Sunday, August 5, 2012

DISCUSSION: Chapters Thirty Eight to Forty Nine


With Gary Hart depleted, the book really lives up to its title again this week with the taking of the 'what' from Biden and Gephardt. Feeling the strain, not seeing the progress and wondering if it's worth it... the 'what' has been taken, folks.

Biden at the August 1987 Democratic candidates forum
Joe Biden is getting doubts. The gurus dismiss it as nerves (Bill Russell, pukin' in the basket before every game) though something's off for Joe, and he can't put his finger on what it is. He always had eyes bigger than his stomach, and yet when he's got a house full of smart guys telling him how to eat the biggest thing of all, he doesn't feel hungry.

So there's that problem, and then the other thing that happens when you're running for president is that other things happen. Like Supreme Court nominations that mess up your tidy campaign calendar. Reagan nominates Robert Bork to the Court, and Joe fumbles his reaction. It's around this time that Tom Shales writes that Biden "comes across on TV as someone whose fuse is always lit," and he's right: the propensity to explode. When he screwed up the Bork thing, he tells the gurus, it's not just his presidential campaign that's ruined -- it's his entire Senate career!

First Ladies Forum, 1987
We also see a slight inferiority complex with Biden and "the river of power" that runs through the Ivy Leagues and lets those who swim in it go where they desire. Biden really liked the words of British Labour minister Neil Kinnock, someone else who hadn't swam in the river, asking why he was the first one in his family to go to college. Biden would repeat that line and attribute it to Kinnock several times. But then, with so much on his mind at the candidates forum, he didn't.

The Gephardts were also overwhelmed. "It was like camping without the woods. Without the privacy. And with lots more stuff." That's how Iowa was for Jane Gephardt. Try doing laundry and running a presidential campaign at the same time. It's no fun. Jane is exhausted, to the point where it manifests in her humor at the start of her speech to the First Ladies Forum. Meanwhile, the consultants, Shrum and Carrick and Reilly, had to get Dick to kill, kill KILL Dukakis at the forum, and... Gephardt didn't get in a single dig. It was just as the consultants expected: he was too nice, would back down first chance he got. So they sent him back out and nothing again. Rich Gephardt, the high school actor, was in a "zombie-zone," trying to remember too many lines, too many stage directions all at once. They wiped his makeup off. This was a role he could not perform.

Even Gephardt's son would tower over Dukakis, Dick's consultants giggled.
The person not losing his 'what,' but actually showing what it takes in this section is Dukakis. Michael is focused, and attempting to go through sans mistakes. He knows what to say and he drives his conversations in Iowa just like he had in Brookline all those years earlier. See, it wasn't about human feelings or friendships, it was about doing business. It was just like the time he destroyed a fellow Democratic reformer -- a friend going back to high school -- to win the 1970 lieutenant governor nomination. It was what he had to do. Michael (he would never be Mike Dukakis) was a serious man. Michael Dukakis should be governor, they said, and soon they would say it about him being president.

Kitty, though, that was a different story. Presenting herself perfectly at a first ladies forum, really nailing it. And then, on a commercial flight stuck on the tarmac, she blows up with a 'DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?' in front of a Boston Herald reporter.

A President Biden/President Bartlet Moment

Biden was done playing to the 1960's culture. "I don't want this crap. This is your story, not my story!" Biden shouts at Pat Caddell, the maddest guru in the guru madness. Luckily for Caddell, he later got the opportunity to craft the president he wanted: Josiah Barlet of The West Wing, where he served as a consultant.

This week, there was the particularly hilarious scene in which the Biden household is scrambling to get to the announcement in Wilmington (I picture the opening scene of Home Alone) and Caddell stops everyone in their tracks, shouting, "LISTEN TO THIS NOW" and proceeds to play the finale to Les Misérables.

You just know that this scene from the West Wing's season three finale came from the inspired mind of Caddell.

Share more quotes and scenes in the comments.


  1. The Neil Kinnock thing, with the part about "No it's not because they weren't as smart, it's not because they didn't work as hard. It's because they didn't have a platform upon which to stand." ... Struck me as very similar to Obama's comments that have been in the news:

    "I'm always struck by people who think, `Well, it must be because I was just so smart.' There are a lot of smart people out there. `It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.' Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help."

    Maybe its ingredients are one part Elizabeth Warren, one part Barack Obama, one part Biden/Kinnock?

  2. By the way, everybody, I've been busy the last three weeks, but we're going to pick back up and finish strong with guest posts, more tweets and all the good stuff through the end. Thanks for reading.