Read Early, Read Often
As the 2016 presidential campaign gains momentum, one thing you can count on during the ceremonial browbeating and breast-beating competition will be a concurrent surge in "rant lit" books. They're the ones that aren't simply published, but seem to be hurled ferociously across the political divide in a high stakes game of biblio-dodgeball.
Fortunately, there are exceptions, including Barton Swaim's The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics. From 2007 to 2010, he worked as a communications officer and speechwriter for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whose ambitions would be derailed in 2009 by infidelity (Keywords: "hiking the Appalachian Trail" and "mistress in Argentina").
Swaim's job "wasn't to write well; it was to write like the governor…. I was hired to write what the governor would have written if he had had the time." The author's inside look at one small corner of the creaky machinations of government ("It was our job to generate supplies of 'language.' ") is more Veep than House of Cards, but the message is ultimately a serious one.
Caring deeply about words turns out to be a handicap. Swaim gradually learns he must deprogram his gift to do his job: "Everybody complains that politics separates words from their meanings, and this is part of the reason why. Words are useful, but often their meanings are not."
His chronicle of daily office life is not only insightful, but surprisingly rational given his often bizarre treatment under Sanford's command. "The brutal reality is that politicians gain power by convincing us that they are wise and trustworthy," he writes. "What they do isn't in fact very different from the classical arts of rhetoric or oratory.... Rhetoricians, in other words--politicians--please the masses not by actually doing wise and virtuous things with state power but by making the masses believe that's what they are doing."
The Speechwriter is a little scary, but in a good way. It's also a welcome antidote to rant lit. --Robert Gray, contributing editor