Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Primarily uncolorful

Once upon a time, politicians spoke their minds without the interference of consultants, and books about them were written anonymously. Then everything changed, as spontaneity was taken out of political messages, and the mystery was taken out of who wrote Primary Colors. Speaking of Joe Klein, I read his latest, Politics Lost. It's about the fine-tuning of Presidential campaigns since the mid-1970s, and how the right mix between candidate and message is so hard to achieve.

Invoking two sacred orators -- Harry Truman and Robert Kennedy -- Klein speaks fondly of a time when politicians were unafraid to show their flawed side in their speeches, and their audiences responded positively. While this local color still exists, it is often washed out by political handlers and focus groups.

Klein argues that Presidential elections are won by the side with the better campaign. This implies that there are no juggernauts in politics, and that, at some point in any election, the nation could really vote either way. (I refuse to believe that Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis had a chance.)

Eventually the author gets to the juicy stuff: what went wrong for the Democrats in 2000 and 2004. Basically, they did everything wrong. Al Gore tried to have it both ways: he disassociated himself from the Clinton presidency for character reasons, but still wanted to bask in its goodwill. His best campaign issues were unveiled too early in the campaign, and were often too erudite, even for the press. John Kerry tried to argue both ways. He was overhandled by a large number of people who didn't know him. His calculated choice not to respond to the lying Swift Boat veterans cost him dearly, and by the end he played right into the role of flip-flopper. That each Democrat still came within votes (or uncounted votes, depending on who you ask) of winning tells you how hard the Bush campaigns had to work to win.

The final chapter has little or nothing to do with the rest of the book: Klein lays out the follies of the Bush administration, and can't help but sound bitter. While it was nice to see a catalog of every morally reprehensible thing that was probably done, it came out of nowhere, and made the rest of the book less profound.

Maybe there are times when it's better to use anonymity.


rebeccajohns said...

Neel, if I lived in Vegas, I would invite you for a game of hold-em.

Neel Mehta said...

I hope you're talking about cards, because you're a married woman.

rebeccajohns said...

See, this is why I would want to have a game with you.

And yes, I was talking about cards.