Michael Lewis and That "Republican Book Club"

With regard to author Michael Lewis and the "House Republican Book Club" story which ran on today's front page of The HuffPost, I'd like to take a moment to correct the record and tone down some of the exaggerations of Mr. Lewis. I believe I'm entitled to do so as I was in attendance at the event.

First, it should be noted that the event took place on Thursday, October 1, 2009 and not December 3, 2009 as inaccurately mentioned in the post. Second, as Mr. Lewis believes himself to be a journalist as well as an author, I'm saddened to see that "Off-the-Record" -- at least when it pertains to Republican Members of Congress who were gracious enough to invite him to their private gathering -- are meaningless words to be trashed at the expense of taking a cheap and false shot at the GOP.

During his taped conversation with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Mr. Lewis jokes "Can you believe the House Republicans have a book club?" Lewis, Carter, and the audience they are playing to have a good laugh over that one. For ultra-wealthy liberals like Lewis and Carter, it's an accepted fact that not only can't Republicans read, but they burn books as sport.

While the truth may be unwelcome to Mr. Lewis and Mr. Carter, the joke is really on them. At least twice during the off-the-record event, Lewis laughed about it being a "Republican Book Club," and both times, someone gently took the time to correct him. The gathering to which Mr. Lewis was invited was one of a regular -- when Congress is in session -- once a week informal breakfast meeting in which newsmakers from almost every professional sector (academia, media, business) are invited to address Republican House Members and staff who have the time to attend. It's announced as "off-the-record" so that the guest and Members can speak their mind without fear of leaks or comments being taken out of context. So much for that. To say it was a "book club" may make for a great and condescending story, but it's not remotely accurate.

I was at the event because I was -- and remain -- a fan of Mr. Lewis. I think he is an exceptional writer and storyteller. Not only did I bring an original copy of Liar's Poker for him to sign, but when the event was over, gave him a copy of my novel The Apocalypse Directive. As I never got any feedback from Mr. Lewis, I now suspect my novel was deposited in a trash can outside of the Capitol Building.

Beyond my being an author who only sells in the tens of thousands of copies while Mr. Lewis is an author who sells in the tens of millions of copies, I'm quite aware of another major difference between us. One I suspect, played a role in Mr. Lewis having a good laugh over the thought of a "Republican Book Club." While I grew up in abject poverty, was homeless a number of times and went to inner-city public schools, Mr. Lewis (Cliché anyone?) grew up in privilege, went to private schools, and then on to Princeton.

While I don't begrudge him his great wealth and status, I do think it inaccurately colors his judgment. Again, at least when it comes to the intellectual curiosity of some in the GOP. In the liberal circles Mr. Lewis often finds himself, how easy it must be to seek and gain acceptance by offering up hackneyed jokes aimed at the unwashed masses who inhabit the Republican Party.

Not that it matters, but as stated on this site in the past, I'm not a Republican and not a defender of the party. In fact, as an independent conservative, I've beaten up the GOP a number of times and just called for RNC Chairman Michael Steele to retire. That said, as one who was at the event Mr. Lewis pokes biased fun at, I felt it important to state the facts.

For instance, Mr. Lewis claims there were 40 or 50 House Republicans at the event. Not even close. There were less than 20. These Members filtered in and out as the event went on. With regard to the financial crisis, Mr. Lewis states "And their questions were increasingly: 'Oh my God, Goldman Sachs did what? A.I.G. did what?" They didn't understand it...at the end, there was smoke coming out of their ears. I thought they were going to go kill someone at the end of it..."

Gee, I was there and I didn't see any smoke coming out of anyone's ears. If anything, I saw a few Members exchange looks as Mr. Lewis repeatedly interrupted them to say, "No...wait. Let me finish my story." He would then filibuster to the point where the Member who tried to politely ask the question had to leave to attend House business.

To be sure, Mr. Lewis was very informative, very gracious, very kind, and very generous with his time. Most especially when it came to taking photographs with the staff or signing copies of his books brought by staff. It is for those reasons and others, that it's all the more disappointing that he would go out of his way to mischaracterize the event so as to curry favor with Graydon Carter and those who look down their noses at tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

I honestly thought he was better than that.