Imagine a gang of uppity, beer-swilling, womanizing early thirtysomething yahoos decided to get a political unknown elected President of the United States. They did.
Joe Klein is more famous for the Clintonist Roman a clef “Primary Colours”, (He was Anonymous.) but he is primarily a US political reporter, and Politics Lost (2006) is a book covering his experiences, and more importantly, his disenchantment with the moronisation of modern US politics.
We slate the Americans on this side of the Atlantic, but Politics Lost is a fine example of what the Americans do best. Go into a bookstore in New York, and you’ll be swamped by short, entertaining books of both the right and left discussing politics and the way things should be. When was the last time an Irish politician dared actually tied himself to any but vacuous guff?
The book starts with a heartrending description of Bobby Kennedy telling a crowd of black voters in Indianapolis that Martin Luther King Jnr. had been shot and killed. Kennedy, whom the police chief refused to provide protection for, insisted on speaking in a black area, and gives an shocking unpolitically saavy but heartfelt speech to the crowd, and Klein points out that such a politician could not get elected today, as the media would crucify him for his unsanitized real feelings being voiced.
Klein then gives a fascinating picture of Patrick Cadell (Who later became a consultant on The West Wing.) who, along with Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, all in their late twenties/early thirties, got Jimmy Carter, an unknown one-term Georgia governor, elected President. Klein focusses on Cadell, very much the High Priest of modern in-depth political polling, and how his skills were able to help Carter et al completely sidestep the Democratic establishment and get an outsider elected.
Klein takes us right through to Clinton era to the 2004 election, deftly demonstrating how the perfecting of the election winning process is strangling the ability to actually run the country afterwards.
One of those books that’ll have political junkies reaching for the highlighter.