You’re A Liberal Fascist! You’re A Conservative Taliban! And Other Fun Insults To Please The Crowd

Markos Moulitsas has a new book out, American Taliban.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up.

Kos at Daily Kos:

We’ll see far more reaction as the book officially hits the shelves on Wednesday, but I expect much of the same. Conservatives will hate it, for obvious reasons. Weenie liberals will hate it, for obvious reasons. A bunch of “serious people” will tsk tsk the lack of civility in our discourse — now that a liberal is throwing the punches. And some people will appreciate that I’m throwing those punches.

Because look, this book, ultimately, is a big “fuck you” to every conservative who has ever accused us of wanting the terrorists to win. Why would we? The reasons I hate the crazy Right is the same reason I hate Jihadists — their fetishization of violence, their theocratic tendencies, their disrespect for women, their hatred of gays, their fear of the “other”, their defiance of scientific progress and education, and their attempts to hijack popular culture.

It’s a good book, and it’s paperback, so it’s cheap. Pick up a copy at your favorite online retailer or bookstore, and come up with your own opinion on the matter.

Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect:

Observant readers (or bookshelf scanners) will notice that American Taliban, the new book by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, shares its smiley-face cover art with Liberal Fascism, the controversial 2009 book by conservative writer Jonah Goldberg. Indeed, there is a sense in which American Taliban is the left-wing counterpoint or spiritual successor to Liberal Fascism. But whereas Goldberg sought to make a historical connection between American liberalism and European fascism for the purpose of “clearing the record,” Moulitsas seeks to classify right-wing conservatism as a species of fundamentalist extremism, for the purpose of spurring progressive action.

This is not new ground for Moulitsas. In 2005 he wrote a short post slamming the conservative movement for its similarities to Islamic radicalism: The Taliban, he wrote, “are exactly what we see in the Republican Party as the GOP continues to consolidate power — creeping theocracy, moralizing, us versus them, embrace of torture, the need to constantly declare jihad on someone, hysterics over football-game nipples, control over ‘decency’ on the airwaves, lyrics censorship, hostility to women freedoms, curta[i]ling of civil liberties, and so on.”

[...]

Like Liberal Fascism, American Taliban is another entry in the tired genre of “my political opponents are monsters.” Indeed, Moulitsas begins the book with the Goldbergian declaration that “in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.” And he fills the remaining 200-plus pages with similar accusations. In the chapter on power, Moulitsas writes that “the American Taliban seek a tyranny of the believers in which the popular will, the laws of the land, and all of secular society are surrendered to their clerics and ideologues.” Which is, of course, why these American Taliban participate in the democratic system and hew to the outcomes of elections. Later in the chapter, Moulitsas argues that the right-wing hates democracy — they “openly dream of their own regressive brand of religious dictatorship” — loves war, fears sex, and openly despises women and gays. In the chapter on “war,” Moulitsas calls Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota a “high priestess of the American Taliban” — a veritable Mullah Omar, it seems! — and in the final chapter on “truth,” Moulitsas concludes by noting the foundational “kinship” between the two Talibans.

Now, it’s true that certain tendencies on the American right have analogues in fundamentalist Islam; for example, and as Moulitsas points out in his chapter on sex, right-wing conservatives share a hatred of pornography with fundamentalist Iranian authorities. Of course the similarities end there; conservatives boycott pornography, Iran punishes it with death.

But, this gets to the huge, glaring problem with American Taliban; ultimately, any similarities are vastly outweighed by incredibly important distinctions and vast differences of degree. I’m no fan of the right wing, but the only possible way it can be “indistinguishable” from the Taliban is if conservatives are stoning women for adultery, stalking elementary schools to throw acid in girls’ faces, and generally enforcing fundamentalist religious law with torture and wanton violence. The chapter on women becomes a joke when you realize that Moulitsas can’t distinguish between the odiousness of right-wing sexism and the vicious amorality of permanently disfiguring “immodest” women. Likewise, there are magnitudes of difference between executing gays (the Taliban) and opposing a hate-crimes bill (Republicans).

It doesn’t help that Moulitsas elides glaring contradictions in his argument and routinely misrepresents his evidence; in one instance, Moulitsas 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.

Digby on Bouie:

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.

Bouie responds to Digby:

Listen, I have no problem with throwing punches and fighting the good fight against the forces of wealth and regression. And I won’t hesitate to attack the conservative movement for its sexism, racial resentment and monomaniacal devotion to enriching the privileged. But there’s a vast difference between that, and stressing a moral equivalence between the right and the Taliban. The former is true and focuses our aim for the battles ahead, the latter, as Patrick Appel writes at the Daily Dish, doesn’t “accomplish anything besides juicing book sales and temporarily riling up like-minded folk.”

Hell, Kos admits as much when he describes the purpose of his book, “Because look, this book, ultimately, is a big ‘fuck you’ to every conservative who has ever accused us of wanting the terrorists to win.” Kos isn’t Paul Revere; he isn’t warning us about some incipient threat to our safety; he’s trying to get back at conservatives who accuse liberals of hating their country. Which, as I said in my review, is fair; Kos has never claimed to be an honest broker for the truth. But the fight for progress doesn’t require us to bend the truth or distort our opponents’ ideas; we can wage this war as we always have, by fighting for our values and giving the right the rope it needs to hang itself. Sure, “fuck you” feels good, but the moment you turn to smears is the moment you concede the weakness of your own position.

