After years of (depending on your viewpoint) taking the high road or being whipped wussies, liberals decided to engage conservatives on their own vast, profitable playing fields: the best-seller lists and the radio. For the first time, the number of books by lib-leftys—polemical screeds tending toward insult-joke titles, with garish pictures of their authors on the covers—seemed to equal those of your growly O’Reillys and your whinnying Coulters. This was a multimedia counter-assault of Johnny-and-Janey-come-latelys: It had finally occurred to someone—namely, Al Franken—that people driving home from work might want to yell sentiments antithetical to those emitted by Rush Limbaugh. Thus was born an entire radio network, Air America Radio, which scored modest gains in many markets (in Manhattan, WLIB’s ratings rose 170 percent) with concepts like the odd-couple teaming of Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and Public Enemy’s Chuck D as a Bob and Ray for the new millennium. Liberal radio also found an unexpected (and in more refined circles, undoubtedly unwanted) ally in Howard Stern, newly converted to anybody-but-Bush amid FCC crackdowns. Stern announced he would leave broadcast radio for satellite in ’06, there to intersperse his interrogations of Scores girls with anti-Republican sallies, for pay subscribers.
Rabble-rousers mixed media. Michael Moore followed up Fahrenheit 9/11 with the book Will They Ever Trust Us Again?; Franken followed up his book Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) by hosting an Air America programming slot, which was then—in the manner of Don Imus on MSNBC—televised on the Sundance Channel. Other progressive arguments and diatribes that moved copies in bookstores: Joe Conason’s Big Lies, Jim Hightower’s Thieves in High Places, and Molly Ivins’s Bushwacked: Life in George Bush’s America.
How does the counter-assault stack up? Except for the ever-galvanizing, politically born-again Stern, liberals on the radio are dreary, prone to rote and poorly documented Bush-bashing, and short on pop-culture references and the savvy that make Rush so dismaying and effective. The books are better: Conason, Hightower, and (when she reins in the tired “shrub” shtick) Ivins marshal facts and style against the enemy. Toss in the poundage of Clintonia—Bill’s My Life and Hillary’s Living History—and you feel that while it may have been the Republicans’ year to reclaim the White House, its former inhabitants and their allies took back bedside and coffee tables across the land.