Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Votes (Books) Are In

Election season, and books spring eternal. The two competing titles that sling the dirt on Hillary Clinton are ready to roll, and the NYT has dueling book reviews today. Bernstein gets one treatment, the star treatment, while the former New York Times writers are raked over the literary coals by Robert Dallek.

Well before the biographies were in print, there was much discussion about the Bernstein version, and how it lacked anything new. How will it fare against the Van Natta/ Gerth version of events? The latter has been described as "uniformly negative". Book sales could shape up into a form of public opinion polling, and political pundits are going to watch the Bookscan numbers very, very closely.

"Overly focused ...on...the Clintons' scandalous past and the darker aspects of Mrs. Clinton's personality" says Mr. Dallek. There you have it. Buy this book, and it's obvious that you're a right wing conservative Republican. This one is geared up to you, to shore up your opinion of the woman. The woman who once spoke about going out to the nearby farms to help tutor the children of migrant workers....but she grew up in a middle class Chicago suburb and there's not a farm employing migrant workers for miles. Corn and soybeans, family farms, that's all that's within striking distance, and it would have been a long drive to get to the nearest one.

The funny thing about master politicians is that they can talk out of both sides of their mouth with the greatest of ease. Get to know one of them well, see them in action before different segments of their constituency, and you might be amazed to hear them make arguments for both sides of an issue. That's what politics is all about, pandering to the voters to get their vote. Shade the truth, find out which way the polling winds are blowing, and adapt to the conditions. That's the way they keep their jobs, election after election. Look closely, and you'll realize that nothing really gets done in Washington; the same problems fester year after year, and hot air keeps right on blowing.

Some folks, like Mr. Gerth and Mr. Van Natta, can make literary hay out of it, pointing out the hypocrisy and affixing a dark label. Others, like reviewer Robert Dallek, compare Ms. Clinton's failings to the weaknesses of others, in a "look she's like all the rest" attitude that does not excuse immoral behavior, but accepts its ubiquitous presence. It's politics, he implies with a shrug. It's politics, the other side grumbles with anger.

Even reviews of the reviews will be fodder for talk news shows. Carl Bernstein's book, being less of a hatchet job on the woman who would be president, garners all the praise, and if you want the world to know that you support Hillary, well, it's obvious that you'll be after buying Mr. Bernstein's biographical version. It's more balanced, as far as Mr. Dallek is concerned, and it's clearly the better book to him. But he's writing in the New York Times, that cradle of left wingedness, so how could he be fair and balanced?

As the books are laid down, the Clinton camp will attack both books, but you can bet that they'll use most of their strength to shred the Gerth/ Van Matta version of events. It won't make any difference, really, because the people who buy one or the other are expressing their opinion of Hillary Clinton, and whatever rhetoric dribbles out of her camp will only serve to reinforce an already set position. But it gives the twenty-four hour news shows something to talk about besides car chases in California.

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