This exchange between Naomi Wolf and Melanie Morgan is what Greenwald and TPM have in mind.
Wolf: It gets back to what I was saying earlier about the nature of lying. Let's not forget that they got us into this war on the basis of a series of lies.... This weaving out of lies was a pretext for an invasion that served their own political purposes. In the wake of the invasion, they were able to terrify the American people, subjugate the American people, drive through a series of laws that dismantled key checks and balances, allowed overreaching executive power, and completely eviscerated what the founders set in place, thus weakening America.
Morgan: Keep attacking, keep attacking Naomi, because you're going to look great in a burka. You're going to look super in a burka.
Greenwald stresses the extent to which the fear of an Islamic takeover highlighted by Morgan's comment about burkas is an actual fear that [conservatives] have -- not a theoretical fear but one that is pressing, urgent, at the forefront of their worldview." It's surprising to see Greenwald, who is usually aware of the tremendous dishonesty of contemporary conservatism, be this naive. But TPM is no better. Steve Benen approvingly cites Greenwald, then Josh Marshall prints a reader comment about how this kind of fear of Islamic takeover is part of the "generalized fear of the other" that characterizes places like West Texas.
But the "Islamic takeover" meme is pure sham. The context of the Melanie Morgan/Naomi Wolf exchange is significant here. Melanie Morgan isn't any more afraid of an Islamic takeover than Glenn Greenwald, but she is eager to bait a liberal feminist like Naomi Wolf. There are times when I think that the no. 1 priority of conservatives is sticking it verbally to liberals--driving liberals crazy, making liberals "outraged," upsetting liberals, confusing liberals, or making them sputter. In this case, Melanie Morgan was seeking to wrong-foot Naomi Wolf by saying something that was both preposterous and bigoted while needling Wolf as a feminist critic of fashion (in The Beauty Myth). Saying that Wolf would "look good in a burka" was a "three-for" for Morgan and Morgan probably began working up the provocation the minute she heard Wolf would be on the show.
Conservative activists like Melanie Morgan, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh don't see radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, al-Qaida, Mexican immigrants, gays, or criminals as the primary "other" in their lives. They see white liberals as their primary enemy or other and have devoted themselves to baiting liberals since the McCarthy era. Martin Luther King's "content of our character" line, the analogy between Saddam Hussein and Hitler, bullying treason accusations, and images of Republican political omnipotence have just been a few of the things with which the right has been trying to bully white liberals into states of anger, political disorientation, and a sense of impotence.
But these kinds of baiting lines all have relatively short half-lives before liberal commentators begin to catch up. So, conservatives have to keep coming up with new modes of baiting and embarrassing liberals. Having seen right-wing posters at work as posters in Slate's Fray, I can say that conservatives actually work at coming up with new insults, accusations, and baiting lines. It's interesting to see.
But the right now has a special problem. With the failure of the Iraq War, failure of the Bush administration, failure of the surge, and upcoming failure in the 2008 election, the American right is encased in failure. As a result, all of the old attack lines have been neutered and conservatives are even more desperate than usual to come up with new ways to bait their liberal enemies. Yesterday, Melanie Morgan employed the image of American women wearing burkas. Tomorrow, it might be pedophilia, black guys watching too much television while in prison, French strikers, or Hillary.
True, there are probably a number of conservatives in West Texas or Western Kentucky who have bought the Islamic takeover idea. They're the same people who get upset about "family values," gay marriage, urban crime, putting the Ten Commandments in public schools, and any number of other right-wing hobby horses. However, the activists who manipulate these fears for a living will soon be promoting new anxieties and convincing new suckers.
Obviously, liberals should be willing and able to debate all these points. Conservatives are very good at making it seem like they care about these things. It's important to remember, however, that the most important priority of conservatism is attack and defeating liberals.