From Publishers Weekly
The people castigated in this lively but self-contradictory jeremiad make up the "pollster-consultant industrial complex" of political handlers responsible for today's bland, prefabricated candidates, carefully stage-managed campaigns and vacuous, focus-grouped policy proposals. Political reporter and Time pundit Klein (Primary Colors) traces the political consultants' influence through pungent insider accounts of presidential campaigns from 1968 to the present, throwing in plenty of his own armchair quarterbacking of triumphs and fiascoes. Throughout, he deplores the deadening of American political culture and celebrates the few politicians, like Ronald Reagan and John McCain, who occasionally slip the consultant's leash, blurt out an unfashionable opinion, take a principled stand or otherwise demonstrate their unvarnished humanity. Unfortunately, Klein's politics of personal authenticity—he longs for a candidate "who gets angry, within reason; gets weepy, within reason... but only if these emotions are rare and real"—seems indistinguishable from the image-driven, style-over-substance politics he decries; he just wishes the imagery and style were more colorful and compelling. Moreover, Klein's insistence that the electorate cares much more about the sincerity or "phoniness" of a politician's character than about policy issues puts him squarely in the camp of people who think voters are stupid. (Apr. 18)
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*Starred Review* In 1948 when Harry S. Truman accepted the Democratic nomination, his spontaneous reference to Turnip Day in Missouri evoked a candor and authenticity that later helped him win the presidency. Klein, author of Primary Colors (1995), frames much of his analysis in the context of Truman's remark. Unfortunately, political consultants have been intent on purging Turnip Day spontaneity in favor of poll-based, risk-averse blandness that bodes ill for American democracy. It was brilliant numbers cruncher Pat Caddell who gave birth to polling and introduced the notion of the permanent campaign. Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin identified "Reagan Democrats" and helped broaden the base of Republicans. Among the other well-known consultants Klein dissects are Dick Morris, "whose smarminess was legendary and ambidextrous," and Roger Ailes, "the perfect rogue." Klein admits to a fondness for political mavericks who have "Turnip Day moments up the wazoo," including Jerry Brown and Howard Dean, all big on candor but short on warmth. Conversely, Bill Clinton is a "human Turnip Day" who knew how to use consultants but relied on his own political instincts. Most modern candidates have allowed consultants to market them to the point that they will never deviate off message and buy into packaged campaigns based entirely on research. Disdaining the convention of political books with a final chapter that offers solutions, Klein instead insists that politicians figure out for themselves how to engage and inspire voters. This is a passionate, often hysterical, but ultimately sad look at modern American politics. Vanessa Bush
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