It must be tough to follow losing presidential campaign after losing campaign for decades. You see missed opportunities. You are dismayed by how phony people come across who are pretty decent in private. You see the same mistakes made over . . . and over . . . and over again. Ultimately, you must also get a little jaded as two very wealthy people square off in 2004 with only personalities being pursued in the campaign. It must be good therapy to write a book about your frustrations.
The bulk of Politics Lost recounts vivid moments from the campaign trail that Mr. Klein has experienced. He likes politicians being candid and unscripted in heart-felt ways. I do too. But I found that I got pretty tired of Mr. Klein being tired by all the lack of candor in the babble of badly scripted, badly acted speeches.
Beneath his fundamental point about permanent campaigning led by consultants being a bad way to run a campaign, there's a more fundamental point: If you win with consultant-driven campaigning based on personalities, you can't govern unless you get handed a national crisis on a platter. The American political process is broken. Few would disagree.
You needed to read a book to learn that? Well, hardly.
I was disappointed that the book missed addressing a more fundamental point: Why is the electorate willing to let politics collapse as a somewhat honorable activity? Some would argue that it's because the government counts less and less in terms of how it affects peoples' lives. Others would argue that politics is more like rooting for your favorite football or baseball team; it's a sport rather than a serious practice. I'm not sure, but I would have liked Mr. Klein's views on that question. But, alas, he doesn't like to look to the electorate very much. He prefers to pillory politicians, pollsters, and consultants.
If you like to see politicians and consultants on both sides of the aisle Gored and Bush-whacked in print, you'll like this book much better than I did.
on 28 June 2006
This book is a perfect example of Time magazine's ability to trivialize serious journalism -- all glitz, glamour, tinsel and trivia without a shred of individuality or intellectual insight.
It's a typical Time magazine one-simple-note theme: "the big bad consultants did it". That banality is supposed to explain the decline and fall of politics. It's as rational as blaming election results on rainy days. Despite his alleged years of experience, Klein was always a camp follower and never part of a winning political team. He doesn't understand campaigns include hundreds of petty little details that add up to victory or defeat.
Political campaigns are like building a brick house. The campaign focus is the "big picture" of a completed house, as in 1992 when Clinton stressed "It's the economy, stupid" and in 2000 when Bush emphasized "compassionate conservativism". For those in press release journalism, a big picture explains a whole campaign. Such reporters either ignore, don't know or have contempt for the real work and strength of a campaign in the thousands of bricks and timbers and boards and nails and other bits and pieces that make a finished house.
For example: Klein ignores Latinos, just as Time magazine ignores Latinos. An Arizona State University survey of 1,550 stories in Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report last year indicates only 1.2 percent were specifically about Latinos and only 14 percent of stories had any mention of Latinos. Even then, most were negative. But, anyone who looks at Jimmy Carter's 1976 winning margin in Texas needs to look at the voter turnout in the Rio Grande valley. Ignoring Latinos is like ignoring rain in the Sonoran Desert.
Take away that narrow margin in Texas in 1976, plus a few other narrow margins in other states, and the importance of Latinos becomes obvious. In 2000, Bush targeted Latinos in one of the closest elections in history. Latinos were one vital factor among many that produced victory; no single factor is ever dominant.
It illustrates the weakness of this book; the one-note focus on election consultants ignores hundreds of competing but equally relevant factors. This one-note theme is how Time editors simplify complex issues because they think readers are too stupid to understand the complexity of elections or anything else above a Grade 6 level of reading, 'riting and 'ritmatick.
At best, the book is a jackdaw of interesting tidbits, amusing trivia amd half-baked ideas. Obviously, it's a waste of time for anyone with a intellect above that of 'People' or 'Time' magazines. Time made a fortune by trivializing complexity, and Klein is obviously one of its finest employees. But, elections are complex events. So is good reporting.
If you like Time, it's an ideal book. For those who graduated from elementary school, you deserve something better.