based on their funding, which is the Annenberg Foundation, founded by Walter Annenberg (a lifelong conservative Republican) and overseen by his family. However, many people claim it has a liberal bias. I would argue that, using any fact check organization, you should not only evaluate the case they present, but as the author says about checking any facts, refer to multiple sources. My personal favorite is the Pulitzer Prize winning PolitiFact, run by the Tampa Bay Times. Google “fact checking websites,” and you’ll find others.
Another fact the author pointed out was that through 2009 and 2010 the Democratic Party had a majority in the Senate and House of Representatives along with the President being in this party. A true statement. However, he also makes the claim that “having a majority allows the party to legislate how it chooses, with minimum obstruction within the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.” The reality is that the minority party can obstruct most bills in the senate unless the majority party has at least 60 members, which was only true for slightly more than four months (even this assumes that all members of the majority party are in agreement on all issues).
Although I have some quibbles with some of those things presented as facts and have reservations with some of Gonzalez’s specific suggestions, I can recommend the book with no reservation. Just remember to follow his suggestions to verify the facts and evaluate the case made by those who disagree.
Although heavily footnoted (actually endnotes), these are not linked, which makes them difficult to refer to while reading.
Rating: **** Four stars