I very much enjoyed Noam Scheiber’s profile of Stuart Stevens, “The Square and the Flair”, a profile whose theses, that these men are more alike than you might think, and that these likenesses are detrimental to their campaign, I am in much agreement with, and for which the piece makes a convincing argument. That the essay does not take the more scathing approach I often take here, and avoids some matters I bring up here, I do not consider a failing, but simply a choice of focus. What follows are two small corrections, and a few supplemental observations. This post makes frequent reference to previous looks at Stevens’ work; a good overview of all this can be found in “He Hates You: A Profile of Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s Media Assassin”, which might be considered an acid-tinged bookend to the Scheiber piece.
The first correction is small, but crucial. The piece opens with the following paragraph, I bold the key detail:
BEFORE HE EARNED his reputation as one of the best ad men in politics, before he wrote for several major television shows, and long before he became Mitt Romney’s top campaign strategist, Stuart Stevens found himself in Cameroon, face to face with a machine-gun-wielding soldier looking to shake him down. It was 1988, and a few weeks earlier, Stevens had deposited himself in the nearby Central African Republic to pick up a friend’s Land Rover and drive it back to France. But the trip was a disaster from the get-go. Local officials confiscated the car and refused to release it. Weeks passed before he could find a roadworthy replacement. By the time Stevens finally got moving, he discovered that his maps were unreliable, the roads nearly impassable, and the local bureaucrats inhospitable. Distances drivable within a few hours in the United States gobbled up days.
It was not 1988, it was 1987. It’s very clearly established that the book takes place in 1987, through a number of details, among them that he arrives in Niger just after a coup has taken place in Burkina Faso, where a charismatic guitar-playing young leader has just been overthrown.
Niger, though, was a security-mad country with roadblocks and police checks every twenty or thirty miles. The routine of paranoia had been accelerated by a coup a few days earlier in neighboring Burkina Faso. Like virtually every West African leader, the president of Niger had catapulted himself to power in a similar coup and no doubt viewed the events in Burkina Faso as intimations of his own mortality. (The Burkina Faso president, an exceptionally charismatic guitar-playing young leader, was gunned down in his residence, as is the custom.)
All of this meant it was impossible to travel a mile in Niger without immaculately ordered papers, including insurance.
This is Thomas Sankara, overthrown and killed October 15 1987. This date is very important, because Stevens speaks of the coup taking place a few days before, when he is in Niger in late November or early December: so how is it that the coup took place only days ago? These, and other details, point to the possibility, and I emphasize that it is a possibility, of fabulism. This is a serious charge, and not one I have made lightly: there are simply discrepancies in Malaria Dreams that I cannot understand or account for, detailed in my examination of strange flaws in currency and chronology in the book.
There is another possible correction, and it involves his first political campaign. Here is where it’s mentioned in Mr. Scheiber’s article:
Stevens’s political career began as a bit of a lark. In the mid-’70s, he interned in the congressional office of Thad Cochran and became friendly with Cochran’s chief of staff, Jon Hinson. When Hinson later ran for Congress, he enlisted Stevens to make his ads. Other than the internship, Stevens had little political experience to speak of.
Hinson’s winning race is in 1978. However, Night Train to Turkistan Stevens remembering his involvement in a different political campaign in 1975. The trip in Turkistan takes place in 1986, and he writes of a man accompanying him who worked with him on a gubernatorial campaign in Mississippi a decade before:
I’d met David ten years before when we both worked for the same gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi. We lost. David was quiet and very smart, with a stoic sort of love for the physical punishment of eighteen-hour campaign days in Mississippi’s 100 degree heat.
If Stevens is interning with Thad Cochran, than I assume the candidate he works for in that year is a republican, and not his hero, democrat William Winter, defeated in the democratic primary of that same year1. If this is the case, then it puts an interesting nuance on this current election, because the democratic gubernatorial candidate, Cliff Finch, ran a campaign notable for its populist appeal2. There is additional interest in the fact that the republican opponent was Gil Carmichael, who, in 1976, would go on to support Ford over Reagan at the convention, the last menshevik victory before the bolsheviks triumphed completely3.
My supplementary observations deal with key similarities of these two men, Stevens and Romney, similarities that I think are obvious, but unnoted in this piece, one of which flows out of the correction just made. This particular shared detail is their utter opacity. With regard to the candidate, this has involved a large existential question, “Who is Mitt Romney?”, as well as small practical ones, such as, “How did he get such a huge stash in his IRA?”, and, “What’s hidden in his taxes?” That the simple detail of what the first political campaign Stevens worked on is an open question points to the veiled aspects of this consultant’s life.
