‘O that mine enemy would write a book’

Politicians writing books — or at least putting their name on ghost-written books — has become so common, it’s practically expected. A book is one of those “must haves” for any official/candidate who intends to maintain a national presence. Whether the book is any good is largely immaterial — in fact, they’re almost universally awful — because the point is to use the text as a tool for media outreach, fundraising, etc.

Indeed, the political figures involved generally aren’t stupid, and know to be exceedingly careful about what goes into the book. There’s no point in putting controversial ideas in your book, handing a potential weapon to future political critics.

With this in mind, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) published Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington nine months ago, back when he was still certain he wouldn’t be a presidential candidate. Matt Yglesias, an obviously patient man, took the time to read it.

Rick Perry’s November 2010 book Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington is not a typical “campaign book” from a political candidate. For starters, its forward is written by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, nominally one of Perry’s rivals for the nomination. For another thing, its overall tone much more closely resembles that of a B-list conservative radio host looking to stir up controversy and sell books than of a cautious politician trying out poll-tested lines. Consequently, while the book is by no means a good one, it’s certainly a lot more interesting than most comparable works.

“Interesting,” in this context, isn’t necessarily intended as praise. In fact, Matt goes on to list the “Top Ten Weirdest Ideas in Rick Perry’s Fed Up,” and there are some real doozies in there, including Perry writing about his disgust for Social Security and bank regulations, his belief in global “cooling,” and some bizarre ideas about what caused the Civil War. My personal favorite is Perry’s belief that the Great Depression ended during World War II, “when FDR was finally persuaded to unleash private enterprise,” which is practically the exact opposite of what happened.

Ezra Klein also read the book, and came away with a similar impression: “This is not a boring book. More to the point, it’s not even a book about Rick Perry. It’s a book about Rick Perry’s ideas. And his big idea is that most everything the federal government does is unconstitutional.”

Perry’s defenders seem to believe “it’s somehow unfair to quote Rick Perry’s … extreme views accurately,” since there are parts of Fed Up! that are perfectly sane. That’s not a great argument.

Presumably, the Perry campaign will come up with a more coherent way to deal with the governor’s book, but while the aides work on that, Fed Up! is not only going to be a goldmine for Democrats who’ll look forward to quoting the text at length, it also may become the most important pre-election book from a candidate in decades.