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The Librarian ()

Even the crustiest conservative must feel some slight twinge of sympathy for Larry Beinhart, as deft a practitioner of the thriller novel as political polemic as you're likely to find, but who's now aimed twice at successive George Bush's and both times hit Democrats instead. Most will recall the film Wag the Dog, which was based on his 1992 novel, American Hero. The premise, though Hollywood was less forthright, was that George H. W. Bush, James Baker, Lee Atwater and company dreamt up the Gulf War as a means of assuring re-election and brought in Hollywood folk to produce the show. In the movie version the war was necessary to distract the public from a sexual pecadillo. Of course, by the time Wag the Dog came out the occupant of the White House was instead Bill Clinton, he of the Hollywood friends, sex scandals, and, tragically for America, a half-baked attack on some guy named Osama bin Laden, who few of us were even aware of, never mind considering him an enemy worth bombing. This eerie confluence of fact and fiction led public opinion to congeal around the notion that what in retrospect should have been a wakeup call about how seriously the Feds took the al Qaeda threat, was nothing more than an attempt to change the topic from Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, and the rest. And so, at a moment when he was acting in the national security interest, Bill Clinton was rendered a laughingstock.

In this new novel, Mr. Beinhart offers us a thin caricature of George W. Bush, in the form of Augustus Winthrop Scott. President Scott is, of course, a tool of big money interests and when he makers an inappropriate comment of a sexual nature at a debate, putting his re-election in jeopardy, a cabal of billionaires moves quickly to put in the fix. The only one standing between them and the subversion of the democratic process is the brave liberal librarian of the title, who's been working for one of the rich guys and stumbles onto their secrets. While the ensuing action makes for a quite readable pulp fiction, kind of a Seven Days in May with Woody Allen as the hero, it is the unintentional parallels to the Kerry campaign that prove most amusing.

First, it was, of course, John Kerry who got himself in trouble with his debate remark about Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. But, even better, it was the Democrats who were dependent on big money donors, who funded the 527s and other "private" groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to defeat George Bush. Check out this real-life scene that seems almost a parody of Mr. Beinhart's novel, THE MONEY MAN: Can George Soros’s millions insure the defeat of President Bush? (JANE MAYER, 2004-10-11, The New Yorker)
On August 6th, a week after the Democratic Convention, a clandestine summit meeting took place at the Aspen Institute, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The participants, all Democrats, were sworn to secrecy, and few of them will discuss the event. One thing that is certain, however, is that the guests formed a tableau that not many people would associate with the Democratic Party of the past. Five billionaires joined half a dozen liberal leaders in a lengthy conversation about the future of progressive politics in America. The billionaires were not especially close socially, nor were they in complete agreement about politics or strategy. Yet they shared a common goal: to use their fortunes to engineer the defeat of President George W. Bush in the 2004 election.

“No one was supposed to know about this,” an assistant to one participant told me, declining to be named. “We don’t want people thinking it’s a cabal, or some sort of Masonic plot!” His concern was understandable: the prospect of rich men concentrating their wealth in order to sway an American election was an inflammatory one, particularly given the Democratic Party’s populist rhetoric. This private meeting of plutocrats was an unintended consequence of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law of 2002. Previously, wealthy donors had contributed “soft money” to the political parties, which controlled how the funds were spent. The reform legislation had banned such gifts, forcing donors to find new ways of influencing the political process.

The meeting’s organizer was Peter B. Lewis, the seventy-year-old reclusive chairman of the Progressive Corporation, an insurance company based in Cleveland, Ohio. He has spent much of 2004 discreetly directing millions of dollars to liberal groups allied with the Democratic Party, such as America Coming Together and, while cruising the Mediterranean Sea on his two-hundred-and-fifty-foot yacht, Lone Ranger. The yacht has communications equipment that allows Lewis to monitor political developments in America while sunbathing off the coast of Italy. Lewis, a major backer of efforts to decriminalize marijuana, has helped underwrite campaigns to hold referenda on decriminalization in Arizona and California. (In 2000, he was arrested in New Zealand for possessing marijuana.) According to Lewis’s friends, he concluded that it would be best to remain a shadow figure in the 2004 campaign; he has declined all requests for interviews.

Flying in from Arizona was John Sperling, an octogenarian businessman who in 1976 created the for-profit University of Phoenix. Sperling is also the co-author of a recent book, “The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro America,” which suggests that the 2004 election is a contest between “‘God, Family, and Flag’ folks”—who live in the South, the Great Plains, the Rockies, and Appalachia—and forward-thinking metropolitans who support “economic modernity,” “religious moderation,” and “excellence in education and science.”

Herb and Marion Sandler, a California couple in their seventies, came to Aspen looking for ways to give back to a country that had allowed them to prosper. The founders of Golden West Financial Corporation, a savings-and-loan company worth seventeen billion dollars, the Sandlers are devoted to the idea of preserving progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes.

The wealthiest participant at this meeting of hard-core partisans—and the one whose presence was the most surprising—was George Soros, the seventy-four-year-old Wall Street speculator turned philanthropist.
It would be nice to think this was just a little convocation of the civic minded, but in addition to the Sandlers' pet project of keeping the tax code the way they want it you've got Mr. Soros, who, like Mr. Lewis, wants to legalize drugs in America, and Mr. Sperling, who's a cloning enthusiast. What you have here are shadowy billionaires with bizarre special interests, opposed by most Americans, trying to buy an election for a candidate they expect to be pliable enough that their anti-democratic desires can be realized. Once again, Mr. Beinhart has presciently glimpsed into the future, but confused the political parties--the Democrats turn out to be who he thinks the Republicans are. Suffice it to say, this case of mistaken identity makes the book as enjoyable for conservatives as it was intended to be for liberals and, whether Mr. Beinhart's paranormal powers are predictive or telekinetic, leaves us anxious for his next book, which will presage the next Democratic disaster.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Political Fiction
Larry Beinhart Links:

    -BOOK SITE: The Librarian
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of The Librarian
    -ESSAY: The Real Republican Domestic Agenda: War on Roosevelt (Larry Beinhart, September 17, 2004,
    -ESSAY: The Silver Lining of the Democrats' Disastrous Defeat (Larry Beinhart, November 5, 2004, Baltimore Sun)
    -ESSAY: Wag the Press Dog (Larry Beinhart, September 15, 2004, Editor & Publisher)
    -PROFILE: Wag the Elephant (Nina Shengold, Chronogram)
    -REVIEW: of The Librarian by Larry Beinhart (NEIL GENZLINGER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Librarian (Eric Bates, Rolling Stone)
    -REVIEW: of The Librarian (Peter Mergendahl, Rocky Mountain News)
    -REVIEW: of The Librarian (Shawn Macomber, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of The Librarian (MATT BURGARD, The Hartford Courant)

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Larry Beinhart (
   -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Wag the Dog (1997 (

Book-related and General Links: