Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 3, 2010
POLITICS: Rave Reviews For American Taliban

So the reviews have begun to come in for Markos Moulitsas' book "American Taliban," which argues that American conservatives are just like the Taliban, and they're...well, let me start with Jamelle Bouie's review at the left-wing The American Prospect:

Given the subject matter and his own influence, Moulitsas is sure to find a large audience for American Taliban. This wouldn't be a problem if the book were a careful comparison of populist nationalist movements, highlighting similarities, underscoring differences, and generally documenting points of congruence between the U.S. conservative movement and populist nationalist groups around the world. But it isn't.

As Bouie notes, "Moulitsas elides glaring contradictions in his argument and routinely misrepresents his evidence," and is completely lacking in perspective:

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.

Bouie could have added that American feminists have also campaigned against pornography, which doesn't make them the Taliban, either. Bouie's conclusion:

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.

The whole thing is well worth reading. Kos' sort of reductionism barely deserves the label "thinking"; it's shtick, as Bouie observes: "Moulitsas seeks to classify right-wing conservatism as a species of fundamentalist extremism, for the purpose of spurring progressive action." Matt Yglesias, a progressive blogging contemporary of Kos, reaches the same conclusion, and thinks it's not even effective as shtick:

This stuff doesn't win votes anyone [sic] 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.

Yglesias also notes that "the jacket copy heavily features a misleading out-of-context quote from Rush Limbaugh," and on Twitter he's even blunter about Kos' thesis:

This is false: "in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban"

And mind you, this coming from a guy who has asserted that "Some day I will write a list of conservative writers who I respect. It will be a short list" and that "most liberals are not nearly condescending enough to conservatives." But Kos' shtick is a bridge too far even for Yglesias. Kevin Drum, who's now at Mother Jones, likewise sniffs, "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." The Atlantic rounds up more negative reviews from the Left.

I will give Yglesias and Drum the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're genuinely put off by Kos' tactics, and not merely jealous that his visibility and influence have eclipsed theirs (although Kos has come down in the world of late; he lost his TV gig on MSNBC and is apparently bombarding his website's email subscribers with messages touting the book, while releasing it only in paperback and planning a fairly modest book tour). Either way, it's clear that even fairly committed activists on the Left aren't buying what Kos is selling.

Where Bouie, Yglesias and Drum miss the mark, however, is in drawing a parallel to Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism, to the point where I wonder if any of them read the book, or even made it all the way through the introduction. Bouie at least notes that "Goldberg sought to make a historical connection between American liberalism and European fascism for the purpose of 'clearing the record,'" but then blathers that "books like Goldberg's Liberal Fascism or Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny present a world where liberals are the embodiment of cruel statism." Drum asks, "Did Liberal Fascism get any similarly incendiary reviews from mainstream conservatives writing in any of America's premier mainstream conservative publications?" Yglesias refers to the "apocalyptic 'my enemies are totalitarian madmen' strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism."

I haven't read Levin's book and won't get into the other parallels, because this does an awful disservice to Jonah and his excellent, serious and thoughtful book. Goldberg's starting point, of course - as you'd know if you'd read his columns for the decade leading up to the book's publication - was defensive, against the decades of effort by liberals to characterize Nazism as a movement of the right closely akin to American conservatism. Goldberg took great pains, over and over and over again in his book, to note the very real distinctions between, say, the Nazis and modern American progressives, and to explain that he's not calling anybody a Nazi (although he does make a fairly compelling case that the Wilson Administration during World War I was perilously close to a European fascist state like Mussolini's Italy). While Goldberg is harsh in dealing with some of the truly disreputable characters he chronicles, like Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson, he treats many modern liberals not as evil people but as fundamentally well-meaning but misguided people who don't even understand the intellectual history of their own movement and its common roots with those of European fascists. His use of the smiley-face on the cover is explained explicitly as showing how "nice" modern liberals are, or at least believe themselves sincerely to be. That said, Goldberg's parallels, such as they are, are sufficiently unforced that they continue to be predictive. The book was written in 2007, before the rise of Barack Obama (who merits only two brief mentions in the book), yet it perfectly captures the strains of both liberal and fascist rhetoric and policy that have recurred through Obama's tenure. The rhetorical tropes Goldberg details at length are particularly on display everywhere in Obama's speeches - the invocations of a nonideological Third Way, the veneration of youth, the insistent demands for the Man of Action ("the time for talk is over," Obama so loves to say). Ditto for policies and ideas, from substitution of politics for religion, to the coopting of business and labor into an unhealthy symbiosis with government, to the persistent efforts to use government hectoring to create a New Man. But the purpose of these parallels is not to defame the good intentions of supporters of liberal politics or diagnose them as demented perverts, as Kos does, but simply to illustrate that ideas have consequences and these particular ideas are dangerous.

