Assessing Nightstands & Books: A Serious Right/Left Divide


I have been interested in a number of large gaps in perception about American foreign policy and politics in general — and digging into them for a longish essay/polemic I am writing. While I don’t think that these gaps are just between the two major political parties — but exist even within both parties — this paper published by Third Way is pretty interesting, particularly the sections on foreign policy (beware. . .it’s 71 pages long).
I believe that there is a reasonable middle out there — but it has to be fought for — and can’t be a weak-kneed compromise between right and left. I’ve been stimulated — but not convinced — by Nancy Roman’s interesting call for a bipartisan foreign policy via the Council on Foreign Relations. I think her call needs to be “more savage” — but more on that later.
Yet at the same time, this chart stunned me.
Perhaps others have seen it before — but it looks empirically at the reading/purchasing patterns of liberals and conservatives. We just read very different things. Very few conservatives read Chalmers Johnson’s Sorrows of Empire. And while Clyde Prestowitz sold himself as a conservative who wasn’t buying George Bush’s foreign policy, his readers of Rogue Nation were liberals as well — not on the “right” side of the aisle.
Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars, Jim Mann’s Rise of the Vulcans, Bob Baer’s Sleeping with the Devil (of which I have just seen an early cut of a fictionalized account starring George Clooney), and Woodward’s Bush at War were among the relatively few that made it on to the nightstands of conservatives and liberals.
While I do believe that there is an enlightened centrism in foreign policy that is achievable and desirable, an “ethical realism” to borrow the term from my colleague and friend Anatol Lieven, there is still a huge gap in perspective and basic inputs to that perspective that will be tough to bridge. This will probably remain the case for a long time — until the nation is yet again shocked into a consensus groove.
More later.
— Steve Clemons