The Corner

Judging Books by Their Covers

Okay, so about Kos’s cover. I think it’s hilarious, though not really for the reasons Kos probably does. Herewith some thoughts in response to a lot of different e-mail.

First and foremost, it shows you how much Liberal Fascism got under the skin of the netrootsy Left. That’s worth a chuckle.

Second, it seems to show how little they’ve actually come to grips with the book. “Hey, that Goldberg book had a smiley face with a Hitler mustache on it and it sold really well. Let’s try the same gimmick and make a grumpy smiley face with a turban! That’s, like, twice as clever!”

There are a bunch of problems with that. The book did well not because of the cover but because of the arguments contained within.

Moreover, the smiley-face cover of LF wasn’t simply a gimmick. For reasons that have something to do with the times we live in, people took one look at the Hitler-mustached smiley face and said “Aha!” Conservatives got it and many liberals took instantaneous offense to it. I remember, for instance, Jon Stewart hectoring me about how that picture was a huge “f*** you” to liberals. Given the title, I’m not going to pretend that liberals were crazy to assume that the picture was a symbolic shot at, well, them. But the point is the image works. Indeed, as I’ve said many times, the image works so well I’ve always been a tiny bit squeamish about it myself.

But, in my defense, I do explain the smiley-face cover deep inside my book . . . on page 1. The first words of Liberal Fascism are a quote from Bill Maher’s show:

George Carlin: . . . and the poor have been systematically looted in this country. The rich have been made richer under this criminal, fascist president and his government. [Applause.] [Cheers.]

Bill Maher: Okay, okay.

James Glassman: You know, George—George, I think you know— do you know what fascism is?

Carlin: Fascism, when it comes to America—

Glassman: Do you know what Nazis are?

Carlin: When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley. Fascism—Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend.

Maher: And actually, fascism is when corporations become the government.

Carlin: Yes.

Outside of a few academic seminars, this is about as intelligent as discussions about fascism get in America. Angry left-wingers shout that all those to their right, particularly corporate fat cats and the politicians who love them, are fascists. Meanwhile, besieged conservatives sit dumbfounded by the nastiness of the slander.

Bill Maher to the contrary, fascism is not “when corporations becomethe government.” Ironically, however, George Carlin’s conclusionis right, though not his reasoning. If fascism does come toAmerica, it will indeed take the form of “smiley-face fascism”—nice fascism….

The Hitler-smiley-face conjures that argument, and I return to the themes of this discussion over and over again for the next 500 or so pages. Absent any other information, the Taliban smiley conjures not an argument but, uh, my book (which, again, is worth a chuckle). Now, in fairness, I haven’t read Kos’s book. He may have a fantastic explanation for why his grumpy-face-turban-wearer makes sense. But I doubt it.

Third, there’s the title: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.

Again, he may offer a really impressive explanation that justifies it. But I kind of doubt it. Labeling conservatives the “Taliban wing of the Republican Party” was a lame, nasty talking point over a decade ago. Amusingly, a quick Nexis search finds that the noted subtle and generous thinker Eleanor Clift was the first pundit to use the phrase — in 1998! A year later, Dana Milbank apparently claimed that “the post-Newt GOP seems determined to reinvent itself as a kind of American Taliban.” This was at a time when the Taliban was committing unspeakable atrocities in Afghanistan (and when the Left really claimed to care about it). It was a disgusting bit of unjustifiable rhetorical excess then. But such talk after 9/11 and the launch of the war in Afghanistan is simply grotesque.

Meanwhile, the originator of the phrase “Liberal Fascism” was H.G. Wells, and his conception of the term lies at the very heart of my book’s argument. Wells’s arguments, directly or indirectly, mirrored those of many of the founders of modern American liberalism and I cite scores of writings and actions by leading liberals to make that case. Maybe Eleanor Clift and Dana Milbank play similar roles as historical linchpins in Kos’s book? That’d be an interesting argument.

But, again, without a really good and surprising explanation that doesn’t depend on fabricated poll numbers, calling conservatives the American Taliban strikes me as nothing more than childish comment-troll ad hominem (particularly given how it’s the folks in the Kos realm of politics who lied for years about how they really wanted to concentrate on Afghanistan but, now that they have the chance, want to give Afghanistan back to the Taliban).

Kos’s defenders may say that it’s hypocritical for me to complain about ad hominem attacks given my book. But that fails on every count. My book doesn’t boil down to ad hominem and anybody who has read it fairly must concede at least that. But even that is irrelevant. Much of the Left’s response to Liberal Fascism was to say that because it was ad hominem it was therefore illegitimate. Well, if ad hominem attacks in books with covers that play on smiley-face pictograms are illegitimate, on what grounds can American Taliban be defended?

We’ll have to pay Kos the compliment of waiting for the book to actually come out to see. But my hunch is that the cover reveals quite a bit about liberalism today, starting with the smallness of Kos’s imagination, but very little about American conservatives or America.

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