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Book Review: Banana Republicans

Banana Republicans

There’s a This Modern World cartoon on the front cover of Banana Republicans and chapter titles like “Pumping Irony,” but it’s not a remotely funny book. Perhaps it was intended to be so, but its authors ended up on quite a different track. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber are not without bias — the book’s subheader is “How the right wing is turning America into a one-party state” — but rather than take simple potshots at the right, Banana Republicans provides a systematic explanation of just that. The result is so straightforward that it’s sometimes dry, listing endless names and examples of tactics. But for anyone who has ever wondered how “liberal” turned into a dirty word, and why the rhetoric of the right is so widely believed, this book is a must-read. There are six chapters, and, like the strategies they detail, they build from the ground up. The first, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” is the most important, serving as background and explanation not only for the chapters that follow, but for how to manipulate politics and social agendas in general. Ideas, Rampton and Stauber emphasize, can be created, introduced to the world, and marketed until what was once unheard of becomes ubiquitous, just like physical products. Conservatives have been actively engaged in this process, they argue, while liberals have not. Conservatives have also been actively engaged in the media. While complaining about the “liberal media bias,” the right has built an alternative conservative media and pushed the careers of conservatives in the mainstream media, a process detailed in “The Echo Chamber.” And, as with ideas marketed by think tanks and lobbyists, the process has been years, even decades, in the making, so that we now have a 20/20 co-anchor (John Stossel) who lied outright on ABC and has not been disciplined. Further chapters investigate the 2000 election and the stymieing of opposing views on Gulf War II and post-September 11 politics in general. No matter what the subject, the heart of the matter continues to be that conservative domination did not happen overnight. There is a reason that the Republican Party has not controlled all three branches of the government since 1932 — but there is also a reason that they do now. Though it obviously sides with the left wing, Banana Republicans works in the finest traditions of objective journalism. Rampton and Stauber are interested in facts, pure and simple. Never once do they say “this is bad” and leave it at that. Everything is backed up by solid reporting. For any conservatives who read this book, it will hopefully serve notice as to what their leaders have been doing, and how much truth there is to their claims. For liberals, it is an explanation of why one viewpoint dominates popular discourse, and a starting point for evening out the balance. Stauber and Rampton will be at the Downer Avenue Schwartz Bookstore at 7 p.m. June 2 and are featured guests at a Milwaukee Press Club Author Happy Hour at 5:30 p.m. June 23, 137 E. Wells St.
Banana Republicans