Sunday, July 15, 2012

DISCUSSION: Chapters Seventeen to Twenty

From Lizzie O'Leary, correspondent for CNN

Ordinariness. That’s the thing here.

Cramer knows (even in the intro) “The President – was someone altogether larger, and more extraordinary, than we.” But these men are, well, not.

So you tunnel in at ground level. There is no soaring historical arc. No “first.”

Just a bunch of guys, pushed along by another bunch of guys, who are busy inventing the science of modern campaign warfare.  Often internecine. The brilliance of the book is that the drama comes from the ordinary.

Since we’re on the Biden and Gephardt introduction chapters, it’s this bit that nails it for me:
So everybody in the country who could read knew that Biden wanted to run, but he wasn’t going to run without message … and he didn’t have a message … nothing to say. 
They stay up all night, they talk about everything, but they can’t find their hook. And Biden hasn’t seen The Big Chill. He’s not a generation-definer, he’s just a guy.

And Gephardt? He “could keep that intelligent-dog look through a six-hour meeting.”


Just ordinary guys. Cramer says his goal is for you to feel the experience. And you do. Sometimes I want to cringingly turn away.


'Guru Madness' is catching in this week's reading as we meet the final two candidates: Joe Biden and Dick Gephardt. Both Democrats, both utterly screwed.

Pat Caddell, 1988
We read about the mess of Senate staffers, former Mondale aides and gurus that comprise the Biden campaign. The big idea is to make Joe Biden the healer of twenty-year-old wounds -- to give the post-war generation its second chance at changing the world. "To reawaken the dream."

But that wasn't Biden. He was a few years too old and many years too mature to get wrapped up in "this generation thing: '68. . . . He was married. He had kids. Anyway, even in college he was the guy who wore a suit jacket to class." But Pat Caddell, in his guru wisdom, sought to remake him into Bobby Kennedy, and it was all supposed to start at the 1987 California Democratic Convention.

As Biden is furiously editing the speech, tossing papers to and fro, and as Caddell is crawling around on his knees trying to save the essential sections of his Baby Boomer opus, something goes wrong. The speech is all out of order, pages go missing, and after they reassemble the Frankenstein text in Sacramento, Biden calls Jill before the speech, reads her a section and says, "I told you we had the best speechwriters."

Actually, Bobby Kennedy had the best speechwriters. Thanks to our friends at Buzzfeed, we bring you this video.

Nobody caught Biden's mistake at the time because no one was really paying attention to him: it was still Gary Hart out front. And nobody seemed to catch Cincinnati's Jerry Springer as he ran for Congress in 1969, not even when This American Life cut a profile of his political days in 2004. Young Springer, who allegedly volunteered on RFK's campaign, drew a lot of comparisons to the slain Kennedy. It's no wonder why.

Rep. Dick Gephardt, first term congressman, 1977
As for our man from Missouri, reading about Dick Gephardt's straight shot up the St. Louis political hierarchy and into Congress reminds me: had he not run for president again in 2004, it could have been Speaker Gephardt instead of Speaker Pelosi. You get the sense that he knew how to bring people together, all those bills with his name on them. It would take most members their entire careers to get their names on just one of those things, and yet Gephardt in such a short amount of time compiles so many, what else could he do but run for president?

The guy has a gift. "You could feel him listening," Cramer writes. "Gephardt could keep that intelligent-dog look through a six-hour meeting. . . . until you were weak from being listened to." And accomplished though he is, he wants to get more done than the House can offer. So he runs.

And then Guru Madness catches. Bill Carrick is brought in to remake the campaign, who brings on Bob Shrum who brings on David Doak. All of a sudden its a cluster of "the new hired killers" who don't know what to make of their listening robot. Shrum is late for his first meeting with the Gephardts by hours (he's busy talking with Andrew Cuomo about his dad). Yet when he shows up late, Dick is still pleasant and eager, ready to listen. And so, as Bill Carrick tells the other gurus, "You don't wanna let up on this guy. You can't push hard enough on this sumbitch... you let up, he'll pussy out on you."

It's a wonderful thing, running for president.

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