If you stop in at your nearby Barnes and Noble, you will usually find current affairs and political books prominently displayed on a table close to the front door. Inevitably, there will be a slew of books with titles like “How George W. Bush turned the U.S.A. into the Rottenest Country in the World” or “Why the Republican Party is Making You Sick”, etc. written by people from Air America, the Nation Magazine or Salon.com. Since the Republican Party has become so tainted by nearly 8 years of malfeasance in the White House, conservative books have suffered a bit of an understandable decline.
What you will not find is anything quite like Dennis Perrin’s “Savage Mules”, a slashing attack on the Democratic Party so badly needed in a time when so many false hopes are now invested in the party of “peace” and “progress”. “Savage Mules” is a pithy, sharp and funny survey of Democratic presidencies (and failed bids) going back to Woodrow Wilson that takes no prisoners. While it was written prior to the rise of Obamamania, it would certainly provide a useful corrective to a “change” campaign that seems to be recycling the centrism of the past 30 years at least.
Perrin is writing in the tradition of Howard Zinn and other radical critics of American corporate power but has his own voice that is really unique. It shares the outrage of a Jon Stewart or a Bill Maher (for whom he used to write jokes) but dares to go where they dare not.
While many liberals admit that a Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton does not exactly represent traditional Democratic Party values, Perrin does not hesitate to go after FDR who was recently eulogized in a special issue of the Nation Magazine where the New Deal was described as “perhaps the greatest democratic experiment of the twentieth century.”
Somehow, Japanese-Americans were not part of this great experiment as Perrin points out:
It wasn’t enough to depict the overseas Japanese as crazed insects and snakes trying to devour the world; Roosevelt decided to wage war on the domestic Japanese population as well, a large number of whom were American citizens. To this day, there are people who remained shocked and dismayed over the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans (though many contemporary right-wingers see nothing wrong with it, and wish that Arab-Americans could meet the same fate). But really, is that surprising, considering the tenor of that time? And does it seriously stun anybody that a “liberal” like FDR oversaw such a policy? As we have seen, and will further discover, American liberals can be, and often have been, as authoritarian and as brutal as those they deem politically dangerous. Rounding up civilians and throwing them into camps is nothing to the liberal imagination. It may be one of liberalism’s more benevolent traits.
“Savage Mules” is a reminder of why books remain so necessary in a time when the Internet is widely perceived as making them obsolete. While it might be possible to track down the information contained within the pages of Perrin’s book over a week or so, that is a job that most people would prefer to avoid, especially if they still harbor illusions in a Barack Obama.
But by packaging together devastating portraits of Democratic presidents and would-be presidents in a single book that can be passed on to fence-sitting friends and co-workers, Perrin has performed a very useful service for the left. Every college student who is disgusted with the Democrats and who identifies with the McKinney or Nader campaign will want to have this book in their arsenal. The next time a dorm-mate strolls into their room with an Obama button pinned to their lapel spoiling for an argument with them about why their candidate is ruining the chances for a New America of peace, freedom and social equality by helping to elect John McCain, all they need to do is hand them Perrin’s book with the simple injunction: “Read this”.