Sunday Bookchat

May 11, 2008

When neocon warwhore William Kristol suggested that the New York Times be charged with treason for exposing some bit of Bush administration malfeasance, he was making himself part of a long, dishonorable line of scoundrels. Maybe he was just feeling nostalgic for the days when Eugene V. Debs (above), the firebrand Socialist leader and political candidate, was thrown into prison and his stripped of his right to vote in 1920 for the crime of criticizing the draft and America’s involvement in World War I.

That blot on America (in this case, I mean the jailing of Debs, not Kristol) is the subject of Ernest Freeberg’s new book Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent. As Freeberg points out, the uproar over the Debs case created a national coalition of labor leaders, writers and political activists that eventually gave rise to the American Civil Liberties Union. Read some of the rhetoric directed against Debs by the government and war-supporters, then compare it with the slime still being hurled at critics of the Iraq calamity, and you might feel a little chill of recognition.

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You say you don’t want to waste your time reading David Horowitz’s nonsensical wingnut books? That’s okay — turns out Horowitz himself doesn’t want to waste his time writing them.

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If you’re a parent of a young child, you’re probably having a hard time explaining the Bush administration to your kids. Fortunately, there is now a children’s book, Young Dick Cheney: Great American, will help you enlighten your kids on the origins of the biggest snake in the Bush herpetarium. The authors will be speaking to all comers June 15 at the Firedoglake Book Salon.

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In reviewing Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, George F. Will churns the old culture war buttermill while claiming that the culture wars begun in the Nixon era no longer exist. “Today a woman and an African-American are competing relatively civilly for the right to run for president against the center-right — more center than right — senator who occupies the seat once held by Goldwater,” Will sniffs. “Whoever wins will not be president of Nixonland.” As if Will’s fellow travelers on the Great Wingnut Way haven’t been doing their best to paint Barack Obama as a Sixties-style black nationalist, or Hillary as a bra-burning feminist who will sap America’s manhood!

Will himself fluffs up a bit of Vietnam resentment by taking Perlstein’s dismissal of the South Vietnamese Army: “Calling South Vietnam’s army ‘a joke’ is not historical analysis, it is an unworthy dismissal of men who fought and died for more than a decade.” For anyone who remembers the way the ARVN turned tail and ran, trampling civilians in their haste to get out of the country, as soon as American support was withdrawn may just conclude that Perlstein was being too kind.

But Will knows the old knife-in-the-back myth remains as potent as ever on the right, and by evoking it during the course of his review, he scores a winger hat trick: he subtly links Perlstein to those legendary hippies who disdained and slandered the military during the Vietnam War, he distorts the nature of the corruption-sodden South Vietnamese regime, and he provides a talking point that the likes of Sean Hannity can use to dismiss Nixonland, to the extent that they notice it at all. That might seem like a lot of manure to stuff into a single sentence, but where there’s a Will, there’s a way.

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Larry Bartels will be talking up his new book Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age at the TPM Cafe Book Club.


4 Responses to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. Mickey Finn Says:

    Another great job…

  2. Rick Massimo Says:

    Will’s review of Nixonland wasn’t a review at all, but a whiny, defensive response. Not a word to even try to prove that the ARVN wasn’t a joke, simply that it somehow dishonors our dead to say so.

    But I guess that’s what you have to do when every idea you’ve had in the past 30 years has been given several chances to succeed and been shown to be a complete and utter failure.

  3. Norbert Says:

    I assume Debs protested involvement in WWI, not II.

  4. Steven Hart Says:

    Thank you, Norbert, for pointing that out.

    Great War . . . Good War . . . sometimes you get them confused.

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