How the methods of show business took over presidential election campaigns—and how political candidates have paid the price.
Public relations executive King chronicles the rise and fall of what he calls “the Age of Optics, where playing to the camera and creating compelling imagery forces candidates far from their comfort zones.” As a former campaign advance man and director of production for presidential events at the White House, the author knows his material well, and he recounts it with irresistible detail culled from firsthand experience. It all began in 1988, when the Democrats enlisted staff from Hollywood, the Oscars, and the Olympic Games to help stage their convention. Soon, the job categories of movie production—e.g., advance man, staging, site-builders—were swelling the vocabulary of political staffing. Campaign image-making took over because “spectacle sells.” Due to public familiarity, advertising techniques provided a framework. The author quotes Republican media consultant Robert Goodman: “[Ads] don't let you decide for yourself what to think. They tell you how to feel.” The result has not been friendly to politicians. In 1988, Michael Dukakis tried to enhance the image of his national security credentials with a joy ride on an Army tank. Unfortunately, even the people on his team thought he looked “like a peanut.” For the Republicans, it was the gift that kept on giving. King goes on to chronicle other bloopers, including John Kerry's windsurfing break, Howard Dean’s scream, and George W. Bush's “Mission Accomplished” banner. As the author notes, many candidates have fallen prey to the “fateful actions and decisions of staff…[that] will occupy a place in the politician’s eventual obituary.” What happens in front of the camera is fair game, and it has become all too easy to tell politicians to do or say anything at any given time.
An eye-opening trip behind the political scene demonstrating how showbiz helped money wreck our political landscape. If you enjoy the TV show Veep, you’ll enjoy this book.