The correcting-the-record part of this is Goldberg's point that conservatives are forever told to do daily penance (and nothing else) for the bad parts of conservative intellectual or political history, while the progressive movement doesn't even address its own history. And indeed, the historical treatments of Mussolini, Wilson, Hitler, Sanger and FDR are the best parts of the book (especially the explanations of the roots of European fascism in the thinking of American progressives), careful and detailed in their presentation of both the commonalities and the divergences. Color me doubtful that Kos' book has any similar historical perspective, especially on where the Taliban's ideas come from; that I can pretty well guess even without reading the book, from the way he talks about the book and the blurbs from people who purport to have read it. Here's an excerpt from an email from Kos:

The values and tactics that make Jihadists so despicable are the same values and tactics embraced by our own homegrown fundamentalists -- the American Taliban.

That's why I wrote the book American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.

In the book, I show how similar both the American Taliban and Islamic Jihadists are -- from their fetishization of violence and guns, to their love of theocracy, to their hatred of women and gays, to their fear of scientific progress and education, to their weird hangups about sex, to their disdain for popular culture.

That's right: not only does Kos draw a direct parallel, he argues that conservatives are objectionable for exactly the same reasons as the Taliban. Which is ignorance of recent history so vast it can't begin to be described.

Or consider the blurbs, from calm and unbiased commentators like John Aravosis and Amanda Marcotte and noted historians like David Coverdale of Whitesnake, lauding among other things the book's "outrage and profanity":

"It isn't possible to understand American politics now without understanding the worldview and arguments of Markos Moulitsas. If you still believe the beltway caricature of the squishy, compromising, conciliatory American left, American Taliban should disabuse you of that notion." -Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show

"Moulitsas alerts us to a clear and present danger in America: radical zealots who disregard our Constitution and our freedoms and who disguise themselves as patriots."
-Roger Ebert, film critic

"I can't remember a time in my life when anti-intellectualism and intolerance-from America's prejudice against evolutionary science to its reactionary condemnation of a scholarly African American president-has been more pervasive. The time has never been more ripe for a book such as this. American Taliban reminds us that fanaticism isn't always an import."
-Brett Gurewitz, Bad Religion

"A thorough compendium of right-wing hypocrisy and selective memory that is either hilarious or tragic, depending on your mood. And it's all lovingly couched in outrage and profanity."
-David Cross, I Drink for a Reason

"While not afraid to laugh at the American Taliban, Markos Moulitsas sees the culture warriors for the insidious, dangerous force they present to a free and democratic society."
-Amanda Marcotte, Executive Editor, Pandagon.net

"Markos writes with a conscience and armed with facts to let you know: no, you're not crazy. What you suspected all along was true-America's right wing lives on a myth of self-constructed lies about the Other, with a juvenile disregard for reality, and Obama's presidency has further radicalized an already radical conservative movement."
-Janeane Garofalo, comic and actor

"Markos Moulitsas vividly exposes how the radical right and many leaders in the Republican Party, contrary to their incessant claims, actually hate the cherished American values of freedom, justice, tolerance and diversity of thought and expression. With sparkling clarity, American Taliban sounds the alarm on the well-funded, highly-placed authoritarians in this country who work daily to strip away civil liberties and viciously malign gays, women and other groups, and shows why they are treacherous to American democracy. We better listen."
-Michelangelo Signorile, The Michelangelo Signorile Show, Sirius XM Radio

"American Taliban makes it clear that in a blind taste test the only way you'd be able to tell the difference between the GOP and Taliban philosophies would be beard hair."
-Sam Seder, author, F.U.B.A.R: America's Right Wing Nightmare

