The Drum Rule: My Unfavorable Review Of The American Prospect's "American Taliban" Article

The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie wrote a negative review of Markos' Moulitsas' "American Taliban. Joining in the condemnation, even though they have not read the book, were Beltway bloggers Matt Yglesias and Ta-Neheisi Coates (whose critique was particularly noteworthy, given his spirited defenses of Atlantic colleagues Jeffrey Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan.) These writers were very upset that Markos had compared the Extreme Right in the United States to the Taliban. It was a strange complaint in my view, as regular readers know.

But an interesting fact has come to light -- it turns out that Robert Kuttner, the head honcho at The American Prospect, penned an article titled American Taliban in February 2010. The article was a review of Max Blumenthal's book, Republican Gomorrah, which reported on the Religious Right in the United States. Curiously, in defiance of The Kevin Drum Rule (which requires that all "intemperate" attacks on Republicans by the Left must be met by condemnation by the Beltway Left), I found no condemnations of Kuttner's article from the Beltway Left. Accordingly, in keeping with The Drum Rule, Kuttner must be excoriated for his "intemperate" article comparing the Extreme Right to the Taliban. I will do so here, using the template conveniently provided to me by The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie. On the flip, my review.

In his article, Kuttner wrote:

You may not have heard of R.J. Rushdoony. He is a kind of American Talib, whose 1973 magnum opus, the 890-page The Institutes of Biblical Law called for literal application of all 613 laws described in the book of Leviticus, including as punishments flogging, slavery, sale into indentured servitude, and death by burning at the stake. Rushdoony also called for a Christian theocracy to replace American democracy. One of Rushdoony's acolytes was Jerry Falwell.

[. . .] We at the Prospect have been publishing articles with titles like "The Coming Republican Crack-Up" almost since our first issue 20 years ago. Seemingly, the socially moderate Wall Street cosmopolitans, with their worship of mammon, have less and less in common with the Main Street fundamentalists -- who are now suffering the brunt of the economic catastrophe wrought by deregulated high finance. George W. Bush's defeat, logically, should have been the last embrace of the odd marriage of plutocrats and theocrats. With the complete takeover of the GOP by an American Taliban, the party should be doomed to minority status.

(Emphasis supplied.) To follow the reasoning of The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie, we must condemn The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner. As Bouie writes:

[T]his gets to the huge, glaring problem with American Taliban; 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. The chapter on women becomes a joke when you realize that Moulitsas can't distinguish between the odiousness of right-wing sexism and the vicious amorality of permanently disfiguring "immodest" women. Likewise, there are magnitudes of difference between executing gays (the Taliban) and opposing a hate-crimes bill (Republicans).

(Emphasis supplied.) To follow The American Prospect's Bouie's reasoning, we must similarly condemn The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner for his "facile" and "unfair" comparison of the Extreme Right, whom Kuttner refers to as the American Taliban, with the Afghan Taliban. Was Kuttner arguing that they are the same? Of course not. But neither was Moulitsas. And we must be weenie liberals and condemn any such hint at comparison, in order to comply with The Drum Rule.

Kuttner writes:

In 1986, a young journalist also named Blumenthal published a prescient book titled The Rise of the Counter--Establishment. In that book, Sidney Blumenthal, Max's old man, wrote about the links that went from Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley's National Review to the neoconservatives who gave the intellectual weight to Reaganism and the modern conservative movement. That book was mainly about people like Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Nathan Glazer, George Gilder, David Stockman, and Jack Kemp. The volume, appropriately for the time, included just three pages on the religious right. The conservative cast of characters a generation ago was an intellectually serious and largely secular lot. At worst, they wanted to destroy the New Deal and the Great Society, not impose theocracy. Those were the days.

(Emphasis supplied.) Does Kuttner really believe the Extreme Right wing of the Republican Party wants to "impose theocracy?" The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie would take severe issue with this assertion:

[I]n one instance, Moulitsas brandishes Ann Coulter's infamous quotation from 2001, where she declared that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity," as evidence of the right's bloodthirsty ways, while ignoring the fact that she was fired from National Review (an organ of the American Taliban) for that exact quotation.

