The debate over Markos Moulitsas’ “American Taliban”

September 1, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

A fascinating debate has broken out over Kos’s new book, American Taliban.

Jamelle Bouie sums up his critique and Digby’s rebuttal:

Today, I have a review up of American Taliban by Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos. You should read the full thing, but here’s the gist:

…ultimately, any similarities are vastly outweighed by incredibly important distinctions and vast differences of degree. I’m no fan of the right wing, but the only possible way it can be “indistinguishable” from the Taliban is if conservatives are stoning women for adultery, stalking elementary schools to throw acid in girls’ faces, and generally enforcing fundamentalist religious law with torture and wanton violence.

Taking issue with my review, Digby argues that in my attack on Kos’ book, I’m missing the big picture:

The inconvenient truth here is that these people are dangerous because their worldview is dangerous. Lethal even. And somebody has to have the guts and to call them on it in their own terms. This “tired genre” of “our opponents are monsters” has been decidedly dominated by one side and the consequences have been grave. We have a fight on our hands and the only real question left is whether anyone on our side is willing to wage it.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I don’t want to weigh in on the details, but it’s worth keeping in mind that just one facet of rightwing extremism, climate denial, could lead to death and destruction on a scale that dwarfs anything the Taliban can do. So there are deadly consequences to America’s rightward shift and I can see why Markos is illustrating it in such raw terms.

UPDATE: Here’s something I wrote about why the right always seems to set the terms of the debate and which might provide context for the dispute over Markos’ book:

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101. And it’s completely lost on Democrats.

It’s what John Boehner knows that Obama and Democrats can’t seem to get a clue about:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will call Tuesday for the mass firing of the Obama administration’s economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House adviser Larry Summers, arguing that November’s midterm elections are shaping up as a referendum on sustained unemployment across the nation and saying the “writing is on the wall.”

In one fell swoop, this becomes the starting point of a conversation. For Democrats it would be an end point — if they ever reached it.

It’s no accident that in 21st century America, torture has been mainstreamed, climate denial has taken firm hold, book burning, racial dog whistles and brazen religious intolerance are part of our discourse and par for the course. This is how the right plays the game, using Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox, Drudge, blogs, chain emails, talk radio, etc. to shamelessly and defiantly drag the conversation as far right as possible.

My point is that the right has no scruples about using harsh, often inflammatory language strategically. It resonates emotionally and trumps any cerebral approach. Interestingly, Markos seems to have achieved his goal by making the debate about whether the radical right’s views and policies are equivalent to the Taliban.

UPDATE II: More from Digby:

Ok,I was going to drop this until I read the book because well — it’s stupid for any of us to be arguing a bout a book none of us have read. But I can’t let this one thing pass. Ta-Nehesi Coates and Matt Yglesias (both of whom I have great respect and even affection for) are being bizarrely literal about this subject.

Markos has written a polemic called “American Taliban” in which he draws an ironic comparison between the far right in American politics and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He isn’t saying they are interchangeable. That’s ridiculous. Obviously, one exists within a secular Western democracy with a rule of law and the other well … doesn’t. And just as the American far right doesn’t require beards and pray to Mecca or speak Pashtun, neither do they execute women in the middle of sports stadiums for adultery. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t, in fact, repressive, authoritarian, theocratic, anti-feminist and (on the fringes) quite violent. (Abortion clinics have been under physical siege for decades by these people.)

Are they mirror images? Of course not. But it’s infinitely interesting to consider the ways in which they are alike and for a liberal writer to not be intrigued by the huge irony that these similarly anti-modern fundamentalists are now organizing themselves around the idea that the other is the devil just strikes me as inconceivable. I think it’s a fascinating and provocative observation. I mean, come on — just last week-end we watched a rally at the Lincoln Memorial where a bunch of conservative religious folks listened raptly to a loon talking up a black robed regiment of religious leaders as he decried the pending takeover of Sharia law! Setting aside the politics for a moment, what kind of writer doesn’t isn’t struck by that image?

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