The same process will play out again this fall. Obama, as part of his jobs initiative, plans to seek an extension in the temporary 2 percent payroll tax reduction for employees, and may toss in a similar reduction for employers, which would make it less expensive to hire new employees. This, obviously, is a decrease in taxes. Yet Republicans will oppose it. Similarly, those few Republicans who have broken with orthodoxy and shown a willingness to consider raising revenues (Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia) could not possibly have been named to the joint committee by Mitch McConnell. He knew he would have to pay dearly for any such heresy.
Ann Coulter, of course, is one of the masters of the hate genre, with many best sellers under her belt, some with alarming one-word titles (Guilty, Godless, Treason, Slander). In Demonic, Coulter begins by quoting from the Gospel of Mark (she knows her audience) and then dives straight in: “The demon is a mob, and the mob is demonic,” she writes, continuing two paragraphs later:
The Democratic Party is the party of the mob, irrespective of what the mob represents. Democrats activate mobs, depend on mobs, coddle mobs, publicize and celebrate mobs—they are the mob. Indeed, the very idea of a “community organizer” is to stir up a mob for some political purpose.
Two key themes run through the book. First, Coulter tells her readers over and over again that everything—everything—they read and hear from nonconservative sources is a lie. For example:
The liberal fairy tale that Southern bigots simply switched parties, from Democrat to Republican, is exactly wrong. What happened is: The Democrats switched mobs. Democrats will champion any group of hooligans in order to attain power…. This is why the Democrats are able to transition so seamlessly from defending Bull Connor racists to defending Black Panthers, hippies, yippies, Weathermen, feminists, Bush derangement syndrome liberals, Moveon .org, and every other indignant, angry mob.
Nixon indeed had something called the “Southern Strategy,” but it had nothing to do with appealing to racial resentment. His idea was to force nice patriotic, churchgoing Southerners to recognize what a rotten, treasonous bunch the Democrats had become. It was a regional version of his appeal to the Silent Majority.
Although it is accepted wisdom that the Allies were too harsh on Germany after World War I, leading to World War II, in fact, the truth is the opposite. We didn’t crush Germany sufficiently the first time. Consequently, in 1919, a lot of Germans accepted the claim that they had not really been defeated but had just been “stabbed in the back” by civilians.
This last theory, she notes, was the handiwork of “documented crackpot” John Maynard Keynes.
Her second polemical point is to make Democrats and liberals and the left (it suits her purposes to use the terms interchangeably) into an alien and Other, and not American. Back-to-back chapters on the French and American revolutions describe, in perfervid but not inaccurate language, the violent nature of the French rebellion and the comparatively calm aspect of the American one. The point of this contrast is not that America is a superior nation to France, although that of course is noted. Rather, it’s that Democrats and liberals and the left are like the French, and that “the men behind the American Revolution…were the very opposite of a mob. Today we would call them ‘Republicans.’” The actual development of American political life from the Federalist period on, as described by such historians as Gordon Wood, has no place here.
Obama is somewhat incidental to the Coulter worldview, which holds that Democrats have been working toward the downfall of America since long before he came on the scene. But another, newer genre of hate books places Obama at the heart of the plot, as in Red Army by Aaron Klein and his coauthor, Brenda J. Elliott. Their earlier effort, The Manchurian President, made the extended New York Times best-seller list last year. Now they return—and how quickly!—to “document” the years-long drive to put Obama in the White House spearheaded by the likes of Michael Harrington’s old Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). It’s often hilarious to read about socialism’s alleged stranglehold on the congressional Democratic Party, just because a few Democrats like Ron Dellums and Jerry Nadler have attended events organized by Democratic Socialists of America. A book like Red Army, with its simultaneously solemn and preposterous prose (Coulter at least is capable of getting off a few jokes), is proof that individual facts can all be true but can easily be combined in a way that tells a fundamentally false and silly story.
This is certainly the case with the authors’ treatment of “Journolist,” a “listserv” (Internet chat group, in essence) of mostly liberal journalists, economists, and policy experts of which I was once a member (I am quoted in the book, my name misspelled on second reference). It was an off-the-record group, but an unknown member leaked some bits of comment from it to a conservative website last year. Ever since, conservatives have taken the revealed comments as shocking proof of “the media bias toward Obama,” as the authors put it. They seem not to know that opinion journalists are perfectly entitled to express…opinions, and that I and Eric Alterman and Ezra Klein of The Washington Post (the group’s founder) and all the others, with a few exceptions that were noted at the time of the leak, were writing publicly exactly what we were saying privately in 2008—that we were drawn to Obama and very much wanted him to win the election. We made a case for him, yes, but openly so.
