Politics: The Good, The Bad and The Butt Ugly

Imagine, it’s barely March — of 2007 — and the calculating positions, ratcheting rhetoric, rapacious fund-raising and saturating media coverage associated with presidential campaigns have been underway for months. “Hillary vs. Obama.” “Mitt and the Mormons.” “America’s Mayor’s Multiple Marriages.” “The Maverick and the Evangelicals.” “The Inconvenient Candidate.” “Brownback vs. Brokeback.”

And then imagine this: All the self-serving spin, all the special-interest warcraft, all the tabloid headlines — and this is as high-minded as it will get. Enjoy the respite.

For those wanting perspective on the permanent campaign cycle that is American presidential politics and an informed look at those who package and manipulate America’s candidates, check out Joe Klein’s year-old “Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You’re Stupid.” Author/columnist Klein is one of the more astute observers of the body politic and those who pander to it. He pulls no punches about anything – from both major political parties to the media. And he names names. There’s a reason why cable-news talking head and consultant to presidential also-rans Bob Shrum won’t return his calls.

“Polling has replaced thinking and feeling, and not just for politicians,” posits Klein. “Political journalism, especially on television, has become little more than the slavish devotion to polls.

“We are drifting,” says Klein, “toward a flaccid, hollowed-out democracy where honest debate is impossible – a democracy without citizenship.”

He also includes a piece of advice that all politicians – and probably CEOs and university presidents — ignore at their own peril.

“Given the immense power and authority of the hired guns – the pollsters, strategists and ad makers – no politician should ever go to battle without a ‘better angel’ at his or her side,” advises Klein.

Basically someone to ride herd on those hired guns and their formulaic battle plans. Someone to tell the candidate what he or she needs to hear – the good, the bad and the butt ugly.

Ronald Reagan, for example, had folks in his inner campaign circle who ultimately prevailed and allowed “Reagan to be Reagan.” Al Gore wasn’t so fortunate.

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