Author: David Cole
Publisher: Feral House
Shermer suggested to me that we try a scientific experiment, gassing dogs in the manner the Jews were supposedly gassed at Auschwitz, using the type of cyanide gas that was available in 1944.
“You want to gas dogs?” I exclaimed. “We’ll be running Bow-wowschwitz” … when I recounted the conversation to my girlfriend, she came up with an equally good one: “Barkin’ Belsen.” All the same, I nixed the dog-gassing idea. All I needed was to have the animal rights people on my ass.
Republican Party Animal is, firstly, a very funny book; second, David Cole seems not the type to gas anyone regardless of leg count. Cole says he is 5' 6" and like many shorter boys he seems to have sharpened his wit early, telling us a story in the first chapter where he manages to stop a bully by reaching out with his charm. In many ways Cole is a very clever man, which make his serial stupidities more sharply disappointing. He has a good eye for the possible, an appetite for work and common sense in all directions but one.
In 2009, Cole joined Gary Sinise’s glee club for Hollywood conservatives, the Friends of Abe, and ran his own Facebook and IRL group, the Republican Party Animals, during the elections of ’10 and ’12. (Cole writes well enough that I found his election memories gut-wrenching.) The subtitle is misleading: there is little exposure of Hollywood conservatives unless you lived years under a tombstone, and still vote Democratic. His time as a fellow-travelling GOP operative is educational and interesting, but is the trailing half of Cole’s story from 1988 to ’94.
The young Cole was interested in the fringe groups who deny the mass slaughter of European Jews by the Nazi regime. While investigating their claims, Cole became a revisionist: someone who thinks the history books need to be revised with better sources, closer arguments and, often, reduced or modified claims. But Cole would learn the enlightened racial pieties of post-Brown v Board of Education America have lost little of the violent hysteria found in the age of Plessy v Ferguson: still foaming at the mouth and still too myopic to distinguish, say, Holocaust revisionists from Holocaust deniers. (Cole summarizes his views on the Holocaust in appendix A, freeing the book's body to be much more light-hearted. They seem sensible to me, but I am a purely amateur historian.)
It is impossible to detail this book without spoiling the best jokes or ruining the Greek tragedy; I will note only my reactions. First, as I noted, it is witty and mordant, sometimes in excess. Cole seems, on a deep level, utterly alone. When the Jewish Defense League is threatening his life, he is unable to muster the kith and kin that might have protected him long enough to retrench, defend, and avoid long years in the political wilderness. He seems short-sighted when it comes to matters of the heart which, I think, is one reason why he bites sometimes too deep.
As I wrote, outside of the famous secret that the GOP is free of campaign doctrine, political strategy and rudders, this book exposes only Mr Cole. He sounds at times like a semi-professional banqueter for the GOP, but his parties elevated morale, smoothed over online differences face-to-face, and reduced hair-splitting, political or organizational, by keeping people involved and moving. Cole’s missteps (most famously, the GOP funds spent on pole dancers under Michael Steele’s tenure) shrink beside these contributions.
Mr Cole confirms the grassroots’ suspicion that many GOP campaigns look more like ritualized suicide missions and fund raisers. Cole sees paranoia rising from real GOP setbacks, the feckless and distant Establishment, and a base powered mainly by frustration. For example, Cole is anti-abortion, but notes that any progress on digging out from under Roe v Wade is stymied by all-or-nothing candidates like Todd Akin, whose refusal to step down from the Senate race depressed GOP votes in more than Missouri. Republicans like to note the real minimum wage is nothing; we should take our own advice.
David Cole was a valuable asset to the GOP and could be again. His history is worth reading: the breathless conspiratard theories spun over the dissolution of the Friends of Abe evaporate once Cole describes how Sinise was the only animating force behind it. Mr Cole currently writes for takimag.com.
p.s. Amusingly, I note the Weekly Standard is now using the example of Akin, unpopular for his stated views on abortion in the case of rape, against Trump, popular for his stated views on many subjects. Such is war, you might say, but I contend: you may think it magnificent, but it is not war. (As always, I am required to note: Sarah Palin backed another GOP primary candidate; Akin was not a Tea Party error. And Bill Kristol should turn in his crystal ball.)