This season, books critical of the Bush administration are all the rage -- and making book publishers a ton of dough. They're clogging the shelves of your local print reseller. And clogging the adjoining shelves are books critical of those Bush bashers. And next to those, you're sure to find books critical of the first critics' critics. Is your head spinning yet? Is black fluid oozing out of your ears? Isn't this level of political publishing hysteria usually reserved for presidential election years?
Oh, that's right. We're in one of those.
Well, no wonder folks want their say. But in the throes of what has been widely characterized as the most polarized presidential election in the modern age, everyone is more feverish than ever to tell their story, to communicate their concerns and to attack their perceived adversaries. In a race this tight, no one with an opinion and a pen wants to keep quiet. No matter what your set of political beliefs, there's probably a book out there that exactly reflects what you're thinking.
Assassination through the written word is being conducted by those on both sides of the left-right political divide, by writers with widely ranging levels of credibility, intellect and decorum. What distinguishes the pap and circumstance from the insightful and thoughtful? That's a hard call.
There are a lot of books out there taking on the Bush administration, its handling of pre- and post-9/11 homeland security, its foreign policy (including the war on terror and the highly controversial preemptive war on Iraq), its economic policy, its environmental record and so on. In fact, essentially every aspect of George W. Bush's foreign and domestic policy has come under fire from someone with a book deal. There was former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's unflattering, best-selling tell-all, The Price of Loyalty, in which he described Bush in cabinet meetings as "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." Former White House anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke had even more damning things to say about his former boss in his best-selling Against All Enemies, wherein he accuses his administration of neglecting the terrorist threat prior to 9/11. Also in the pre-election pipeline are Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib by journalist Seymour Hersh (the guy who broke the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal); What We've Lost: America Under the Bush Administration by Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair; and Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, which just came out last week. And that doesn't even touch on all the Michael Moores and the Al Frankens out there.
As you would expect, the other side has their hatchet men and women in print as well, including a representative sample of vociferous right-wingers from Fox News. Acerbic "No Spin" spinmeister Bill O'Reilly's books (with titles like Who's Looking Out for You?) fill you in on everything that's wrong with America while instructing you on the best way to live your life. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter brands all liberals as traitors in her latest hardback (now 32 percent off at Amazon). And once you get past Sean Hannity's giant head on the cover of his newest tome, Deliver Us From Evil, you'll find him with a straight face equating liberalism with terrorism. Similar attacks on anyone politically left of Dick Cheney can be found within the pages of Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlessinger
These days, it seems as if every talking head with even the tiniest speck of brain -- but with a very big ax to grind -- is publishing a book. In an election year so full of bitterness and distrust, those on the extremes of the political spectrum seem not only to be selling a lot of books but also to be defining our political dialogue. Which is a shame, because instead of calmly and respectfully discussing issues, policy and the future of our country with each other, the national discourse is becoming increasingly uncivil. We can't agree to disagree anymore. And without that respect for one another and for opposing viewpoints, America is destined to devolve into a shrill and hateful place where the bullies and demagogues increasingly call the shots.
It seems to me that the worst thing about a lot of these books is that they distract readers from the real issues, real platforms and real policy decisions that are at the core of our national politics. Rather than research such issues as trade, job growth, Social Security, foreign relations or environmental protection, many authors simply launch personal attacks, diluting the political discourse to the degree that we no longer know how to choose elected officials that will truly represent our concerns and serve us with honor. Who gave them a license to confuse? And more to the point, why do we listen?
I'm getting way too stressed out over this presidential election thing -- the pandering, the posturing and the partisan punditry is getting on my nerves. I'm pulling for one of the candidates but watching this thing come down to the wire is like dragging out the final stretch of a horse race (on which you've bet the farm) for three solid months. And now, to top it all off, my friendly neighborhood bookstore has turned into the political killing fields. Man, I can feel something oozing out of my ears. That's it. It's time to go home and turn on the BBC.