Reading matters

7 Oct

Walk into a bookstore in the United States and you’re likely to be confronted with a series of prominently displayed anti-Obama titles. I wonder if this is a coincidence, or an electorally-motivated directive from head office? Here is a flavour of just a few of the titles:
Stanley Kurtz (contributor to National Review, Wall St Journal etc), Spreading the wealth: How Obama is robbing the suburbs to pay for the cities
Dinesh D’Souza (former advisor to Reagan White House), Obama’s America: Unmaking the American dream
Michelle Malkin (Fox News columnist), Culture of Corruption: Obama and his team of tax cheats, crooks and cronies
Edward Klein (former editor of the New York Times magazine), The Amateur
David Limbaugh (brother of right-wing shock-jock Rush Limbaugh), The Great Destroyer: Barack Obama’s war on the Republic
Interestingly, all of these authors are university graduates (many of them going to top universities like Columbia, Harvard or Dartmouth college). They are definitely not the ‘average Joe’, yet they find it profitable to channel ‘average Joe’.
A first reaction is one of prurience: these books tend to be bitter and angry. They attempt to tap into the angst of white, middle class, middle America. They play on a series of fears: the outsourcing of jobs, declining living standards, an intrusive federal government. There is a real sense of American decline about these titles and a harking for ‘the good old days’. They pick on predictable targets (Obama, big government, China) and have remarkably little to say about machine politics, big banks, feral and cannibalistic capitalism, or corporate social responsibility.
It is easy to write these books off as fear-mongering exploitation. Yet, there is something heartening to be said for a society in which there is a market for political commentary. The ‘commentary’ may be partisan and didactic, but at least this is an indication that some people are interested in the direction of the country and are interested in a ‘big idea’ (libertarianism versus some form of collective action). Of course, Republican and right-wing writers do not have a monopoly: there are quite a few Democratic and ‘liberal’ books out there that play on liberal fears and hit the usual targets. Two examples to be recommended are: Craig Unger’s Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s secret kingdom of power and James Carville and Stan Greenberg, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! But they tend to be less prominently displayed in the bookstores. I wonder why?

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