This Week’s Column:


by Dennis Loy Johnson

1 November 2004 — The madness is either just about over, or about to be given license to kill. Imagine, the guy who said "You're either for us or against us" — a fairly textbook declaration of fascism, and one now being uttered by Americans versus Americans via the Patriot Act — could be re–elected. Excuse me — elected. It's enough to make you want to do—what? Vote harder, somehow.

I mean, we find ourselves in a bizarre and terrifying situation. A man who has sent over a thousand people to their death for a lie could be on the verge of getting an unthinkable mandate. Meanwhile, what of the rest of the world? They've been thinking, well, he stole the office the first time; now they'll think: but the second time they chose him. They'll be mad at all of us, and we will be as alone as we can be with this madman.

And perhaps the most maddening thing short of this prospect is the titanic struggle within the mainstream press to say, in place of coverage, well, one is as bad as the other. This particular piece of cowardice is the biggest lie of them all, of course. The compromised and out of touch nature of the mainstream has in fact gotten so bad that no matter what side you're on — even if you're on the side of that evil clown who, after his every utterance in the last debate gave an expectant grin and looked around as if expecting someone to give him a biscuit — you've probably already sworn off it for the rest of your life in favor of searching elsewhere for the kind of reporting that the president's staffers, with a straight face, disparage as "reality–based" (and it shows you what a delusional world they occupy that they concocted the term to describe the New York Times).

But dear God where in the world is a sentient person with a heart supposed to go to find that "reality–based" information?

Therein, I suggest, is the thing with feathers: Beyond the happy and still–continuing rise of the Internet, have you noticed the thing that has really been driving so much of the political discourse this year? That's right, it's been books.

Think about it: The year started with The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind and former treasury secretary Paul O'Neil—a devastating expose propelled by O'Neil's disgust for what he'd seen in the inner sanctum of the Bush administration. It is perhaps the first ever such book by a cabinet–level official against his own party's administration, particularly while that administration is still in power, and it showed, among other damning revelations, that Bush had been prepping to go to war against Iraq all along.

This was followed by Richard Clarke's stunner, Against All Enemies" — incredibly, another account from a disgusted leading official of the Bush administration (and, it should be noted, an official of the administration of Bush I, too). Clarke's book showed that not only had Bush been eager to go to war against Iraq, but that he had manufactured reasons to do so; that he hadn't heeded warnings of a resultant chaos if he did; and that, earlier, he'd ignored warnings prior to 9/11 of an impending terrorist attack on the United States.

Then there was Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, in which, despite his favored status at the White House, Woodward confirmed most of Clarke's accusations. This was followed by a book from another escapee from the administration, Joseph Wilson's "The Politics of Truth," a furious attack — with reason. After Wilson had written an op–ed piece for the New York Times revealing that the core espionage information supporting the President's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was bogus, his wife, an undercover CIA operative, was outed in a column by CNN half–wit William Novak. (This illegal and murderous bit of treachery, by the way, has been tracked by a special prosecutor to the office of Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Haven't read about that on the front page of your newspaper, have you?)

It goes on. Bill Clinton's doorstopper didn't help the Republicans any, and showed that the man is truly beloved by millions. Kitty Kelly's book caused a furor within the mainstream, but none of them tagged her with a mistake. Her documentation was sound, and she talked about the issues of personal character that so many have missed in the discussion of our leader, a man who tells crowds in the South and Midwest that he speaks with God, which he then denies elsewhere. And Seymour Hersh's The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib showed the truth of this administration at its most unspeakable.

Michael Moore has collected his letters from soldiers in Iraq in a moving book, while Danny Schechter's WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception is the basis for a powerful new film that rivals Moore's for emotion and outdoes Moore for systematic investigation.

Meanwhile, what are the leading books on the Republican side? Well, there was the children's book by Bill O'Reilly, now finally, officially discredited (as of course, we should have known he would be: live by the sneering innuendo, die by the sneering innuendo). There was the vile tract by the so–called Swift Boat Veterans, a book categorically disproven in nearly all of its charges and showing you just how low this administration and its adherents will go — I mean like him or dislike him, John Kerry carries shrapnel in his body, for God's sake. So what's left? Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Really Have To)," a title which tells you all you need to know about the right's interest in reason.

And which, by its nasty insularity, provides you with some insight into why, I think, John Kerry is going to win this election. Part of the point of my own entry into this fray — The Big Chill: The Great, Unreported Story of the Bush Inauguration Protest — was that there is a great uncovered crowd that has been consistently coming in under the radar, that has been ignored by the press, or marginalized when they gathered in huge numbers. I think these people will, in the end, show the race isn't as tight as those in the mainstream—where a close race is good for business (think increased ad revenue)—would have you believe.

as a great moment in our culture, and reason for the publishing community to be proud of itself — it should be especially noted that this was an industry–wide effort, with both little houses like Melville House and bigger houses such as, say, Simon & Schuster (publishers of the O'Neil, Clarke, and Woodward books), joining in. This noble effort, I truly believe, will propel us into a better future, where thoughtful people study a subject in necessary depth and are compelled to act for justice.

It's on the record now. Americans are not all heartless, cruel and stupid. Nor are we, therefore, without hope.

Previous column; GRAHAM GREENE IN THE AGE OF BUSH ... In the midst of a presidential race, a MobyLIves guest column by Eric Weinberger asks which of the candidates is likely to have read The Ugly American—and to understand its pertinence?


All material not otherwise attributed ©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.