Rachel Maddow, Drift (Book Review)

Ah, an amusing house wine of liberal punditry, full of cutesy language, tidbits about Ronald Reagan (did you know he was never in any real danger when he “served” in the military?), and etc.   Maddow has a doctorate in politics, which is arguably more useful than possessing the ability to change a catalytic converter in a 1987 Taurus – and yes, liberals love her, little mouse that she is, shaking her little mouse head at all the stupid she sees.  

As pretty much everyone knows, there’s no deeper, wider well of stupid than the US military.   It’s a depressingly easy target, but one positive about this book is that Maddow’s examination of the military’s descent into depraved congressional-corpatocratic behemoth doesn’t just snipe from the usual knee-jerk Huffington Post angles, it starts with the founding fathers, whom, she notes, weren’t too keen on having a gigantic idle standing military.   Might lead to trouble, you know.   Chuckle.

In line with her television persona, Maddow’s debut book-writin’ isn’t all that difficult to grasp, nor, frankly, is it all that compelling at such a late stage of American decline.   You should already — and polls indicate that you do — know about things like the lack of transparency in the military budget, the dangerous precedent that followed Reagan’s “imperial presidency mandate” (cooked up to save his ass during his own worse-than-Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal) and how far the very concept of the US military has “drifted” from its original intents, purposes and limitations.

The big takeaway from the book is an examination of the ever-increasing abuse of the National Guard and reserves, that bunch of folks who keep signing up for possible military duty and — who’da thunk it — keep getting exactly that in exchange for employment and/or education, all while the rest of us go about our business, “oblivious” to military families’ suffering.   Yes, non-military families are keenly oblivious to the suffering our out-of-control, empirical military system has wrought, aside from occasionally noticing the complete lack of funding for basic municipal services, the money for which has gone to Halliburton for $10,000 Green Zone toilets; and aside from losing part of our souls every time one of those overburdened soldiers goes on a rampage someplace and we have to explain that stuff to a kid.   Maddow does have a mode where she becomes no less soporific than a “Support Our Troops” bumpersticker.  

Maddow closes this history lecture by covering a few fascinating snafus within our military hardware architecture itself, and then proffering a few pie-in-the-sky solutions, none of which I’ll mention as I wouldn’t want you not to become versed in all the subjects she brings up — the military is indeed hilariously bloated and corrupted, and if any of the above is news to you, certainly this is a good beginner’s book, sort of a Dr. Seuss of the empire’s collapse if you will.

However.   My guard was up from the beginning, right at her quirky dedication page, where she snarkily begs Dick Cheney for an interview.   That’s right, Rachel, a fantasy low-key verbal beatdown of a retired, internationally recognized war criminal would solve everything.

Certainly if you don’t have time to read any Chalmers Johnson or Noam Chomsky or Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater (all of which effectively negate all of Maddow’s naïve solutions, really, toward addressing the completely impossible problem of the US military), Drift is something you could bring to the beach.   At the end of the day you’d fold up your chair and walk away, not deeply informed about how perilous the situation is at this moment nor feeling you’ve been armed with any sort of directive as a citizen, but it’ll do for a start.

Grade: B- [release date:   4/1/12]

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