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Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business Hardcover – May 13, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The rise and fall of the Sawyer Miller Group, a political consultancy firm, makes for a whirlwind look at international electioneering in this thoroughly engrossing book. The firm grew out of a partnership among the political neophytes who essentially invented the American-style of campaigning and served as backroom strategists in every presidential contest from Nixon to George W. Bush. Editor at TheTimes in London, Harding draws on over 200 interviews to reconstruct the behind-the-scenes history of the Sawyer Miller Group's meteoric rise to power and influence, offering an intimate look at the firm's involvement in global politics—its hand in steering Corazon Aquino to power in the Philippines, its clients' successful campaigns in South America and its machinations in Chile and Israel. The author closes the main part of his narrative in the early 1990s, with the firm's crushing defeat in Peru, a company shift toward corporate clients (e.g., Coca-Cola) and an acrimonious buyout. Though Harding spends little time on domestic politics or his protagonists' personal lives, this fascinating book vividly renders political history with clear insight and rich detail. (May)
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Top customer reviews
The book is quite interesting, but meanders in spots. Harding does a great job of chronicling some of the more spectacular elections and political revolutions worked on by Sawyer-Miller (e.g. Marcos in the Philippines and Pinochet in Chile). However, he tends to pay short shrift to campaigns and events in the United States. It would have been interesting to read more about how the consultants adapted the lessons learned in those "experimental" foreign campaigns to US-based campaigns--what was applicable, what wasn't? I also think Harding would have benefited from some of the work done in academia on the rise of personalized politics. Certainly, the success of campaigns based on these types of strategies created a copy-cat like scenario. However, significant changes to the primary process--particularly for Presidential elections--opened the door for a more personalized approach to campaigning.
The author writes on how Sawyer Miller's clients ranged from the Dali Lama and Vaclav Havel to Lech Walesa, Shimon Peres, Puerto Rico's Colon, Chile's Valdes, Ecuador's Borja, Bolivia's "Goni,"and Corey Aquino, and from Chris Dodd, Jane Byrne, and Scoop Jackson to Bruce Babbitt, as well as saintly domestic clients and international rogues known for alleged torture tactics. They worked for Amex, Drexel, BAT, Goldman, Resorts Intnl and more. The consultant who penned Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, also penned documents for Tony Blair, Boris Yeltsin, and Silvio Berlusconi. The author explains how politics became tactics instead of ideologies, and candidates were packaged like consumer products. In Harding's hands, we learn about the machinations of Black, Manafort ,Stone; Squier, Napolitan, Garth, Schwartz, Wirthlin, McCleary, Grunwald, Carville, Sawyer, Miller, and more.
Chapter 1 tells the story of the birth and growth of consulting by framing it within an exciting fly on the wall account of consultant Ned Kennan's (aka Nadav Katznelson) meeting with Boston's multi term mayor, Kevin White. Kennan, who focused on the driver's of voter behavior, loved to give bad news to the powerful, which he did to White, who was 20 points behind in the latest polls. In Chapter 2, we watch as Sawyer learns the limits of consulting, polls, personalities when he heads to Venezuela and tries to turn a pussycat of a candidate into a tiger. Chapter 3 relates the story of New Coke, its political-like battle with Pepsi, and the lesson it has for understanding polling results. By far my most favorite chapters were Chapters 4 and 5, which tell the stories of American political consulting in Israel and the Philippines. The account of Mrs. Aquino, the downfall of Marcos, and the roles of Cardinal Sin, Reagan, the U.S. media, certain Senators, and "American" consultants were so enlightening and suspenseful that I read that chapter a second time.
Briefly, to K.I.S.S. and Keep on Message, I recommend this as a lively informative and necessary read in this Presidential election year.
It's about the political spinmeisters who brought behind-the-scenes image consulting into its modern form. James Harding bores in on one particular political consultancy, Sawyer Miller. It's an excellent choice. The opening story about Sawyer Miller's counseling of Kevin White, the Irish mayor of Boston, is equal parts funny and insightful. ("Voters don't like you!" the consultant tells the candidate, while devising a strategy that helps him win anyway.) The consultants go around the world -- helping Cory Aquino oust Marcos in the Philippines, another riveting story -- and in and out of countless elections and boardrooms to find ways for candidates to get out the right message. It is not always pretty, what goes on out of view of the camera. From bare-knuckled fighting to seat-of-the-pants improvising, the tactics of a campaign invariably tell a memorable tale.
Harding is a knowing, graceful guide. He has a sensible grasp of politics and the unpredictable dynamics that rule virtually every campaign. His writing weaves subtle observation and sharp insight into the narrative with seeming effortlessness. He always offers just the right amount of historical background to any episode. He never gets bogged down in more policy than you want. Yet I really appreciated his smart, illuminating explanation of the politics in any situation his protagonists wandered into, and they did wander far and wide.
A highly enjoyable book.