(Emphasis supplied.) You see, says Bouie, Coulter was fired by The National Review. That PROVES the Extreme Right does not want to impose theocracy. Kuttner's charge is unacceptable for the weenie progressive advocacy that The Drum Rule requires of us. The American Prospect's Kuttner must be condemned. So speaketh The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie.

To be sure it is possible that, in the words of The American Prospect's Bouie:

[Kuttner's] American Taliban [article] is clearly meant for activist consumption. Unlike [Bouie], [Kuttner] isn't a journalist, and his job isn't to be an honest broker for ideas; no, it's to rally progressives and score points against conservatives.

But even if Kuttner is not a journalist,and thus ineligible for the mitigation The American Prospect's Bouie proposes, there is still another reason to condemn Kuttner - as Bouie explains:

Conservatives haven't actually gained from their willingness to bend and misrepresent the truth. [. . .]Indeed, their likely electoral gains notwithstanding, movement conservatives are still incapable of making an affirmative case for their governing philosophy. Their "new ideas" are anything but, and to most informed observers, it's clear that "no" is the only functioning weapon in the Republican Party's paltry arsenal. Put another way, there's a reason why the movement's leading voices are quasi-religious charlatans, rent-seeking celebrities, and failed ex-governors.

(Emphasis supplied.) Thus, according to The American Prospect's Bouie, The American Prospect's Kuttner is completely wrong when he writes:

Notwithstanding the takeover by the radical right, the Republican Party is not in fact "shattered." It is alarmingly unified.

After all, Democrats and the Beltway Left are not really concerned with winning elections. Being "precise" is the goal. An indeed, demanding precision in our descriptions of the Republican Party, as Matt Yglesias writes, is the key to political success. We all know that political debate is always conducted with literal truth as the standard. Comparison, advocacy and analogies are never used, at least not successfully:

[T]his is one of the areas where progressives arenít just doing the right thing, but have a smarter tactical approach to politics. There are scenarios in which tagging your political opponents with smears can be effective, but I donít see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic ďmy enemies are totalitarian madmenĒ strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections. [. . .] This stuff doesnít win votes anyone because, after all, itís a form of preaching to the choir. [. . .] Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond. Either underestimating or overestimating their level of viciousness and evil can lead to serious miscalculations. Which is just to say that getting this stuff right is more important than coming up with funny put-downs.

(Emphasis supplied.) Yglesias' critique of Moulitsas obviously also applies to The American Prospect's Kuttner.

In the end, Ta-Nehisi Coates says it best:

I actually think precision, of this sort, is extremely important. Rightly or wrongly I'm a liberal, in large measure, because I think liberals have more respect for my intelligence. I can't, in great detail, explain health care policy, or financial reform. But when I see one side's most potent voices arguing that health care reform is actually reparations, or their leadership winking at the notion that Obama is a Muslim, I take it as a caution. It's brand degradation, the sense that dishonesty and shading actually covers the lack of an argument.

(Emphasis supplied.) While it is true that Coates has not read Moulitsas' book, thus can not know if there is in fact "dishonesty and shading" in it, we must not let that stand in the way of adherence to The Drum Rule. Condemnation must occur. For Coates' criticisms of the book must surely be precise and correct, despite the limitations of having never actually read it. After all, he works for The Atlantic!

By the same token, if Coates reads my review of Kuttner's article, he need not read the article itself and can instead just echo my take. That would be the best way to achieve the "precision" Coates demands.

It pains me to do so, but in keeping with The Drum Rule, condemning The American Prospect's Kuttner must be done. The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz said about The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie's review of Moulitsas' "American Taliban":

Proud to associate myself with this

Fernholz must be deeply ashamed to be associated with Kuttner's American Taliban article. But that shame can of course, turn to pride-- the answer is obvious- Fernholz can "associate" himself with my review condemning The American Prospect's article "American Taliban."

