Book Review: Rodney Page’s Powers Not Delegated

Just in time for this year’s presidential election comes Rodney Page’s Powers Not Delegated, the story of a principled man who decides he must defeat the hyperliberal, poorly-performing current president in order to save America. Sound familiar? Page includes his own recognizable fictional versions of many of today’s political players – Rush Limbaugh, Barack Obama, George Soros, Rahm Emanuel – placing them within a slightly-changed version of the political landscape we are familiar with from the last four years.

Powers Not Delegated covers four years of American political life, from the election of the new and relatively unknown President Thorpe, who ran on a platform of “Change!” (and not much else), to the hotly-contested presidential election season immediately following, in which a popular congressman switches his allegiance from Republican to Page’s version of the Tea Party and gives both candidates a real challenge. Meanwhile, Thorpe’s shoddy handling of every presidential duty results in terrible economic conditions, an increasingly porous border, and the secret possession by Iran of suitcase nukes. Page’s version of our world as it stands today is chillingly well-supported by easily documented facts.

Though I still had to finish the book (it was a real page-turner in spots), I confess to some disappointment. Page’s book was a slow starter, largely because it introduced about a dozen characters in parallel plotlines at the beginning of the book. While at some point all these characters did cross paths. it was harder to follow the story this way than it would have been had they been introduced at more natural story moments in the main plot thread, with flashbacks or narrative fill-in covering necessary background information. Page also made a classic first-time-novelist mistake: he failed to go for the throat emotionally. While danger was a clear element throughout and he did not shy from killing off characters, it felt flat, as if he had not reached deeply enough. I honestly think Page would have been better off holding off publication and instead running his book through a gauntlet of unforgivingly critical (but loving) conservative readers and writers who could help him identify the flaws in his novel and give advice on how to repair them.

That said, I still recommend the book. Why? Because it’s different, and it addresses something important in the conservative fiction world. I’ve been talking for a few posts about how changing the story can change the culture. Page’s story takes the standard political potboiler and, without apology, uses it to expose some of the real-life horrors that today’s politically liberal establishment leaves us open to. Yes, not paying attention to border enforcement makes us vulnerable to the worst possible terrorist attacks. Yes, blowing off Iran’s nuclear development ignores their clear and undeniable ties to terrorism. And yes, a lack of close and balanced scrutinization of any presidential candidate’s background leaves us open to government by shadowy figures driven by their own agendas. Fiction is uniquely positioned to help us understand why we need to pay attention to these big-picture things in real life; Rodney Page does an excellent job demonstrating this in his book.

I’m very much looking forward to Mr. Page’s next book.

Just Make It Up

Why would Harvey Weinstein write Mitt Romney in as a character who would not have approved the Bin Laden raid in his upcoming straight-to-television movie Seal Team Six?

Why does the movie Game Change show Sarah Palin in such a poor light?

Why did The China Syndrome have such a huge and lasting impact on the perception of nuclear power, even though its science has been proven to be very bad?

Why are so many movies and television shows featuring positive gay characters?

The answer to all these is the same: because people believe in stories. There’s something magical about fiction, especially fiction that purports to some degree to be truth.

Fiction has power. Unlike fact, fiction speaks directly to your emotions. Stories are like a short-circuit directly into your brain; they bypass logic and go straight to the belief center.

In an article from the New York Times, the relationship between fiction and emotions is made clearer.

In the last decade, psychologists have focused increasing attention on moral attitudes. Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the Stern School of Business at New York University and author of “The Righteous Mind,” told me that researchers have been especially interested in the way emotions and attitudes interact. Moral attitudes are especially difficult to change, Haidt said, because the emotions attached to those preferences largely define who we are. “Certain beliefs are so important for a society or group that they become part of how you prove your identity,” he said. “It’s as though we circle around these ideas. It’s how we become one.”

We tend to side with people who share our identity — even when the facts disagree — and calling someone a flip-flopper is a way of calling them morally suspect, as if those who change their minds are in some way being unfaithful to their group. This is nonsense, of course. People change their minds all the time, even about very important matters. It’s just hard to do when the stakes are high. That’s why marshaling data and making rational arguments won’t work. Whether you’re changing your own mind or someone else’s, the key is emotional, persuasive storytelling.

Haidt does not say this, but those beliefs arising from emotion are what makes up a culture. Those who share our identity are part of our culture. If you want to change the culture, the fastest and easiest way is by changing the cultural stories. How better can I say that we need more conservative fiction writers?