Today HarperCollins’s conservative imprint, Broadside Books, launches a series of e-books written by and in the spirit of the Tea Party movement. “Voices of the Tea Party” includes First Do No Harm: The President’s Cousin Explains Why His Hippocratic Oath Requires Him to Oppose ObamaCare, by Milton Wolf; Community Organizing for Conservatives: A Manifesto for Localism in the Tea Party Movement, by Lorie Medina; and The Battle for Virginia’s 5th District: How the Ancestral Spirit of Patrick Henry Inspired Me to Join the Tea Party, by Mark Kevin Lloyd, all pamphlet-length. The series also has an interactive website and invitation to Tea Party activists: Submit your 5,000-7,000-word essay and yours, too, may be published by HarperCollins.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why e-books? The tea party isn’t good enough for real books?
Adam Bellow: In five years I suspect the distinction between “real” books and e-books will be considered essentially meaningless. A more salient distinction is that between full-length books and pamphlets, which have their own unique value and role in ideological movements. Bear in mind that every major social, political, and religious movement in Western history has been fueled by an energetic burst of pamphleteering. From the early Christian apologists to the Protestant Reformation, from the English Civil War to the American and French Revolutions, polemical pamphlets have been the means by which these movements worked out ideas and practical programs. If the Tea Party is to mature as a political force, it needs to develop a similar means of debating ideas and arguments.
Lopez: Are e-books the future?
Bellow: E-books are definitely the future for a certain kind of political and intellectual publishing, feeding the growing appetite for short yet substantive works that can be read quickly and cheaply. Though as I have suggested, they represent at the same time a reversion to the past — a return to the roots of political culture by way of 21st-century technology. Marshall McLuhan would be pleased.
Lopez: Forgive me for using the phrase again, but are real books dying?
Bellow: Every time a new medium of communication is introduced, people declare that it will put traditional media out of business. Sometimes this is true (we no longer produce illuminated manuscripts, for instance). But more often the new medium simply drains off some of the content carried by existing media and presents it to consumers in a more efficient way, in the process redefining older formats. We should therefore expect to see a shift in the nature of books similar to what happened in the music industry with the advent of digital downloads. Printed books won’t disappear, but e-books will emerge as a parallel market and will also drain off some of the more topical, issue-based content that is often a hit-or-miss proposition in hardcover. Meanwhile, success in the e-book market will form a ladder to print for many authors who are currently denied that opportunity. E-books will thus be usefully integrated into the larger publishing ecology. Broadside Books is conceived as a model of this emerging paradigm.
Lopez: Why would a professional New York editor like yourself want to join the Tea Party?
Bellow: When I joined the conservative movement as an editor in the late 1980s, it was a political insurgency with a lively intellectual wing. Over time, both wings became institutionalized and are now part of a single, seamlessly integrated establishment based in Washington, D.C. . . . The Tea Party has already shifted the ground under the GOP politically and I am betting the same thing will happen to the intellectual wing of the movement, which I fear has become too pampered and complacent to maintain itself as a real countercultural force. We hope to do our part to reinvigorate and democratize the conservative intellectual movement by lowering barriers to entry for citizen-activists who have something important to say.
Lopez: What is the Tea Party in your mind? Has that changed since working on this series?
Bellow: I initially viewed the Tea Party as a refreshing but ephemeral phenomenon with limited political goals. In working with actual Tea Party activists, however, I have learned that it is better understood as a movement of ideological renewal whose goals are much more ambitious than cutting the federal deficit. I have been particularly struck by the extent to which the many local leaders know each other or are connected by a few degrees of separation. This makes it possible for ideas and information to spread throughout the movement much faster than most people realize. It’s a fascinating kind of group mind with thousands of participants.
Lopez: What are the ideological roots of the Tea Party? Some still think it’s all about anger.