The conservative movement is a perfect example of what happens when you let dishonesty consume your argument. In its drive to demonize liberals, it has become an incoherent mass of rage and resentment, devoid of anything approximating a governing agenda. The right has become so doctrinaire that it has lost its capacity for self-correction. This year’s Republicans will win because of high unemployment and poor growth, not because the American people have suddenly become more receptive to conservatism (they haven’t).

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Yeah, with great respect for Digby, I just don’t agree. I actually think precision, of this sort, is extremely important. Rightly or wrongly I’m a liberal, in large measure, because I think liberals have more respect for my intelligence. I can’t, in great detail, explain health care policy, or financial reform. But when I see one side’s most potent voices arguing that health care reform is actually reparations, or their leadership winking at the notion that Obama is a Muslim, I take it as a caution. It’s brand degradation, the sense that dishonesty and shading actually covers the lack of an argument.
Digby argues that Moulitsas should have some kind of poetic license,and shouldn’t be taken literally. That strikes me as squishy. This statement–”in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban”–is quite literal,  and one is obliged to ask if it’s true or not.
The notion that “slut-shaming” and “nose-cutting” have the same deeper meaning–presumably a fear of women’s sexuality, though Digby doesn’t say this–is true as far as it takes you. Likewise the notion that black people should be slaves, the notion that they should be shipped back to Africa, that they should be segregated in communities, that they should not be allowed to intermarry, also have the same root cause–that blacks are unequal to whites. At varying points, Abraham Lincoln, John C. Calhoun, William T. Sherman, and Ulysses Grant held one or all of these views, and all probably died thinking blacks were unequal to whites. But that doesn’t make them interchangeable. Lincoln and Grant aren’t “less evil” versions of Calhoun.
As is often the case, with arguments that lead with analogy, the point isn’t to clarify anything, it’s to turn heads. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not think you claim that Glenn Beck is the white Malcolm X because you think it’s a particularly astute analysis; you do it because it will get you on the Atlantic Wire. I don’t believe you claim that the American right’s tactics are “almost indistinguishable” from the Taliban because you think it’s adroit and original. You do it to elbow your way up the best-seller list.
That’s fine–it’s an accepted strategy. But speaking only for me, if your committment is to making me look, as opposed to making me think, expect that I will only look once. Everything you say afterward is compromised in my eyes. Faulkner is still waiting.

I tend to think that this is one of the areas where progressives aren’t just doing the right thing, but have a smarter tactical approach to politics. There are scenarios in which tagging your political opponents with smears can be effective, but I don’t see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic “my enemies are totalitarian madmen” strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections. This should be differentiated from the occasional lapse into rhetorical excess that everyone does now and again. I’m talking specifically about the kind of sustained effort to seriously persuade people that Elana Kagan favors sharia or Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist that you see among loons of all stripes but that seems to be granted more respectability on the right.

This stuff doesn’t win votes anyone because, after all, it’s a form of preaching to the choir. Which is fine—the choir needs some sermons. But there’s no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond. Either underestimating or overestimating their level of viciousness and evil can lead to serious miscalculations. Which is just to say that getting this stuff right is more important than coming up with funny put-downs.

I haven’t read American Taliban and don’t plan to. I figure I already dislike the American right wing enough, so there’s little need to dump another load of fuel onto my own personal mental bonfire. But here’s what’s interesting: this review isn’t on a fringe blog site. It’s not from a reviewer for the DLC. It’s not written by some apostate liberal like Mickey Kaus. It’s written by a mainstream liberal writing in one of America’s premier mainstream liberal publications. Did Liberal Fascism get any similarly incendiary reviews from mainstream conservatives writing in any of America’s premier mainstream conservative publications?

Genuine question here. Maybe I missed the bad reviews from fellow conservatives. But the only one I remember on the way to Liberal Fascism becoming both a huge bestseller and a conservative bellwether was a gentle, academic scolding from fascism scholar Michael Ledeen. Does anyone remember any others?

James Joyner:

Both Drum and Yglesias contrast the rebukes from some on the Left to American Taliban with what they recall as near universal acclaim for Liberal Fascism from the Right.   I don’t have any comprehensive metrics available to me to do a useful analysis, but I do recall quite a few bloggers on the Right, myself included, pushing back on exactly the same grounds.  In my February 2008 post “Goldberg, Coulter, and Savage,” I observed,

While I get the desire to rebut the notion that Fascism is right-wing phenomenon and therefore somehow comparable to American mainstream conservatism, the argument that American liberals are proto-Fascists is quite silly. The use of inflammatory titles, while an excellent publicity vehicle for selling books, is decidedly unhelpful if one’s purpose is to advance serious argument.

There is, however, a stark difference between Coulter, who seriously argues that liberals are traitors, fascists, or whathaveyou, than cutesy publicity stunts.

Contrast this, incidentally, with Glenn Greenwald and Yglesias, two others who managed to secure major book deals off the success of their blogs.     Greenwald’s   How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok and Yglesias’ Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats are both polemics.  But they’re written in such a way that a serious person on the other side might actually read and engage.

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One response to “You’re A Liberal Fascist! You’re A Conservative Taliban! And Other Fun Insults To Please The Crowd

  1. Pingback: “Crazy” « Jayackroyd's Blog

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