Move over, John Locke. Out of the way, Thomas Jefferson. Roger Hodge has a new treatise on government to share with the American people.
Hodge, the former editor in chief of Harper’s magazine, rails against the political establishment with visceral intensity in his new book, and he does so from the political left — a change of pace in this electoral climate. As it turns out, that change of pace is a problematic one.
The title and cover photo appear explicit: The book is called “The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism,” a clear pun on the title of the president’s autobiography, “The Audacity of Hope.” And the cover of “The Mendacity of Hope” — tinged gray with Obama facing away from the reader — sends a clear message that Obama has turned his back on America. The style of the book is oratorical and full of big ideas, not unlike those political theorists writing at the dawn of America.
“The tone, in keeping with the spirit of the great republican pamphleteers, will be anything but deferential; you have embarked on a polemical journey and your guide, on occasion, will be rude,” Hodge writes at the end of the book’s first chapter.
But the title, cover photo and mission statement couldn’t be more misleading. This isn’t a book about Obama or his administration. It’s not a book criticizing Democrats, and it’s not a book criticizing Republicans. It’s a book criticizing, well, everything.
Ostensibly, Hodge’s main point in “The Mendacity of Hope” is that corporate moneyed interests have taken over politics, with Obama as the prototype. Hodge bashes the Supreme Court for its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, accuses politicians of all types of being in the pockets of corporations and lobbyists, and even gives a historical discourse on the perversion of the American governmental system. Alexander Hamilton is singled out for particular loathing.
But Hodge doesn’t limit himself to abusing Hamilton and Obama. You would be hard-pressed to find a well-known political figure or leader who doesn’t get dragged through the mud in “The Mendacity of Hope”: Joseph Biden, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Tom Daschle, Elena Kagan, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and the government’s entire economic staff feel Hodge’s wrath. That’s bipartisan hate, and it is certainly unexpected because this book claims to be about Obama.
“Given the Democrats’ career over the last three decades, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democratic Party liberalism, overly stimulated by financial gimmickry, has committed suicide in a fit of autoerotic asphyxiation,” Hodge writes — and this about his favorite of the two parties. And of course, the autoerotic asphyxiation conclusion isn’t that difficult to avoid.
In addition to the often-ridiculous tone and the constant negativity, Hodge’s biggest problem is a lack of cohesiveness. In “The Mendacity of Hope,” he can’t decide what to complain about, so he complains about every issue on the table — financial regulation, health care, military operations and signing statements, to name a few.
A chapter called “Speak, Money” is a good example of the dysfunction. In the section, Hodge talks about the historical definition of freedom, criticizes the new health care law, ponders the meaning of slavery, describes Members of Congress as rulers, not Representatives, and writes about a class struggle in this country. Then he cites a barrage of statistics about income inequality since the 1970s before moving to a discussion on campaign finance reform, which is actually the point of the chapter. It is dizzying to try to keep up with Hodge, and Obama is only a bystander.
In fairness to the author, this text could have some value in the classroom. Hodge’s historical interpretations are clearly something that he is very passionate about, and any connection that exists between our president and our nation’s founders is one worth exploring. But that doesn’t make it valid to blame Hamilton for Obama’s flaws as a liberal president, and the link between banking in the 1700s and corporate influence on politics today is a flimsy one.
“The Mendacity of Hope” reads like a cultured, liberal version of a Tea Party Express script. Hodge does a lot of shouting about taking back our country from a broken political system, but the solutions that he suggests — such as prohibiting private campaign contributions and abolishing private lobbying — are pipe dreams, and bitterly calling Obama the archangel isn’t helping.
Like it or not, the American political system isn’t going anywhere, and that’s no lie.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.