Cover Image: Chaotic Neutral

Chaotic Neutral

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Member Reviews

Source: DRC via NetGalley (Public Affairs, Bold Type Books) in exchange for an honest review
Pub. Date: September 20, 2022
Synopsis: Goodreads
Purchase Link: Amazon

Follow Ed on Twitter: @edburmila
Support him on Patreon: Gin and Tacos
Check out his podcast: Mass for Shut-Ins

Why did I choose to read this book?

Full disclosure: Ed Burmila has been a friend of my family since 2008. I met him when I started dating my now husband, and he was literally the first friend of the husband’s that I met. I was a fan of his website Gin and Tacos, and we’ve kept in touch all this time.

I chose to read this book because (1) I want to support my friend and (2) I trust his knowledge and expertise to guide me through the history and evolution of the current Democratic Party. It turns out that I had the skeleton of an idea of what was going on, but as is often the case, Ed showed me that it was so much worse than I ever thought.

What is this book about?

At its heart, this book is meant to show how the Democratic Party went from the New Deal Democrats of FDR to a party that doesn’t seem able to get anything done. The reason they don’t get anything done is because powers behind the scenes have slowly but surely been guiding their leaders towards a mindset that they can never do anything that might alienate centrist voters (read: the mythical “reasonable” Republican). He tracks a path from FDR all the way through Obama, Trump, and Biden so you can see how we got here: supporting a party that can’t seem to do anything helpful for ~reasons~.

What is notable about the story?

I am (or was, I guess) an American education scholar, and I have been shouting for years about how it wasn’t George W. Bush who set up public schools for ruin, it was Clinton. Burmila spends a hefty amount of time on Bill Clinton’s years in the White House, and for good reason. His inability to keep it in his pants aside, Clinton was the pivot point from “maybe we could be the New Deal party again!” to setting the party firmly into “Republican-lite.”

I admit I was also swept up in the hope and change of the Obama years, and it was sobering to see that Obama also bought fully into the Clinton model. This was also when the Democratic art of talking themselves out of things comes into stark relief. Obama had large majorities in both the House and Senate and yet healthcare is still a nightmare to this day. They love to say “look how hard we fought!” but also “but we couldn’t get it done because [insert reason here] so make sure you vote harder next time and we will keep fighting!” It’s the circle of Democratic life.

Next time you’re watching the news or hearing a Democratic politician speak, see how many times you hear them say they’ll try to/fight for/introduce legislation for something that would honestly help people, but they never actually say they’ll DO it. This book only solidified my belief that the Democratic party is now the party of plausible deniability and they are masters of the art form.

Was anything not so great?

This is not so much a critique of Burmila’s writing as it is of my own attention deficits, but I am NOT a reader of non-fiction books. Articles? Sure! Blogs? You bet! But an entire book meant to educate me on political history? Normally this book and I would never, ever share space. It was a shame that I only thought at the last minute of having the husband write a guest review – he would have finished the book faster.

BUT.

I am glad I read it. We live in an era that demands personal responsibility when it comes to facts and understanding them. It’s important for me to take the time to educate myself with reliable sources so I know why things are the way they are and so I can avoid the possible effects of rampant misinformation. It took a long time, but I am glad I read it.

TL:DR Even though we are primarily fiction readers, we need to read this book.

What’s the verdict?

5 stars on Goodreads.

If you are a reader of this blog and you consider yourself a Democrat (or at least anti-Republican), I insist that you seek this book out and force yourself to read it. Burmila brings humor into his writing, both in the paragraphs and via footnotes, which will make the medicine go down easier (I suggest purchasing the physical copy, as the Kindle copy lacked the immediacy of access to the footnotes, missing the comedic timing a bit).

It is our duty as citizens to understand what this party is doing right now, and heed Burmila’s recommendations for how we might right the ship. It’s also worthwhile to note that while he had a longtime blog dedicated to these topics and has been writing articles for several news outlets, Burmila is a newcomer on the book scene where fresh faces and perspectives will be necessary to get our country out of the dangerous rut it finds itself in. Go get it.

