My thanks to the late Clive Barnes, the dance-theater critic at the New York Post for this observation that can apply to all of us newspaper reviewers:
"The job's impossible and one must pray that one will be only moderately incompetent."
It's Happy Birthday to the Works Progress Administration, 75 years old in 2008. The WPA, once a relic of the New Deal of the 1930s is appearing more relevant in these days as the feds rush a patchwork of bailouts and handouts to shore up the banking system, now imitating its 1929 ancestors.
Anniversaries are great excuses to write books, so here's a few to consider.
Straight-forward history is the aim of "American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA When FDR Put The Nation to Work" by Nick Taylor (Bantam, $27). No real political cant, but a chronicle of the Roosevelt administration's efforts to fight old man Depression.
"The Woman Behind the New Deal" by Krisin Downey (Nan Talese/Doubleday, $35). Subtitled "The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience," Downey's book follows Perkins as she helped to create Social Security. Another positive take on Roosevelt's efforts. It will be published in March.
Not the case with one Burton Folsom Jr., author of "New Deal or Raw Deal: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America" (Threshold Editions, $27).
The imprint is evidence enough that this is just another selection from the long-playing broken record made by the Neanderthal division of the American right, rendered apoplectic since FDR was elected in 1932.
The other proof is Folsom's employer, Hillsdale College, an outpost of 17th-century ossified political thinking and reactionary social views in Michigan. It makes Geneva College look like the Sorbonne.
Several years ago, the American publishing industry tapped into what seemed to be the lucrative market of right-wing readers who happily bought books heralding the glories of deregulation and ethics of Tom Delay.
Simon & Schuster came up with Threshold and named Republican political hack Mary Matalin titular "editor." She's married to Democratic political hack James Carville.
Matalin's accomplishment was standing by as S & S recklessly produced "Obamanation" by the thoroughly discredited Jerome Corsi, of "Swiftboat" fame. "The goal (in writing the book) is to defeat Obama," he told the New York Times. "I don't want Obama to be in office."
Gee, that worked out well.
Matalin explained her "role" at Threshold to Timothy Noah of Slate:
"My title is somewhat misleading, but it is the one the publishing industry uses. I do not deal with any mechanics (like print runs, reprints, financial relationship with authors), or for that matter, editing of the Threshold books. I am more akin to a consultant relative to the issue of potential interest among political readers."
Whew. Glad we cleared that up. Matalin's responsible for nothing.
As Noah observes:
"The conservative movement has won the publishing houses' attention but not their respect. Does it even care?"
For another view of the New Deal from a conservative, yet less rabid politically, try "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression" by Amity Shlaes, now in paperback
Another imprint is Crown Forum, publisher of that deep political thinker and former film critic Michael Medved and his new one, "The 10 Big Lies About America: Combating Destructive Distortions About Our Nation."
The only conclusion to be drawn from this book: 10 big reasons why Michael Medved should resume his movie reviewing career.
The question now is, Do the sweeping victories of Democrats across the country herald the end to these efforts to publish out-of-touch rightwing ax grinders or will the Obama presidency energize the reactionaries?
One small peep has already been heard. the redundantly titled "How to Survive Obama: The Emergency Survival Guide to Surviving the Obama Presidency" has been made ready by Richard Levine and Fredric Marks, creators of the HowtosurviveObama.com Website.
Some original tips include saving money, paying off debt, depositing cash in FDIC-insured banks and stock up on emergency food. Maybe the authors weren't taking those steps while the economy prospered. We'll be collecting bags of lentils to send them for their food pantry.
Sarah Palin fans, watch out. The Clown Prince of the Republican Party, the Rev. Mr. Mike Huckabee is planning to throw his straw hat into the 2012 presidential sweeptakes with this book, "Do The Right Thing" (get it?). Penguin's conservative imprint, Sentinel, is publishing it for $24.95.