Anthology of essays that attempt to make sense of the historic political drama of 2009.
If this year was arguably the most important election year in decades, it’s surprising that so many of pieces read like business-as-usual political journalism. There are a few wisely chosen works, most by veteran political scribes like George Packer, Dexter Filkins, Michael Wolff and Jane Mayer, all of whom produce the multilayered, thoroughly researched stories for which they’re known. Many of editor Flippin’s inclusions, however, do little more than confirm mainstream journalism’s abiding fascination with superficial cult-of-personality issues and image. At the bottom of the barrel are several articles that approach political issues the way People or US Weekly might. Michele Cottle’s intelligence-insulting profile of President Obama for the New Republic does little more than wonder if he’s “cool,” or is there a “dork” underlying all this perceived coolness? Only slightly more substantial is Adam Sternbergh’s discovery of a baseball-statistics geek, Nate Silver, who now scientifically predicts political contests, and Lisa Taddeo discovers the key to Obama’s victory is a 30-something college dropout with a large e-mail list. Like John Richardson’s soporific study of Joe Biden for Esquire, most of these profiles display an unhealthy obsession with image-making and the artifice of political “narrative.” It’s the lone hard-line conservative writer, Brian Doherty, who finally addresses real issues concerning presidential ambition and abuse of power—though not without paranoiac rumblings. “Right at the Edge”— Filkins’ exposé of the ugly truths behind Pakistan’s chummy relationship with the Taliban—is probably the best of the bunch.
Uneven, but holds the occasional flicker of hope for the future of American political journalism.