I have spent decades trying to turn political dirt into philosophic gold. I have yet to discover the alchemist’s trick, but I still have fun with the dirt.
I have sometimes been mistaken for a troublemaker. My work has been publicly denounced by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Postmaster General, and the chiefs of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, International Trade Commission, Drug Enforcement Administration,Agency for International Development, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Yet, I was merely seeking to help Americans appreciate how their government serves them.
Thus begins Jim Bovard’s amazingly cheerful memoir of how he went from being a good, authority-respecting Boy Scout to being the bane of D.C. policymakers and bureaucrats during the Clinton years.
Public Policy Hooligan is also a long-awaited memoir, at least by me. I’ve been seeing snippets of it via email for five or six years and whining, “When you gonna publish it, Jim? Huh? Huh? When?”
Well, the mainstream publishing world has become less gutsy since 9-11 (actually beginning a few years before that). So when Jim finally got his memoir “in print” it turned out not to be in print at all, but self-published for Kindle.
His timing was good, though. He got it online (with a little help from some folks around this blog) last month, just when the world needed cheering up.
And did I mention that the book actually is cheery despite being about Janet Reno, Louis Freeh, and other such gag-inducing personages, not to mention boatloads of some of the dumbest, most wasteful bureaucrats you’d ever want to avoid?
Sample chapter titles give the idea: “Chasing USDA with a Pitchfork,” “Conspiring Against the Clinton Administration,” and “Flummoxing the FBI.”
Jim didn’t take the usual course to becoming a wonk. (May I call you a wonk, Jim?) He didn’t graduate from the Ivy League. In fact, he didn’t graduate from anywhere; he dropped out. He didn’t arise from an intellectual urban environment but from the rural South. He made his way to D.C. not via scholarships, internships, or political connections, but by hitchhiking and working on road gangs and bumming around Europe.
Still … somehow (it had to do with the Great Books) he made it to Washington, where he promptly began bedeviling Authoritah.
Thing is, even when his words make you mad, he’s usually also making you laugh. Or at least grin a little. Some randomly selected snips from Public Policy Hooligan
Politicians were perennially whining that the U.S. was being victimized by its free trade policies. I searched high and low and could not detect “free trade.” But I did find the two hefty volumes of the U.S. Tariff Code, with specific tariffs for 8,753 different products.
During the Clinton presidency, I was blamed for the Oklahoma City bombing, farm bankruptcies, union-busting, factory shutdowns, creeping cynicism, and negative stereotypes of Grateful Dead fans.
I wasn’t always guilty as charged.
The right to violently batter down a front door necessarily included the right to shoot any citizen who tried to stop the police from invading his home. And what did it take to justify government effectively declaring war on its own citizens?
I scooted over to the West Virginia Panhandle to check out one of AmeriCorps’s premier literacy programs. The Energy Express program enrolled 600 college students each summer to teach reading to tens of thousands of kids from low-income families. The run-down school I visited in Ranson, West Virginia certainly provided a pleasant environment for youngsters. When children were not watching puppet shows or engaging in “non-competitive recreation,” they sat in cardboard boxes or indoor tents and played with books. I asked several AmeriCorps members how much training they received to teach reading. Each one I asked looked at me as if I was crazy. One earnest AmeriCorps recruit named Brian explained: “We’re not teaching them to read – we are just exposing them and getting them to like it. You
just want them to think they’re doing a good job” when reading.
As I was busting tail to finish Lost Rights, I straggled down the steps from my bedroom to my living room one April 1993 morning with the usual deadline hangover (unfortunately, completely unrelated to alcohol). I tossed a slab of the previous night’s pizza in the microwave, fetched the newspapers from the sidewalk, and flipped on the television to see if the world had gone to hell overnight.
As my eyes were still focusing for the day, I saw what looked like tanks smashing gaping holes in the side of a dilapidated building. And then CNN bubbleheads chirped that the FBI had notified the Branch Davidians that “this is not an assault.”
About the only part of the book that didn’t make me smile at least a bit was his recounting of the politics around the Randy Weaver siege, the murders at Waco, their insane coverups, and the government supremacist claims most people were still buying in those pre-Internet days. Even after all these years, those beastly acts are still raw and unforgivable. And Jim — who keeps amazingly good notes and apparently never throws any of them away — reminded me of foul human beings and foul deeds of those days I’d much rather forget.
No, I can’t see ever laughing about any of that. There are still people in and around government who deserve scrupulously fair trials followed by swift hangings for Ruby Ridge and Waco. But Jim tells their stories well.
There’s a healthy ego that shows up on the pages of Public Policy Hooligan. Natural, I suppose — this being a memoir, and a memoir by somebody who needs a strong ego to confront, question, and mock very powerful people.
Public Policy Hooligan is a good read. It’s brightened some dark weeks as I’ve slowly made my way through it (hating my faux Kindle PC software the whole time). I recommend it.
Public Policy Hooligan
Available at Amazon.com
Pages: 372 (are “pages” even relevant any more?)
Published: December 7, 2012 (did you choose Pearl Harbor Day on purpose, Jim?)