As a columnist, Joe Conason is something of a liberal wind-up toy. Twist the crank and get your 750 words of: "Republican bad, Democrat good. Republican bad, Democrat good." (Repeat as necessary.)
Admittedly, that's a pretty reductive analysis, but Big Lies is a reductive book, even if its author is nobly trying to dismantle the political mythology of the American right. With its big red letters on a white backdrop, Big Lies is marketed as a political rant to be flopped on the same bookstore tables as those from Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Bill O'Reilly and the rest.
After an all-too brief-exegesis on how the right exploits such fibs as "Tax-cutting Republicans are friends of the common man, while liberals are snobbish elitists who despise the work ethic," Conason proceeds to hammer examples of contradictory information. He's at his best when he's taking conservatives to task for their bogus populism and phony moralizing. By way of example, Conason offers our current commando in chief, who has repudiated his patrician past in favor of a salt-of-the-Texas-earth routine, and loudmouth pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, both of whom rake in millions by demonizing big-city liberal elites but live in "liberal" Manhattan.
But Conason fails to make important distinctions. For instance, he repeatedly references influential conservative thinkers like Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol in the same breath as Coulter and company. To Conason, the right is simply the right -- which isn't quite right.
Big Lies is similarly flawed in its unwillingness to hold liberals accountable for the current state of liberalism. Although less than a third of Americans identify themselves as Democrats, Conason doesn't blame this on the party's failure to articulate a platform more distinguishable than "we're not Republicans." Nope, it's all about blaming the GOP.
As a weekly columnist, Conason does a great job of exposing the peccadilloes of our current administration. However, at book length, he's redundant and boring. For those who worship at what the New York Press's Matt Taibbi calls "the church of lefty self-congratulation," perhaps Big Lies offers solace in a time of Republican rule. What it offers the rest of us is less obvious.
Publication date: 10/16/03