Talking points, on-message admonitions and Machiavellian strategies for would-be presidents.
One of Bush brain Karl Rove’s great insights as a political strategist was that this hearts-and-minds stuff is for conquered Third World countries; in America, the object is “to get 50 percent plus one.” So it was in 2004, give or take. And so it was, give or take, in 2000. Perhaps that’s the way it will be in 2008, though ABC news producer Halperin and Washington Post political editor Harris (The Survivor, 2005) remark that this will depend on which vision of politics prevails: the inclusive, governing-from-the-center Clinton doctrine, or the exclusive, appealing-to-the-base Bush doctrine. Either way, the authors hold, most of the old rules won’t count; we are in a time of noise and what they call the Freak Show, when New Media outlets such as blogs—which overwhelmingly favor the technologically savvy right wing—have far more authority and audience than the Old Media of Dan Rather and company. Given that the predominant mode of the Freak Show is attack-and-smear—attack and smear the non-Republican candidate, that is—then it’s small wonder that John Kerry was swiftboated in 2004; still, the authors write, he should have seen it coming, and he should have known a grand Machiavellian principle: You wanna be in charge, you gotta control your narrative. Halperin and Harris digest a couple of score of these non-bulleted bullet points, all of which seem perfectly sensible—for instance, “Being kind to those on your own team allows you to conserve your brutish tendencies to destroy political adversaries” and “Think ruthlessly and systematically about the Electoral College—only losers let their minds wander elsewhere.”
Q.E.D. A deeply cynical enterprise, this book. But then, so is American politics, all the more reason this will doubtless wind up on the nightstands of candidates everywhere.