Or better yet, Fernholz can write his own condemning review. Kevin Drum would be very pleased.

Speaking for me only

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  • Display: Sort:
    does writing reviews, (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by cpinva on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 12:53:55 AM EST
    on books you haven't read, and movies/plays/tv shows you've not seen, pay well? by well, i mean at least six figures, since i've got a son in college.

    there's lots of books i've not read, and movies/plays/tv shows i've not seen. for the right money, i'd happily continue not reading/seeing them, and then writing scathing reviews on them. unless the money is really good, in which case i could write a nice review.

    just let me know where i should apply.

    You've got a lot of nerve (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Warren Terrer on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 10:47:00 AM EST
    reviewing an article you've actually read.

    Heh (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Maryb2004 on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 12:23:16 PM EST
    I'm with Oculus that you had way too much fun with this - pissed off or not.

    I'm glad I've missed all this.  Not that I intended to read Markos' book anyway.  I'm off of political writing these days - only escapist novels for me.

    Such as? (none / 0) (#18)
    by oculus on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 01:40:28 PM EST
    How could they review a book theydidn't read? (4.00 / 1) (#1)
    by NealB on Fri Sep 03, 2010 at 10:29:43 PM EST
    I have no doubt either that a book written by Markos was biased, but, sheez, who cares what I think?

    "How to Talk About Books You (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 03, 2010 at 11:33:39 PM EST
    You Haven't Read."  link

    I think BTD is having way too much fun.  What will he say when he has read Kos's book?


    Not as much fun as you think (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 12:03:07 AM EST
    This really pissed me off.

    Obviously. Especially re the duplicity (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 12:33:35 AM EST
    of The American Prospect.  

    Well, it's not political... (none / 0) (#11)
    by Susie from Philly on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 09:05:51 AM EST
    But I wrote about this last week after reading movie reviews attacking "Eat Pray Love" -- they were reviews written by reading other reviews, and the reviewers used those as a base to attack the book on which it was based -- pointing out, of course, that they hadn't actually read the book and wouldn't lower themselves to do so. Oh, and they called the author a "no-talent hack" -- even though she clearly isn't. Clear to anyone who's actually read any of her work, I mean.

    Anyway, so there's a kind of group shunning mentality at work in these instances. Someone has threatened the group's version of reality and must be punished. Logic has nothing to do with it.


    Hmmmm. My review of first half (none / 0) (#14)
    by oculus on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 11:03:48 AM EST
    of "EPL," really bad.  No comment on the remainder of the book, which I didn't read.  

    Aw, you don't even need to buy (none / 0) (#19)
    by Cream City on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 07:51:29 PM EST
    an audiobook about not reading books.

    Why, right here on teh internet toobz is just the site -- just one of many such sites, of course.  I mean, like it sez, "sure, it's not easy to do a book report if you haven't read the book."  

    But that doesn't mean it's impossible!  Wow, you oldsters really would work too hard in college today and never go out for beerz and then come back to do a paper after midnight due that day.

    Of course, you also might figure out that us oldsters also are the ones who invented the internet toobz and know how to find the same sites . . . as we do every semester now. :-)


    Huff Post list of 13 books everyone (none / 0) (#23)
    by oculus on Sun Sep 05, 2010 at 12:53:19 PM EST
    says they've read but they haven't:  link

    No. 1:  de Toqueville!


    "The Drum Rule" (4.00 / 1) (#2)
    by NealB on Fri Sep 03, 2010 at 11:14:07 PM EST
    that's new.

    Drum, like Brooks, is a mindfvcker. Not hard to do; but you read him and wonder why he's such a jerk.

    Coates (none / 0) (#4)
    by daria g on Fri Sep 03, 2010 at 11:49:04 PM EST
    TNC isn't a Beltway blogger.  Never was.  He lives in New York and only occasionally blogs on political issues, it depends on what's in the news, but less and less lately.  His blog is one of the handful that I read regularly and is really one of the best things on the web IMHO.