"Markos Moulitsas exposes Limbaugh, Palin, Beck, O'Reilly, Boehner, Gingrich, the Teabaggers, and the Birthers as mullahs of a modern American Taliban hell-bent on imposing their narrow-minded political jihad on us all."
-John Aravosis, editor, AMERICAblog.com

"American Taliban shines a blinding light on the conservative right's dark agenda. Anyone who genuinely cares about America should read this book."
-David Coverdale, Whitesnake

Nothing in there is anything like Goldberg's declaration, right up front, that

Now, I am not saying that all liberals are fascists. Nor am I saying that to believe in socialized medicine or smoking bans is evidence of crypto-Nazism. What I am mainly trying to do is to dismantle the granitelike assumption in our political culture that American conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism. Rather, as I will try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism. These ideas were embraced by fascism, and remain in important respects fascistic.

As Goldberg writes today of the parallels:

While I do not smear all of my political opponents as monsters (people who say I do this, again, have either not read the book, are too blinkered to understand it, or are lying), it seems pretty clear that's exactly what Kos sets out to do.

Kos' book is getting poor reviews from his own side because his thesis is ridiculous, his tone excessive, and his perspective warped. But don't throw Jonah Goldberg in the same remainder bin, as none of those things is true of his book.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I would rather read "Go Dog Go" to my daughter for the umpteenth time than read even a chapter of American Taliban. It's one of those books that you can judge by the cover. The blurb by David Coverdale, that political mastermind, cinches it. (I wouldn't listen to a Whitesnake album either. I have the Zeppelin albums, why would I want a cheap imitation?) Knowing what very little I know about the Kos guy and his website, I can't say I'm terribly surprised that he's written a hack book.

I have not read Goldberg book, which sounds like a more serious work, but I doubt you could get me too worked up about the idea that Obama and the democrats would pave the way to any serious variant of fascism. You could make the argument that any economic policy that strays from "no government involvement in the economy" could lead to a fascist-style economic system. I don't see that danger with this administration, and frankly, neither does the Economist, which has a rather sensible article on the GM takeover:

"Straightforward bankruptcy is usually the most efficient way to allow floundering firms to restructure or fail. The state should step in only when a firm’s collapse poses a systemic risk. Propping up the financial system in 2008 clearly qualified. Saving GM was a harder call, but, with the benefit of hindsight, the right one. The lesson for governments is that for a bail-out to work, it must be brutal and temporary. The lesson for American voters is that their president, for all his flaws, has no desire to own the commanding heights of industry. A gambler, yes. An interventionist, yes. A socialist, no."

http://www.economist.com/node/16846494?story_id=16846494


Posted by: MVH at September 3, 2010 3:31 PM

I couldn't really care less about this book or post but whoever is saying that conservatives boycott pornography doesn't know much about demographics and who consumes pornography in America.

Posted by: jim at September 3, 2010 6:18 PM

I'm pretty sure the market for porn transcends party lines.

Posted by: Crank at September 3, 2010 6:27 PM

Porn, alcohol and gambling. Doesn't matter your political bent, odds are you are consuming one, two or all of them. Good for you if you are. Just own it is all I have to say.

Posted by: jim at September 4, 2010 12:38 AM

"American Taliban makes it clear that in a blind taste test the only way you'd be able to tell the difference between the GOP and Taliban philosophies would be beard hair."
-Sam Seder, author, F.U.B.A.R: America's Right Wing Nightmare

I must have missed the video of Rush Limbaugh cutting someone's the head off with a sword. What a bunch of BS.

Posted by: Lee at September 4, 2010 8:23 AM

Excellent post, Crank. I've read Goldberg and Levin's books, but will stay away from Moulitsas' work. Disagree with Goldberg where you will, but anyone who has read it will have to admit it is not a polemic. He presents his evidence and relates history in a calm, methodical manner.

More, Goldberg takes pains to say that he is not calling modern liberals fascists, or saying that their leaders are Hitler or Mussolini. Rather, like Baseball Crank says, his work is more of a "correcting the record" and an attempt to get liberals to take a look at the disreputable bits of their own intellectual history.

