Everyone knows this kind of politician: a charismatic maverick who goes up against the system and its ways, but thinks he doesn't have to live by the rules. Using his experience as a speechwriter, Barton Swaim tells the story of a band of believers who attach themselves to this sort of ambitious narcissist - what makes them invest in these leaders, how these leaders do provide moments of inspiration, and then how they let them down.
The Speechwriter is a funny and candid introduction to the world of politics, where press statements are purposefully nonsensical, grammatical errors are intentional, and better copy means more words. Through his three years in the office of a controversial governor, Swaim paints a portrait of a man so principled he'd rather sweat than use state money to pay for air conditioning, so oblivious he'd wear the same stained shirt for two weeks, so egotistical he'd belittle his staffers to make himself feel better, and so self-absorbed he never once apologized to his staff for making his administration the laughing stock of the country. On the surface, this is the story of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's rise and fall. But in the end, it's an account of the very human staffers who go into politics out of conviction and learn to survive a broken heart.
©2015 Barton Swaim (P)2015 Tantor
"[A] wryly funny, beautifully written, sometimes bewildered, always astute dissection of what it is like to perform a thankless job for an unreasonable person in a dysfunctional office during a period of unusual turmoil.... In a theme he comes back to again and again, always to hilarious effect, Mr. Swaim makes the case that Governor Sanford is not just a capricious, bad-tempered boss, but also a serial English-language abuser whose picayune criticisms generally make no sense.... Mr. Swaim is so talented a writer and has such an eye for telling detail, that you suspect you could put him in any workplace - chicken-processing plant, airport sunglass emporium, stoner skate park - and he would make it come alive in the best possible way." (The New York Times)
"The book's best passages explore the appeal of charismatic, earnest, and morally challenged souls like Sanford, who invariably devastate their true-believing but self-interested, in-on-the-game handlers and operatives through disastrous public exposure." (Publishers Weekly)
Author at times tried to impress reader with his vast vocabulary at the cost of slowing down the narrative. The ending was not very satisfying.
I suppose the American voter has to be reminded that nothing has changed. The author/narrator seems shocked and saddened that the politicians are not to be trusted. Except of course we get it. Perhaps a bit of history included in his remarkable education would be helpful. Nixon is still within living memory. The people who followed him are just as interesting. Except maybe Carter, and although he is acknowledged as a good person he is not remembered as a strong President. Perhaps its not them, its us.
As smart as this author is perhaps he could suggest some remedies. We get that the people running for office are defining issues in their favor. We get that today's party politics are a better machine than anytime in history. So don't whine, without at least offering a fix.
The middle of the book got a little repetitive with the same stories over and over and each lasting about 30 seconds too long. But it's a fascinating narrative and the ending is fantastic.
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