This is not a review of Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" (Houghton Mifflin). It's not even a review of the reviews of Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America." Instead, it's a review, or rumination, on the suicidal self-absorption of the 21st-century Left, that enlightened camp that believes Dan Rather would never pass phony docs to manipulate an election, that liar-propagandist Michael Moore deserved that presidential box seat at the Democratic Convention, that John Kerry is the spine-endowed, if manicured, epitome of consistency, and that George W. Bush is a crypto-fascist. And that mindset has seized on the Roth book.
Gullible? That's a nice word for it. But not sanguine. Something keeps the Left up at night, but not visions of a biochemical attack at the World Series. That nightmare is too realistic. What the Left fears -- all the Left has to fear, as grand old reprobate Ted Kennedy put it, twisting the celebrated words of FDR -- is four more years of George W. Bush. The Village Voice captures this mood in its Roth review: The book "makes one feel that the worst for this country is not only possible but near." Again -- not a jihadist attack, but a second Bush term.
What connects Mr. Roth's fantasy-history with Election 2004? The novel explores what might have happened had FDR been defeated in 1940 by trans-Atlantic flight pioneer and Nazi admirer Charles Lindbergh. And? The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley clues us in: The "subtext gives every appearance of being an attack on George W. Bush." Old New Leftist Paul Berman, writing in The New York Times Book Review, elaborates: "Roth shows us how swiftly the rights and democratic customs of American life are lost, under the authoritarian guidance of President Lindbergh and his cloyingly named 'Just Folks' program." The program, he writes, "sets out to break up Jewish families and neighborhoods by scattering Jewish children into the Christian heartland." Persecution and pogroms -- fictional -- follow.
There is something gratingly noxious about depicting imaginary American-Jewish suffering at the hands of American Christians at a time when both Jews and Christians are increasingly targeted by specifically Islamic terrorism. But what have Roth's feverish fictions about a dovish-isolationist President Lindbergh -- who defeats hawkish-interventionist FDR -- to do with the hawkish-interventionist Bush administration? Berman writes: "You find yourself reflecting on the equally cloying Patriot Act and the hardships of immigrants from Muslim countries."
You do? Some might wonder what drives an apparently functioning brain -- after all, Berman is a MacArthur Foundation "genius" -- to link a junk-sci-fi plan for "scattering Jewish children into the Christian heartland" with the Patriot Act, a post-9/11 measure that has stymied numerous potentially cataclysmic terrorist conspiracies. Berman calls the Patriot Act "cloying"; I call it a lifesaver.
And what of "scattered Jews" and "Muslim hardships"? Critic-hysteric Frank Rich -- who praises "the light (the book) casts on this present American moment" -- also sees a parallel in the "alien" aspect to "many in the heartland" of both "Jews in the 1930s" and today's American Muslims.
But there's no way, in fact or fiction, to equate the experience of 1930s Jews with that of post-2001 Muslims. This isn't just because of a Muslim history of persecuting Jews. Or just because alarming numbers of Muslims today are sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, who hopes to eradicate Jews (and Christians). Or because Arab-Muslim countries were Third Reich allies. Or because Muslim anti-Semitism -- a feature of the Left -- has again made Europe a perilous place for Jews. The fact is, until Muslims leave the holy war against non-Muslims in the 8th century, we will have Muslim terrorism. Post-2001, that terrorism -- not the Patriot Act! -- has curtailed liberties, cost blood and treasure, and destroyed hard-won peace of mind. If this irrefutable fact results in Berman's idea of Muslim "hardships" -- profiling? surveillance? -- there's a reason: You will find it in the absence of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. As for Jews, their "hardships" -- 6 million murdered in death camps, to name one -- resulted from being Jews.
Such facts are invisible to a Left blinded by its hatred of President Bush. They read about a fantasy-fascist in the White House who persecutes the Jewish minority, and, instead of yelling "Claptrap!" they call for George W. Bush's head on an electoral platter. In urging Steven Spielberg to film the Roth book, New York Magazine makes this clear: The celebrated director "must literalize" -- literalize? -- "Roth's metaphors," the mag writes. "'1940' is actually 2001; 'Lindbergh' is, of course, W.; the craven antiwar lies of the American Firsters are in fact the craven pro-war lies of the American Enterprise Institute; and 'American Jews' ... whose rights and protections are slowly stripped away by a hostile government ... are, of course, Arab-Americans."
Actually? In fact? Of course? Sounds like a real plot against America.