My new book — Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics — is available for online ordering now. It will be available in book stores beginning April 15. Ordering now can help increase visibility for the book and its arguments.
Writing a book enables a much different type of analysis and discussion than the type one is able to pursue in a daily column or blog. The day-to-day focus here is typically on a discrete event — the latest act of government lawlessness, Congressional complicity, media deceit or pundit propaganda. A book is a more deliberative process. It therefore allows one to take several steps back and think about the underlying causes of those events, identify what they have in common, and consider ways they can be changed.
From the time I began blogging in October, 2005, I’ve written about many different topics, but almost all have a similar undercurrent: the Limbaugh/Kristol/Fox-News right-wing faction that controls the Republican Party and has dominated our political life for the last 15 years, and the multiple ways that our political institutions — and particularly the Drudgified establishment press — enable them. Marketing packages aside, this book is about them; how they function; the weakness-driven bloodthirstiness, dishonesty and sleaze which defines them; the indispensable eagerness of the establishment media to be used by them; and what can be done by those opposed to them to change all of that.
All of the radical and reprehensible events of the last eight years — the commencement and endless prosecution of an indescribably disastrous war, the accelerated dismantling of our Constitutional framework, the creation of a lawless Surveillance State and a virtually omnipotent President, the legitimization of truly grotesque torture and detention regimes, the complete corruption of our political discourse — have individuals and a political movement behind them, causing all of that to happen. They have cultivated the ability to manipulate media behavior, largely as a result of a media eager to help. But what they do not have is popular support for virtually anything they are doing. And yet they continue to win elections.
How and why that happens — the deceitful electoral tactics and manipulative personality-based myths the Right has perfected and continuously deploys to win elections, and the ways in which our slothful, vapid and complicit establishment press propagates those myths — is the principal subject of this book. And understanding and exposing that right-wing/media partnership is a necessary precondition for weakening it.
The central paradox of our political life is that the right-wing faction that continues to dominate our political institutions and win elections embraces fringe beliefs which have little popular support. That’s why their overarching objective is to remove substantive considerations from our political debates — the more consequential the issue, the less establishment media attention it receives, the less real public debate there is over it. Instead, our elections are determined by the barren, petty personality-based distractions and mindless chatter that define the lowly Drudgian Freak Show, where our political life now almost exclusively resides.
The Right has perfected the art of creating mythical cults of personality around their leaders. They are strong, courageous, honor-bound, protective, morally upstanding salt-of-the earth Everyman-warriors — contemptuous of elitist prerogatives, and oozing traditional masculine virtues and cultural normalcy. As important, if not more so, is the corresponding character demonization of liberals, Democrats and a growing group of miscellaneous right-wing opponents — those weak, subversive, conniving, appeasing, gender-confused, elitist freaks, whose men are as effeminate and cowardly as their women are angry, threatening and emasculating.
These election-determinant themes are not merely petty and completely removed from what actually matters. That would be bad enough. Far worse is that they are complete fabrications. Virtually the entire leadership of the right-wing GOP is the complete opposite of these cartoon icons they are held out to be. Their lives are almost completely devoid of the virtues in which they are packaged. After all, their leaders are Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Ann Coulter, Bill Kristol and the whole slew of tough guy pundits from Fox News and National Review, cheering on wars while imputing to themselves the courage and virtue of those they endlessly send off to fight and prancing around as moral guardians and defenders of individual freedom while, in reality, living lives that rapidly destroy those very values.
These are the same tactics that have been used again and again — from the era when Ronald Reagan was transformed into the wholesome, horse-riding, freedom-defending cowboy to the current incarnation, George W. Bush, dressed up in ranch hats and fighter pilot costumes and transformed into the swaggering, brush-clearing warrior. And one Democrat after the next — Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry — was swiftly turned into the same, now-familiar loser archetype: the overly earnest, sniveling, dishonest, elitist, subversive weakling, who bore political journalists and provided an easy target for their adolescent derision.
