A Letter from Robert Burrows

I recently contacted Robert Burrows, the author of the novel Great American Parade, to inquire about buying wholesale copies to sell online. At the price he's quoting, I'll probably order around 10-15 so that more of the world can experience this gloriously strange book, which Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post calls "the worst novel ever published in the English language."

Burrows was kind enough to elaborate on his work, which he describes as a "satirical novel." Here's an excerpt from his letter:

My purpose in writing the book has been to persuade Americans that the Bush tax cuts -- especially the killing of the estate tax and now the exclusion of most or all of one's dividend income from income tax forever -- are a threat to democracy because such moves will entrench the economic and political power of a very small percentage of the republic so completely that a drastic imbalance in our government will be the result, a result very damaging to the vast majority of our people.

It's against such an entrenched aristocracy that the founding fathers worked hard to exclude, twelve of the thirteen colonies passing measures to outlaw primogeniture and entail before the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

That sounds reasonable enough, albeit strident, but doesn't provide any hint as to the means used by Burrows to persuade readers to his point of view. The novel centers on a Republican plan, devised by President George W. Bush on his first day in office, to spend up to $1 billion on a parade in which the 5,000 wealthiest Americans will be marched through the Capitol in ascending order of net worth.

The villains in Burrows' book are all well-known Republicans: President Bush, Dick Cheney, White House Cabinet members, and prominent Congressmen such as Dan Burton and James Sensenbrenner. All of whom think this parade is a great idea.

Instead of being evil or foolish, however, they come across primarily as weird. Behind closed doors, every leading Republican in the U.S. turns out to be a verbose, detail-oriented geek with a love for elaborate engineering projects.

For instance, consider this Chapter 3 speech by Burton to the other planners of the parade:

... Burton thought of a way not only to justify the tax cut on the wealthy but to be up front about it -- to glorify in the justice of it by a dramatic gesture that would bring widespread publicity to the just rewards of hard work and the success that it brings. He proposed his surprise ploy at the next meeting of the Congressional committee, held in the last week of March.

"Let's be up front in our support of the president's tax cut," he began. "We all support it; we believe in the justice of all income brackets getting a reduction across the board -- about the same percentage of cut for each income group. And you surely agree with me that the highest income earners deserve equal treatment. Remember the hue and cry of protest, even of outrage, that the top 1% would get cuts equal to the cost of a new luxury model car -- each year for ten years -- while the lower middle class would only get the equivalent of a Coke a week?" The question was rhetorical; of course he knew that they, too, had smarted under the attacks of the liberals.

"Well, here's what I propose. Let's give each of the five thousand Americans with the highest incomes in 2000 a brand new top of the line Audi, Mercedes, Volvo, or American car. Let's announce the awards at the parade dramatically, having all five thousand stand to acknowledge our tribute to them, our most highly honored guests of the day."

He let the suggestion sink in, then continued: "And here's the dramatic part. Let's make arrangements to have all the cars delivered to Washington the night before the parade. Have these big semi's that haul cars bring them in between two and four in the morning, having had all the streets near the Mall cleared of parked cars beforehand.

"Then they'll all be unloaded and in place well before the parade begins. And here's the capping point to my proposal." He stepped to an easel to unveil a picture of the street plan of the Mall area enlarged to 4 x 6 foot size. "Have these cars parked all along the Mall side of both Constitution and Independence Avenues," he continued, pointing to the locales as he mentioned them, "from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and from Constitution north past the White House on both the 15th and 17th Street sides, and around Lafayette Square and radiating out from Lafayette on the avenues that lead to DuPont Circle to the north, out Pennsylvania Avenue west to Rock Creek Park and east for half a mile."

He paused to let the audacity of his plan sink in. "Do you know how much space it will take to park 5000 cars?" he asked. "I looked into it carefully -- well over twenty miles!"

Again he paused as he placed a second 4 x 6 foot plan of the Mall area on the easel, this one with the rows of cars in place.

"We'll be able to have double rows -- parked together side by side on the Mall side of the whole extent of both Constitution and Independence Avenues. And here's the real clincher! I discovered that the cars -- in an order this large -- can be delivered in the standard colors that recipients choose but then sprayed gold -- all over -- a glimmering gold, symbolic of the place that the people we intend to honor have won in America. This paint can be removed, if one wishes, by any car wash operation using a special solvent that will be provided to those who wish to revert to the original color of their choice."

They all talk like this -- in Chapter 2, Sensenbrenner offers an idea for floats that use "hidden inflated tires" propelled by "specially designed tractors" equipped with "special silencers on them so that their motors could scarcely be heard."

I'm not sure what statement any of this makes about the dividend and inheritance taxes, but it's a compelling read. I can't wait to meet the student organizers who mount a protest to this parade and see how the mustache-twirling Republigeeks in Washington foil those meddling kids.

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