There are a host of new and almost-new political books to get you in the mood for the upcoming presidential campaign. For political junkies on the East Coast, curling up with Karl Rove, Sid Blumenthal and Ray Strother on the weekend might be a pretty good substitute for firing up the old grill and getting those tomatoes planted.
Two books on Karl Rove, the White House political impresario, came out earlier this year and both are chock full of anecdotes about how the University of Utah dropout who became head of the College Republicans wound up as George W. Bush's "Man with the Plan."
"Boy Genius" by Lou DuBoise, Jan Reid and Carl Cannon takes its title from one of the many pet names W has for Rove. (Another, "turd blossom", will undoubtedly show up on the stands some day soon.) It is a straightforward picture of Karl Christian Rove's coming of age in national and Texas politics and takes us through his triumphs in the 2002 election.
"Bush's Brain" by Wayne Slater and Jim Moore, two Texans who have watched and covered Rove for over 20 years, contains a lot of stories about Rove's years in Texas and gives detailed accounts of some of the admitted and alleged "dirty tricks" he pulled in the early part of his political career. It discusses how he became friends with GOP badboy Lee Atwater and how they both became a trusted allies of the Bush family.
Slater and Moore view Bush and Rove as "complementary figures;" Rove is the cerebral man with an encyclopedic mind and a "gift for campaign arithmetic" while Bush has charm and " a knack for winning over people." Rove "approaches politics as blood sport" while Bush's "instinct is to search out compromise."
(A distilled version of these books and a very good substitute should the sun come out is Nick Lemann's profile of Rove, "The Controller" in the May 12 issue of the New Yorker magazine.)
A very different breed of presidential adviser can be seen in Sidney Blumenthal's "The Clinton Wars." In his 822-page treatise he attempts to right the record of eight years of reporting on the Clinton administration. It is a powerful reminder just how much emphasis was put on the scandals from Whitewater to Lewinsky and how few words have been written on the other side, either by partisans or by the press.
Blumenthal came to the Clinton White House not from years in Democratic politics but as a political journalist born in Chicago and educated at Brandeis. He became fascinated by the Republican right and he brought his reporter's eye to his job as senior adviser in the Clinton White House from 1997-2001. Blumenthal became a close friend and counselor to Hillary Clinton and the book chronicles (maybe more candidly than she will herself) her trials and tribulations during the Lewinsky affair.
Blumenthal has been criticized for trying to overstate his closeness to the Clintons and for writing a partisan analysis of the scandals. I think those are knee-jerk reactions which deserve to be questioned. In the White Hose and through the book Blumenthal emerges as one of the few people who has not run away from the Clintons and who, in fact, has put his reputation on the line to try to right things he sees as wrong. Historian Robert Dallek in his review in the New York Times calls the book a "welcome addition to the literature on Bill Clinton's tumultuous second term" since so few White House aides put anything on paper fearing subpoenas (and, I might add, fearing the same criticism that has been leveled at Blumenthal.)
Political consultant Ray Strother's memoir "Falling Up: How A Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting"" is a wonderful collection of yarns about the rise of political consultants and his own life and times in Democratic politics. But, in the final chapter Strother puts forth an argument that his colleagues have gone too far and the that talents of consultants like Karl Rove and James Carville should be reserved for campaigns and not running the government.
If all this becomes too heavy, try New York Times reporter Don Van Natta's delightful book, "First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush." He looks at presidential character though their performances on the on the golf course (14 of the last 17 were golfers) and has recounted very funny anecdotes to make some insightful observations.
So if the rain's gotcha down this holiday weekend, join Van Natta that the Bushes on the links for some speed golf or play with the ultimate rule breaker, Bill Clinton and take as many "billigans" as your heart desires.
By Dotty Lynch