But none of this should be a surprise. Compare National Review and Daily Kos and you'll see the difference immediately.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at September 4, 2010 9:32 PM

I didn't read through your entire post yet, Crank, but another thing to keep in mind about "American Taliban" was that it had a TON of its basis on PPP (I believe that was it, right?) polling that Moulistas himself has since admitted was totally skewed and inaccurate. Moulistas went on this big rant on his website about how he was taken in by their operation and that he had reached false conclusions on his website due to their faulty and rigged polls. He stated that he would never use them again, but was careful not to mention the fact that he based his book off of them and that he had no intentions of pulling it off the shelf. The guy is a crack pot and will surely find a great audience with like minded crack pots.

Posted by: AgentW at September 6, 2010 1:25 PM

It was Research 2000 (R2K), not PPP, which is a legit polling outfit. Yeah, I ran out of space to get into the polling scandal, which I take it forced him to rewrite chunks of the book at the last minute.

Posted by: Crank at September 6, 2010 1:35 PM

Ahhh.. yes, Research2000. I keep forgetting their name.

which I take it forced him to rewrite chunks of the book at the last minute.

You're far more charitable than I am. When this came about, I'm pretty sure the book was already concluded and I highly doubt Markos spent any time revising sections to account for poor conclusions due to inaccurate polling.

Posted by: AgentW at September 7, 2010 8:50 AM

It is no surprise that Crank finds Goldberg's book to be an "excellent, serious and thoughtful book," because Goldberg follows the Crank model -- ignore the facts that disporve your thesis and simply label as both liberal and fascist the things you don't like. Analysis? Logic? Who can be bothered with such trivia?

For example, Goldberg ignores the fact that there have been fascists operating within the nation's culture for the better part of the past century. Goldberg airily dismisses the fact that the Ku Klux Klan was the first genuine fascist organization with the "explanation" that the Klan of the 1920s disliked Mussolini and his adherents because they were Italian (somewhat true for a time but irrelevant since by the 1930s, there were frequent operative associations between Klan leaders and European fascists).

Goldberg also ignores such groups as the Silver Shirts, the American Nazi Party, the Posse Comitatus, the Aryan Nations, or the National Alliance, all of which were openly fascist organizations. Goldberg labels Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and Hillary Clinton "American fascists," but he makes no mention of William Dudley Pelley, Gerald L.K. Smith, George Lincoln Rockwell, William Potter Gale, Richard Butler, or David Duke, all conservatives and fascists.

Kos's book, like Goldberg's is over;y simplistic and seeks merely to prove a pre-ordained conclusion. The crucial difference is that only the right beleives its own BS.

Posted by: Magrooder at September 7, 2010 10:54 AM

This is a collection of non-sequiturs that disputes none of the book's theses or conclusions. And if you seriously think David Duke is as mainstream a figure on the American Right as Woodrow Wilson or FDR on the Left, I don't even know where to start.

As for the Klan, the 19th century Klan was certainly a terrorist organization, but the "fascist" label is a poor fit if you take seriously the project of defining fascism as a word with meaning. If you're talking about the Klan of the 20s & 30s - whose members, of course, were basically all faithful Wilson and FDR voters - then it postdates the American intellectual movements that Mussolini drew from.

Anyway, Goldberg's book focuses on the intellectual history, and pointing to fringe groups on one side to balance trends in the mainstream of the other isn't meaningful perspective. Certainly the American political Right of the 1896-1952 era, before the rise of an ideological component to the Right, was not in any significant sense fascist, and the ideological Right that developed thereafter was in reaction to the statist consensus across the liberal, socialist, fascist and communist spectrum.

Posted by: Crank at September 7, 2010 11:09 AM

They both want to oppress others, but the Taliban is way more resolute.
If it wasn't for the Taliban's disdain for alcohol, they'd be the type of people American media personalities would like to have a beer with.

Posted by: Berto at September 7, 2010 11:19 AM

Let me make it simple for you, Crank. Goldberg dtermined to conclude that laiberals are fascists. To support that conclusion, he simply labeled liberals such as Wilson, FDR, HRC as fascists and labeled liberal programs as fascist. To avoid having to address counter-arguments, he pretended certain conservative figures, ideas and programs never happened.

Sound familiar? It should. It what passes for "analysis" here.

