Dec 12 2009

The Fight for America 2008

Published by at 10:04 am under Books

by Dan Balz & Haynes Johnson

I am not anything like a “political junky” and don’t watch much TV. I actively avoid listening to politicians since they tend to talk too much and say too little. Politics is important, but I can’t stomach the pompous talk, the omissions, the distortions, and the half truths. So, I tend not to be the best informed on what politicians are saying or doing. But, I like to think I investigate enough to vote sensibly and I occasionally write or call an elected official.
With that point of view, it should no be a surprise that I don’t read much about politics, but I did really enjoyed this book. It was written by two journalists who worked on the recent primary and general elections, and they provide an interesting ‘journalistic history’ of the incredibly long and costly process that eventually led to Obama being elected president. Their story starts before the candidates declare and essentially ends with the general election.
There is a lot of name dropping and explanations of who did what when, but the overall impression is of an immensely arduous process. Serious candidates are followed around continuously and every word examined for real or imagined slights or gaffs. Most anyone would make some number of stupid or insulting to someone statements in the course of two years! The press which is always looking for a story or headline is very quixotic; sometimes making a big deal and sometime ignoring a particular depending on the mood and story of the moment. Getting elected President is an unbelievable grind. Not sure how anyone survives it. Though I suppose the story just skips the inevitable down time; as there must be some of it.
Overall, the battle for the Democratic nomination was more intense and interesting than the general elections. The authors left me with the conclusion that Obama beat Clinton because he had a better strategy for collecting delegates and he executed it better. Clinton, on the other hand was probably over confident and certainly over staffed with talented people who didn’t server her well. They fought and schemed, but that was partly her fault for not organizing them well (and Bill C. Inadvertently helped to stir the pot.).
The world of political operative, planners, and schemers seems to a small one. The people who work on campaigns seem to jump from candidate or campaign, and to a lesser degree form party to party as candidates join or abandon the contests and they all know one another, have fought one another and sometimes greatly dislike one another. A small but probably very influential industry.
One specific I have to mention. Edward Kennedy’s reported advice to Obama when discussing whether or not to run: “You can’t get elected with a voting record!!” so run now. If you’ve had to vote on tough issues or emotional issues, you’ll create too many people who won’t ever vote for you. That’s a sad but probably accurate observation and portends more off the wall new comers like Palin, Fiorina, Whitman, etc.; people who have made a name elsewhere.
All in all the book tells an interesting tale. Not always inspiring, but with some inspiring snippets of speeches (primarily by Obama but also McCain’s concession speech).

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