Monday, March 3, 2014

Alls FairAlls Fair by Mary Matalin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It has taken me three months to read Mary Matalin's and James Carville's book "All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President" (co-written by Peter Knobler), and it has been time well spent. This non-fiction book mostly focuses on the 1992 presidential campaign in the U.S. It is a book about the dirty craft of political campaigning. In other words, the book teaches us how to cheat more voters more effectively. (Of course, the voters deserve to be cheated; after all, they often believe the candidates.)

Ms. Matalin was one of the very top people on the Bush team, while Mr. Carville was the top strategist in the Clinton campaign. They were mortal enemies in their work, yet they were in love with each other at the same time. (They married in 1993, and very much remain so 20 years later.)

Mary Matalin's stuff seem to be a little deeper than James Carville's but maybe only because she is looking for the reasons of her side losing. Most of her observations are quite insightful, but I do not like her "blame management" game. She blames 1) the press, 2) Ross Perot, 3) Lawrence E. Walsh, 4) the right wingers, 5) early lack of coordination with the White House team. At the same time, she underemphasizes the central and crucial facts that A) their campaign was not focused enough on economic issues and that B) Bill Clinton's persona resonated better with more people than that of George H.W. Bush's. James Carville also provides some observations of significant depth, while skillfully cultivating his self-made image of an obnoxious loudmouth with a heart of gold.

The reports from both conventions are fabulously illuminating, and I particularly appreciate Ms. Matalin's criticism of their side's convention for its "culture wars" emphasis. I wish she had the same amount of insight into the overall reasons for her side's failure. I also wish the book were only about the presidential campaign, omitting all pre-campaign details.

Three and a half stars.

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