rising star and one of America's more unique political commentators,
Michael Smerconish has published a sprawling and multi-faceted new book,
Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking. The
book is highly entertaining and is valuable for multiple reasons, even
though it's kind of all over the place.
The author is seemingly everywhere – on the radio in the morning in
Philadelphia, as well as Washington and several other cities, doing a
separate show in the afternoon in several other markets, writing columns
for both Philadelphia daily newspapers and frequently appearing on all
three cable news networks – at least until he recently signed an
exclusive deal to contribute to MSNBC. He also recently appeared nude –
yes, nude – as part of a Philadelphia Magazine profile.
A lifelong Philadelphian, former lawyer and mid-level HUD functionary in
the Bush 41 administration, Smerconish is a rare breed among
"conservative" talk show hosts. Despite appearing on a station where the
other hosts are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, his show is
less about right-wing purity or vituperation than it is about
intelligent, and often very funny talk that doesn't insult the
intelligence of its audience. He's also decent enough to avoid bad
faith: Unlike his station-mates, Smerconish did not spend the past week
arguing that Sonia Sotomayor hates white people – most likely, because
he's smart enough to realize that's not true.
Smerconish's book is really four separate books – a straight
autobiography, a collection of stories and anecdotes about his
adventures appearing on various TV and radio shows, the author's
"Suburban Manifesto" of his views on the issues and – most intriguingly
– the story of how the lifelong Republican Smerconish came to pull the
lever for Barack Obama in 2008. Smerconish speaks and writes often about
being a voice of those like him and much of his audience –
upper-middle-class, professional, white, male and suburban – and the
book illustrates how he, much like wide swathes of that demographic in
Pennsylvania and elsewhere, went from reliably Republican to a solid
Obama block in 2008.
Smerconish is essentially a libertarian on social issues who rejects the
influence of the religious right on the GOP, but on such issues as
torture, racial profiling and hatred of political correctness in all its
forms, he's slightly to the right of Dick Cheney. Smerconish's previous
three books were Flying Blind, a jeremiad in favor of racial
profiling in security; Muzzled, an anti-political correctness
screed; and Murdered by Mumia, co-written with the widow of
Daniel Faulkner, the police officer killed in 1981 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The strongest part of Morning Drive is the inside look Smerconish
gives us of the super-ridiculous world of cable news talk shows. He
rightly decries the silly way the networks break everything down into
reductive right/left categories, and even better, lets us in on how
exactly guests are picked. Smerconish recalls an e-mail from a Fox News
booker telling him they need someone to argue the affirmative in a
segment asking "Is Obama too cocky?" The author, to his credit, refused
to argue a position with which he doesn't agree.
The autobiographical stuff is well done, and the author shares some
great stories of his life in politics. The book's weakest element,
though, is the Suburban Manifesto. Sure, the author deserves credit for
pulling some views from Column A and others from Column B, but the
"Manifesto" chapters largely disrupt the flow of the book, and probably
would have worked better as their own chapter.
Most books written in recent years by talk radio or cable news
personalities have been either partisan political screeds or 350-page
exercises in self-aggrandizement. Michael Smerconish deserves credit for
authoring an entertaining, witty look at a truly fascinating time in our
media and politics, as well as for doing it his own way.