    I appreciated his comments since I'm pretty exhausted by the constant outrage from the blogs about just how horrible certain people on the other side are. It's kind of cheap and not very interesting, after a while.  I don't need to know why the right are like the Taliban - there are (a few) Republicans who aren't far right conservatives, and I wouldn't vote for them either. Weigel's writing on this is an exception - he's sincerely trying to figure out how they think, instead of just pointing.  Frankly, I don't trust a book by Markos. I've already seen plenty of times before before that he'll twist the facts to make a point if he disagrees with somebody on politics.

    Coates does not really interest me (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 12:02:36 AM EST
    I can appreciate that you do not want to read the book. Frankly, not sure I was going to read it myself. I will now.

    The problem for me is Coates did not read the book but decided to write about it anyway.

    I am pretty shocked that you think that is ok.

    I also find it interesting that you overlook his defenses for Sullivan and Goldberg. I guess you write that off as a corporate logrolling, and I would too.

    But once you do that, you really have no standing to call out people for perceived dishonesty and shadiness by my lights.

    You are either a truth teller or not. Coates decided to not be one  when he defended Goldberg and Sullivan.


    Not familiar with when he defended them (none / 0) (#12)
    by daria g on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 10:33:45 AM EST
    I have no idea on what he defended Sullivan and Goldberg and why that is a problem. I didn't "overlook" it.  I don't know what you mean - they write a LOT and I don't have time to read everything, in fact I don't read Goldberg at all, and Sullivan, rarely.  Can you explain?

    I'm not particularly shocked that he wrote about the book without reading it. Doesn't seem like a big deal - his argument is with Digby in the post in question.  Who also hasn't read the book and should be criticized for writing about it without reading it, if you want to be fair.

    I mean, I might say you don't have a lot of standing to criticize Coates when you dismiss him as a "Beltway blogger" when he doesn't live anywhere near the Beltway and doesn't focus much on politics?  


    You really do not understand (none / 0) (#15)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 11:09:01 AM EST
    that the Beltway extends beyond DC? David Brooks is not a Beltway writer  according to you.

    I am glad you acknowledge you are unfamiliar with the things I am writing about in this post.


    I live here, BTD (none / 0) (#20)
    by daria g on Sun Sep 05, 2010 at 11:20:29 AM EST
    And David Brooks lives inside the Beltway, in the Maryland suburbs.  The Beltway does not extend to Brooklyn.

    I'm sincerely interested to know what the things are regarding Goldberg and Sullivan!  


    And if he did? (none / 0) (#21)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Sep 05, 2010 at 11:33:56 AM EST
    Would he not be a part of the Beltway? The Beltway is of course a physical place, inside the expressway circling DC. But it is the state of mind I am referring to.

    There are plenty of people inside the Beltway who are not OF the Beltway, and vice versa.



    Not sure (none / 0) (#9)
    by Ga6thDem on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 07:56:31 AM EST
    'American Taliban' is the best use of words. It sounds more and more to me that this is just another case of the beltway thinking that they  know best.

    excellent post (none / 0) (#10)
    by msobel on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 08:31:51 AM EST
    The real point which you make so effectively is that Markos is not a Villager so he can't say nasty things.  (If he were a Villager, he wouldn't say nasty things except about liberals).

    I think this is a corollary of IOKIYAR  (IOKIYAV ?)or just old fashioned in group outgroup dynamics.

    Again, great post.  I am reading the book and it seems more moderate than what I hear out of Republicans these last three decades.

    Didn't MY recently post (none / 0) (#16)
    by waldenpond on Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 11:34:01 AM EST
    about Republicans?  I think it was him a couple weeks ago... the jist was that what Republicans said was ok because it was consistent with their ideology and winning.  I chuckled.

    "The Drum Rule." Another (none / 0) (#22)
    by oculus on Sun Sep 05, 2010 at 12:36:52 PM EST
    terrific title.