Actually, I think Klein and Elliott must know the difference between opinion journalists and straight-news reporters. It just serves their purposes to fudge the distinction, and the distinction is fudged in service of the real point of Red Army and the raft of other right-wing Obama books resembling it. Something has to explain to the conservative mind how a man such as this could have attained the presidency. That he could have collected 69 million votes from the American people legitimately is impossible, so it has to have been the result of a broad conspiracy years in the making: of democratic socialists, Journolisters, the Acorn group of community organizers, and the ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers, not to mention George Soros.
This is a difference, I believe it’s fair to say, between conservative attack books and progressive ones. Trashy, conspiracy-minded polemics against George W. Bush existed, but very few of them found wide audiences among mainstream liberals. If the authors’ past success is any indication, Red Army will be read by hundreds of thousands. No conservative can emerge from these pages reaching any conclusion other than that Obama must be destroyed and that “the socialist agenda of the radical network will march on unless it is fully exposed.” This message will gather force across the heartland and keep finding its way back to establishment Republicans in Washington.
A key thing to watch for, in determining the future direction of the Republican Party, is whether this no-compromise base becomes a majority within the GOP electorate during next year’s primaries. Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute wrote an interesting analysis for the Summer 2011 issue of National Affairs in which he divided Republican voters into two camps. He identifies “dispositional conservatives” as voters who are conservative by general preference—in an old-fashioned, Russell Kirk sort of sense—and are not quite so far to the right as what he calls “ideological conservatives,” the legatees in his view of Barry Goldwater (although of course today’s ideologues are well to Goldwater’s right).
These two camps correlate roughly with my view of a split between establishment conservatives and an activist Republican base. In every GOP nomination process to date, Olsen writes, the dispositionals have outnumbered the ideologues. This is why Republicans have tended to choose the candidate who, after working his way up the hierarchy, was the “next in line”—Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain last time. Olsen believes dispositionals will continue to outnumber ideologues, which may be true overall but will vary from state to state. In two key early states, Iowa and South Carolina, the Tea Party followers are active, so the opposite might be the case. Add to that the fact that there really is no “next in line” candidate this time. Romney is as close as there is to one, since he ran last time and appears to have establishment support. But depending on the circumstances prevailing next winter, particularly the trend in unemployment, this could be the election when GOP primary voters finally go against type and nominate someone more responsive to the activists than to the establishment.
And finally, if we ask how all this might play out on Capitol Hill, it will be telling to see whether Obama can finally acknowledge to himself that the Republicans aren’t much interested in putting party to the side and working with him for the good of the country, or however he’s putting it these days. He looked awful during the debt debate, and the nosedive his polls have taken since reflects that he did not get the credit for being the “adult in the room” that he believes he should receive. Democrats in Congress fear palpably that the White House will cut a deal with Republicans on entitlements without their input, at the same time that those Republicans will be thumbing their noses at Obama’s programs to create jobs. Will he finally confront what he is up against and fight? Will he strongly put forward the programs for job creation and repair of infrastructure that are needed and clearly blame the Republicans for rejecting them?5 I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone read Red Army, except perhaps the President.
—September 1, 2011
5 See, for example, the proposal of former Senator Bill Bradley for hiring subsidies, "How President Obama Can Spur Immediate Job Creation," USA Today, June 26, 2011, as well as the various proposals for government-sponsored infrastructure programs, for example, by Robert Skidelsky and Felix Martin, " For a National Investment Bank," The New York Review, April 28, 2011, and by Jared Bernstein to "repair, retrofit and modernize the nation's public schools," The New Republic, August 24, 2011. ↩
See, for example, the proposal of former Senator Bill Bradley for hiring subsidies, "How President Obama Can Spur Immediate Job Creation," USA Today, June 26, 2011, as well as the various proposals for government-sponsored infrastructure programs, for example, by Robert Skidelsky and Felix Martin, " For a National Investment Bank," The New York Review, April 28, 2011, and by Jared Bernstein to "repair, retrofit and modernize the nation's public schools," The New Republic, August 24, 2011. ↩