November 21, 2004

Roth book misused to mourn election

Rebecca Phillips wrote in last Friday's Maroon ("America ‘le ridicule,'" 11/11/04): "[D]espite the Kerry-Edwards button defiantly pinned on my winter coat, I knew that it was over. It wouldn't be until the next day that the French newspapers would go to press with headlines such as ‘4 More Years: What Europe Feared,' but on the train ride home from the University, my professor was already asking me the question with which I will probably grapple until I am safely governed once again under a Clinton White House: ‘How did this happen?'"

Professors asked this of their students at Chicago, too. How did it happen? Well, many people, some of them Chicago students, did as P. Diddy urged and went to the polls, and, among these voters, more chose Bush than chose Kerry.

Phillips continued: "Having just finished Philip Roth's newest politically-charged novel, The Plot Against America, I was tempted to yell ‘FASCISM!' at the top of my lungs, but decided against it. Because the miserable and terrifying truth is that we cannot blame the Bush family fascism, the Cheney-Rummy politics of fear, or even the Swift Boat Veterans Against Kerry for what happened on November 2. No, what the United States is suffering from is a case of good old-fashioned American democracy."

Oh dear. I was hoping she'd decided not to yell "FASCISM!" because doing so would be idiotic on so many levels…but first, it's clear that Phillips was not paying much attention to what Roth had to say.

While Philip Roth has stated that, personally, he is not impressed with President Bush, and while he's claimed that his latest novel is not meant to be read as a guide to the current political scene, the book reads far more as a warning against isolationism and populist anti-cosmopolitanism—both of which currently reside primarily in the anti-Bush camp—than as an invective against the sort of conservatism guiding the Bush administration.

In the novel, isolationist, anti-Semitic, Nazi-sympathizing pilot Charles Lindbergh, not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is the U.S. president during the Second World War, and life for Jews in urban America is oppressive, to say the least. The Lindbergh platform consists of accusing FDR of being a warmonger and a puppet of the Jews. Bush, not Kerry, has been frequently subject to those accusations, and throughout the novel, the Lindbergh supporters summon the image of anti-war protesters ranting about neo-conservative cabals far more than they make one think of, I don't know, the oppressiveness of faith-based initiatives.

I could go on forever about the Roth novel, but now, back to Phillips' accusation of "Bush family fascism." It's all well and good, when studying abroad, to pick up a bit of the local culture; it is not required of all Americans living in France to declare that the Bush administration is fascist. Such an accusation seems especially absurd given current levels of French anti-Semitism, which arguably exceed levels in this supposedly fascist country.

(I for one was far more shaken up after I realized the seat I'd chosen on a Paris commuter train last fall was right below graffiti that read "Mort aux Juifs," meaning "Death to the Jews," than I was this fall after learning that Bush had been re-elected.)

But seriously, the governments of neither contemporary France nor the contemporary United States could fairly be described as fascist, and disappointment in the election results is no excuse for throwing out such an accusation. Americans voted, Bush won, and no, he has not declared himself Emperor, Fuhrer, or Sun God, and he will be out of office in approximately four years. He may be stupid, he may be a P.R disaster from which America will take years to recover, and he may have screwed up enough over the past four years to cause me to (unenthusiastically) vote for Kerry, but it takes more than being a failure to be a fascist.

Phillips continues, with musings about the differences between France and America. I happen to agree with the French when it comes to all this enforced secularism, but I see where Phillips is coming from when she says how difficult it was for her to ask for time off class for the Jewish High Holidays.

(Had the real fascists won, there wouldn't be any High Holiday services whatsoever in France, but that's another story.)

Phillips concludes, though, noting that "there is always the hope that the Cheney-bot will have a mechanical malfunction in an airport metal detector, Dubya's fake Texas accent will be exposed when he is caught lip-synching on SNL, and the entire Northeast will secede from the Union to join the United States of Canada."

It's OK, Phillips, I'm sure the French realize that you're one of the few "good" Americans. So if anyone who meets you over there runs across your latest column, you'll have nothing to fear but fear itself.