In other posts, I have pointed to areas of Stevens’ life which, for a public figure, I find baffling in their mystery. I am grateful to a kindly reader who assures me that Stevens is very much married and that she has met his wife, the figure forever obscure, off-stage, and occasionally unmentioned in his books. I take the reader at their word, and consider this a private matter, though Stevens’ campaign considers many of such private matters, whether it be contraception, abortion, or same sex marriage, to be public ones. I remain, however, puzzled by his education, even more so after Mr. Scheiber’s piece. Looking again at all his statements of where he went to school, Stevens went to a college in the United States4, Oxford as an undergrad5, Oxford as a graduate6, and two film schools, one of which is UCLA7. He is eighteen going on nineteen in 1972 (birthday October 22)8. He writes in Big Enchilada of joining Hinson’s campaign in 1978, after the two film schools, and that from then on, he devoted himself entirely to his work as political consultant9. So, he goes to five schools (yes, I count Oxford undergrad and grad as separate schools) in six years. At the same time, Mr. Scheiber reports him interning for Thad Cochran, in Mississippi in the mid-seventies, and he himself says he worked on a Mississippi governor’s campaign in 1975. I am puzzled over how he’s interning in Mississippi, while going to school in California or England. For that matter, if he is working for a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate in an election during the fall of 1975, how is he going to school in a different state, or another country? There may well be a simple answer to this; but the mystery over the mundane issue of a man’s education, which should be a simple set of facts, neatly interlaced through his writings, instead suggests the same murky water of his client’s finances.
There is another quality which links both men, very much a part of this veil, and that is their protean amorphability. The collected statements of Stevens are something like a series of flipped quarters, each flip having no impact or consequence on the next. Though Lee Iacocca is compared venomously with Mao Tse Tung in Turkistan10, Stevens is deeply moved by the tears of George W. Bush in an utterly saccharine moment in Enchilada11. He makes fun of mormons in Feeding Frenzy12, and, well, look who his client is now. In 2000, his campaign to elect Bush involved tax relief for the least well-off and dealing with income inequality13. This current campaign is built around “broadening the tax base”, making sure those same people given relief then start paying more now, while providing even more tax cuts for the most well-off, such as Mitt Romney and Stuart Stevens14. Most writers are happy to mention how they predicted a particular event; his novel, Scorched Earth, ends in a tied election that most certainly anticipates the chaos of 200015. Stevens makes no mention of the novel, or its impasse, in his Bush campaign memoir, Enchilada16. A key issue in this election is health care, against which Stevens designs screechy ads for his client, who is currently against such a program as well. On the other hand, an episode of “Commander in Chief”, which he co-wrote, implies that national health insurance would be a very sound idea17. Scorched Earth stated bluntly that trying to keep PACs and campaigns from co-ordinating was like trying to keep teens from having sex18; in a 2008 interview, he declared there was no such co-ordination between PACs and the Bush campaign19. In 2009, he made fun of muslim-baiting, his current campaign happily abides it. Stevens used to defend Newt Gingrich on charges of corruption while house leader20, this past primary, he destroyed Gingrich on charges of corruption while house leader21. He sneers at fellow southerner Al Gore naming his dog Shiloh, after a battle in which the south suffered such a devastating loss, though a few years earlier, Scorched Earth, a novel he wrote, featured one of its most sympathetic characters claiming that the poor of Mississippi deserved to be so because of their state’s part in the confederacy22. The republican nominee who has abided the Huma Abedin witch hunt, and met last week with many of its most enthusiastic proponents, has a chief strategist who writes of meeting with a member of the PLO in Malaria Dreams, where this member of the PLO is described sympathetically23.
I end with one final trait of the two men, and I think it is their most fatal flaw in this election. Both seem to lack anything like basic intuition of how their actions might be perceived. The cruel humor in Stevens’ books, where he’ll, say, threaten to choke one woman with a gas hose24, or his hero will threaten to tear out the vocal cords of another25, has no sense that it might be heard by others not as everyday metaphors of annoyance, but psychotic episodes. These jokes are unfunny for the same reason that the much blander humor of his client isn’t exactly a laugh riot either, that neither of these men have much idea of basic human internals. Mitt Romney asks random people if they’re french. Stuart Stevens writes books where the joke is, over and over again, some variation on person A threatening to hit, or actually hitting, person B26. These are the methods in which these alien overlords have been instructed to ingratiate themselves with the people of earth. This blindness blends with their own hubris, as Romney appears suddenly surprised that people might actually want to know more about complex tax schemes involving Swiss accounts, and business funding from families that backed Salvadoran death squads. This same arrogance may also have blinded Stevens, who appears not to have considered the possibility that someone might actually read all of his books, in an effort to discern the men behind the curtain who elect our political leaders, and helpfully point out the details of those books of greatest awkwardness to his campaign.
