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Commentary: Curmudgeon, cheer thyself

By PETER ROFF, UPI National Political Analyst

WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- The rightward shift of the nation has turned a once hopeful and bright generation of Americans into raving cynics.

It is either sad or pathetic -- the verdict is still out -- to see the evolution of some the brightest minds of their generation into journalistic curmudgeons.

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The politics of personal destruction, as it was called in the 90s, created a whole new breed of profane, outrageous liberal commentators who talk to each other in cyberspace with little effect on the body politic. They may stoke the fires of rage that partisan extremists try to keep alive in an unending cacophony of anti-conservatism but their invective goes largely unnoticed by the great mass of American voters.

They would likely level the same criticism at the right.

The sober commentary that appears in America's newspapers is a different animal. Widely read, it reaches people who shy away from cyberspace.

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In mid-January Michael Kinsley, once one of America's brightest and most thoughtful liberal commentators, penned an essay on whether liberals were more intellectual than conservatives.

"Liberals also tend to think of themselves as smarter," he wrote. "We are enlightened; (conservatives) slog through darkness." It is a premise with which his fellow leftward-hewing Starbucks swilling chums would likely agree.

The occasion for the piece was Kinsley's sudden recognition that "The non-fiction bestseller list is dominated by explicitly conservative political tracts."

At the same time, no overtly liberal book -- according to the Kinsley scale of political theory -- made the top 20.

For him this is troublesome. He suggests that a paradigm shift may be occurring and that conservatives are now the intellectuals while liberals are reduced to the status of "the unreflective know-nothings."

Allowing for the possibility that he was merely looking for a way to express a serious point in a tongue-and-cheek manner, he probably spoke too soon.

Filmmaker Michael Moore, an unrepentant socialist whose tactics would likely give Emma Goldman pause, is about to seize the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list with his book "Stupid White Men."

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I have not read the book but have heard Moore speak of it. It is an amalgam of the usual anti-American, anti-corporate, anti-conservative musings that have made him a wealthy man.

Other books that have recently achieved best-seller or near best-seller status include David Brock's "Blinded by the Right," Ralph Nader's "Crashing the Party," and a collection of what are probably best labeled commentaries called "9-11" by MIT radical Noam Chomsky.

It is not that liberals have suddenly reawakened to the idea that books have value and should be purchased. Nor have they eschewed the lending library for the local Borders. Even Kinsley concedes that the success of the conservative books occurs because they "are meeting the reality test of the market."

The larger point, which Kinsley misses, is that books about politics are now a mass-market business. Where Ted White's "Making of the President" might have shocked when it first appeared on the best-seller lists, such insider narratives are now routine.

The American people have demonstrated a thirst for clarity and a deeper understanding of the nation, the world and how it works. That they are turning in ever increasing numbers to books is a tribute to the rising level of education among the American people and to their increasing distrust of filters through which the events of the day pass before appearing in the newspaper and on television.

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Kinsley cites friends who are dismissive of conservative best-sellers, identifying them as little more than a rehashing of popular conservative television shows like "The O'Reilly Factor" on the Fox News Channel.

"They point out that liberals don't have a network of lavishly funded propaganda machines passing as foundations that subsidize the production of ideological books. Liberals don't have a pet publisher like Regnery to publish tracts masquerading as tomes."

What he fails to say is that they don't need them. They have a virtual ideological stranglehold on the American university. They have their own foundations, a vast network of political groups that publish reports and studies with a frequency and ferocity equal to their counterparts on the right. They benefit from the largess of corporate contributions that, in many cases, they then attack. And they control most of the major philanthropic foundations, some of which are endowed through the productive power of American industry.

Kinsley's observations are those of a curmudgeon who sees the ideological hegemony he so treasures threatened by a surging debate in the marketplace of ideas.

At some point in the 60s, the left claimed for itself the mantle of nobility. To them, their fights were always for a larger purpose and devoid of self-interest. For many years, the paralysis and inherent statism of what was called the right fed that perception.

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Now, as they try to move toward "the third way," they are made uncomfortable by the resurgence of the second way. Or maybe it is the first. In any case, discomfort, coupled with age, is turning them into curmudgeons. It is not the least bit attractive. It is also not the way to maintain the integrity of a philosophical movement.

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