This past September, I shared with readers Doubleday's catalog copy for two spring books whose titles and descriptions suggested to me that mainstream conservatives were starting to mimic the right-wing minstrelsy of Ann Coulter—a hypothesis I was later able to confirm with respect to one of the books, Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home, which blames 9/11 on liberalism. My review, which described the D'Souza book as "loopy," was, as best I can make out, one of its more favorable notices. Conservatives, perhaps because they fear being associated with D'Souza's arguments, have been at least as dismissive of his book as my fellow liberals; in National Review, for instance, Stanley Kurtz called it "badly wrong" and "seriously misconceived," and in the New Criterion, Scott W. Johnson said it was "crude and sophomoric." (D'Souza answers his conservative critics here.) I take the right's evisceration as evidence that, despite D'Souza's walk on the wild side, the majority of mainstream conservatives continue to regard Coulterism as anathema. D'Souza probably isn't helped by the conservative movement's growing sense that George W. Bush's presidency is not turning out to be its finest hour. This is a moment to reflect and regroup, not to indulge outrageous arguments.
In other words, it's a dreadful time to publish the other Coulterish-sounding book that graced Doubleday's spring list: Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.
Bellow edited D'Souza's book in addition to Goldberg's. Is the harsh reception to D'Souza a factor in delaying Goldberg? Bellow says not. Indeed, he says he's rather pleased with the response to The Enemy at Home. "The fact that Dinesh got attacked as bitterly from the right as from the left was thrilling," he explains. "He challenged an important and hardened dogma on the right that there's no distinction between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims." Maybe so—most of the conservative criticism strikes me as more sophisticated than that—but D'Souza has replaced it with an important and hardened dogma that the United States should get over its hang-ups about becoming a theocracy. This is progress?
Although Bellow says politics was not a factor in delaying publication of Goldberg's book, he concedes that releasing Liberal Fascism on the eve of the primary season has its advantages, because by then the political environment will be more partisan:
Although the ground of the culture war is shifting somewhat due to political setbacks on the right, and it's not exactly clear what the emerging themes are going to be, what mix of domestic and foreign policy issues is going to be uppermost … I think it can be assumed that at least some of the tried and true themes, the traditional themes in both domestic and foreign policy, will be reenergized.
Translation: By January, the mud will be flying! Surely somebody seeking the Republican nomination will be saying something comparably stupid to Goldberg's notion that contemporary American liberalism owes a debt to Il Duce. And if the candidates won't, there's always Rush Limbaugh.
[Update, Mar. 22: Goldberg responds here. Money quote:
My book isn't like Dinesh's latest book. It isn't like any Ann Coulter book. It isn't what the Amazon description says or what the Economist claims it is. Or what Frank Rich imagines it is. It is a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.
Since Goldberg passes up the opportunity to deny that his book is what he, Goldberg, once said it is, presumably that description remains accurate:
The working title is Liberal Fascism. It's a two-part argument. In the first part, I plan to trace the authentic intellectual and political history of fascism, starting from the reality that Mussolini's fascism was conceived as an improvement upon socialism, not a departure from it. Also I'll explore the liberals' longstanding distortion of fascism's actual nature in order to delegitimize the Right. In the second — and much larger — part, my plan is to discuss how many aspects of modern Left-liberalism actually resemble aspects of authentic fascism.
Of course, it's always possible that by now the book has become the touching memoir of a deaf-mute missionary and his pet wildebeest in the African Serengeti of the 1920s. We'll just have to wait and see.
Trivia note: Goldberg alludes to once branding me a "hall monitor." The memory of that seven-year-old insult would appear to burn hotter in Goldberg's breast than in my own. The occasion was a column I wrote pointing out that Goldberg had recycled without attribution an error-ridden essay about the founding fathers' sacrifices that had been floating around at least since 1956, when Paul Harvey read it on the radio. (Nobody knows who wrote it.) Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe who also recycled the material, was punished with a four-month suspension. You can read my column dinging Goldberg and (if you scroll down) the response in which Goldberg branded me a "hall monitor" by clicking here.]