Follow Ed on Twitter: @edburmila
Support him on Patreon: Gin and Tacos
Check out his podcast: Mass for Shut-Ins
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An excellent and essential book. I will be sure to read all books from this author going forward. Ed Burmila accurately diagnoses the biggest issues with the Democratic Party.
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Chaotic Neutral is a long overdue explanation of why the hell American politics is a such confusing hodgepodge of comically evil villains, who always seem to win, and stunningly inept octogenarian "heroes". Burmila is a brilliant and engaging writer, with an endless grasp on obscure history and a sense of humor to accompany it. 

Chaotic Neutral shows readers exactly how the Democratic Party lost the plot as they turned away from New Deal politics, and how we have all been along for the ride since. In opposition to the morally and politically vacuous "centrism" that the corporate wing of the party has been strongly pushing for decades, Burmila offers an alternative in the radically simple approach of making promises to help poor and working class people, and then keeping them. I was particularly impressed with his concluding chapter, which both acknowledged the impossible task foisted on nonfiction writers to offer easy answers, and also actually charted out a viable way forward. 

I genuinely hope (but sincerely doubt) that institutional Democrats read this book and steer the ship away from the many icebergs they seem intent on making contact with. In the meantime, this book will help you understand and explain why so-called moderation and centrism are, in fact, pointing us to the very center of the iceberg.
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In Chaotic Neutral: How the Democrats Lost Their Soul in the Center Ed Burmila uses historical examples, incisive analysis, and engaging (if sometimes accurately profane) writing to show just how inept the Democratic party has become.

I admit to being one of those to the left of the party, well to the left. This book supports the stance many have that the Democratic party of today is the Republican party of the 50s, and frankly isn't that far removed from Nixon's brand of conservatism. It wouldn't be so bad if this weren't a de facto two-party system, but it is, which means we have a party of openly anti-democracy sentiments and a party that is conservative and moving steadily further to the right. This does not bode well for most people in the country.

The history here, from FDR to Biden, is presented with an eye toward understanding the bigger picture. For instance, at what point does doing the "safest" thing for a short-term goal become counterproductive for the long-term life of the party and potentially of the country? I'm not saying that the Democrats are the future of the country, but there needs to be representation across the range of people in the country, not two parties that each support the well-off while at best paying lip service to those struggling to survive.

Perhaps the most frustrating parts of the book aren't the many missed opportunities of the past that might have made for a healthier democracy and a better society. Instead, it is the analysis of the past couple of decades, the things that feel like the here and now. This creates not just frustration but borders on a sense of hopelessness. In our personal lives we usually try to do some genuine reflection, what have we done wrong, what can we do better. We might lament the things others did that impeded our success, but ultimately we look at what we need to do different. The Democratic party has resolutely avoided doing this, preferring to only look at what others did (those stupid voters, that evil GOP, the traitors within our own party) but never looking at how to change to better survive (theoretically by representing the people).

I wholeheartedly agree with the assessments about the outside things that have kept the Democrats, and the country, from succeeding and growing stronger. But those are really small compared to what the Democrats could do internally, and thus project externally, to counter their decline. Take a freakin' stand for something!!!

This book will reward, and likely sadden, any reader who wants to know why there is not a party that actually makes substantive improvements to their life. While GOP readers will enjoy the criticisms of the Democrats they will be upset by the assessments of much of the GOP. Readers who are Democrats will likely fall into two camps, those who think Burmila is overstating the case (in other words, those who are almost GOP but not quite) and those who will be relieved to see evidence that what they have been thinking about the Democratic Party isn't simply in their mind. But everyone should read this so they will have a more informed position when they have to make a stand, and make no mistake, this country is coming to the point where a stand will have to be made, electoral or otherwise.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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