Mr. Scheiber writes of the holy warriors of the internet, of which Stevens was caught so unawares, of which Mr. Scheiber may or may not include myself, and here is one more small difference with which I have with the piece. Mr. Scheiber portrays the contrast of this election and that of twelve years ago a little too much as a difference of social networks, without emphasis on a country wrecked by financial pillaging, with the best of men and women maimed or dead in two wars. The anger arising from all these wasted lives is not some petty liberal petulance, but a white hot anger of a kind Stuart Stevens has never felt, an anger at being treated as simple playpieces in the games of others. To make as clear as possible who this man is, what he has said and done in the past, so he might not shape-shift away from it again, however, isn’t jihad. It’s simple accountability.
Other pieces that look at the life and career of political consultant Stuart Stevens include “He Hates You: A Profile of Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s Meda Assassin”, a brief look at his China travel memoir, Night Train to Turkistan, The Big Enchilada, his memoir of working in the George W. Bush campaign, a look at his travel memoir Malaria Dreams, an analysis of his novel Scorched Earth, an analysis of his book Feeding Frenzy, his interview with Charlie Rose promoting Feeding Frenzy, Stevens and Jon Hinson, an analysis of an episode of “Commander in Chief” which he co-wrote, and his defense of Newt Gingrich on “Charlie Rose”. Outside profiles and mentions, all excellent, are “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” by Robert Draper, “An Unconventional Strategist Reshaping Romney” by Ashley Parker, “The Coming Tsunami of Slime” by Joe Hagan, and “Mitt Romney’s Dark Knight” by Jason Zengerle.
1 William Winter is mentioned as a politician who Stevens first met as a youth, and greatly admired. Though he writes of his attempts at election, he makes no mention of helping any of these attempts.
So I fell in love with politics. Who wouldn’t? It had all the fun of combat but nobody died, or at least not very often. (No one shot Winter [Winter was at the time a segregationist, but considered insufficiently devoted to the issue, and marked for death by some extremists], but he lost, ran again and lost, and then finally was elected and turned out to be the best governor Mississippi had in fifty years.)
On Finch winning over Winter, from The Florence Times, August 27, 1975:
Finch Triumphs in Mississippi
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Attorney Cliff Finch packed a record gubernatorial victory into his campaign lunchpail today and proclaimed the Democratic runoff triumph “the American dream come true.”
Finch, who aimed a vigorous campaign at the working man, watched his margin over Lt. Gov. William Winter, the first primary leader, pass 110,000 votes, the largest margin in Mississippi political history.
Finch, a former district attorney, has campaigned by performing manual labor to demonstrate friendship with workers, using a metal lunchbox as campaign symbol. His jobs have included bulldozer operator, pulpwood cutter, shrimp boat worker, oilfield roughneck, diesel mechanic, butcher and grocery bagger.
Pressure tactics by Ford partisans are angering Mississippi Republicans
By Jonathan Wolman, Associated Press Writer
The chairman of the Mississippi Republican party, angered by the tactics of President Ford’s partisans, says their efforts to woo delegates in the state may have backfired and reduced support for Ford.
Criticizing the efforts on Ford’s behalf, Clarke Reed said Thursday that Ford may have less support in the delegation today than he did just two days ago.
Reed said pressure from Ford backers included suggestions that Ronald Reagan would settle for a vie presidential nomination.
Reagan telephoned Ford campaigner Gil Carmichael of Meridianm, Miss., on Thursday and told him to stop telling delegates that Reagan is considering a vice presidential position.
Carmichael said that in four days of heavy telephone lobbying he and other Ford supporters told delegates only that they believed a Ford-Reagan ticket was possible. But Reed said Carmichael had been telling delegates a Ford-Reagan ticket was sanctioned by Reagan.
Reagan told Carmichael that he would not consider a FordReagan ticket “under any circumstances,” according to the Mississippian.
