As Tea Partyers continue to dominate the headlines, Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, a popular left-wing blog, is rising to the challenge. His new book, American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right, takes aim at what Moulitsas thinks is animating this right-wing revival. He spoke with TIME about his strong stand against the Christian far right, the significance of its resurgence and what Ronald Reagan would have thought of it all.
You refer to a whole swath of U.S. conservatives as American Taliban. Is that really helpful?
Since 9/11, I've been hearing accusations over and over again that liberals like me want the terrorists to win. I have no love for fundamentalist Muslims I think they're basically hard-right Christians. There's a shared intolerance. Liberals like me don't want the terrorists to win just like we don't want the American Taliban to win. I don't think there's any reason to say it nicer. It's a two-word way to bring home just how dangerous these people are.
But we don't see these Americans blowing up statues of the Buddha or riding around in pickup trucks with AK-47s.
The fact is that their movement is predicated on the notion that violence is a viable alternative. Abortion doctors have been killed; there's an ammunition shortage across the country because some of these people are hoarding stores for the coming apocalypse. Sharron Angle [a Republican running for the Senate in Nevada] has warned that if voters don't elect the right candidates, they may have to resort to "Second Amendment remedies." The American Taliban may be more constrained by American society and laws than their Middle Eastern counterparts, but that's not a function of tactics, more just the society they live in. Their goals are the same.
What are these goals?
They want to impose their rigid ideology on us. There is a hostility to gays, to women having equal roles in society, to immigrants, to science and education, to free inquiry. There is a hostility to a culture that won't conform to their rigid worldview.
America has a long history of right-wing populist movements. Is this latest iteration that different from those that preceded it?
There's an embrace of the fringe that I don't think has happened in the past. There's a populist uprising against an African-American President whose middle name is Hussein that has brought out a lot of hatred and bigotry. Anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all-time high, perhaps more so than after 9/11, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it comes on the heels of Obama being elected. It's brought out fears of the other, of change, and it's made them into a very cohesive movement.
Much of the anger that gets articulated by Tea Partyers has to do with a sense of loss of freedoms. That's not a racial thing.
It's all rhetoric. If they were consistent with their rhetoric, I would respect them a bit more. They say spending is bad, but tax cuts for the rich are good. Make up your mind: Are deficits good or bad? They talk about the health care bill as a violation of freedom a public option would have increased freedom and choice. It's funny when they're fighting a mosque near Ground Zero. They clearly don't respect the Constitution. Anything having to do with habeas corpus is under assault. They're going after the 14th Amendment. The notion that they're freedom-loving is laughable.
I also think it's laughable that they keep on talking about Ronald Reagan as the patron saint of modern conservatism. I have sections of the book where I discuss how he would now be drummed out of the Republican Party because he was pro-amnesty, he met with our enemies, he wasn't rabidly anti-gay, he raised taxes. He was a downright left-wing radical compared to the current bunch.
You're a blogger familiar with the whole world of politicized or partisan media that has come to the fore in recent years. How crucial has that been to the success of this right-wing movement?
It's critical. They have created an entire media noise machine that has allowed them to create an alternate reality, where they have decided institutions like NPR and CNN or anything that does not validate their ideology are left-wing. And that's basically the entire media world outside of conservative talk radio and Fox News. And so they can live in these bubbles and convince themselves that Barack Obama is born in Kenya and other such conspiracies. Any sunlight or reality check on this craziness would clean it up quickly.
The problem is that people live on this media climate. Studies have shown conservatives get their news from a narrower range of outlets, whereas liberals have a wider mix. Part of the reason they've been so successful in creating this anti-Obama hysteria is that there's nothing like it on the left. Nobody can reach significant proportions of the liberal base the way Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck can reach the conservative one. It gives them a huge advantage in partisan battles.
Aren't conservatives just simply better at waging these battles?
Yes. The perfect example has been the reaction among other liberals to my book. They don't dispute the underlying premise that there are similarities between right-wing fundamentalists; they just wonder, you know, that we shouldn't be using such harsh language. My side is afraid of doing the hard-fought partisan battling that is necessary in this climate. Democrats are so desperate for fairness and approbation, while the Republicans are always up for the fight and project strength. It's an electoral loser to project weakness, time and time again.