Books,  The Right

The rise of the rightwing political thriller

At The New Republic, Jason Zengerle writes about how rightwing themes and messages have come to dominate the political thriller genre in the US.

When Vince Flynn recently finished writing his eleventh novel, Pursuit of Honor, he sent an advance copy to Rush Limbaugh, along with some special reading instructions. Upon arriving at Chapter 50, he told the radio host in a note inscribed on the chapter’s first page, “open one of your bottles of Lafite and grab a cigar and savor these words.” Flynn self-published his first political thriller twelve years ago but, today, has a seven-figure contract with an imprint of Simon & Schuster. He is to the war on terrorism what Tom Clancy was to the cold war, and his books tend to be popular with the type of reader who, like Limbaugh, watches the TV show “24” not just for entertainment value but also for political lessons. Indeed, the protagonist of Flynn’s novels, CIA counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp, exhibits such a talent for maiming, torturing, and killing Muslim bad guys that he makes Jack Bauer look like a simpering ACLU attorney.

After recovering from the shock of learning that Limbaugh drinks French wine while puffing on his Cuban cigars, I read on.

But, with Chapter 50 of Pursuit of Honor, Flynn appears to be angling for a new level of conservative street cred. The chapter finds Rapp sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has asked him to explain his torture of a Saudi terrorism suspect. After being scolded for his “immoral techniques” by Carol Ogden–a California Democrat (and thinly veiled send-up of Barbara Boxer) who “moved in the elite circles of her party, listening to the trial lawyers, academics, and the nuttiest of the crazy special-interest groups”–it’s Rapp’s turn to address the committee. “[W]hat do you think is more morally reprehensible,” he asks, “dislocating the arm of a terrorist … or sticking a steel spike into the brain of an eight-and-a-half-month-old fetus and then sucking his brains out[?]” Reminded by one of Ogden’s colleagues (a “jowly Senator from Vermont” who bears a striking resemblance to Patrick Leahy) that he is speaking in the august chambers of the U.S. Senate, Rapp shoots back: “I’m well aware of where I am, sir. This is where we not only say it’s perfectly okay for a doctor to kill a full-term baby, but we think taxpayers should help pay for it. … And you call me a barbarian.”

Glenn Beck approvingly calls this kind of writing “conservative porn.”

Zengerle notes that authors like Flynn are not necessarily counter-terrorism experts, but they play them on TV.

Prior to becoming a thriller writer, he worked in sales for Kraft Foods, but, these days, he routinely goes on Beck’s show and other Fox News programs as a national security analyst. “We have allowed the far left in this country to define torture down, to encompass everything,” he told Bill O’Reilly last December.

I recently posted about the leftwing thrillers written by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, so I guess that segment of the genre still survives.

When I was about 14, I read the political thrillers “Seven Days in May” and “Failsafe”– both huge bestsellers and both “liberal” in their political outlooks. The first is about an attempted military coup against an American president who has signed a treaty with his Soviet counterpart to destroy both countries’ nuclear weapons. The second is about an American president who orders the nuking of New York after an operational failure causes a US plane to nuke Moscow.

Reading them made me feel wise and grownup beyond my years, I suppose. But looking back across the decades, it seems that such books (like the James Bond series) are almost designed to appeal to teenagers who want to feel wise and grownup beyond their years– and that real grownups ought to be able to find better things to read.

Have things changed?