I’d tried it once in college when an exceptionally gorgeous girl of a Nordic type suggested a trip up Pikes Peak in Colorado as something of a first date. (That sort of squeaky-clean approach was popular at that time and place, a phase I hope has passed for those still dating in Colorado.)
5 From Feeding Frenzy:
We were in a little restaurant on the side of a cliff in a town called Eze, wedged between Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Monte Carlo. I was nineteen, I think, and on one of the many interminable vacations that Oxford likes to provide. She was a few years older, an American, but she had lived in France for a while, which seemed very impressive and somehow important. It was late March and not far away there were almost nude women lying on rocks they called a beach.
From my formative years as a grad student at Oxford, where there were many Muslims, there exist photographs of me attending a lecture entitled, “The History of Islam.” I was spotted many times riding my motorcycle in the vicinity of the Mosque on Bath Road. That I was visiting a girlfriend who lived nearby may only have been a clever deep cover deception. As proof of my success as a Muslim organizer, there are now four Mosques in Oxford, where there was only one when I was a student.
7 From The Big Enchilada:
Then a friend called just as I was finishing film school. He was running for Congress in Mississippi against Senator John Stennis’s son and couldn’t afford to hire anybody to make ads for him. So he asked me to do it. I explained that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make commercials and when he protested that I had just been to two of the fanciest film schools in the country, I tried to tell him that mostly what I did was watch old films and write little essays and listen to people like Vincente Minnelli tell us how it used to be. (Minnelli wore a blazer the color of a canary yellow Post-it note. Perfect.)
That one of the schools should be UCLA comes from its mention in an early Stevens profile, “Image Makers Hard at Work In the Selling of a Candidate”:
This free-form approach reflects the philosophy of the 40-year-old Mr. Stevens. Unlike most political consultants who rose from campaign ranks, he went to film school at the University of California at Los Angeles and has published fiction.
8 From Malaria Dreams:
It was my birthday, the twenty-second of October.
From Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot, by Robert Draper, published November 30, 2011.
Stevens, a 58-year old Mississippi native (whom I have known for over a decade), is as wry, eclectic and mussed in appearance as his boss is earnest and buttoned up.
9 The excerpt on finishing film schools is at footnote 7.
That the election between John Hampton Stennis and Jon Hinson took place in 1978 can be found in the wikipedia entry for John C. Stennis, Hampton’s father.
[John C.] Stennis married Coy Hines, and together, they had two children, John Hampton and Margaret Jane. His son, John Hampton Stennis (born ca. 1935), an attorney in Jackson, Mississippi, ran unsuccessfully in 1978 for the United States House of Representatives, having been defeated by the Republican Jon C. Hinson, then the aide to U.S. Representative Thad Cochran, who ran successfully to succeed James O. Eastland for the other Mississippi seat in the U.S. Senate.
After the film schools, he becomes a media consultant:
It wasn’t as though I had a lot of offers after film school, and I had to admit it did sound like fun. So I went back to Mississippi and somehow we stumbled our way to victory in what was seen as a major upset. Then I discovered other people would pay me money to make commercials for them.
So I became a media consultant.
Why not? It’s a profession of charlatans. You want to be a media consultant, just say you’re one. To drive a cab in New York, at least you have to take a test, know how to get to Kennedy. But media consulting? No way.
“Can you buy Iacocca’s book in China?” [asked Stevens]
“Every day in the People’s Daily, two pages of the I-Coke-ah book is run.” [answered Lu Wei Hong]
“That’s almost the whole paper.”
“Yes. This is very important.”
Startling as the idea was, it did make a certain amount of sense that Iacocca would go over big in a country molded by Mao. The two had a lot in common: both were megalomaniacs, and both had a special knack for what might be called Succeeding Through Failure. Mao realized that he was losing his grip in 1965, so he launched the Cultural Revolution and reestablished himself as the dominant figure in China. Iacocca was fired at Ford, landed a job as head of a bankrupt company that made terrible cars, had to beg Congress for a billion dollars – all the sort of stuff that would have made any normal person embarrassed to appear in public. And yet he had the gall to strut around on national television in commercials, becoming a folk hero in the process.
Both were also fashion arbiters in their own right – Mao, the blue jackets and cap; Iacocca, the shirts with contrasting collars and cuffs. And both had been trading for years on one impressive achievement: Mao had pulled off the Long March, and Iacocca had overseen the creation of the Mustang.