Posted by: Magrooder at September 7, 2010 4:39 PM

If Kos et. al. really thinks that segments of the American right are just like the Taliban, why are there zero - ZERO - calls for moderation when it comes to upsetting that segment? They go out of their way to admonish others who disagree with the building of a mosque @ ground zero or lambaste (rightly, IMO) morons who burn korans. But, why no calls to moderate their side so as to not p#$$ off the "American Taliban"? Amanda Marcotte has gone after Christians in about as bad a way as a writer can, and not only does Markos not tell her to steer clear from upsetting the fanatics - lest they act like the Taliban & start killing - he gets her to write a blurb for her book.

I mean, really, is there anyone more in-your-face with smarmy trash talk (100% of which takes place from the comfort & security of his monitor & keyboard, btw) than Markos? You know, the same guy/site that says that people against a ground zero mosque causes an upswing in terrorist recruitment, feels no compunction to look at his OWN SIDE'S rhetoric/actions in like manner.

Of course, that would cause them to hold themselves to the same standard that they hold others (stop laughing!), but like so many environmentalists, stealing from Insty, I'll believe that the uber left really thinks we should fear an American Taliban when they start to act like it.

This is ginned up boob bait for the same crowd who attend the nutroots conventions. You know the type: Obama is too moderate, every paragraph needs to have the word "corporatist" included & whose personal blog reads a lot like John Cusack's twitter feed.

Posted by: RW at September 8, 2010 12:26 PM

RW,
You do realize that >90% of what conservatives like about right-wing writers is their ability to piss off liberals, don't you.
The loudest criers are the ones who have their own tactics used against them.
----------------
Magrooder,
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Posted by: Berto at September 8, 2010 12:39 PM

If Magrooder read Goldberg, he didn't understand it.

Posted by: BD57 at September 9, 2010 12:04 AM

Good grief, Magrooder. He can explain it to you; he can't comprehend it for you.

Posted by: Linus at September 9, 2010 2:16 AM

Magrooder, Berto,

Are you so unwilling to agree with Crank that you would defend a book that is quite plainly a piece of garbage - especially when other liberals call it a piece of garbage?

This reminds me of another book that you two should read - Terror & Liberalism, written by Paul Berman, who is a liberal. It basically lays out a compelling argument that these Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East have their roots in totalitarianism, and in some cases explicitly follow the Nazi playbook. He also takes other liberals to task for being so opposed to the war that they start defending these regimes.

If you guys want to be on the liberal end of the spectrum, fine, but at least distance yourselves from the total hacks on your own side.

Posted by: MVH at September 9, 2010 9:53 AM

MVH,

I did not defend Kos's book. My comment from above, typos and all:

"Kos's book, like Goldberg's is over;y simplistic and seeks merely to prove a pre-ordained conclusion. The crucial difference is that only the right beleives its own BS."

Posted by: Magrooder at September 9, 2010 1:48 PM

MVH,
What are you reading? I never defended Kos' book. I simply stated that both the Taliban and the Evangelical Right want to oppress others and tell them how to live their lives. Albeit, based on their actions, the Taliban is more resolute. I also stated that the Right-wing in this country is made-up of a large segment of people who believe pissing off liberals is job one.
If you want to argue either of those obvious truths, please do so. But don't say I'm defending the indefensible (let's leave that for Iraq War supporters and defenders of the use of torture, spying on citizens w/out a warrant, etc).
Also, anyone who thinks the shallow, 3rd-grade level blather of Goldberg (who would be unknown if it wasn't for nepotism) is deep analysis, is showing their hand as someone who long ago went with "Conservative=good, liberalism=bad" as their mantra. Goldberg may not be an idiot, but he's paid to write like one---AND , more importantly, he's paid to piss off liberals (job one for many on the Right).

Posted by: Berto at September 9, 2010 1:49 PM

Let's go by the Numbers:
American Taliban:
Beheadings: 0
Homosexuals executed: 0
Suicide bombings: 0
Apostates killed: 0
Pornographers killed: 0
Adulterers killed: 0


Posted by: Eddie Baby at September 9, 2010 3:44 PM

Magrooder - my apologies - I inadvertently lumped you in with Berto on this one. You were more concerned with the Goldberg book.

Berto - "I simply stated that both the Taliban and the Evangelical Right want to oppress others and tell them how to live their lives." I wouldn't call that distancing yourself.

Posted by: MVH at September 9, 2010 3:44 PM

Eddie Baby,
Do you have the numbers on abortion providers assassinated?

Posted by: Berto at September 10, 2010 12:23 PM
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