cover image It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush

It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush

Joe Conason, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $24.95 (238pp) ISBN 978-0-312-35605-7

Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here envisaged a right-wing populist president, advised by a cunning political strategist and backed by a cynical alliance of religious fundamentalists and corporations, who uses security threats to consolidate dictatorial powers, destroy civil liberties and establish folksy fascism. This is a virtual blueprint for the current Bush administration, a "corrupt and authoritarian ruling clique" that accords the president "the prerogatives of a king," argues political columnist Conason (Big Lies ) in this lively, if overwrought, j'accuse . He surveys a long list of what he sees as Bush administration affronts to freedom and democracy: military tribunals, torture, warrantless wiretapping, politically motivated terrorism alerts, a war based on fraudulent pretexts, the Abramoff scandals, the handover of policy making to business interests and Christian zealots, tight secrecy coupled with a dissemination of propaganda through the right-wing media and a lawless contempt for constitutional constraints on the presidency. His indictment often hits home, but it's broad and indiscriminate, treating biased journalism, religion-tinged politics and lobbying scandals as signs of creeping fascism rather than age-old commonplaces of democracy. Conason delivers his usual cogent, hard-hitting critique of Republican misdeeds, but his insinuations of authoritarianism, coming just as the Republicans have been voted out of power in Congress, seem badly timed. (Mar. 1)