11 When shooting George W. Bush for a campaign spot:
[Mark McKinnon, a fellow consultant] started out with some general questions about growing up in Midland. We weren’t sure how we would use this, but it was familiar terrain and a way to start a conversation. Bush loved Midland and you could see his eyes soften and his whole body relax when he talked about what it was like to grow up in a place with few trees and a ton of oil wells.
They moved on to the standard issues, tax cuts and then the military. When talking about how important it was for America to be respected around the world, his tone shifted and he looked off camera for a moment and for a beat I thought he might tear up. It surprised me. What was he thinking, feeling?
“You know,” he said, “everywhere I go in America, everywhere I’ve gone on this fantastic journey so far, people walk up to me with pictures of their children and say, ‘Governor, I want my child to look at the White House and be proud of what he or she sees.'”
Then he stopped and a hint of tears did come. The room was utterly silent, with only the faint hum of the 35-millimeter film running through the camera.
In the editing room a week later, we used what he said in a spot we called “Pictures.” It was always my favorite.
12 In Feeding Frenzy:
Living in New York, I had long ago developed a psychological defense to absurd restaurant prices based on specious rationalizations along the lines of “Well, it’s cheaper than a car” or “Mormons pay this much every couple of months to feed the average family of fifteen.” It helped, sort of.
13 From Enchilada, George W. Bush going through the copy of a campaign ad:
He read the final line of the script. “‘I believe we ought to cut tax rates to continue economic growth and prosperity.’ We should change this. It makes it sound like all I want to do is continue what Clinton has done. We can do better than that and we ought to say it. The whole idea of the tax plan will be to eliminate taxes for people at the bottom of the spectrum.”
A study from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center revealed yesterday, Romney’s plan would raise taxes on middle-class families with children by an average of $2,000 and raise taxes on all taxpayers with incomes under $200,000 by an average of $500. (Those estimates are conservative: In filling in missing details, TPC bent over backwards to make Romney’s plan as kind to the middle class as possible, given the hard promises he has made on tax cuts for the rich and corporations.)
A middle-class tax increase is inevitable under Romney’s plan because it’s impossible to pay for Romney’s tax cuts for the rich by reducing their tax breaks. As a result, the TPC study finds, Romney’s plan “mathematically necessitates a shift in the tax burden of at least $86 billion away from high-income taxpayers onto lower- and middle-income taxpayers.”
15 An excerpt from Scorched Earth, dealing with the possibility that clerks on the ground will steal votes:
Solomon Jawinski, even after being governor for seven years, had never been accepted by many in the local courthouse crowd – the county clerks and the supervisors – and they were the ones most likely to steal votes. The way things were these days, it was hard for them to steal big time, but they could definitely tilt an election that was less than half a percent. The courthouse crowd loved nothing more in the world than a close election. The state, like all southern states, was still under the jurisdiction of the federal Voting Rights Act, and it required Justice Department approval to strike a single name from the voting rolls. Few county clerks wanted to go to the trouble of dealing with Washington just because somebody had moved or died, so as a result there were more people on the voting rolls dead than alive. That made it very easy to steal.
On the importance of the campaign controlling vote inspection and tallying:
Everywhere on the ground floor of the mansion, people were screaming into telephones. No fewer than ten cellular phones were in use, and every line of the mansion’s thirteen line system was lit by a manic voice intent on securing a not insignificant prize – six years in the U.S. Senate. The noise was elaborate. A desperate, loud noise:
“What do you mean those boxes are ‘okay’? We’ll decide if they’re okay or not, not some damn county clerk wanting to kiss Luke Bonney’s ass. Hell, yes, I want ’em impounded now!”
The importance of making sure you’re perceived as the winner during a close election:
Charlie Song, talking into two telephones, winked at Matt. He flashed a thumbs-up, not very convincingly. He was still in a very Charlie Song suit that did not look as if he had slept in it, as Matt knew he had. If he had slept at all. Theirs would have been an all-night vigil, with lawyers rousted in the middle of night. The finest legal aides available in the state turned out of bed like a bunch of Parris Island recruits heading for a midnight march through the swamps.
A television was on in the corner, and Luke Bonney was standing before a podium expressing his supreme confidence that the recount would put him where the people of this great state clearly wanted him – in the United States Senate. Matt could just make out the faded Sun and Sand logo on the podium.
“Dream on, slime sucker!” Ruthie hissed, turning to give Matt a quick kiss on the cheek. Her eyes glowed with the heat of the hunt. “Banana republic stuff, Matt,” she whispered fiercely, “we hold on to the lead long enough, we got it. Bring out the tanks! Put those damn planes in the air!”
