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Books: Politics as usual

Books | Two tomes that will make you ask: Is this the best we can do?

Issue: "Caveman with convictions," April 20, 1996

In one of her typically scathing reviews, British critic Rosalind Miles wrote, "If you enjoy arrogance for an appetizer, muddle for the main course, dullness for dessert, and absurdity for afters, this is the dish for you." When I read that, I immediately thought of American politics. Perhaps it was my old cynical nature coming through, or perhaps it was simply the result of having just read two very disheartening books about our nation's Republican and Democratic duopoly.

Senator for Sale was written by an obviously disgruntled former aide to the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Bob Dole. Stanley Hilton was the Kansas senator's legal counsel for a few months more than a decade ago. Apparently, he has yet to get over the experience. The portrait he paints of his former boss is hardly becoming. The man who would be president is, he asserts, an arrogant, ruthless, and bitter opportunist whose startling lack of principle and integrity is more than compensated for by an overweening dependence upon special interest groups and shadowy financiers.

Mr. Hilton documents his charge that the senator is little more than a neo-Nixon or a nouveau-Jekyll-Hyde with a myriad of examples of political hijinks, shady deals, and skullduggery.

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Obviously designed to skewer Sen. Dole, the exposé actually is more significantly an indictment of the entire political establishment-of which the senator is but one small part. It vividly illustrates the way things get done in Washington, and it is not a pretty picture. For all its personal attacks, sly innuendoes, and stinging accusations, Bob Dole comes off as simply a consummate insider, precisely what he's said he was all along.

Clinton-bashing books abound. Currently topping both the fiction and the nonfiction bestseller lists are books that portray the president in the most derogatory light imaginable. We're Right, They're Wrong by the president's brilliant political strategist, James Carville, is apparently intended to set the record straight. All it does is confirm our worst suspicions.

The book is cocky, profane, and wildly inaccurate. It is a brash assertion of the tired old liberal notion that louder and faster is a good substitute for wiser and better. It is simply an arrogant defense of tired old big government bromides and social welfare nostrums.

Combining smug ambition and lewd familiarity, Mr. Carville brilliantly captures the essence of the current administration's smarm and charm. I was horrified-though I was not surprised. Clearly, with friends like this, Mr. Clinton doesn't really need enemies.

It is rather telling that neither of these books had the effect on me that their authors actually intended-which may very well speak volumes about the effectiveness of most ideologically partisan tirades these days. Chalk them both up to politics as usual. If you're anything like me, reading such bombast will only leave you fitfully wondering, "Is this really the best we can do?"

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