August 16, 2005

"My first reaction was, 'Oh, he reads books?' "

So said an anti-Bush author, mucking up the publicity opportunity presented by the news that President Bush is reading his book.


Joan said...

The entire piece is full of back-handed compliments. Then there's this little gem:

"What I find fascinating, and it's probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don't seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books," Kurlansky said.

This assumption by liberals that conservatives only partake of cultural offerings from other conservatives is laughable but widespread. You'd think a published author like Kurlansky would have the sense to realize that people judge cultural works on their merit, not on the politics of their creators.

Oh, I know, everyone's going to bring up the whole Dixie Chicks thing to prove I'm wrong. A few fans and radio stations boycotting the Chicks after their disrespectful remarks is a far way from an entire political wing ignoring aspects of our cultural that come from the other side. Conservatives couldn't avoid liberal-borne culture even if they wanted to; it's everywhere.

Liberals like Kurlansky, on the other hand, show that liberals voluntarily place themselves in cultural isolation. Why would Kurlansky be fascinated that a Republican president would read his book? Is it because he himself would never read anything written by a Republican?

bill said...

I found this Kurlansky quote also interesting: "What I find fascinating, and it's probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don't seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books."

What an odd idea. Should a politician only read books from like minded authors? Or base a reading list on contributions?

I was interested in "Salt: A World History" but should I expect Kurlansky ignored historical resources that don't agree with his personal views?

If I only read authors with whom I was politically compatible I'd have some extremely empty bookshelves.

Now I await the Queen of Indignation, ploopusgirl, to tell us all to lighten up and get a life.

ploopusgirl said...

Who are you again, Bill?


I'll show you indignation..

bill said...

As Ann has mentioned your multiple personalities, the question should be "do you know who you are"?

Or answer this: do you have a comment on the linked article?

ploopusgirl said...

Bill, I couldn't care less about the linked article. Not only have I not read it, I haven't even clicked on the damn link to get over to it. Thxs, though.

knox said...

This part made me laugh:

"the analogies between salt and oil are striking.

For most of recorded history, salt was synonymous with wealth..."

Walter said...

It is quite funny to learn/read about this people that are surprised when they discover that President Bush is not as dumb as his opponents claim. Anyone who read the neutral or positive coverage of the President during the 2000 election should know that he reads books (He was quoted more than once as having read Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who build the Transcontinental Railroad by Stephen E. Ambrose).

He did make some comments about not reading, but they where in the context of not having the time to read, not that he couldn't or wouldn't read. But taking the President's words out of context to insult him is normal (just read the Bushism on Slate, many of which have a simple explaination when the context is provided).

President Bush is smarter than most people give him credit for, which is one reason he keeps winning.

Sloanasaurus said...

Radzinsky is a great writer. His books use colorful descriptive terms. For example, he refers to Stalin as "the Boss." I highly recommend his books the Last Tsar and Stalin. Any person interested in politics should read Stalin an the biography of Hitler by John Tolan. They provide excellent frameworks on how normal individuals achieve power and retain power (and the mistakes that were made in allowing them to succeed). They are important lessons of history.

Troy said...

I also find it interesting that these authors -- who probably went to post grade-inflation university knee-jerk with the snotty condescension.

All 3 probably would've made Cs in a 1960s Yale and mostl likely couldn't do the math to fly a fighter jet.

Richard Fagin said...

The President's critics continue to misunderestimate his knowledge, particularly as it relates to nucular weapons.

bill said...

Troy, I think that might be a bit harsh. As quoted, Kurlansky is really the only one with a condescending attitude.

Barry says he's been a Bush critic - nothing wrong with that - but has worked with the administration. This sounds like a fair statement: I'm not a great fan of the Bush administration, but I think they are doing that. The Clinton administration I don't think paid much attention to it as a threat.

And since Radzinsky isn't described as anti-Bush, it's probably safe to say he's more of a supporter than the other two.

Kurlansky's offense is one of churlishness. The "Oh, he can read" attitude is petty and as Joan said earlier I do find this provincialism more apparent among my knee-jerk liberal friends as opposed to my knee-jerk conservative friends.

Beth said...

I wonder if knee-jerk provincialism changes with administrations; that is, if conservatives are more prone to knee-jerk snarkiness when Democrats are in power, and liberals more so when conservatives are in power. I doubt very much, from my memories of the Clinton administration, that the knee-jerk thing is just a liberal trait.

lindsey said...

I read somewhere else on another blog that when a Rep is president, Dems will judge the economy as being much worse than it actually is, and vice versa regarding Dem presidents and Reps.

miklos rosza said...

laura bush has said that her favorite authors are ian mcewan and w.g. sebald, and you don't get much more Qual Lit than that. and gee, it's just possible that she's discussed books she's liked with her husband. and he read the latest tom wolfe (who is still a critical favorite here and there.)

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth said "....I doubt very much, from my memories of the Clinton administration, that the knee-jerk thing is just a liberal trait...."

You are probably right about this. Nevertheless, it is also true that liberals tend to protest and conservatives tend to debate. This is why you have lots of conservative talk radio and lots of liberal protests.

Beth said...


