By Len Lazarick
Bob Ehrlich wrote a book. Seriously. The Republican ex-governor says there was no ghostwriter.
The claim easily holds up after reading “Turn This Car Around.” It is vintage Ehrlich: blunt, uncompromising, plain spoken, politically incorrect, almost always “in the right” against the forces of the left.
That’s one of the central messages of the book, Ehrlich says. “Don’t back down. Don’t back down.”
“Taking on” everyone in sight
That’s why titles of 16 chapters of this fairly short tome begin with the words “Taking on …” As in “Taking on the Media Machine,” “… the Multicultural Police,” “… the Race Card,” “… our Business Community Allies.”
Ehrlich was unhappy that this reporter thought much of the book was about “settling scores” with old opponents.
“I hope that most people do not draw that conclusion. If it’s about settling scores, that’s a local book,” Ehrlich said in one of a series of back-to-back interviews that kicked off three weeks of a national media blitz. (Here’s a five-minute video.)
The book was meant “for a national audience,” not a Maryland audience.
“I want to play more on a national platform, take advantage of my Romney relationship,” said Ehrlich. He’s helping the presidential campaign of the former Massachusetts governor with “whatever they need done.”
The book was meant to be “relevant primarily to cultural and economic issues in this country.” To do that, he calls on his experience as a Maryland delegate, four-term congressman and one-term governor.
“This was about doing difficult things, controversial things, counter-intuitive things while you’re in office,” Ehrlich said. “There are real costs to doing those things.
“That’s one reason I wanted to write the book. It gives it more credibility, first of all. Secondly, I have very strong opinions about things that affect our culture and our economy.” And third, “I want to take advantage of the fact that I’m known.”
Parables of politics from a singular point of view
If you’ve been paying attention to Maryland politics for the past 10 years or more, many of the stories in the book are familiar, told from a singular point of view – Bob Ehrlich’s. They are parables of politics, if you will, and illustrate situations that he says happen all over the country.
He defends his ban on a Sun reporter and columnist as standing up to media distortions, and insists multiculturalism is still “bunk” and destructive to the national fiber. He defends traditional marriage, and attacks “the failing war on drugs.” He defends his wife Kendel’s negative comments about Britney Spears: “If I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would,” she had said. Yet it is one of the rare instances in the book where Ehrlich concedes a misstep.
“You see, there is a caveat to the general rule on holding one’s ground in the face of aggressive criticism – apologize when appropriate,” writes Ehrlich.
But otherwise, being right means never having to say you’re sorry.
Challenging racial politics a key theme
Racial politics is a theme throughout the book, one that Ehrlich would often tackle as governor. He did, after all, embarrass the Democratic Party by making black Republican Michael Steele lieutenant governor, the first African American elected as a statewide official. Yet Steele was denigrated as a token and an Oreo.
“Early on in my tenure, (press secretary) Greg (Massoni) turned to me, and he said every time you bring up or discuss a race-related issue the room gets immediately silent, no glasses clink, and everybody gets up tight about what you’re going to say next,” Ehrlich said in the interview. “ I noticed that through my entire public career. That’s not healthy.”
Ehrlich has clearly been frustrated that affluent African Americans continue to vote Democratic with their poorer brethren, even as he devoted time and effort to Prince George’s County, a majority black enclave with some of the highest household incomes in the nation.
Ehrlich pointed to a political survey — not mentioned in the book — taken in the summer of 2006 as he sought re-election. It showed he had an approval rating of 48%-49% in Prince George’s County, he recalled, but the next question found him getting only 18% of the vote against a generic Democrat. “And that said it all,” he said.
In the book, Ehrlich attributes the loss of his 2010 comeback rematch against O’Malley to a “large African American turnout spurred on by a renewed indignation toward conservatives generally and tea party activists in particular.”
He does admit that he was settling at least one score with the chapter on challenging GOP business allies to stop contributing to Democrats who don’t share their values. “But that point is national,” Ehrlich said.
“Wall Street and Goldman Sachs give the most anti-business candidate in modern times all their money, and then they’re shocked, shocked, that he’s an anti-business president,” Ehrlich said.
It would be hard for a host of Democratic officials not to see most of this book as settling scores, even if the targets often go unnamed. In describing the intense blow up over the attempted state takeover of 11 Baltimore public schools in 2006, and the intense pushback by Democrats, Ehrlich omits at least one of the political dimensions of the fight. While Ehrlich saw it as a continuation of his efforts to lift up performance of city schools against bureaucratic and union intransigence, Democrats also viewed it as an attempt to embarrass Mayor Martin O’Malley in his challenge to Ehrlich.
Ehrlich’s biggest intention in the book is to buck up what he calls “the common sense majority,” which needs to stand its ground and rebut attacks from the left such as Occupy Wall Street, who, he said, are not the 99%.
But Democrats in the legislature when Ehrlich was governor share wide agreement that his tenure was undermined by intransigence and unwillingness to compromise. My way, or the highway, was how he and his aides came across, they say.
Democrats widely believe his refusal to “Turn This Car Around” when they blocked his path or even changed lanes was what led him off the exit ramp.
But if you liked Ehrlich’s in-your-face approach, you’ll like his new book. And he says he’s already started on another.