A winning memoir from a high-end consultant to Democratic presidential candidates.
Shrum, now a senior fellow at NYU, recalls three and a half decades in the political game, where he started out in 1970 as the wunderkind 26-year-old speechwriter for New York Mayor John Lindsay and then became a top and sometimes controversial strategist for a string of unsuccessful presidential hopefuls, from George McGovern and Dick Gephardt to Al Gore and John Kerry. “Sooner or later, your luck is bound to change,” said Ted Kennedy. It never did. But what a ride: After the Georgetown debate team and Harvard Law, he plunged into politics and began crafting the main Democratic messages of our time. Writing with engaging candor, he describes the rise of modern political consulting, offering incisive snapshots of such notables as Edmund Muskie, the doom and gloomer; Jimmy Carter, of the “empty pieties”; and the existential John Kerry. We see Shrum talking theology with Mario Cuomo, advising Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky scandal and enlisting Warren Beatty to help convince McGovern to remove a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote from the end of a speech. (“Look, George, you can’t do this,” said Beatty. “It would be like making love to a beautiful woman…and then at the last minute pulling out and saying, ‘I’ll let Ralph finish for me.’ ”) There are countless bright stories about friends (Hunter S. Thompson, Pamela Harriman and Larry Tribe) and many clients who won election to the U.S. Senate. The book brims with speechwriting tips: Offend no one and you persuade no one. Beware of lines that sound too good not to be used—rhetoric can outpace reality. Like a symphony, he writes, a good political speech rises and rouses the audience, then falls to a quieter level, “transfixing the listeners instead of eliciting applause.”
A big, wonderfully readable tale certain to delight political junkies.