New York magazine's Jennifer Senor has written a devastating review of Lewis Lapham's new book, a name-calling screed in which he engages in the popular post-9/11 tactic of comparing one's opponents to the Taliban:
Now, just in time for the midterm elections, the collected columns of two passionate Bush critics, Lewis H. Lapham and Sidney Blumenthal, are landing in bookstores. Both, to varying degrees, suffer from a distorting case of Bush-phobia. Lapham's "Pretensions to Empire: Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration" is by far the more trying of the two. The editor emeritus of Harper's Magazine and its Notebook columnist for more than 25 years, Lapham compares the Bush administration to a "criminal syndicate" and Condoleezza Rice to a "capo." He likens the United States to "a well-ordered police state" and the policies of its Air Force to those of Torquemada and Osama bin Laden. He calls Bush "a liar," "a televangelist," "a wastrel" and (ultimately) "a criminal — known to be armed and shown to be dangerous."
Well. At least his point of view is unambiguous. But unless you agree with it 100 percent — and are content to see almost no original reporting or analysis in support of these claims — you may feel less inclined to throttle Lapham's targets than to throttle Lapham himself. For this book is all about Lewis Lapham: the breathtaking lyricism of his voice, the breadth of his remarkable erudition. He goes across the street and around the corner to confirm the worst stereotypes about liberals — that they're condescending, twee, surpassingly smug. "What I find surprising is the lack of objection," he writes of the misguided American public. "The opinion polls show four of every five respondents saying that they gladly would give up as many of their civil rights and liberties as might be needed to pay the ransom for their illusory safety." Wouldn't Lapham be a more interesting columnist if he took this finding seriously? And analyzed it, perhaps, giving it its due?...
People who are serious about politics don't just preen. They report, explain, explore contradictions, struggle with ideas, maybe even propose suggestions. If they do none of these things, they're simply heckling, and if the best Lapham can do is come up with 50 inventive new ways to call Bush an imbecilic oligarch, that's all he's doing: heckling. Like his worst counterparts on the right, he compares those he doesn't like to fanatics, as when he refers to David Frum and Richard Perle as "Mufti Frum" and "Mullah Perle," adding, "Provide them with a beard, a turban and a copy of the Koran, and I expect that they wouldn't have much trouble stoning to death a woman discovered in adultery with a cameraman from CBS News." Possibly, but provide Lapham with a blond wig, stiletto pumps and a copy of "The Fountainhead," and I suspect he wouldn't look much different from Ann Coulter. He's just another talk-radio host, really — only this time by way of Yale and Mensa.