Ira Smolensky

Just 2 simplistic guys


         The next best thing to writing a book yourself is having a former student of yours write a book.

         You just have to hope that the book in question does not turn out to be Mein Kampf.

         And Just 2 Simple Guys, by Greg Sullivan and Kirkwood native Adam Watkins, is not Mein Kampf by any stretch of the imagination.

         For those readers who are not up on the top ten fascist hits of the twentieth century, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was Adolph Hitler’s 1925 tome in which he cunningly revealed his overtly racist, anti-democratic, and anti-liberal worldview as well as his brutal plans to ethnically cleanse Europe and, ultimately, the rest of the globe.  Since it was assumed that no sane person would openly announce his plan to conquer the world, Hitler’s rant was mostly ignored.  World War II came about as a result, something in which Hitler’s college professors, if he had had any, would probably not take much if any pride.

         Just 2 Simple Guys also might be accurately described as a rant.  It is certainly not a racist rant, nor does it smack of delusional grandeur.  Indeed, its tone is decidedly humble and polite.  After all, Greg and Adam are just two average, ordinary American guys who love their country and want to apply a little “common sense” to help navigate it through troubled times.  On the other hand, their book does criticize the current state of American democracy, which, in the authors’ view, went awry during the New Deal and then was carried even further astray during the heady leftist days of the 1960’s.  Likewise, the book takes to task the old and new “liberals” who have orchestrated this corruption of the good ol’ days when Americans were rugged and self-reliant instead of putting all their trust in big government.

         Along the way, Greg and Adam vehemently condemn social security, minimum wage, labor unions, taxes, bureaucrats, welfare, and socialized health care . . . all the usual suspects for critics of “big government.”  Correspondingly, the guys are staunch defenders of business—big as well as small—and private charities (George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light”).  Indeed, there is little they believe cannot be achieved by the unfettered quest for profits augmented with private charity.  While clearly coming from a right-wing libertarian perspective on these issues, Greg and Adam also take strong stands on two issues which divide libertarians-- abortion and the war in Iraq.  The guys are unqualifiedly anti-abortion and pro-Iraq war (to the point of defending the perpetrators of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison for their undoubtedly patriotic motives).  As one might expect, the guys also are strong supporters of President Bush (except for his No Child Left Behind program) and faithful adherents to the transcendent political wisdom of Ronald Reagan.

         (Like their political heroes, Greg and Adam do not apply their libertarian principles and love of liberty to the issue of illegal drugs.  While they argue repeatedly that individual Americans are better at spending their own money than is government, they have nothing whatsoever to say in this book about government’s special competency when it comes to deciding which inebriants citizens can and cannot legally imbibe.)

         It pleases me to affirm with unshakeable certainty that, whether it is pretty much ignored or becomes a national best seller, Just 2 Simple Guys is unlikely to cause World War III.  For one thing, the ideas espoused in the book, for better or worse, are already in currency.  That is not to say that the book has nothing new to offer.  It definitely has its own unique voice.

         On the other hand, I don’t think the book is likely to achieve its fundamental goal of sharpening up political discourse in the U.S. 

         This is not because the guys are too “simple” (that is to say, stupid) or because they are evil.  Adam Watkins was one of my favorite students at Monmouth College.  He is bright, opinionated, forthright, and compassionate.  I have no reason to think that Greg Sullivan is different from Adam in any of these respects.  Though, in my opinion, Just 2 Simple Guys could have used a tough editor to reduce the amount of repetition and to clean up some factual slips (for example, on affirmative action), the book is well written, intelligently argued, and full of admirable intentions.

         Where the book falls short is in its unwillingness to dig beyond the surface.  Just 2 Simple Guys is an eminently competent exegesis of right wing orthodoxy.  I could easily find intelligent and sincere guys willing to produce a glib statement of leftist orthodoxy.  What each book would lack is the depth of analysis and critical self-examination needed to truly move contemporary political discourse forward.  In essence, both would be books by 2 simplistic guys. 

         Of course, critical thinking is definitely in vogue in academia nowadays.  Even in the hallowed halls of academia, however, what is less well recognized is that genuine enlightenment, including the ability to climb out of our current left v. right ideological cul-de-sac, requires that we not only apply critical thinking to the ideas of our opponents, but also to our own.

         This, unfortunately, Greg and Adam are not able to do, despite their inclusion of various straw man arguments which they easily dispatch. 

         Maybe they will dig a bit deeper in their next book.

         (For more on Just 2 Simple Guys, go to