Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Paul Revere Was Very Shrill Too
I'm still eagerly awaiting Markos's new book "American Taliban" in the mail so I can't tell you much about it. But reviews are coming in and this nice earnest finger wag from Jamelle Bouie in the American Prospect is worth discussing on its own terms.
Bouie believes that the book is grossly unfair to the far right because they aren't exactly like the Taliban. Evidently, the use of hyperbole to make the ironic point that they have the same worldview as their proclaimed mortal enemies is verboten because it isn't literally true. But polemics often make use of such literary devices to make a larger observation, so I'm not sure that Markos is trying to convince people that the American far right is secretly cutting women's noses off but rather that in the context of our society, they are the nose cutters. (And frankly, I think it's fairly obvious if they could enforce their religious doctrine and political ideology on all of us, they would. No nose-cutting, so that's good. They'll just engage in old fashioned American slut-shaming, which I grant is an improvement over physical disfiguration but the deeper meaning of the act is exactly the same.)
But as I said, I haven't read the book so I can't go any farther than that on the facts Markos presents in the book. However, I can comment on this example from the review because I wrote about it all as it was happening:
It doesn't help that Moulitsas elides glaring contradictions in his argument and routinely misrepresents his evidence; in one instance, Moulits, brandishes Ann Coulter's infamous quotation from 2001, where she declared that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity," as evidence of the right's bloodthirsty ways, while ignoring the fact that she was fired from National Review (an organ of the American Taliban) for that exact quotation.
Ann Coulter was fired for going on TV and slagging National Review Online (she didn't work for the magazine) for paying peanuts and because they wanted to edit her column. They made a big point about saying they fired her for her unprofessional conduct, not her writing. And she was hired afterward by USA Today (where she was also eventually fired and replaced by Jonah Goldberg.)She still has a nationally syndicated column and her work appears on Townhall, World Net Daily and Human Events among others. She sold many thousands of hate-filled anti-liberal books with titles like Slander and Treason and Godless, appeared all over the country to tumultuous, adoring crowds and landed on the cover of Time magazine --- all after she made those statements. Apparently the National Review's withdrawal of its imprimatur didn't impress her audience very much. If that's what constitutes a glaring contradiction in the book, then I'm afraid it isn't Markos who has failed to do his homework.
This final point I'm afraid, is just perplexing
Conservatives haven't actually gained from their willingness to bend and misrepresent the truth. For starters, Republicans are still deeply unpopular; according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24 percent of Americans gave the GOP a positive rating, a historic low. At best, with their constant attacks on "socialism" and "tyranny," conservatives are responding to a gross caricature of liberalism; after years of taking down liberal straw men, conservatives can neither respond to actual liberals nor offer the public anything other than decades-old dogma. Indeed, their likely electoral gains notwithstanding, movement conservatives are still incapable of making an affirmative case for their governing philosophy. Their "new ideas" are anything but, and to most informed observers, it's clear that "no" is the only functioning weapon in the Republican Party's paltry arsenal. Put another way, there's a reason why the movement's leading voices are quasi-religious charlatans, rent-seeking celebrities, and failed ex-governors.
I don't know that we are living in the same political world. Yes, their leaders are charlatans,rent-seeking celebrities and failed ex-governors. What else is new? And yet somehow, the right has been enormously successful for the past 40 years and has dominated politics and government because of their willingness to relentlessly demean and destroy liberalism by any means necessary, usually using institutional power wherever they can lay their hands on it. This is a mind-boggling assertion, really, especially considering the fact that they are on the verge of making an epic comeback even in the face of total institutional disarray and a takeover of the GOP by the lunatic fringe. And it's purely on their willingness, indeed eagerness, to go for the jugular. Sure the GOP is unpopular. All politicians are unpopular right now. But conservatism has been the big political winner for decades --- and constitutes a far bigger ideological bloc than liberalism. In fact, all American politics are played on the right side of the field, with liberalism on defense the whole way.
We are talking about cutting social security in the middle of the worst economy since the 1930s. That's not a sign of failed conservative ideology. And yes "informed" people understand that they are about nothing. How many people are correctly informed?
He goes on to give a fairly boilerplate Sunday school lecture about truth, justice and the American way and it's fine as far as it goes. Making up facts is not ok, although I see no evidence in this review that Markos has engaged in anything but hyperbole. But this is silly:
Yes, progressives are depressed and despondent about the future, but that's no reason for dishonesty and scaremongering, and it doesn't excuse the obscenity of comparing our political opponents to killers and terrorists. As reality-based members of the American community, we have an obligation toward the truth, even when it isn't particularly convenient.
Actually, sometimes scaremongering is absolutely necessary for survival. People should be scared right now. History shows that bad things can happen, particularly in times of great transition and stress.
The inconvenient truth here is that these people are dangerous because their worldview is dangerous. Lethal even. And somebody has to have the guts and to call them on it in their own terms. This "tired genre" of "our opponents are monsters" has been decidedly dominated by one side and the consequences have been grave. We have a fight on our hands and the only real question left is whether anyone on our side is willing to wage it.
I've been watching politics for a long time and I am not sanguine right now. I'd like to believe that this is just a big kerfuffle, and perhaps it is. I hope so. But this is new to me. I've seen the combination of economic distress and far right influence before in the early 80s, but liberalism had far more social capital at the time and the Republican party had far more sane people in the government. Moreover, they did not have a separate media operation of this power and scope.
And this is a much more unstable world, with challenges so huge (like global warming) we hardly have the imagination to contemplate the necessary response. The post war institutions we built to deal with national and global problems are completely broken and most of our elites have totally succumbed to social climbing, greed and short term self-interest. In that environment, liberal magazines marginalizing Paul Reveres who are emotionally sounding the alarm about a far right populist takeover seems remarkably myopic.
Update: Bouie responds.
digby 9/01/2010 10:00:00 AM