Media Ignoring Conservatives' Return to Dominance of Political Book Market

September 1st, 2009 10:44 PM

Conservatives are resuming their historically dominant position atop the New York Times and bestsellers lists after a short hiatus that coincided, not coincidentally, with George W. Bush's tenure in the White House.

While the mainstream media raved about a new era of leftist intellectual supremacy during the liberal ascendance on the bestsellers lists, the return of conservative books to the tops of those lists seems to be going unnoticed.

Amazon, which, unlike the New York Times, ranks books according to the number of actual copies sold, shows Glenn Beck's Common Sense rounding out the top, with Michelle Malkin's Culture of Corruption coming in a close second. Ron Paul's End the Fed comes in at number seven, Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny is at number nine, and at number 22 is Dick Morris and Eileen Mcgann's Catastrophe, which carries the blunt sub-heading, "How Obama, Congress, and the special interests are transforming... a slump into a crash, freedom into socialism, and a disaster into a catastrophe... and how to fight back."

The New York Times, which uses an opaque though accurate algorithm to rank its bestsellers, has Culture of Corruption at number one, Liberty and Tyranny at number five, Catastrophe at number seven, Bill O'Reilly's memoir A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity at number eight, and Robert Wright's less political but ostensibly conservative The Evolution of God at number 12.

The New York Times ranks paperbacks separately, and puts Common Sense at second on that list. Further down, at number 14, is Timothy Keller's The Reason for God, a spirited defense of Christian faith.

The left is reeling from this regression to the pre-Bush days, which also saw conservative dominance of the bestsellers lists. From 1991 to 2001, there were eight overtly conservative books that topped the NYT list, while only two liberal authors, Al Franken and Hillary Clinton, managed to publish number-one bestsellers.

All that changed as Bush's approval ratings began to decline and the Times's bestsellers list became a political battleground. From 2002 through 2008, 16 books by conservatives managed to take the number one spot on the Times's list, while 15 books topped the list that were written by leftist authors or were primarily criticisms of the Bush Administration or its policies.

In 2003, as Bush's numbers faltered, the left proclaimed its comeback on the bestsellers list. In September of that year, the Boston Globe proclaimed liberals "triumphant" against "conservatives' decade long hold on popular culture." The Globe was celebrating the upcoming bestsellers list that showed five liberal books in the top 15 hard-cover bestsellers. Many of them seemed to be about lies (Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them, and Joe Conason's Big Lies to name a couple).

In October 2003, Gersh Kuntzman gleefully proclaimed on that "the best-seller list, once the sole bastion of conservative screeds by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush ‘OxyContin is my Co-Pilot' Limbaugh, is now crammed with liberal broadsides. TO THIS UNABASHED lefty, it all adds up to one thing: We're back, baby, we're back! And, man, it feels good!"

With the Times's bestseller list boasting five liberal books out of the top 10, Kuntzman rejoiced at the thought that liberals would finally fight back, and would no longer "[keep] our mouths shut while the right-wing [takes] sole possession of God, the flag, national security and family values (things we think are pretty damn important, too - except, of course, God)." Interesting, after so readily bashing religion, that Kuntzman went on to compare his elation with a sailor taking "shore leave at the nearest brothel."

Yes, it seemed such wonderful liberal values were finally en vogue. Barnes and Noble, reacting to the outpouring of Bush-bashing literature in August of 2003 announced that it would set up ‘political science/cultural affairs' tables at its stores to feature the newest partisan works.

But conservatives have reclaimed their hold on the Times's bestseller page. The closest any of the top 15 hard-cover non-fiction books gets to a defense of liberalism or the Obama Administration is In Fed We Trust by David Wessel, which argues that the Bernanke Fed staved off an even deeper economic down-turn.

The intense rivalry felt during the Bush years was a symptom not of a long-term trend in political publishing, but rather the political trends of the time. Strong anti-Bush sentiment among Americans provided a strong market for anti-Bush writings.

"The books from the left strike me as an obvious reaction to Bush," conservative commentator Tucker Carlson told the Associated Press in 2003. "And for people who buy them, it's a way of voting against him in an off-election year."

With Bush gone, liberals no longer have a blatant target at whom to direct a coordinated literary and rhetorical assault. The rise of conservative works on the bestsellers list could be explained away as a similar trend (that is, distaste for Obama sells books, and his poll numbers have reached a new low) were it not for the fact that conservative tomes continued to do well during the first years of Bush's administration.

Given the Times's reticence to even review Culture of Corruption, Liberty and Tyranny, or Catastrophe, it does not seem that the mainstream media will seize on this trend as they did during the Bush years to proclaim the beginning of a new era of political thought-or the return to an old one.

Malkin reported recently that liberal authors have launched a campaign explicitly designed to bump her, Beck, and O'Reilly off of the Times's roll of top-sellers. She told me in an email today that she does not see a forthcoming shift in the treatment of successful conservative books, including her own, by the New York Times or other major media outlets.

"There's been a major shift in the political landscape. There's a hunger for a counter-narrative to the Hope and Change propaganda disseminated by the mainstream media. The New York Times is still deluding itself into believing that conservatives can't/don't read books.

"The Times will only cover conservative books when they start falling off its best-seller lists."