Bellow: Don’t buy into the liberal psychobabble that tries to discredit anger. Conservatives have a right to be angry and should not be embarrassed to say so. That said, there is a lot more to the Tea Party than anger. The Tea Party considers the Constitution a secular covenant that has been broken, and the entire movement is about restoring those broken promises. They are very sincere about this, and I have been impressed not only by their incredible commitment and heartfelt patriotism but by the voracious intellectual hunger for knowledge and engagement with ideas one finds in the Tea Party, especially regarding the true meaning of the Constitution.
Lopez: How did you find your authors in this new e-book series?
Bellow: Our series editor, Mike Leahy, who is also the author of a forthcoming book on the ideological roots of the Tea Party, has used his contacts throughout the national Tea Party network to attract potential authors. We are also inviting proposals from activists across the country, some of which we plan to post on the site for comment and discussion. We are interested in their personal stories, policy ideas, and practical advice on organizing and managing a Tea Party group. (People can go here to learn more about our submission guidelines.) The idea is to provide a collaborative publishing platform that will enable people in the movement to debate ideas and political priorities. In the end, of course, it will be up to the activists themselves to exploit this platform to the fullest extent, in partnership with Broadside’s editors.
Lopez: Speaking of: What should everyone who wants to be a civic leader learn from Michael Patrick Leahy?
Bellow: Today’s conservative activist is an ideological entrepreneur. People like Mike Leahy have created a national movement using cellphones and laptops. What these people understand is that it is no longer possible to be an American citizen without significantly engaging in the political process. The days of delegating your political role to someone else are over. The first requirement for today’s conservative activists is therefore to rearrange their priorities so that they can devote significantly more time to the duties of active and engaged citizenship. What particular skills does such a person need? The ability to multitask. A mastery of social media and collaborative decision making. Diplomatic tact. A sense of humor. And the capacity to go without sleep for long stretches of time.
Lopez: What could potential 2012 candidates learn from your series?
Bellow: Potential candidates can learn a great deal from our series about what the Tea Party movement cares about, how its members will judge them, what they need to do to gain the movement’s support, and the significant political benefits they will secure by doing so.
Lopez: Why is Milton Wolf’s voice important?
Bellow: Not only does Milton Wolf present a very clear free-market alternative to Obamacare, he also shows how the increasing role of government in the delivery of health care has consistently made it worse. What’s more, he learned this not only from his own experience but by watching his father struggle to deliver quality health care to his patients despite the “helping hand” of government. In contrast to this stands President Obama’s stark ignorance of this counterproductive role. The fact that Dr. Wolf is also Barack Obama’s second cousin makes it even more interesting to hear from him.
Lopez: What’s the best advice Lorie Medina has to offer the Tea Party?
Bellow: Lorie Medina is particularly focused on retaining and growing membership in local Tea Party groups. What I found most interesting is the way she applies lessons from her father, a Baptist minister, to the leadership of a small group of Tea Party volunteers. Medina understands that consistent engagement requires the kind of respect for the individual that she learned in her church experience. These are human beings, not footsoldiers in a movement. Even the most committed activist is a person with a family, a job, and a specific personality. Their contributions have to be acknowledged, and their freedom of choice respected. Her advice: Engage aggressively, don’t let up, do your homework, be persistent, focus on the local level.
Lopez: What should we expect from “Voices of the Hollywood Right”? When can we expect it? Did you have more than Frasier to choose from?
Bellow: This fall we will launch our next digital pamphlet series, “Voices of the Hollywood Right.” Series editor Skip Press (author of the forthcoming Broadside book, The Conservative’s Guide to Making It in Hollywood) reports that there are a lot more conservatives in Hollywood than many people realize, and he has begun commissioning contributions from people at every level of the entertainment industry. I think conservative readers will find their stories and perspectives utterly fascinating. (I should also mention Ben Shapiro’s forthcoming Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.) And we have other series in development, consistent with our goal of publishing lively new voices from across the conservative spectrum.