Circumstances have coalesced perfectly to ensure — in the absence of any change in the public discussion — that the 2008 election is going to be dominated by these dynamics more than ever before. The media’s unbridled, uncritical worship for John McCain The Man exceeds anything one can recall, far beyond even that of the canonized Ronald Reagan and the Conquering 2003 War Hero George W. Bush. And transforming the election into a petty, media-led Freak Show referendum on “character” — and keeping actual issues as far away as possible from the election — is more vital than ever for Republican success.
Their party brand has been destroyed by one of the most unpopular administrations in American history and one of the most despised wars ever. The American economy is as weak and precarious as it has been in decades. And their nominee is inextricably tied to all of the policies that have eroded our national strength on every level and made Americans dislike and distrust their government more than ever before. Even McCain supporter David Brooks recently acknowledged:
The Republican Party is more unpopular than at any point in the past 40 years. Democrats have a 50 to 36 party identification advantage, the widest in a generation. The general public prefers Democratic approaches on health care, corruption, the economy, and Iraq by double-digit margins.
In a minimally rational world, a Republican presidential candidate like John McCain who has enabled all of that would have no chance. But — in the absence of anything changing the way this works — the establishment press will remove those considerations from its election coverage and the GOP’s exploitation of bottom-feeding personality-based psychological, cultural and gender themes will predominate. In 2008, the GOP will dedicate itself single-mindedly to these same personality-based, manipulative electoral tactics because that is their only hope for winning.
There simply cannot be any greater priority than preventing a John McCain Presidency, one which would empower the same faction and continue the same policies that have been slowly though inexorably destroying this country, its institutions and political values. Understanding and neutralizing these tactics and the enabling media behavior is a prerequisite for preventing that.
In the very near future, the Democratic Party Primary War will be over. When that happens, the joint right-wing/media monster will begin in earnest deploying sleazy sideshows to render toxic the character of the nominee — way beyond what they’ve already been doing — while further venerating John McCain and his political comrades, from Joe Lieberman to Lindsey Graham. Allowing that to fester unchallenged will cause it to take root and make it very difficult to undermine. As Rachel Maddow recently observed:
I feel like I’ve become kind of a semi-pro listener to the news, where I‘m always listening for Democratic candidates and even their surrogates to say John McCain. Every time I hear them say it, a little bell goes off in my mind, because that’s what I think Democrats — anybody who has an interest in John McCain not becoming president, whether or not you support Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Ralph Nader or anybody else in the race, Mike Gravel as the Libertarian — if you want John McCain to not win, you have to start hitting him now, because the default position of the press toward John McCain is so positive that unless other candidates are actively and specifically going after him all the time, his free ride takes him right to the White House.
Many liberals, Democrats and other opponents of this right-wing faction have been squeamish in the past about engaging these low-life Freak Show tactics, thinking that they can remain above them and they will go away. That has to stop, otherwise — like all unchallenged attacks — they will continue to thrive with ease. Defensive, petulant objections to these tactics are woefully insufficient.
An aggressive campaign to demonstrate how absurd and destructive are these right-wing leaders, how deceitful is the media’s personality-based glorification of them, is absolutely necessary. The Right’s militarism, authoritarianism, and moral preening are reflective of and are grounded in sickly weakness, not upstanding strength, and that case can be easily made if there is an effort to make it.
That’s the objective of this book — to put these right-wing leaders under that same microscope and to apply the same standards to them — the ones used successfully by them and their media allies to mock and destroy the personality and character of their opponents in order to win elections. Having the Right subjected to those same standards, and examining the media’s central role in this process, is what is virtually never heard in the establishment press. A book about these themes which ends up succeeding and being widely read can force those arguments into the wider public discourse, which is where they need to be in order to be truly effective.
UPDATE: Just from a half-day of support from readers here, and virtually nothing else, the book is already in the Top 10 on Amazon’s Bestseller Non-Fiction List, currently at number 10 7 3 and rising. That’s the kind of movement that can generate meaningful attention for the book, and I very much appreciate it (for those in comments and via email who have asked, I wrote about the Publishers Weekly review here).
On a mostly unrelated note, I will be on this afternoon at 5:35 6:30 pm EST with the aforementioned Rachel Maddow to discuss this post, which I wrote over the weekend concerning Michael Mukasey’s dishonesty-drenched speech. Local listings and live audio feed are here.