Conservative talk show hosts and newspaper columnists have made an industry out of incessantly deriding the American left, citing liberals for everything from moral decay to bad economic policy to a soft approach on terrorism. Often these accusations are bound in book form and sell quite well. Only one problem, according to Salon.com and New York Observer writer Joe Conason: the charges they're leveling just aren't true. In Big Lies, Conason dissects 10 of the most persistent, and--according to him--glaringly incorrect, arguments made by conservatives. Each chapter begins with a quotation ("Liberals control the media and misuse their influence to promote left-wing politics," "Conservatives are the only true champions of free enterprise"), which is then picked apart using statistical evidence and detailed historical research and rejected. The modern right wing, in the opinion of Conason, is not the bastion of virtue and defender of the common man it claims to be. Rather, it is a calculating and shrewdly efficient group of propagandists fueled by revenues generated by a system that rewards cronyism. Granted, it doesn't take much to deflate the bombast of shrill political talk show hosts whose very living depends on making shocking accusations about public figures, a couple of raw facts usually does the trick, but Conason offers more than simple refutation, going deeper to challenge the presumptions that generate such platitudes. And he navigates a highly readable and informative writing style that feels more substantive than Molly Ivins and Al Franken but still a lot wittier than Noam Chomsky. Many of Conason's arguments, like those of his foes, naturally come down to matters of opinion, and published material can readily be found to back up nearly any perspective. Nonetheless, he presents clear and logical points, and his thinking is well supported by both the historical record and empirical data. Accusing Joe Conason of lies (of any size) would certainly be a difficult task. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
Liberals are fighting back, and Conason, a columnist for the New York Observer and Salon, delivers what he hopes will be a knockout blow to Ann Coulter (whom he accuses of "manufacturing... sham outrage for personal gain and political advantage") and her liberal-bashing comrades on the right. He lands some fine punches as he turns what he terms their "lies" back on themselves, amassing evidence that it's conservatives who are the elitists, who hold sway in the media, who violate family values (though Conason's chapter on what he casts as the hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich and his cohorts, trotting out one sexual transgression after another, quickly becomes distasteful). Conason's case is substantial, especially in dismissing conservatives' espousal of the free market-arguing that what they really support is selfish crony capitalism (he indicts the Bushes at length)- and in reviewing of Clinton's strong anti-al-Qaida campaign to counter charges that he was "soft" on terrorism. (Liberals will find it particularly delicious that then senator John Ashcroft led the battle against Clinton's effort to get government control over encryption software on civil liberties grounds.) But most of Conason's points are already well rehearsed, though liberals may find it useful to have them gathered in one volume. Despite conservative Republican election victories, Conason argues, polls show that most Americans sympathize with liberal positions on issues from the tax system to the environment. Still, it's not clear that what eventually becomes a tiresome litany of the sins of the right is the best way to remind Americans of where their sympathies really lie.
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