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It Can Happen Here

One of my favorite parts of the Al Franken's Air America program was his Friday regular game "Wait, Wait, Don't Lie To Me" with (Pea

One of my favorite parts of the Al Franken's Air America program was his Friday regular game "Wait, Wait, Don't Lie To Me" with (Peabody Award-winning) Joe Conason . Then I read in my local paper that Joe will be in the San Francisco area this week signing his new book, It Can Happen Here (You lucky Minneapolis/St. Paul residents can see with Garrison Keilor today)

Joe previewed a portion of his book on Salon:

To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."

If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today -- along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.

Sounds interesting and relevant to today, doesn't it? Well, the NY Times, for reasons known only to them, offers a puzzling book review of Joe's book that damns him with the faint praise of essentially agreeing to his points but suggesting that Joe was a bit emotional in his characterizations. Yet another variation of the DFH meme: "He makes good points, but why does he have to use such severe words?"

We all know that a review like that can kill a book's sales, and sadly, we don't have the infrastructure on the left to buy up copies of our books and offer them for free to "think tanks" as they do in the right wing world. So it's up to us to support our liberal authors. If you can, please consider purchasing a copy of It Can Happen Here. Sean-Paul Kelley of The Agonist interviewed Joe Conason on Radio Agonist, available here.

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