South Carolina congressman Clyburn recounts a long and productive, if occasionally frustrating, life in politics, providing a fine primer for anyone thinking of entering the arena.
That fight over the Confederate flag flying over the capitol in Columbia? Clyburn, who has represented his district in Washington since 1992, was there for it, and he took heat from both sides for attempting a rational compromise. (Remember the days of rational compromise?) He notes, quietly but firmly, that the neo-Confederates were disingenuous in their claims for the banner, a modification of the “navy jack” that the Ku Klux Klan found appealing a couple of decades after the war, and he suggests that it’s a bovine attachment to heritage—“a heritage of slavery,” that is—that kept them wedded to it. Recalling his long path from would-be college athlete (he didn’t have the speed for baseball) to actor and debater to political aide, Clyburn shows again and again how politics is done: It’s all about the art of the deal and reminding those for whom you’ve done favors that they owe you; of one such negotiation with fellow representative Corrine Brown, the author writes, “I only half jokingly told her that I would let her know at some undetermined point in the future what my price would be.” Clyburn almost always has a kind or at least gentle word to say about even his staunchest opponents, provided he finds them to hold principles. If they do not, then he’s not shy of speaking his mind, as when he writes of former governor Mark Sanford, “regardless of the effort, he always seemed to be several days late and millions of dollars short.”
Well-written and thoughtful, Clyburn’s memoir offers valuable fly-on-the-wall notes on how politics can be conducted in a healthy way and at an effective level.