An engaging account of the Sawyer Miller Group, a political-consulting firm that changed the way campaigns are run around the world.
London Times business and city editor Harding, previously the Financial Times’ Washington bureau chief, delivers with considerable aplomb a story that is frequently less than edifying. He begins in the heady days of the 1980s, when democracy movements were sprouting up around the world, television was just beginning to recognize its potential as a political force and a new president named Ronald Reagan was just beginning to harness its power. Onto this scene came filmmaker David Sawyer and ad man Scott Miller, who helped transform elections from occasions for the engagement of the citizenry into little more than consumer choices. The loop easily doubled back on itself, as the firm soon used techniques picked up in the political world to market New Coke and Apple Computers. Harding is ambivalent about this melding of purposes, recognizing how it debases civic discourse but also aware that to turn our backs on such techniques as focus groups, polling and micro-targeting voters’ preferences would be unlikely at best and Luddite at worst. After a series of stateside victories, Sawyer Miller imported the techniques of American politicking to Chile, the Philippines, Israel and elsewhere, though not always successfully. They too ultimately become disillusioned with the monster of political spin they had created. When Harding delves into what makes some campaigns work and others fail, his text provides a revealing analysis of mass psychology within a democracy. More about that, and less about the inner politics in Sawyer Miller’s Manhattan office, would have improved the book.
No page-turner, but a solid read about a vitally important and often overlooked aspect of political life.