This small-sized book of 177 numbered pages packs a powerful punch. It attracted me because after 7 years of Bush, I harbor a certain frustration with the people who put that blabbering, mendacious fool into the White House. The book certainly does give many ideas in a humorous format with which to argue with a Conservative, and, more importantly, pitfalls to avoid.
Early on Kurtzman writes of the demonization of the word "Liberal". This word needs to be taken back and used as a badge of pride. Then by means of an amusing, short quiz he attempts to determine what type of Liberal his reader is. The categories are Peace Patroller, Eco-Avenger, Social Justice Crusader, Working Class Warrior, Reality-Based Intellectualist, and New-Left Hipster. As a disclaimer, the writer of this review is somewhere between a Peace Patroller and a Reality-Based Intellectualist. If you read on to my penultimate paragraph you will see why, perhaps, I should not have disclosed that fact. I think the exercise of doing this ideological quiz is to display the concerns of Liberals other than yourself.
The battlelines are defined in two-page summaries of "The Liberal Manifesto" and "The Conservative Manifesto" which are mainly humorous rather than serious. The catgories of Conservatives are defined with the amusing names of RAPTUREFARIANS, ENRON-OMISTS, BIG BRETHREN, GUNFEDERATES, SPONGEBOB-OPHOBES, CRUSADOMASOCHISTS ( I would have thought SADISTS would be a better suffix, oh well), with a number of more exotic species such as Evanbushicals, Fox Trotters. The capitalized species are the main ones. Much in this book is capitalized - which is the written form of shouting, in-your-face form of dialog which is, really, what this book is really about.
He then lists some FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Conservatives. To give a sample her is the shortest:
Q: Why are Conservatives so mean-spirited?
A: Because wealthy, white, Christian males are tired of living in a society where all the breaks go to poor, gay, illegal immigrants.
Parts of the book are very over-stereotyped , such as the side-by-side, hourly intervals of "A Day in the Life of a Conservative" and "A Day in the Life of a Liberal".
The best part of the book in my opinion, which should have been greatly expanded, is the debating advice given as "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF PARTISAN WARFARE" (title capitalized, of course). Some of these are (capitalized in text) Keep it simple , Don't sermonize, expose hypocrisy, Frame the argument to your advantage. The following section is on one of the most important of these - the concept of framing. He pays tribute to George Lakoff's classic "Don't Think of an Elephant" which, indeed, is a must read for all serious Liberals. Let me illustrate this concept very briefly by means of an example. Suppose you are arguing with a Conservative about the justice of government taxation of inheritances. This is officially called an "Estate Tax" but your opponent keeps referring to it as a "Death Tax". In your argument you accept this terminology and, for convenience or otherwise adopt his nomenclature. You're sunk. You need to dispute this whole frame. A statement such as "It can hardly be called a Death Tax since 99.5% of dead people have never paid it." His more aggressive line is the suggestion to call it an effort to "protect Paris Hilton's inheritance".
The book has a chapter on facts about Republicans and the Bush administration, but these are more readily available on dozens of websites including Op-Ed news. The book also returns to its amusing and scary format by listing some of the absurd and immoral statements made by some of the Conservative luminaries. My favorite was one by Ann Coulter concerning the 9/11 widows "I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much"
In his advice on online debating, in which subject my five years of regular online debating have given me considerable expertise, as well as endless frustration to my wife, he gives excellent advice in his admonition "DON'T ever provide any real information about yourself" (capitalized and bolded in original). Violating that rule has caused me a considerable amount of grief. He does start the online debating section to say that the rules of "polite society" do not apply here. However I find this advice somewhat below the belt "DO feel free to invent your own facts. If pressed for evidence, simply create your own Wikipedia entry to support your arguments...."
Overall, I would recommend this book. It is amusing, has a number of good techniques and ideas, and will probably cheer up most Liberals in these hard times. For my last sentence in this review I will quote the very last sentence of the book in the "About the Author" notes. It is disappointing to me as a committed "man of the left". Perhaps it will also be that way to you. It reads "As an equal opportunity offender, Kurtzman, is also the author of 'How to Win a Fight with a Liberal'.