When Markos Moulitsas asked me to review his new book, (after I had reviewed his two earlier ones), he said he had the most fun writing it. And it’s abundantly clear why. American Taliban hit the bookstores yesterday, and it’s a very entertaining and enjoyable read. The founder of Daily Kos is now a well-known personality, and his new book reads very much like he speaks – and blogs.
My one major criticism is that it reads too much like a blog – with over-the-top rhetoric that is not appropriate for a 233-page book with a serious message. But that should not deflect from Moulitsas’ thesis – which is powerful and devastating. Despite all the ranting right-wingers make about “terrorists” and how much they accuse liberals of being “un-American,” their worldview has far more in common with Islamic fundamentalism – from a violent jingoism, to the treatment of gays and women, to a rejection of science. American Taliban is a much-needed dose of reality for the upcoming election, as Republicans magnify the non-issue of a proposed Islamic community center in Manhattan.
With its provocative title, American Taliban has elicited howls of protests – not just from Republicans, but even so-called liberal “concern-trolls.” As Andrew Sullivan wrote, “I understand the financial incentives that cause authors and publishing houses to choose those kinds of titles, but I don’t know why anyone thinking strategically about political impact cheers them … The emotional satisfaction some people get from extreme vitriol is an astonishingly powerful driver of counterproductive political behavior.”
Clearly, Sullivan doesn’t read Daily Kos much – because Moulitsas has been using the phrase “American Taliban” for years. And in six chapters that cover power, war, sex, women, culture and truth, the book describes in persuasive detail how the extreme right-wing seeks to impose a Taliban-like regime on America. What’s counterproductive is where Moulitsas editorializes by frequently calling them “batshit insane.” He really doesn’t need to go there, because the facts he reports effectively speak for themselves.
American Taliban is bound to infuriate the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks, because it exposes them as frauds. “These aren’t people who love American and what she stands for,” says Moulitsas. “These are people who only love America when they have control and can impose their authoritarian ideology.” Note that while Republicans expressed no concern about how George Bush stole the 2000 election, all of a sudden ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama – and Teabaggers become obsessed in trying to prove the President is a secret Muslim who forged his Kenyan birth certificate.
Recently, Randy Shaw argued that progressives were doing a disservice to their cause by focusing so much on Sarah Palin and Fox News, because it empowers and legitimizes their role in American discourse. But Moulitsas is not guilty of that problem here – by highlighting their extremism and tying them to their worst enemy, the book de-legitimizes them as irresponsible nutcases.
Probably the best chapter in American Taliban is when Moulitsas chronicles the violent tendencies of right-wingers. Every side has its fringes, but how Fox responded to a Department of Homeland Security report on the rise in right-wing violent extremism is telling. “A government report that warned of violence in America – violence that came to pass in the following months so tragically with the Minutemen murders of the father and daughter, with Poplawski’s triple-murder of Pittsburgh policemen … and so on – was treated as a joke by the American Taliban. Worse, it was being used as a rallying cry.”
Maybe the right-wing will be so offended by the book, because it delivers the most potent insult – that they are not too different from their sworn enemies. It doesn’t take much to read about James Dobson’s obsession with sex to see parallels with how gays and single mothers are treated in the Arab world. Or when Dick Armey debated Joan Walsh on TV, and finally said he was glad not to be her husband so he wouldn’t have to “listen to that prattle” every day. Or the lengths that creationists go to deny the existence of evolution, which matches the anti-intellectual fervor we see in Islamic fundamentalist countries.
Others have criticized American Taliban, because right-wing Republicans are not exactly like their Muslim counterparts. For example, they don’t stone gays to death – they just hate them. But that fundamentally misses Moulitsas’ point – it’s not that Jerry Falwell equates Osama bin Laden; it’s that they share the same world-view: a belief that puts women back in the kitchen, gays in the closet, believes war is righteous when God’s on our side, and believes in censoring books and movies that are “indecent.”
What the book exposes is the big right-wing Lie. Republicans say that Al Qaeda “hates our freedom” – but they seek to take away our very same “freedom” as well. For liberals who have endured McCarthy-ist character assassinations since 9/11 (because we “want the terrorists to win”), it is profoundly insulting when we unmask the Right’s real agenda.
Moulitsas should have toned down the editorializing in his book that make liberals like myself laugh out loud, because it distracts from the substance of his research. What he has found is a devastating narrative about right-wingers who now seek to undo the 2008 election, and one that can help re-define and re-frame the November 2010 elections.
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