Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Chapter and verse on the need for regime change

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right; Al Franken; Dutton: 380 pp., $24.95 Dude, Where's My Country?; Michael Moore; Warner Books: 254 pp., $24.95; Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America; Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose; Random House: 352 pp., $24.95 The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception; David Corn; Crown: 324 pp., $24 The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century; Paul Krugman; W.W. Norton: 426 pp., $25.95 Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth; Joe Conason; Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press: 246 pp., $24.95 Thieves in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country and It's Time to Take It Back; Jim Hightower; Viking: 282 pp., $24.95 Had Enough?: A Handbook for Fighting Back; James Carville with Jeff Nussbaum; Simon & Schuster: 306 pp., $23

March 14, 2004|Mark Hertsgaard | Mark Hertsgaard is the author of numerous books, including "On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency" and "The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World."

Howard Dean won't be on the ballot this November, but he has shaped the 2004 presidential campaign in ways that history will not forget. It was Dean who showed his fellow Democrats that it was OK to fight back against George W. Bush. The former Vermont governor's early success taught Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in particular that voters wanted not the cautious, incremental critiques that Capitol Hill Democrats have long offered but unapologetic condemnations of where Bush was taking the country. Of course, rank-and-file Democrats also desperately wanted a candidate with enough centrist appeal to beat Bush, or they would have flocked to Dennis Kucinich instead of Dean. Kerry, whose war heroism provided that centrist appeal, was smart enough to appropriate Dean's insurgent message -- to graft the doctor's passion onto his own gravitas -- and it saved his candidacy. In politics as in life, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

What's remarkable is how long it took Kerry (and most other Democrats) to catch on. After all, Dean's ascendancy was only one manifestation of a larger phenomenon visible for more than a year now: the emergence of an aggressive, grass-roots opposition to the Bush administration. Many Democrats gave Bush the benefit of the doubt after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the honeymoon was short-lived. One could clearly see the new mood during the lead-up to the Iraq war, especially in the massive numbers of ordinary Americans who joined the worldwide antiwar demonstrations on Feb. 15, 2003. One could see it in the explosive rise of MoveOn.org and other unabashedly anti-Bush activist groups. And one could see it on the nation's bestseller lists.

Over the last 1 1/2 years, books attacking Bush and his agenda have been bought in large numbers in the United States. The biggest-selling nonfiction book of 2002 was "Stupid White Men," a polemic by filmmaker Michael Moore that spent nearly 70 weeks on various national bestseller lists. Last fall, Moore returned with "Dude, Where's My Country?" but has been overshadowed recently by Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," which has been among the top 15 bestsellers for nearly 30 weeks and still appears to be going strong. Journalists Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose have scored with "Bushwhacked" and a half-dozen other books with equally critical views have made various bestseller lists for short periods of time.

Conservatives have had bestsellers too. Fox TV personality Bill O'Reilly has led the pack with "Who's Looking Out for You?" Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham enjoyed successes with, respectively, "Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism" and "Shut Up and Sing: How Elites From Hollywood, Politics and the UN Are Subverting America." Conservative bestsellers have been a fairly common phenomenon in the United States since the rise of talk radio made Rush Limbaugh a household name in the 1990s. Now the other side is getting in on the act as well.

The most surprising is Franken's book. The TV comic best known for his sketches on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," is certainly amusing. A passage describing how he exposed O'Reilly, the self-proclaimed master of the "no-spin zone," as an apparent serial liar is laugh-out-loud funny. But what sets "Liars" apart is how tightly researched it is, thanks to 14 Harvard graduate students the author affectionately calls "Team Franken." When he accuses Bush and his allies of rewarding the rich while punishing the poor or of plundering the environment on behalf of corporate backers, he provides facts, often drawn from official sources, that don't get in the way of the laughs.

That is an achievement rarely found in Moore's books. Moore strains for laughs more often than he delivers them, and he can be very loose with facts and reasoning. He asserts, for example, that the Bush administration has exaggerated the terrorist threat to frighten Americans into accepting the rest of its agenda. But he undercuts that argument by denying that there is any real terrorist threat (as evidence, he cites data showing that Americans had a greater probability of dying from the flu than from the Sept. 11 attacks) and by asserting that corporations that throw people out of work are the real terrorists.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|