Monday, July 14, 2008

Review of Robert Wexler's "Fire-Breathing Liberal"

For most Americans (and Floridians), members of Congress are these distant things that aren't human and don't connect to regular human beings. They don't have lives and they don't have emotions. Sometimes these feelings are true.

And then you have the Robert Wexler's of the world. In his new book Fire-Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (And Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress, Wexler gives us a inside look not only into his own decision-making process, his campaigns for office and the day-to-day workings of Congress, but also a look inside many of the major political events of the last decade or so.

The Congressman gives us detailed descriptions behind his thinking and the behind-the-scenes aspects of various events, such as the start of the Iraq War, the stolen 2000 election, the Clinton impeachment, Terry Schiavo, Katrina, the Anthrax scare, and his hilarious and controversial appearance on the Colbert Report. Wexler examines the way that Republicans operate in Washington since the beginning of the Gingrich era and the way they destroyed tradition and crippled the legislative branch. He talks a lot about Florida, his district, constituent casework, foreign policy and how Congress and lawmaking really works. In the process he gives us insights into these things we don't usually get.

Throughout the book, he also continually defines and expands upon what being a liberal means to him. One thing it isn't is ideological purity. To Wexler, being a liberal means being true to yourself, being open and honest, respecting the rules, respecting reality, and doing what you can to help the most people possible. I don't agree with Wexler on everything -- and I think that most liberals reading the book will find things they disagree with the Congressman on -- but after reading the book, I respect the process that leads him to those decisions and I feel comfortable that he does have the best interests of Floridians and Americans at heart. He's probably not as liberal as I am, but after reading "Fire-Breathing Liberal," I'm confident he's liberal enough.

Wexler (along with co-author David Fisher) uses a very personal and personable style in the book that is sometimes brutally honest, such as the part where he names the person who accidentally urinated on a mailout during one campaign and how they fixed the problem. Throughout it all, Wexler shows a very strong loyalty to his family, his constituents, his staffers and co-workers and those who helped him along the way.

Toward the end of the book, he almost mentions Florida Progressive Coalition, but not quite, leaving it at "bloggers" and "liberal talk radio." The book would have, of course, been improved if he had mentioned us directly. And it would've been relevant, too, since our interview on his Dick Cheney impeachment efforts broke the record for most listeners in the history of BlogTalkRadio. This would've shown Wexler's connection to the cutting edge of technology even better. Hopefully he still has that sense of humor he showed on Colbert. Oh well, he did actually mention our old friend Brian Franklin twice, so that's something.

All in all, this book is a good quick read that gives you some insight into one of the best members of the Florida congressional delegation as well as the way that politics work in Washington in the Gingrinch-Bush era and beyond. If you get a chance, you really should read it.

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