13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
biased, long, entertaining account of a fascinating story
, February 16, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics (Hardcover)
The author's obvious sympathy for Sinclair interferes with his telling of the monumental 1934 governor's race in California. Given the depths of the country's turmoil in 1934, it is doubtful is so wacky a candidate (although a brilliant and sincere one) ever was taken so seriously for such a major office.
The book is not so much about the campaign for Governor as it is about the negative campaign run against him -- 90% of the book focuses on people who opposed Sinclair and their tactics. In addition to employers bullying their workers to kick back contributions to the anti-Sinclair effort and scurrilous attempts to intimidate Sinclair supporters from turning out to vote, the author lavishes attention on the fact that mailings were sent out against Sinclair in huge quantities; that newspapers and other foes used his long record of incendiary quotes, outside of the mainstream by virtually any standard, against him. One presumes the author believes we'll be shocked that the Merriam campaign is campaigning.
Sinclair's opponent, the incumbent Governor Merriam, is portrayed as an imbecile, a non-entity who the author labels early on as "reactionary" (and re-labels him with the derogitory term dozens and dozens of times, as though it were informative rather than namecalling.) Merriam's support of the Townsend Plan and other "progressive" measures is dismissed out-of-hand as laughably and obviously insincere -- so insincere the author feels no need to burden himself with supporting his accusations. While it may be news to the author, it's a widely accepted historical fact that after Merriam trounced Sinclair, he endured the scorn of anti-New Dealers for pushing for the progressive policies he campaigned on, a fact which compromised his re-election effort in 1938.
Just as can be expected of a book that focuses so exclusively on the negative side one campaign ran against the other, that campaign comes across as morally flawed while the other is virtuous. The author acknowledges Sinclair's demagogery (he claims "208" New York mobsters have been sent by capitalists to undo his campaign, just as Joe McCarthy said, "I hold in my hand a list of 205 communists...") shameless pandering (claiming belief in God in the closing weeks in the face of decades of loud, principled agnosticism) and smear campaigning of his own (Sinclair's orgainization runs an "expose" on Merriam's KKK background, a complete falsehood) yet these instances cover several sentences while the anti-Sinclair excesses are covered in several hundred pages.
Nonetheless, this was a largely enjoyable read, despite being somewhat tedious in detail at times. The story is riveting, it is eloquently (although not objectively) told, and performs it's greatest service in reminding fat, happy modern day America where prosperity is considered a fact of life that this country was a far different place not so long ago.
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