Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Markos Moulitsas' "American Taliban"

Today (September 1) is the official release date of the new book by Markos Moulitsas (the founder of the influential liberal blog Daily Kos), entitled American Taliban.  Many reviews (and reviews of reviews) have been penned about it, and the book has spawned an interesting debate.  It is this debate which I find more interesting.

First, the book itself.  I have yet to read the whole thing, though I've read excerpts of it.  This is an odd admission to make in a review; though the details of the book aren't really relevant to the point I wish to make.  I'll happily stipulate that it's a political hit job, an inflammatory broadside akin to Goldberg's Liberal Facism or Levin's Liberty and Tyranny or any number of works by Ann Coulter; albeit from the other direction.  Were one interested in a rigorous analysis of the contemporary American right, or a treatise on public policy of any sort, this book would be a poor choice, just as the aformentioned right-wing polemics aren't likely to impart any useful knowledge on American liberalism.  The political right wing is reduced to a caricature, subjected to a good dose of reducito ad absurdum, and linked politically and ideologically to a faction which American conservatives publicly loathe.  This is, of course, the same trick pulled by the aforementioned conservative authors, who attempt to tie modern progressivism to totalitarianism--a claim that any liberal would reject as ridiculous.

As scholarship, American Taliban is trash.  Even if there are ideological similarities between various factions of the US right and Islamofascists, these links aren't explored in any depth with any rigor.  Much of the commentary is reminiscent of the old joke about Mother Teresa being akin to Hitler because both have a mustache.  The book is yet another example of peeing in the pool of public discourse, and I strongly suspect Kos would agree.

But you know what? 

The pool of US political discourse has long been a sewer where intelligent conversation and honest advancement of ideas doesn't stand a chance.  And the color of the shit and piss in this pool--a few Michael Moore flicks nonwithstanding--is a deep bright hue of red. 

And you know what else?

This peeing in the pool--appears to be working.  The Republican base is riled up, eager to vote out (at any cost) an opposition it considers fundamentally illegitimate.  The Democratic base is not.  Many are predicting a bloodbath for Democrats in November, and policy (other than the calculus of "its the economy, stupid"--a Democrat is in the White House, therefore the current state of the economy is the Democrats' fault; regardless of its genesis).  Many claims that are utterly ridiculous (such as those concerning Obama's religious beliefs or birth citizenship) are nonetheless treated in the media as legitimate topics of public debate, whereas many leftist political themes are regarded as off-limits.  The Overton Window in US politics is pegged hard to the right--a political environment which makes it hard for progressives (even "honest brokers" such as liberal columnist