Oscillating Between Rage and Resignation: A Review of David Horowitz’ Book, ‘Take No Prisoners’

In David Horowitz’ new book, Take No Prisoners, there is a surfeit of rage and an undercurrent of resignation. Horowitz was a red diaper baby and one of the leaders of the radical left movement five decades ago. But he saw the light and remade himself into a bedrock conservative, which stance he has maintained for many years. In books, magazine articles and online journals, he has argued forcefully that his youthful leftist views were misguided and that his more mature conservative philosophy represents the correct view that Americans ought to pursue.

Indeed there is little in the book that Horowitz hasn’t said before – multiple times in multiple venues. This is not to diminish the fact that he says it very well – with passion, insight and clarity. He has the conviction of the convert and the literary skills to convey his convictions eloquently and convincingly.

In the book, Horowitz rues the fact that conservatives are getting their butts kicked in the election booth. Manifestly incompetent leftists, with little in the way of accomplishments and with radical philosophies far to the left of the average voter, routinely defeat sensible, thoughtful and experienced conservative candidates. Unethical extremists like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama – people whom Americans should reject outright – win election to the highest offices in the land. This in spite of the fact that their malfeasance and radically anti-American ideas are only barely hidden from the electorate. This drives Horowitz crazy. For example, of Obama, he says (among other delightful comments):

We have a Chief Executive who is determined to bankrupt this country at home and bring it to its knees abroad. He has deliberately lost two American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and betrayed the lives of the young Americans who sacrificed their lives there for what they thought was the cause of liberty and national security.

We have a commander-in-chief who has made America an international laughing stock through his cowardice in dealing with the Syrian dictator and a Russian aggressor in central Europe, who has set America on a course of enabling the Iranian Mullahs to acquire nuclear weapons. A leader who has made the world a far more dangerous place for his country and its citizens.

Barack Obama is a brazen, compulsive, serial liar about matters of the utmost gravity.  He is a habitual, pathological, calculated violator of the American Constitution, who has directed the IRS to use the taxing power of the state to crush his conservative opposition, and to remove the resistance to his plans for a one-party socialist state.[1]

I suspect that for Horowitz, as for this writer, the re-election of Barack Obama was a crushing blow. His reaction is to go into full electoral war mode. As such he has written a flaming manifesto on how conservatives need to assess the dire situation and reverse the slide by adopting the tactics he advocates in his book. In short, according to Horowitz: the Dems play dirty, while the Republicans play fair; the Dems call Republicans evil bigots who oppress women and minorities, whereas the Republicans call Dems liberals; the Republicans discuss policy, the Dems appeal to voters’ emotions.

The GOP is channeling its better angels, while the Dems are dirty street fighters. But, alas, sayeth Horowitz, the Dems’ strategy has proven far more effective. The only way to stop the horrible slide into a permanent electoral minority is to fight fire with fire. No more mister nice guy. The GOP should fight back by deploying all the duplicitous tools that the Dems use against them and “take no prisoners.”

Here is a small representative sample of his suggestions:

If the unhappy years of Obama’s rule have taught us anything, it is this: elections have consequences…In the 2012 election cycle, Mitt Romney had a good message and an obvious one: Obama’s economic recovery is a sorry failure; twenty-three million people are still jobless; many more are underemployed; if you want jobs and economic opportunities, support the job creators and innovators and deregulators, not those who are attacking them. This message should have worked. But a critical majority of the voting public never heard it. The reason? A $200 million television ad campaign successfully smeared the messenger as a heartless job destroyer, a mouthpiece of the selfish rich, and a person one couldn’t trust.

What was the response of the Romney campaign and the conservative PACs to this killer attack? They didn’t have one. There was no $200 million campaign exposing Obama’s lies, destroying his credibility, and undermining his message. Obama’s opponents never laid a glove on his character and failed to neutralize his attacks. Any effective counterstrategy to these Democratic offensives must take the form of an attack. The attack must expose the Democrats’ hypocrisy, tarring their character in the same way and to the same degree that current Democratic attacks taint conservatives. It must pack the emotional wallop that will neutralize the assaults. How can believers in individual rights and free markets expose this charade and repel the attacks? How can they neutralize the slanders and show that it is actually conservatives who defend opportunity and independence for minorities and the poor, for working Americans and the middle class? How can conservatives turn the tables on the Left? It’s not rocket science: Turn their guns around. Fight fire with fire.

Now here is the problem. The book has two parts. All of the above quotes are from the first part. In fact, Part Two is a verbatim reprint of essays that Horowitz wrote more than a decade ago. This makes for a jarring effect. As one reads into Part Two, the discussion seems to make little sense as he describes events from (say) 1999 as if they had just occurred. Of course they had when he wrote it. Reissuing his essays in 2014 without changing the words and with virtually no indication of what he is doing is confusing and dispiriting.

Why would he do that? Either he ran out of ideas on the topic he was developing. Or he ran out of energy. Or he never intended to say any more – he threw the second part in to fill out his excellent, but limited new essay in order to render the sum book length. Or he just got discouraged. Indeed there are subtle hints toward that direction here and there in Part One as Horowitz expresses his frustration that so many otherwise intelligent Americans remain bewitched by the left, beholden to big government and betrayers of the American dream. There are even a few places where Horowitz seems resigned to the loss of his country to the malevolent left. Like I said: oscillation between rage and resignation.

I have a great deal of respect and sympathy for Horowitz. Indeed I travelled a similar political path. But I cannot count the times that I have sat with the few lifelong acquaintances, who also followed that path, and wondered why the overwhelming majority of our former comrades never saw the light. Why did we few develop antibodies to the poisonous leftist philosophy that has infected America for a century while most of our youthful compatriots succumbed to the disease? I wish I knew the answer to that question.

The first part of Horowitz’ book is a passionate call to arms for conservatives to combat liberals in elections on equally brutal terms. But Horowitz’ despair comes through. He says:

If people simply voted with their pocketbooks, nobody with a taxable income would vote for a Democrat. But an awful lot of them do. If you think voters are too “low information” to be persuaded, you probably shouldn’t be in politics either. Politics is about winning hearts and minds. On the field of battle, armies have often won despite unpromising odds. If you are not up to this task, leave it to those who are.

Yet conservatives …[are]… depressed. [They] voice anxiety about the political future. “Do you see how big the deficit has become and how fast the debt is growing?” “Can you believe the dishonesty of this president, how he has encouraged our enemies and betrayed our friends and brought our nation low?” “How can we possibly stop this nightmare when there are all those low-information voters ready to believe what the Democrats say? Even if we could persuade them, Republicans will probably screw up the elections and return the culprits to power.”

Our democracy is built on the belief that, given the chance, the American people in the long run will do the right thing. If conservatives want to win, they need to embrace this faith.

But it not clear that he believes it. The liberal people of America – brainwashed effectively by the public schools, the media and all the other liberal-dominated opinion-molding organs of our society – will not read his book. What is also not clear is whether the establishment that controls the GOP will also pay no attention. Or whether they will take his advice if they do pay attention. And finally, whether it would do any good.

The first part of Horowitz’ book is an inspiring read – for me. Is anyone who needs convincing going to read it? I wonder what Horowitz thinks.

[1] Actually, this quote comes from the web site (takenoprisoners.org) created as a companion to the book.

This review also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative