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."