When was the last time you saw a politician show “any wisp of unscripted humanity”? Thought so.
For political journalist Klein (The Natural, 2002, etc.), that “loss of spontaneity” has been the ruination of American politics. Our politicians likely got in trouble for varying from the script—think Howard Dean’s scream, Ross Perot’s “gorilla dust,” George H.W. Bush’s “Message: I care”—which is why political moments are micromanaged to the tiniest detail. The micromanagers are the consultants who, since the days of the Machiavellian Pat Caddell, have enjoyed excessive power, as Al Gore found, sorrowfully, in 2000. Klein plainly dislikes these pollsters and focus-group formers and image-shapers, but they have their uses, he allows, since “the majority of American presidents have been overmatched mediocrities.” Carter? A nothing who played right into the Republicans’ hands by daring to chide Americans for profligacy during the energy crisis of the late ’70s. Bush I? A nobody; decent enough, though managed by the preeminently indecent Lee Atwater. Clinton? A man who, for all his flaws and essential timidity, at least picked consultants who would endorse his programs rather than authorize them, in the manner of, say, Karl Rove. Reagan? Consulted and consulted, but still likely to do what he wanted—one reason for his success, as it turns out, is that Americans seem to prefer a leader who speaks to them in intelligible language rather than mouthing empty platitudes about patriotism and family values. Which explains Bush II, also micromanaged to the nth degree, “focus-grouped to a trice,” and “creatively wrong on a series of issues,” yet a font of sympathetic common-man shortcomings compared to the ever-so-careful, aloof John Kerry, a victim of “pervasive weakness” who, by Klein’s account, never got around to speaking his mind about much of anything.
Nicely acerbic. A cousin of Daniel Boorstin’s incomparable The Image (1961), lacking its intellectual heft, but still a pleasure for politics junkies.