I had pretty much the same experience recently, but on the opposite end of the political spectrum, when I tried to read a book that was recommended to me about Boy Scouts. When I picked up On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For I was expecting a little bit of a conservative slant. I can accept that. The book was written by the republican Governor of Texas, Rick Perry with a forward by Ross Perot. I don’t share the idea that you have to be a Republican to be a good Boy Scout, but I recognize that many people do feel that way. So I gave the book a chance.
I was expecting several chapters of Perry describing his personal experiences and then detailed accounts of how the principles of Scouting had improved his life and the lives of others. If I were to write a book about Scouting and my personal experiences I would likely title a chapter about each point of the Scout Law and then tell personal stories of how Scouting has made me more trustworthy, loyal, helpful, etc, and then extrapolate on Scouting's potential future impacts.
Perry decided to take a much different strategy and it really disappointed me. It had an obligatory paragraph about the founding of Scouting and the eventual founding of BSA, but all too quickly the book took on the Coke v. Pepsi theme. Rather than tell what was good about Scouting he criticized those who do not share the same values. In only a few paragraphs the book took the tone of something written by Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh. He even made sure to include all the buzz words and phrases that readers of those types of books already accept without challenging. The “so called mainstream media”, “yellow dog Democrats”, “counter-culture perversions of the sixties”, “the onslaught of secularism” etc, etc ad nausea. Perry spent about 100 pages of the book going case by case describing the law suits that have been brought against BSA by the ACLU, Atheists, girls and homosexuals. This section felt like I had just been hired as BSA’s chief council and had to familiarize myself for an upcoming trial. It was very tedious.
Finally towards the last chapters Perry gives some statistics and examples of how boy scouts have grown up to be prominent and successful leaders in politics, business and philanthropy, but this was too little too late. Perry did not strike me as a leader with whom I would enjoy sitting down at a campfire with. Instead he came across as a bitter, defensive lawyer. I understand the point of his message and I have little criticism of his position only his strategy. The Boy Scouts of America is a private organization entitled to set their on requirements for membership. Hey, if Hooters can consistently have cases against them overturned for their strict hiring policy then all the more reason that BSA should have their requirements upheld as well.
My biggest complaint with the book is that it didn’t really live up to the title. It said substantially more about Scouting’s opponents. A better title would have been something like “Defending Scouting’s Values: A History of the Attacks Against the Boy Scouts of America”.
A quick note: Nothing in the previous review should be interpreted as support for those who would have Scouting change its policies. I see no conflict in simultaneously believing that values of Scouting should be unchanged and also that this was not a very good book. My words are critical of Perry and his strategy, but should in no way be taken as criticism of the Scouting program. I am currently jointly enrolled in two troops in two different councils as well as serving on the Adult Leader Training staff. I am currently working my Wood badge ticket and I will likely be donating several hours a week and a good portion of my vacation hours in support of BSA for the rest of my life. The two items on my resume that I am most proud of are the fact that I am a happily married father of four and that I am and Eagle Scout.