Matt agreed sophisticated armaments might come in handy.
An emphasis on violence, on military power, on force, to establish that you are the true leader in a close vote:
The Solomon Jawinski postelection press conference was held on the steps of the mansion. The location had been Matt’s idea and had been chosen to project as much credible force as possible. It was the sort of thing best done while standing on top of a tank surrounding by a whole bunch of ferocious-looking guys with nasty weapons. The message was clear: I am mean. I am strong. Do not mess with me, or you shall die.
Instead of tanks, Jawinski had to settle for the somewhat imposing white columns of the mansion and in place of armed men, civility dictated he rely on a bunch of tired-looking lawyers. It suffered in the translation, but Solomon Jawinski seemed delighted by the world. Matt couldn’t remember seeing him this happy.
16 The section of Enchilada dealing with the recount is a small part of the book, going from page 280 to 298. Nothing of Scorched Earth is ever mentioned, here, or at any part of the book. Two fragments covey an idea of the tone of those twenty pages, one of helplessness and ennui.
We though it would all be over in a matter of days. There would be a machine recount of all the ballots, our lead would expand or stay about the same and Gore would accept defeat and concede graciously. Had anybody suggested that this thing would go on for another thirty-five days, we would have laughed hysterically, then probably thrown the person out of the window. Thirty-five days for a simple recount? No way.
But for the next thirty-five days, I would wake up every morning to the growing realization that whether we won or lost, the race for the presidency was going to have little to do with anything we did in Austin that day. For all our posturing in front of the television cameras, this was now an election that would be decided in the courtroom by lawyers. They were the soldiers now and I was just another well-intentioned civilian.
17 The episode focuses on a soldier whose wife is very sick, and lacking the insurance to pay for her medication, he threatens to blow up Air Force One in an attempt to get her the help she needs. His wife can’t get the insurance she needs because of her pre-existing condition. A script excerpt; HENDRICKS is the soldier’s doctor, ALLEN is the president, GARDNER the vice-president.
A tank backed into him.
Damaged his left leg. But he worked like hell in therapy and did all the right things.
He improved, so he was reclassifed as only 30 percent disabled.
Which dropped him out of priority one coverage and he lost his insurance.
ROD CALLOWAY [The president’s husband]
Doesn’t his current job come with health insurance?
For him. But not his wife because of her pre-existing condition.
Though the president will not negotiate with this man, she is sympathetic to his plight, and concedes that the fact that he lacks insurance is an issue of the federal government not serving him well.
Mr. Terzano, you have not served your country very well today. But there is reason to believe…that you have not been well-served by your country, either. If your country is at fault I promise to take the necessary steps…
The episode ends with the medication for the soldier’s wife paid for through donations from others throughout the country. Is this not something like insurance? A full examination of the episode is here.
18 A front group PAC is set up to help elect the protaganist’s candidate. Farkas is a member of the campaign, Byron Timmons heads the ostensibly independent PAC. The narrator brings up the obvious issue that it’s illegal for there to be any co-ordination between the PAC and the campaign, and the fact that such co-ordination is inevitable.
“Can Farkas be traced?” Matt asked, ignoring her and trying to focus. “Will anyone prove he was involved with Byron?”
“No,” Charlie answered, though he wasn’t really sure of this at all. It was what he had spent the afternoon trying to decide. Some people knew that Farkas was a friend of Byron Timmons’s [sic], but that couldn’t be called a crime, though by all rights it should have been.
The question at hand involved a violation of FEC – Federal Election Commission – law. It was illegal for there to be any contact or coordination between an independent group like Citizens for Good Government and a federal campaign. This was because the independent groups were exempt from the fund-raising limitations and reporting requirements imposed on congressional and senatorial campaigns. Nine times out of ten, however, this was a sham. It was like trying to keep teenagers from having sex. The very notion of stopping two groups with the same goal from trading information and plotting together sub rosa was preposterous.
19 Originally, this interview appeared on the site Buying of the President, which appears to be off-line at the moment. A copy of the relevant text is below, with the most important parts bolded; screenshots of the page itself, with this relevant fragment are listed afterwards.
How do you feel about both the independent-expenditure committees and 527s, in terms of losing control of your own campaign?
I hate it.
Talk a little about that.
Like the Swift Boats. I remember when the whole Swift Boat thing, everybody in the [George W.] Bush world was furious, and sort of stunned. People don’t believe this, but it’s true.
