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Strong Ideologies Voiced in US Political Bestsellers


If you want to read a scathing critique of liberals in America or a bruising attack on conservatives you'll find plenty of books to choose from on U.S. bestseller lists. Everyone - from journalists to filmmakers to comedy writers - is voicing their political views these days and many are finding a huge reading audience.

The titles of today's political best-sellers leave no doubt about where the authors stand. On the conservative side, there's Ann Coulter's new book Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. There's also Sean Hannity's Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism.

Firing back from the left are Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose with Buskwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America, and Al Franken with Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Those are just a few of the outspoken authors who've published new books in recent months, and readers seem to be cheering them on.

Robert Newman heads Newman Communications, a public relations firm that's helped promote books ranging across the political spectrum. He believes the popularity of those books reflects a growing trend.

"The public likes a good boxing match,” he said. “They still want to see this back and forth, so we're having a boxing match, and then within a year or so we'll have a horse race going on."

It's no accident that Robert Newman talks about all those warring books, and next year's Presidential election, in terms of spectator sports. Thought-provoking volumes on both sides of the ideological divide are being published by serious scholars, journalists, and former government officials. But some of the most high profile books come from authors with a special gift for being entertaining. In fact, many have extensive experience - and a ready-made audience - from their work in other kinds of media.

Conservative Ann Coulter appears often on television news panels, where she's earned a reputation for being provocative. In her book Treason, she attacks the Democratic Party as a long-time haven for traitors, starting with the Cold War.

"The Democratic Party harbored traitors, defended traitors, promoted traitors, was morally blind to communism in Stalin's march across Eastern Europe,” she said. “It's a shameful history."

Media-seasoned authors can also be found in the liberal camp. Al Franken has been a comedy writer as well as a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Michael Moore has made well-known documentary films like Bowling for Columbine. In his book Dude: Where's My Country? he claims that despite the attacks of September 11, 2001, the terrorist threat in the United States has been greatly exaggerated.

"That was a horrible tragic event, but there has always been terrorism. There will always be terrorism in the future,” he said. “We can't undo our Constitution, we can't change the way we're living simply because there have been these terrible incidents. And I think the Bush administration has used 9/11 to get their right wing agenda passed."

Both sides of the political debate share at least one conviction: they've been feeling overlooked or outnumbered, and now believe they're gaining new momentum. Brian Anderson of the Manhattan Institute recently published an article in the quarterly magazine City Journal. He believes that after years of liberal domination, the media, including book publishing, have become more open to conservative voices.

"You have publishers falling over themselves to sign up conservative authors right now, including big publishers like Penguin and Random House,” he said. “The success of conservative books that were being published by Regnery, in particular, a longtime conservative publisher, I think woke up the industry. Regnery over the last 4 years has had I think 16 books on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list. So the publishers are scratching their heads and realizing maybe we're not serving a chunk of the market and it's time for us to get part of it."

Liberals point to recent victories of their own. Despite the fact that Republicans control the White House and Congress, anti-Bush books have dominated the top of U.S. bestseller lists in recent weeks. Among them is Bushwacked, co-authored by Texas journalist Molly Ivins. She charges that George W. Bush has pursued the same policies as President that he practiced as Texas governor with what she sees as disastrous results. She believes the reaction to her book suggests a shift in the public mood.

"A whole bunch of us just happened to come out at the same time with books critical of Bush, and we have just got an overwhelming response,” she said. “I think there really has been a sea change. I think we were all set to rally round the President, and then with the consequences of Iraq, obviously we're stuck in a situation that just doesn't look good at all, not to mention it's costing us a lot of money."

Robert Newman of Newman Communications offers another view of the ideological book battles. He believes liberal authors are bound to attract attention right now, just as conservatives did during the Clinton administration.

"I think it has given the writers on the left side enough time to put together what are in many cases very legitimate books, and in many cases books that take a small theory and probably blow it up a little too much,” he said. “During the Clinton administration, there was conservative book after conservative book of the party out of power. I think what the liberals have said is, 'Now it's our turn to come back.'"

So are all these political books changing any minds? Brian Anderson of the Manhattan Institute says the most extreme authors are probably being read mainly by people who already agree with them. But he also believes more serious books will appeal to a range of readers. And he thinks all this book buying is good for America.

"There is an audience for public affairs books out there, and there are enough liberals who will go out and buy liberal books, just as now there is a healthy conservative audience,” he said. “So I think what you're seeing is the emergence of a real vigorous public debate going on. Some of it strident, but a lot of it very healthy."

And Brian Anderson says that's what democracy is all about: a lively argument with an equal voice for both sides.