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Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge


Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge

The recent death of Ronald Reagan inspired many recollections of
the former President's remarkable talent for disagreeing without
being disagreeable. Even his fiercest political opponents found him
to be an amiable man who did not take political differences in a
personal fashion. Sadly, politics today is played by a different
set of rules. To see how the game is played today, one need only
start with a current list of some of the bestselling books from
either side of the political spectrum. Bookstore shelves yield
discordant titles such as DELIVER US FROM EVIL: Defeating
Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism by Sean Hannity; BIG LIES by
Joe Conason; TREASON: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the
War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter; and THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE:
Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy by David Brock.
These are just a few of the representative titles found in the
politics section.

STAND UP, FIGHT BACK by E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a call to arms to those
people who, regardless of political views, are troubled by the
fiercely personal nature of American politics and the growing
tendency to make every political debate partisan. Dionne worries
that one side in the current political climate, liberals and
progressives, have lost the will to fight for traditional
principles supported by the vast majority of Americans. The current
political atmosphere, Dionne argues, is damaging not only to
democracy but also to important political institutions as

At other moments in our history, revenge has been an important
theme in American political life. From the era of Andrew Jackson to
the post-Civil War period to the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy,
American politics has experienced cycles in which each side depends
for victory more on mobilizing its loyalists than persuading the
uncommitted. So divided are we along party and ideological lines
that we cannot even agree on what event triggered the current cycle
of revenge. Some believe it started with Watergate, others point to
the confirmation battles over Supreme Court nominees, and still
others would suggest that the Clinton Wars were the commencement of
the battle. Regardless of when the struggle began, there has been
no peace in American politics for many years.

One of Dionne's core themes in STAND UP, FIGHT BACK is that an
opportunity was squandered to once again unite the country and
create a better political atmosphere in America. After September
11th, President Bush had the opportunity to reunite the country.
Indeed, for a brief period of time, the country was unified. But
instead of building upon that opportunity to avoid divisive
politics, President Bush chose to divide the country on issues such
as homeland security, tax cuts and the war in Iraq. Dionne firmly
believes that historians will not judge the President well for his

But Dionne does not limit his disapproval to the right wing of
American politics. Liberals and progressives have both been unable
to articulate an agenda to advance their political positions and
unwilling to engage in the same tactics that have brought success
to the Republicans in Washington. Recent events do seem to suggest
that Democrats now appear willing to engage the right wing in a
more vigorous fashion. In this current election year, candidate
John Kerry has not been reluctant to respond in kind to attacks on
his record and his patriotism. Democrats know all too well that the
failure to respond quickly and vigorously to these types of attacks
often results in defeat at the polls.

Still, strong words and a backbone are only part of what
progressives need to succeed in order to once again become the
majority in American politics. Dionne spends a great deal of his
book discussing tired and useless arguments that liberals and
moderates cannot seem to avoid and new arguments that they should
start making. He calls these two areas "The Wrong Stuff" and "The
Right Stuff." The discussion here is illuminating because Dionne
destroys several myths and stereotypes of American politics,
including issues such as deficit spending, judicial activism, big
government and national defense. All too often, liberals have run
from these debates. If they stood up and engaged conservatives on
these issues, Dionne maintains that those voters who occupy the
middle of the political spectrum would join their cause.

STAND UP, FIGHT BACK is a well-written and thought-provoking call
to arms to those people who feel that the country is heading in the
wrong direction. Much of what Dionne has written here he has
espoused before in his regular columns on the editorial pages of
the Washington Post. Dionne is a prescient observer of
American politics. The sad fact about most political books is that
they sway very few opinions or change very few minds. It is sad
because E. J. Dionne offers a wise statement of what will best
serve the future course of America's well being, and all sides of
the political debate would do well to heed his advice.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011

Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge
by E.J. Dionne, Jr.

  • Publication Date: May 25, 2004
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Politics
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743258584
  • ISBN-13: 9780743258586