So it’s not enough to be able to say, “Hey, that wasn’t ours, and we had nothing to do with it — we didn’t talk to anybody.” You are getting nailed with it anyway? Is that the problem?
Oh, yeah. People do nail you with it. And most of the time they screw it up, in the sense that they don’t do what you want to do. And I remember in the Swift Boat thing, I had been working on this ad, just kind of noodling on my own, where it was very straightforward. “John Kerry came back from Vietnam and he said this.” And then I had just a clip of it. It said, “What do you think?” That was it. And then the Swift Boat people came in.
But it didn’t go after the element of his service in Vietnam?
No. And they entered the argument on the medals issue, which I always felt was the worst way to argue that. Like should he have gotten two medals instead of three? It’s just insane. And so I felt that by entering the argument at that point, they had discredited the argument. And the one thing you could say about someone like Karl [Rove], Karl likes to control things. Not in a bad way, but in a “we don’t like stuff just to happen.” And all of us, I think, were like, “What?” I certainly didn’t know anything. I don’t think anybody knew anything about it. It’s just kind of you wake up one morning, and it’s like, “What?” I remember the phone ringing, one of the 6 a.m. phone calls, you know whatever it’s going to be it’s not going to be good. It’s like, “Have you seen this?” And so, I mean, people say the Swift Boat thing hurt Kerry. Maybe. Maybe the way they handled it hurt him. But I thought the “Ashley” ad that was done mainly in Ohio by the 527s, you see that where Bush is embracing this girl whose mother had died in 9/11. He did the Willie Horton ads, Larry [McCarthy]; he did it. I thought it was a very good ad, fabulous ad.
21 The ad “History Lesson”:
22 From Enchilada:
As a Mississippian, I was mildly amused that the dog’s name was Shiloh; what kind of Southerner named his dog after a battle which turned into a Southern slaughter? It would be like a German naming a dog Stalingrad. Maybe a focus group had liked it.
From Scorched Earth, governor Solomon Jawinski during an interview, on the problem with germans and the people of Mississippi:
“They still have this horrible sense of thwarted destiny. Lookit,” he took off his glasses and rubbed the dark circles surrounding his eyes like bruises, “one hundred years ago, this was the richest part of the country. Man, we were rich rich rich. But then we went and did a stupid violent thing called secession. In five years we became the poorest part of the country, and one hundred years later, it’s still that way. And maybe that’s not so bad.”
“It’s good to be poor?” Dawn looked genuinely shocked.
“It’s good to have some kind of reminder of what happens when people do something horrible – like rebellion.”
23 From Malaria Dreams, the entrance of Habib, the palestinian:
Habib woke me up. “Can I help you?” he asked politely, like a steward on a cruise ship at teatime. He was a portly fellow wearing a tweed jacket and rep tie with a scarf thrown over his neck. His accent was English, his manner that of an amiable Oxford don.
Habib was a Palestinian, a teacher by profession, forced to Algeria with his family after 1948. With little prompting, he launched into an astoundingly intricate analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. At regular intervals he interrupted the erudite lecture to grasp my arm, encrusted with a grimy layer of oil and sand, imploring, “You see? You must help us?”
Eventually I realized that he meant the United States government, rather than myself. I nodded vaguely, trying to come up with words befitting my new dipomatic status.
A man who, it turns out, is a member of the PLO:
“It was a very smart hiding place,” Cheik-ben said thoughtfully. I must remember it the next time I go to France.”
“But why would you take a tent to France?” Habib, the scholar asked. “The hotels in France are excellent. After the 1986 PLO council meeting in Tangiers, the old man and I traveled to Saint-Tropez.”
24 From Feeding Frenzy:
“What do we do?” [says Stevens]
“We could stop and siphon out the old gas and put in new.”
“Siphon? Siphon with what?”
“A hose would probably be best, don’t you think?”
I thought about killing her, maybe with a hose wrapped around her neck.
25 From Scorched Earth, the hero political consultant, Matt Bonney, talks to two women.
“Look, let’s face it,” Ruthie said, “My sister on television is strictly a T and A kind of thing regardless of what she is doing. She’s a T and A kind of girl.”
“Oh,” Lisa said, “unlike being an anchorwoman like my sister. T and A has nothing to do with that, of course not. That’s strictly a matter of superior intellect. That’s why they hired Dawn. I mean, she’s just talking about plastic surgery now because it will make her smarter.”
