[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Welcome to a parallel universe. A casual onlooker might mistake it for our own. The same people run their Congress and their Democratic National Committee. The same election results toss out half the Republicans in 2006 and the rest in 2008. But in our universe, those events were recorded as the triumphs of smart folks like Rahm Emanuel and David Plouffe, winning despite the ruinous work of the DNC. In Herding Donkeys, Ari Berman reports from a place where Howard Dean deserves the credit.
It’s a strong case. Berman reported this book, stunningly, by hanging out and getting sources comfortable until they admitted things. He opens on election night 2008, walking alongside of Dean, and hears President-Elect Barack Obama tell the DNC chairman that “I wouldn’t have won without you.” Now, think about how many election night wraps actually gave credit to Dean.
There was far more coverage of Dean’s “disastrous” election to run the DNC, back in 2005. I remember watching a Daily Show episode at the time where the embedded fauxporter hung around, talked to some losers, and decided that the Dean election was automatically hilarious. A college Republican got national media to show up for a “Dean scream” contest.
Berman tells that story, and every other story of the Dean tenure, from the inside. There’s fascinating kremlinology about how party structures work (term to be interpreted loosely) at the top, and how stories like “Dean’s blowing it” become Washington wisdom — self-interested parties feed them to reporters, who gamely adopt the narratives. Rahm Emanuel flits in and out of the story, pronouncing the Fifty-State strategy and everything Dean does as “fucking bullshit.” Dean tells Berman that the conflict is actually good; because Beltway reporters really only spin their heads around to look at brawls and car crashes, constantly fighting for his theories meant that they got covered. It’s one of many astute lessons here on how politics and media actually work.
Washington isn’t wanting for books like that, though. Herding Donkeys really works because of the time Berman puts in with Democratic Party foot soldiers. I like the details that come out of a visit to the Polk County, North Carolina Democratic Party, when Berman sees how local chair Margaret Johnson decorates it: “grey donkey details on the walls; a blue flag of a donkey atop the state; a porcelain donkey with a straw hat on, next to a picture of Bill Clinton.” We learn what blogs and books motivated the great Democratic comeback of 2006-2008. It’s going to be familiar to readers of this blog, but it’s never been drawn out in one story before.
The takeaway: This is one of the best books you can read about how politics actually work right now. Let’s get the discussion started.