I think you're overgeneralizing. Liberals in fact do debate, and conservatives do protest. As for talk radio, I'll wager you won't hear much debate on Rush or Savage or Hannity. Radio is entertainment; it's all heat and not much light, no matter who's at the controls.

Noumenon said...

The fact that every book has a deep meaning for today's world makes me very suspicious that they were chosen and their names released by Karl Rove to make the President look like a deep thinker.

It makes great product placement, though!

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth, I am struggling to locate a Liberal debating society a place where liberals debate liberal issues. I have never heard of one. There are plenty on conservative debating societies around. Maybe I am wrong, but I think liberals prefer protests to debates. Conservatives are terrible protesters. They just don't get emotional enough.

jult52 said...

Both sides do have a tendency to demonize the opposing party. What's interesting is what they accuse the opposing party of when they do the demonizing. To generalize:

Democrats have accused every Republican President in my lifetime of stupidity.

The Clinton administration was routinely accused of immorality on every level by the more demented Republican critics. Another common accusation leveled at Democrats is weakness.

I think it's revealing of what each party considers the most offensive failing.

Joan said...

Just out of curiosity, Elizabeth, how often do you tune in to Rush, Hannity, or Savage? The "all heat and no light" charge is pretty laughable, at least in regards to Rush. A lot of his show is couched in terms to get his listeners both thinking and laughing. It is entertainment, after all.

Beth said...


You've obviously never been in front of an abortion clinic during an Operation Rescue event. But I'll concede there's not much protest in the conservative world. You're defining debate more specifically than your previous post, which if fair enough, but the dichotomy of "formal debate" versus people turning out for protest marches seems odd.

Joan, yes, I've listened to much, much, much talk radio, these national guys and local included. I agree it's got a level of entertainment to it. But it's also propaganda, quite a lot of outright bullsh*t, and party line dogma. Rush doesn't do much to "debate" dissenting callers, if they get through at all.

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth, I am just commenting on my own experiences. When I ran with more liberal circles, there tended to be less intellectual discussion amongst each other. On the liberal side, the intellectual discussion/ideas is more dictated (such as from NPR or from protest organizers) to the people. On the conservative side, intellectual discussion is often more conversational among people (thus the format of talk radio) and delivered in the form of a discussion rather than a dictation (there are plenty of exceptions i.e. Michael Savage).

I think it would be an interesting discussion to determine why this difference exists (why conservatives don't generally protest?). One reason could be the generalization that conservatives tend to think that all people are "evil," while liberals believe that only conservatives are "evil." As such, liberals accept and welcome dictation from liberals, while conservatives will not be as welcome to dictation from other conservatives.

The intellectual dis Granted there are plenty of exceptions on both sides.

Beth said...


Very interesting stuff. If your past life in liberal circles was pre-2000, then that might have something to do with our differing impressions. Nader's candidacy seemed to bring out much more debate among the people I know who would call themselves anything from liberal to leftist to progressive to radical. I have found myself in many, many heated debates with Nader supporters, and maybe as a result, since then have experienced a greater range of discussion and seen more distinct positions on topics including the death penalty, national defense, economic policies, multiculturalism, corruption in government (local and state, mainly), same-sex marriage, abortion (you would be suprised how much disagreement goes on there) and so on. My experience with talk radio would support your description of it as conversational, but mostly it's a conversation among very likeminded people--that goes for Rush, or for Franken, in my view.

As for your generalization about evil, well, I just don't know how to reply to that. It is indeed a broad generalization. I certainly don't believe that only conservatives are evil. I think evil's probably the wrong word for most political and social policy discussions, anyway. Certainly I can name plenty of conservative and liberal politicians who have visited evil on their constituents, though, if by evil we mean such things as greed and abuse of power. I guess where you and I disagree fundamentally is on the idea that liberals and conservatives can be represented so generally.

Sloanasaurus said...

My only memory from the Nader debate was "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" and a despreation by the Gore people to convince the Nader people that Gore supported all of Nader's policies. Maybe my memory is poor.

In regards to "evil," you could also use "bad" or "sinner..."

I suppose my argument only restates Locke vs. Hobbes. However, despite the partisan rhetoric, I think that the mainstream of the Democratic party in america generally falls in step with the conservatives in following the views of Locke. Perhaps this is why Europeans see little difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Beth said...

I'll agree that all Americans should appreciate Locke. And yes, you did miss out on the intra-liberal warfare over Nader. I've never been as frustrated with fuzzy headed idealism in my life, and spent much time trying to articulate the importance of considering not just motives but consequences of decisions. Your comment about Europeans not distinguishing much between Repubs annd Demos is timely; Nader's strawman of the "Republicrat" drove me nuts. I don't mean to revisit that in detail, though; my blood pressure still spikes when I think about it.

bill said...

update: kurlansky has more comments.

All of this furore over common salt seems a little silly today. I hope Bush, with his interest in history, will realise that, in time, the fights over oil will look equally foolish. Could this lead to his abandoning his Texas cronies, realising oil is not worth hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq, and that government has the ability to foster research and develop existing technology to move the world away from oil?
Doubtless, after this happens the political leaders of the world will be ready to kill for the next big thing. So maybe he should put my book down, walk outside and talk to the grieving mothers of the American youth he wasted, who are camped in front of the ranch.