What could and should have been an engrossing and enlivening book peters out into a discursive assemblage of thoughts. Marinated in right wing ideology and sautéed in its philosophy, “13 ½ Reasons”, is an unashamed paean to Conservatism and the Conservatives. Judd Dunning, in his book, pays exaggerated obeisance to Donald Trump and in the process resorts to waging a blistering attack on the Democrats and their principles. While the intention as professed at the outset – to engage in informed deliberations with a bipartisan bent of mind in tackling issues that transcend party politics and philosophies – is noble, the execution falls explicitly and woefully short of the avowed cause. The end seems to be tangentially divergent from the means. While Dunning raises a few issues that are both topical in their contemporaneity, and ambivalent in their perception, the better part of the book, however, is lost, unfortunately in a byzantine exercise of personal vilification and vituperative outrage.
The title of the book itself is a throwback to the transformation induced in Dunning, in so far as shifting allegiances go. An actor and a producer known for his roles in ‘The Young and The Restless” amongst others, Dunning hosted a horde of television shows, including ‘Conservatively Unplugged!’, and ‘Judd Dunning Unplugged!’ A former liberal and a Democrat, Dunning is now an uncompromising Conservative, and 13 ½ Reasons is a Handbook for Conservatives to handle the many popular allegations hurled by Democrats against their opponents.
Part 1 of Dunning’s book titled “Economics” glorifies free market capitalism and also expounds on the supposed fallacies and foibles of a big government. There is no pulchritude or putsch here since, the segment is a reinvention of the tried and tested spiel that has become the hall mark of every Economist graduating out of the neoclassical school of economic thought pioneered by Milton Friedman, and perfected by the Chicago School of Economics. Railing against measures that advocate redistribution of wealth and lambasting selective bail out strategies that rescue a Bear Stearns but leave Lehman Brothers all strung up, Dunning pooh poohs Keynesian economics. As he does in every part of his book, he takes recourse to a few books to bolster his arguments. His Man Friday in the Chapter on Economics is Tom Del Beccaro, and his book, ‘The New Conservative Paradigm.’
The most interesting segment of the book however deals with the climate change and global warming conundrum. There is no semblance of doubt that the common man/lay person is left staring from the depths of a cleave which has at either side an outlook that is contrasting and conflicting. From one side abutting the chasm, emanate Panglossian voices in the mode of a Steven Pinker trying to assuage us that all is well. From across the optimistic side of things are hurled pessimistic warnings from prophets of doom such as Andrew Dessler, who claim that the only opportunity we had to save Planet Earth was the one that passed us by, yesterday! The outspoken student environmental activist Greta Thunberg recently was the receiving end – rightfully so in my personal opinion – of the scorn of a million Indians, when she expressed umbrage, via her Twitter handle, over a decision made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India to go ahead with a professional examination called National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (“TEET”) in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thunberg’s hold on the intricacies surrounding the topic is as good as the hold which the Cro-Magnon Man had over the laws of thermodynamics. While acknowledging the perils of climate change, Dunning exhorts the need for cultivating a balanced outlook between anthropocentric changes and natural causes that imperil the environment.
Dunning also makes some telling points about the disturbing ascendancy of the woke mentality where every harmless and genuine comment is painted with the brush of neologism. As Dunning illustrates, according honest appreciation for the manner in which a woman is dressed or for the patterns in her attire would attract a cant of prejudiced mentality and an incredulous accusation of judging a woman not for her intellect but for totally extraneous factors.
The most controversial Chapter in the book is reserved for gun control, or rather against it. Taking firm refuge in the Second Amendment, Dunning argues that gun control is evil and the possession of guns solely as a matter of self defense leads to a considerable reduction in crime. Resorting to arguments ranging from the shallow to the silly, Dunning engages in a circular argument about employing guns for defensive purposes rather than for any offensive action. He also brings about an incredulous argument that elucidates that “in England, where it’s almost impossible to get a gun, a woman is three times more likely to be raped than in America.” In so far as support from books are concerned, Dunning’s companion for this Chapter is National Review’s John R. Lott Jr, the President of the Crime Prevention Research Centre and his book, titled, surprise surprise, “More Guns, Less Crime.” Dunning in all probability has been reading the wrong book. His point of reference ought to have been “Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for a Safer America” by Allan Lichtman.
Dunning also shoots himself in the foot on a few occasions in the book. Whilst directing his anger at the woke brigade for misinterpreting genuine comments of appreciation as exercises in gender bias, he engages in some of his own with gay abandon. In listing out a litany of ‘improper sexual conduct’ practiced by Joe Biden (every single one of which looks like Montessori stuff when compared with the shenanigans of Trump), Dunning completely absolves Trump of all his sexual misdemeanors by terming them as consensual.
The final Chapter of the book however makes for some poignant reading as it touches on various facets of the abortion debate. A debate between pro-life and pro-choice. Here Dunning takes a measured approach. While scorning at the landmark verdict in Roe v Wade, he also emphasizes that each State ought to be accorded an element of latitude in formulating their own choices, and well within the limits of statutes such as the Human Life Protection Act, and Reproductive Health Act.
Overall, 13 ½ Reasons flatters to deceive.
(13 ½ Reasons Why Not to be a Liberal by Judd Dunning is published by Humanix Books and will be released on the 10th of November 2020.)