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Right-Wing Sucker Punch

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Edward Klein has written one hell of an exposé. His new book on Hillary Clinton, "The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President," insinuates epic mendacities, sapphic sex, fiscal improprieties and marital rape. All of that Klein documents either vaguely or not at all and is so beyond belief and good taste that the very fact his book is selling like proverbial hotcakes starkly exposes the anti-Clinton people as the village idiots of our time. It takes one to buy this book.

I did anyway. But I did so out of solemn duty and because I wanted to see if this book could possibly be as bad as its reviews -- not a single good one that I know of. The review in The Post, for instance, called it "a bad college term paper." And while that might be expected from the supposedly hyper-liberal Post, the same verdict was reached by the Economist, the vaguely right-of-center British publication. It began its review by letting its readers know just what it thought of Hillary Clinton: "There are lots of reasons to distrust or even dislike Mrs. Clinton." Then, having cleared its throat in such a fashion, it dismisses the tome and says that Klein "should be ashamed of himself."

The reviews are convincing. Klein has gone so far over the top that I, an acquaintance of lo these many years, am astonished. He is, after all, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and, by credential, a member of the august establishment press. He was also an editor at Newsweek, which is owned by the aforementioned Washington Post, so the magazine is next door to Pravda in the fantasy neighborhood where good right-wingers live. All this leads me to conclude -- Ed, you sly devil, you -- that Klein set out to expose the right wing for the gullible nincompoops they are. He has succeeded, and vast riches await him.

His book is flying off the shelves -- more than 350,000 shipped. The other day it was No. 4 on Amazon's bestseller list and was sold out at my sedate neighborhood bookstore when I checked. It has become a Rorschach of conservative madness -- proof that they will buy anything, no matter how badly done, that attacks the Clintons or liberalism. Klein's book is just the most recent example. He looked at conservatives the way P.T. Barnum looked over his audience: "There's a sucker born every minute," Barnum said. Ed is nodding all the way to the bank.

This calculating contempt for the IQ of right-wingers is not limited to opportunistic authors, of course. Last week it was demonstrated by Karl Rove, of all people. Speaking to the New York State Conservative Party, the president's most important adviser had this to say: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Actually, a Los Angeles Times poll taken in November 2001 showed Bush with an approval rating approaching 90 percent and Democrats almost as supportive as Republicans for going into Afghanistan and pounding the Taliban.

So Rove's crack is simply not true. I attribute it, possibly, to his deep, subconscious shame over never having served in the military or, more likely, a cynical appreciation that his audience would rather hate than think. So he patronized them, knowing that they would not for a moment connect such simplistic thinking to the quagmire of Iraq, the debacle of Social Security reform or the dash back to Washington from Texas so that George W. Bush could sign a bill attempting to keep the sadly brain-dead Terri Schiavo alive. The real reason such conservatives frequently wear Gucci loafers is that they cannot tie their own shoes.

If I were a right-winger, I would be offended by both Klein and Rove. But I am not a conservative, and so I can only wonder at their gullibility. Right-wingers are the useful idiots of our times and while they have their occasional left-wing counterparts, the lefties will not buy essentially the same book over and over again -- if only because they lack the funds. Maybe Klein has taken this as far as it will go. I hope not. My book on Hillary's romp with Paris Hilton will be out soon. It's hot.

cohenr@washpost.com

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