December 18, 2005


Public enemy: Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel 'It Can't Happen Here' envisioned an America in thrall to a homespun facist dictator. Newly reissued, it's as unsettling a read as ever (Joe Keohane, December 18, 2005, Boston Globe)

PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on, all the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American. He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.'' Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''

While more paranoid readers might be tempted to draw parallels between this scenario and sundry predicaments we may or may not be in right now....

We're with Babbitt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2005 12:00 AM

Notice that throughout all that verbiage the critic fails to mention that this hated character, Berzelius Windrip, is a Democrat. Just an oversight, I am certain. Nor it is said that we enjoy our current tiff about the Supreme Court because FDR didn't get his wish of expanding the Court on Presidential whim. My, how clever this Keohane thinks himself, and yet his piece is riddled with oversights.

(Just to be fair to this guy, I read the whole article in question, and no, none of the criticisms I addressed are corrected in the full text. Readers of the Boston Globe will be convinced that the villain of the piece is a Republican, as they always seem to be in that little world.)

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at December 18, 2005 11:47 AM

Another sign that Leftists have finally realized that their attempts to equate 1984 with GOP-led administrations have failed. So the solution is to reach farther back in time for their literary comparisons. I would guess this guy at first tried Brave New World but quickly realized even Boston Globe readers wouldn't buy the parallels. (And correctly assumed they'd think Animal Farm is a children's book.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 18, 2005 12:33 PM

"Intellectually, I know that America is no better than any other country; emotionally I know she is better than every other country."
Sinclair Lewis (1885 - 1951)

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at December 18, 2005 2:18 PM

Mr. Ortega;

I'm with you. The first President to come to mind while reading this was FDR. I realized, of course, that I was supposed to think of President Bush, but then the bit about "consolidating the media" was just too much.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 19, 2005 12:36 AM