Thursday, July 19, 2001

The Running Mate

I recently finished Joe Klein's The Running Mate. This is the sequel to Primary Colors, which I read during my trip to Belgium last year.

The Running Mate never quite made the splash that Primary Colors did. It's easy to see why. Primary Colors was a roman à clef about the 1992 Clinton campaign. To my mind, it captured the strengths and weaknesses of Bill and Hillary Clinton in a way that led more insight than a stack of newspaper and magazine profiles. The Running Mate is about a different cast of characters, primarily a Senator who is a Vietnam Veteran. Klein says at the end that Charlie Martin is inspired by the six Vietnam veterans who serve in the Senate. But it's not just one -- though you can see a lot of John McCain in Martin, this book doesn't give you a lot of insight into McCain. Primary Colors was a novel about politics. This is a love story with a political setting. Joe Klein's strengths lie in writing about politics.

One thing that struck me while reading the book was how scandal in Washington has become a routine thing. The many fictional scandals in the book all seemed familiar -- everybody has particular roles to play; there are pre-set means of spinning facts, managing the press, etc. I guess with Chandra Levy in the news, this fact stares us in the face. But it's amazing how much of what goes on in politics is completely orthogonal to the task of governing the country.

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