Politics on parade in books, even during summer


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Summer used to be a pleasant lull in politics, a happy time when we got a break from the noise. Serious campaigning was reserved until after Labor Day.

In today's media world of Internet and cable TV, the political parade is nonstop, no matter what the temperature. After the election of President Obama, the sound has gotten so loud that some of it has slopped over into books. Here's what a sampling of the summer crop is saying.

Tea party time

To pay the costs of its long war protecting the American colonies from the French and their allies, Great Britain's Parliament placed a duty on tea imported to those colonies. Some colonists, mostly merchants and smugglers, showed their displeasure of "taxation without representation" by dressing up like Indians, boarding the tea ships and throwing the stuff in Boston Harbor.

Today's displeased Americans, while they do have representation, have adopted the event as a label for their rallies and political activism.

Now, formal documents have been suggested for this loosely organized effort in two books:

"Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto" by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe (Morrow, $19.99) and "The Tea Party Manifesto" by Joseph Farah (WND Books, $9.95).

Let's check the background of the books' authors. Mr. Armey, former Republican U.S. House majority leader, left Congress to work for the large lobbying firm, DLA Piper. He then helped create FreedomWorks with Mr. Kibbe, with funds from energy and pharmaceutical companies.

Before claiming the tea party leadership, FreedomWorks was a consultant to energy companies, which were staging rallies against stronger environmental regulations.

Mr. Farah is founder of the Internet site WorldNetDaily where he has consistently claimed that President Obama was not born in the United States.

It's important to realize that these books come with lots of strings attached to right-wing causes. Tea party members interested in independence might keep those connections in mind.

Also running hard to jump on the tea party bandwagon is righty radio and TV entertainer Laura Ingraham with "The Obama Diaries" (Threshold Books, $25).

The makers of best-seller lists struggled a bit to classify this collection of fictitious "diary" entries by the president, his wife, Vice President Biden and other Democrats as "fiction" or "nonfiction" before going with the latter. The New York Times royally declared:

"You do not dignify (books of this kind) by calling them fiction."

Miss Ingraham's satire is a smart and smarmy sermon to the conservative choir with an unsubtle dose of racism poured on the president's family while slapping U.S. Sen. Harry Reid as guilty of racist speech.

It's a thin satire that's diluted by the author's own shrill voice of talk-show cliches and holier-than-thou nods to religious belief inserted between the "diary" entries as in these Ingrahamisms:

• "Obama and company believe that if they keep the heat on and throw enough mud at the conservative movement, you will become demoralized and give up."

• "Don't buy the spin or cruel distortions of the politics of personal destruction. Listen to talk radio, watch Fox News and seek out the reportage of reliable journalists on the Internet."

"The Obama Diaries" is juicy meat for Miss Ingraham's hungry audience of the president's haters.

The professional left

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs vented his frustration with critics by blasting liberals who have attacked the president for his less-than-liberal policies and decisions.

These pros write books, too, and here's one: "The Obama Syndrome" by Tariq Ali (Verso, $16.95).

Mr. Ali is certainly a professional lefty as editor of London's New Left Review and political activist. Without the gimmicks of Ms. Ingraham, he lambasts the president just as thoroughly, but from the radical left.

Many people, not just those labeled "left," believed Mr. Obama would reverse Bush administration policies that challenged constitutional rights such as habeas corpus, allowed torture, increased the defense budget, continued the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and coddled Wall Street. Wrong.

Little heard on Fox News could challenge Mr. Ali's relentless dismissal of the president's agenda and character, saying the president is "unwilling and unable" to deliver serious reforms.

From a seriously flawed health insurance law to a corporate mentality behind education policies, charges Mr. Ali, the president and his Chicago cronies are showing their true colors as politically motivated pragmatists, not idealists and far from the liberal or "socialist" leanings they've been accused of by the right.

"The Obama Syndrome," which goes on sale Oct. 11, will be a powerful boost to Obama dissenters on the left.

At his Beck and call

The lachrymose Fox News personality Glenn Beck makes about $30 million a year with his emotional brand of government bashing and conspiracy theories, making him the cheerleader of the tea party.

He doesn't impress everybody, though, as two journalists pound the crewcut Mr. Beck with sharp attacks in:

"The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama" by Will Bunch (Harper, $25.99) and "Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America" by Dana Milbank (Doubleday, $24.95).

Mr. Bunch, a writer at the Philadelphia Daily News and a fellow at Media Matters for America, weaves Mr. Beck into his fast-moving narrative of various right-wing activities, including the tea party crew.

He tiptoes down the sidelines of the blame game when he implies that the inflammatory (and later retracted) comments by the Fox celebrity incited Richard Poplawski to gun down three Pittsburgh police officers on April 4 last year.

Mr. Poplawski had posted a video online of Mr. Beck and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul discussing the dubious existence of "FEMA camps" for dissidents, a month before the killings.

Mr. Bunch travels to Pittsburgh to interview a friend of the suspect along with Buddy Savage, owner of Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg where Mr. Poplawski bought guns. He paints a pretty grim picture of both places:

"If you're under the impression ... that Pittsburgh is a hidden hotbed of paranoia, that may be a surprisingly rational conclusion. It's hard to imagine an American place with more of a land-that-time-forgot feel than this rust-worn Steel City ..."

Mr. Poplawski's character was molded by his city's lack of good jobs, Mr. Beck's suspicions of "FEMA concentration camps" and extremist websites, says Mr. Bunch, calling him "the living embodiment of an American Nightmare" ... ready to explode with the right shove.

"It was only the last match that was tossed by a multimillionaire who comes into the nation's living rooms ... and regularly yells 'Fire' into all the crowded minds, terrifying the people who were already standing mentally near the exit signs," Mr. Bunch writes, without using Glenn Beck's name.

Journalists are trained to avoid speculation in their stories, but apparently not in their books. While the Beck critics have plenty of ammunition, suggesting he could incite the murder of three police officers stretches credulity.

Did I mention critics of Glenn Beck? Add Washington Post political columnist Dana Milbank and his upcoming "fair and balanced" account of the "regular schmo's" (Mr. Beck's words) career.

One interesting fact: The emotional entertainer's tears have been coaxed into full flood with a menthol ointment smeared beneath his eyes, Mr. Milbank reports.

After a series of unflattering chapters debunking Mr. Beck's claims and personal history, Mr. Milbank also cites the Poplawski incident as an example of the talk-show host's influence.

"Is Beck to be blamed for those five girls in Pittsburgh losing their dads?" Mr. Milbank asks. "That goes a bit far."

Yet the author demonstrates that Mr. Beck's exaggerations and fabrications have been embraced by members of Congress, who presumably, should know better. Sounds like serious influence in that case.


Bob Hoover: bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.


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