Judging A Book By Its Title, Ctd

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by Patrick Appel

Jamelle Bouie reviews Kos's new book, American Taliban:

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.

Serwer responds:

I think there's a big temptation for liberals to play the idiotic "you know who else liked sandwiches, Hitler!" game with conservatives, but it's a bit like trying to imitate Limbaugh-esque talk radio.

Kos unsuccessfully tries to rebut an old post by Andrew here. His main point:

America is blessed with a well-established system of norms and laws that hold most of the Right's violent tendencies in check. But that's a matter of government, not a matter of their innate desire to wage violence on people and ideas they deplore.

Kos uses a couple figures on the far right – such as Pat Robinson – to smear half of America. Calling political opponents terrorists is so disgusting and so obviously beyond the pale it hardly requires rebutting. Andrew's book The Conservative Soul is mostly about corrosive nature of fundamentalism and how the American right has been infected by it. The book was a serious attempt to wrestle with religious and ideological extremes. Kos accusing Andrew of not looking hard enough at the threat of religious intolerance is laughable. Here's how Kos describes the purpose of his book:

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.

I've no problem with pundits – liberal or conservative – coming out swinging. My problem with polemics like Liberal Fascism and American Taliban is they don't accomplish anything besides juicing book sales and temporarily riling up like-minded folk.

After wading though political opinion online for a couple years, I've come to the conclusion that you can't ever really "win" an argument online. No matter how sound your logic or forceful your writing someone, somewhere will continue to disagree. But you can arm your fellow travelers and opponents with better or worse argumentative ammunition. When Mark Levin calls all progressives "statists" or Kos labels conservatives "Taliban" they not merely pummeling straw-men, they are doing their readers and listeners a disservice. If someone wants to actually engage with the opposing side and try to change minds, blunt, hyperbolic labels are the among the flimsiest of rhetorical weapons. I agree entirely with Conor's earlier post:

I understand the financial incentives that cause authors and publishing houses to choose these kinds of titles. But I don't know why anyone thinking strategically about political impact cheers them. It's a marketing strategy that basically guarantees a book will never be read by anyone who disagrees with it. The emotional satisfaction some people get from extreme vitriol is an astonishingly powerful driver of counterproductive political behavior. It's a marketing strategy that basically guarantees a book will never be read by anyone who disagrees with it. The emotional satisfaction some people get from extreme vitriol is an astonishingly powerful driver of counterproductive political behavior.

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