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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 10/28/20

Greetings, We are down to six days before the election… BEST MODERN POLITICAL CAMPAIGN BOOKS Some of you may be tired of talk of politics and government. Not me. There is a rich body of literature about (a) national political campaigns, (b) California politics, and (c) the workings of government as seen through the eyes of some of the greatest practitioners of the art of politics. I’ll propose some books in the second two categories later. For now, here are my favorite books that cover the excitement, issues, posturing, policy, and planning of political campaigns. Some would describe these books as the “second draft” of history; the first being the news reporting at the time. These retrospectives offer a peek into the workings of campaigns and help explain their successes and failures.

  • The Making of the President 1960, by Theodore White. Effectively established the genre of the “inside story” of a campaign as it unfolds. White did subsequent volumes on the 1964 and 1968 campaigns, as well.

  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, by Hunter S. Thomson. About the 1972 election. Includes the backroom politics of the party regulars trying unsuccessfully to stop the candidacy of George MGovern.

  • Portrait of an Election; The 1980 Presidential Campaign, by Elizabeth Drew. Great access. Really as much a series of articles, as Ms. Drew wrote chapters in “real time” as the election played out.

  • All the Truth is Out, by Matt Bai. This is my favorite story of a campaign. This is the story of the Gary Hart campaign for president in 1988. Hart arguably was one of the brightest and well-prepared of presidential candidates. But Hart’s campaign was the first to attract the “tell all” tabloid-style journalism that is now the standard and it ripped apart his campaign. This is a page-turner that reveals much that wasn’t covered and clarifies the undoing of the campaign for what at the time seemed major problems that today would be gone in one or two news cycles. Bill Clinton plays a bit part in trying to ascertain how much of a candidate’s personal “hypothetical” peccadillos could escape the press’s reporting.

  • What it Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer. It’s a 1000+ page slog, but incredibly detailed. Covers the 1988 election in excruciating, but interesting, detail. And yes, Joe Biden was a candidate then. From the NPR review: “It takes a special kind of person to run for office — you've got to be tenacious, focused, and maybe even a little crazy.”

  • Primary Colors, by Anonymous. While it’s a novel, it is a thinly-veiled story of the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. Very enjoyable.

  • Game Change, by John Helleman and Mark Halperin. About the 2008 campaign, with considerable access to all of the candidates and their teams.

  • Believer, by David Axelrod. Zev Yaroslavsky recommends this—and I’ll read what he tells me to—so I just ordered it. Not technically the story of the 2008 Obama candidacy, but of the partnership of Axelrod and Obama, as told in this memoir.

  • Shattered, by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes. Oh, what might have been… She’s bright, accomplished, driven…and stubborn. The story of her campaign and its unravelling, told in cringeworthy reminiscences of the election that brought us here. I hate to say it, but Hillary shares some of the responsibility for our current mess. “Unforced errors” abound.

ONE OF THE MOST FRIGHTENING OF PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS In the midst of the election noise and the non-stop drama of Trump tweets and misinformation, it is hard to keep track of the methodical dismantling of the executive branch and intelligence services. Most malicious and compromising of our health, safety and good government is an Executive Order that is devastating in its breadth that has received far too little press. The President’s order shifts many civil servants from the category of “competitive service” into the category of “excepted service,” the category that applies to political appointees. This action alone stands as among the most frightening of the actions of this President to create an executive branch totally beholden to him, in which scientists and other career experts in their fields can be replaced by political hacks serving under loyalty oaths. One need only look to the President’s political appointments to key positions in the EPA and the Energy Department to appreciate this danger. Neither expertise nor scientific rigor will any longer be a governing factor in the continued employment of people charged with keeping us safe. Nearly 140 years ago, Chester A. Arthur, one of the great practitioners of the “spoils system” in New York, surprised many when he acted against the vast system of cronyism in the appointment of federal officials. Now, here we are, in an arguably more enlightened era, moving backward, toward the expansion of politically appointed positions and the reduction in employment protection of non-political appointees. We are moving further and further toward authoritarianism. If Mr. Trump is reelected, this Executive Order will be enforced in January. Even if not, there are fears that the implementation of this Order during a lame-duck administration would be done in a manner so as to make it very difficult for a Biden administration to undo its damage. We should be very concerned. Here are several explanations of this action: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-order-federal-civil-service/2020/10/22/c73783f0-1481-11eb-bc10-40b25382f1be_story.html The Washington Post describes this order as “a stunning effort to reshape large parts of the nonpartisan government, which is supposed to serve as a cadre of subject-matter experts for every administration.” Representative Don Beyer (D) notes that “It’s an attempt to redefine the civil service as a political arm of the presidency rather than public servants who work for the American people.” He’s right. HUMILITY I’ll be participating in a conversation entitled “Humility and How to Cultivate More of it in Our Lives,” sponsored by Respect Talks, hosted by Elisabeth Rohm. If you’re interested in this event, at 1:00 Pacific Time this Sunday November 1, just send an email to su@respecttalks.com, opting in. You will then receive the link to join in. Have a great day, Glenn

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