The Obama-Bashing Book Bonanza
D’Souza, naturally, doesn’t see it that way—he believes liberals have shown their closed-mindedness by writing him off. “The problem has to do with the intellectual polarization in the country that makes a book like [Illiberal Education], I think, unviable today,” he says. “When I wrote Illiberal Education, the liberals were willing to consider that there is a real problem—not just in the university, but with multiculturalism and diversity itself. That allowed an intelligent community of liberals and conservatives to read my book, as well as Allan Bloom’s book, as well as liberal books that came out at that time on that topic. The problem now is that, if I were to write Illiberal Education, it would not be reviewed in The New Republic; it would not be reviewed in the liberal press. And I wouldn’t care, because I don’t need those reviews.”
Indeed, his new audience is more lucrative for him than his old one. “A lot of the educated class across the spectrum was looking at that book,” he says of Illiberal Education. “I didn’t have conservative truck drivers buying that book.” His Obama books, by contrast, have opened up new markets. “They’re appealing to my normal base of conservative, educated professionals, but they’re also reaching out to a lot of guys who normally don’t buy hardcover books, but who are very anxious about Obama.”
This anxiety—or, one might say, hatred—is a huge driver of sales. “While a lot of conservatives did not agree with Bill Clinton’s politics, I do not think there was anywhere near the level of concern about the future of the country,” says Ross. “I think that does add some fuel to the fire in terms of encouraging people to buy not just one anti-Obama book but several, and to share them with their friends.”
The appetite for more and more of these books creates a sort of arms race: to break through, they have to ratchet up the calumny and explore new avenues of insult. Thus D’Souza’s new book has a chapter, “Mommie Dearest,” essentially calling Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a fat slut. Describing her life in Indonesia, he writes, “Ann’s sexual adventuring may seem a little surprising in view of the fact that she was a large woman who kept getting larger.” But D’Souza thinks he understands the source of her appeal, writing that she used “her American background and economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention of Third World men.”
There’s nothing in Janny Scott’s biography of Dunham, A Singular Woman, to suggest that this vicious depiction is true, except perhaps that her romantic life did not end after her second divorce. Scott quotes a friend of Dunham’s about how men would hit on them: “We would joke about people bothering us and thinking we were going to be these wildly sexually active folks,” the friend said. “We weren’t very wild.”
Even if Dunham had slept her way across the Indonesian archipelago, however, it’s hard to see how it would be relevant to the story D’Souza purports to tell about Obama’s subversive background, since during that period, he was living with his grandparents in Hawaii. D’Souza acknowledges, in a derisive way, that what kept Dunham in Indonesia was her work as an anthropologist, not her purported affairs. “Although Ann typically dated younger Indonesian men, it would be wrong to say that she sent young Barack to Hawaii so that she could pursue the life of a Western ‘cougar,’” he writes. “Clearly Ann’s bigger motive was her career.” So why the prurient rumor-mongering about her sex life? Perhaps because when you’ve run through every conceivable slur, calling a man’s mother a whore is all you’re left with. For a writer like D’Souza, who in his 2007 The Enemy at Home expressed sympathy with the sexual mores of conservative Islamists, it is the ultimate expression of contempt. And contempt, in ever more potent doses, is what these books are selling.
That’s why, for those in the conservative book industry, the supposedly capitalism-hating Obama is extremely good for business. Regnery just published another anti-Obama volume, Kate Obenshain’s Divider-in-Chief: The Fraud of Hope and Change. After that, the future looks uncertain. “The double-edged sword of being a political publisher is, as you can imagine, it’s really tough to figure out what to publish in the first few months of 2013,” Ross says. Asked if it’s better for the bottom line if Obama is re-elected, she doesn’t hesitate. “Yes. It may not be better for the country,” she adds, but yes, “we often say that.”
In this same issue, Michelle Goldberg also reviews Robert O. Self’s All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s, which narrates how the American right’s obsession with male status legitimated the transition to a neoliberal ethos.