Dawn! Matt’s vision went a little blurry around the edges.
“Plastic surgery?” Ruthie giggled. “She is not.”
Lisa laughed, and Ruthie turned to Matt. “Dawn doesn’t need any surgery, does she?” Ruthie asked. “Neck, eyes, cheeks?”
Matt wanted to reach across the table and bite her vocal cords right out of her throat.
Matt Bonney, in conversation with one of the women again:
Ruthie suddenly smiled. It was a huge smile that lit up her entire face. “We’re going to win,” she murmured, almost breathlessly. “This will do it for sure. Luke is finished!” She thought for a moment. “We ought to still do that spot you came up with, the one with Luke on vacation with those lobbyist sleazebags. Have you been able to get that tape yet?”
Her Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and Matt thought very hard for an instant about biting it and ripping it from her throat with his teeth.
26 Matt Bonney, hero political consultant, versus pollster Walter Farkas in Scorched Earth:
Walter Farkas was standing there gawking when Matt hit him in the stomach. Tired as he was, Matt’s punch was not particularly powerful, but it was close enough to bump Farkas into Lionel, who was just entering the kitchen door behind Farkas with a tray full of plates. Flailing about for a handhold, Lionel grabbed hold of Farkas’s shirt. For a moment, the two hung together in some perfect symmetry before all those good pompano dinners Lionel had consumed over the years edged his center balance toward the floor, and together, linked like an awkward train, the two of them cascaded backward through the door into the restaurant. The tray full of dishes followed closely thereafter, its astounding crash serving as period to Farkas’ strangled cry: “Crackers! All crackers!”
Matt Bonney, hero political consultant, versus his brother.
Luke shrugged, and Matt thought he looked incredibly smug for a fellow who had just been accused of waking up next to transvestites. Matt thought about this for a bit, then he stood up and, almost as an afterthought, hit his brother very hard right in his nose.
“Right,” Matt repeated when Luke fell, sputtering to the floor, blood exploding all over his gray pinstripes and Ruthie’s Oriental rug.
Stuart Stevens runs into an old woman in Belgium when his car has car troubles.
“Can you recommend a hotel?” I asked an elderly woman walking her tiny Pekingese pup.
“You have a problem,” she said.
Immediately I felt like strangling the woman. A problem? A problem? Just because I’m riding around in a car with no brakes in a city with man-eating tunnels and I’ve got a dog on the back seat who is just dying to eat your silly little dog and, besides, I’m about to be late for dinner at Comme Chez Soi, you think I’ve got a problem? PROBLEM?!
Stuart Stevens in Feeding Frenzy, dealing with an acquaintance after car problems:
Through a rising cloud of thick smoke, I pulled the car over, crushing a long line of the wildflowers I’d been admiring.
“Where’s your fire extinguisher?” Carl demanded, reverting to his years of military training.
“I don’t have a damn fire extinguisher,” I shot back. “Who carries a fire extinguisher, for cryin’ out loud?”
“People who don’t want their old Mustangs to burn,” Carl said.
If I’d had a fire extinguisher, I would have definitely used it to slide the nozzle down his throat. Then a little squeeze of the handle…It was a delicious notion.
From “Let’s All Chill”, an article for Outside magazine, about an arctic journey.
No matter how many gloves I put on, or what kind, they would not stay warm. By the second night on the ice, my fingers had started to blister.
“How did this happen?” I asked Børge, staring at them.
“You are in the Arctic,” he shrugged.
“Børge,” I sighed. “I think I’m going to kill you.”
Tony, an englishman, in Feeding Frenzy.
I’d met Tony through politics, when he had wanted to cover a “real American campaign” and had talked me into letting him report on a race I was working on in South Dakota. My misguided effort to be helpful resulted in four long days of Tony at my side murmuring, “The vastness, oh, the vastness,” every few minutes. He actually wore a Savile Row bespoke suit; I’m not making this up, he really did. And brand-new cowboy boots fashioned from the skin of some unidentified endangered species. He also wore bow ties and was fond of quoting Kevin Costner from Dances with Wolves. We spent four days in South Dakota, and had we spent a fifth, I’m confident he would have been sent back to Brighton in a box, disemboweled by some disgruntled South Dakotan who couldn’t take another word from this bow-tied, Savile-suit-wearing dandy in iridescent cowboy boots.
From “Brains, Know How, and Native Intelligence”, a “Northern Exposure” episode written by Stevens: