"The applause was cyclonic."
~ Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
But really, it wasn’t. Observing the all-channel blowout of the Bush speech Thursday night, I was struck by the concerned expressions on the faces in the hand-picked audience, those who love George W. Bush with all their hearts, those who trust him, and those who know him.
Laura looking round to see how others were responding to some of the blatant yet oh-so-cheery socialism of the George W. Bush platform.
Jack Kemp seriously scanning his neighbors for signs of less than robust applause.
Veterans familiar with other political wars listening, but not fully embracing the deferment-laden Vice President and his line-jumping little buddy.
Bored delegates waiting for their pet program to be mentioned, and for the long speech to be called.
Many of the nanny-state, centralized federal answers that George Bush offered on Thursday — and for the last four years — seemed to fall flatter than hoped. Many in the Republican audience seemed to be, like recovering amnesiacs, privately disturbed by faint echoes of a once cherished mythology.
That bothersome old mythology was a worthy one. A federal government cautious about Constitutional affront and financial insolvency. A capitol reluctant to oppress at home and abroad.
George "Windrip" Bush is certainly a character. And in another era, another time of economic depression and international worries, Sinclair Lewis drew him most presciently and completely. Lewis created Senator "Buzz" Windrip, Presidential wannabe. Buzz Windrip reminds me and others of our own beloved "W."
As a child, I heard many stories about the Depression era — of hardship, of abject poverty, of heroic struggles to make ends meet. But I never understood the heroic struggle of ideas that made the thirties both tragic and memorable.
I never read "War is a Racket" by General Smedley Butler until I was an adult.
I never read It Can’t Happen Here.
Sinclair fictionalizes another election year, and traces the popular democratic process from republic to — don’t be alarmed — fascist dictatorship.
In Chapter 1, the "cyclonic applause" was the response of average Americans to a retired general’s impassioned claim that we are a great nation that "[arms] itself more and more, not for conquest — not for jealousy — not for war — but for peace!" Tommy Franks on the convention floor, anyone? "Epidemic patriotism" is offered in Chapter 2, Zell Miller-style.
In Chapter 7 of the novel, small town newspaper editor Doremus Jessup comments on a presidential convention with "great showmanship. P. T. Barnum or Flo Ziegfeld never put on a better." One wonders if Sinclair Lewis was somewhere chuckling at the monster American flag behind the un-Patton, Arnold Swarzenegger, or perhaps the podium rising phantom-like from the Presidential Seal for our all-powerful little President on the final night of the convention.
In Chapter 9, Candidate Windrip’s public appeal is explained. "[W] was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store." I don’t need to mention George W. Bush by name on this one.
In Chapter 12, the moniker of "Chief" is introduced for candidate Buzz Windrip, along with loud condemnation of the patriotism of those who don’t support him. It again brings to mind our own latently hostile, petulantly populist Commander in Chief.
The novel goes on, through Windrip’s election in Chapter 13, the willing adoption of centralized executive power, and then government-issue fascism, corporate, one each. Through the internecine Washington toppling of Windrip by another, and another, and the emergence of an underground liberation movement. The book concludes unresolved, with an appeal to an individual spirit as a fragmentary guide to action.
A romantic novel, of course. No guarantees.
Far better to have guarantees, like those promised by George W. Bush and his team of big government planners and determinists. More money for education, more central guidance to schools, more federal testing, monitoring, control, advice. More money for the military, and more security through more combat. More patriotism, and more health clinics. More work and more pay. More benefits and more handouts. Vote once and leave the rest to us. George W. Bush will even simplify the tax code for the working man and woman.
The promises of our homespun spinner of tall tales in the White House do have mass appeal. But judging from the faces of Republicans and Democrats and even Bush family members on the convention floor, not everyone there was 100% convinced. That’s the spirit!
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and writes a bi-weekly column on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com.