I’ve been told by friends I should read Shattered, the devastating takedown of the Clinton 2016 campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. I may, but it’s not high on my priority list. That’s not to say it’s uninteresting or poorly written. From all I’ve read, it’s a really good work, and a page turner.
I’m just not sure I should spend hours on gory details that do nothing more than confirm what I already believe.
I did spend the few minutes required to read Matt Taibbi’s review of the book, and am glad I did. Taibbi’s intellect is as keen as any journalist out there. In this case, his takeaways from the book, not about the Clinton campaign, but about the Democratic Party, the Democratic establishment, and American political campaigns, have more long-lasting relevance than Shattered itself. Taibbi:
What Allen and Parnes captured in Shattered was a far more revealing portrait of the Democratic Party intelligentsia than, say, the WikiLeaks dumps. And while the book is profoundly unflattering to Hillary Clinton, the problem it describes really has nothing to do with Secretary Clinton.
The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.
In fact, it shines through in the book that the voters’ need to understand why this or that person is running for office is viewed in Washington as little more than an annoying problem.
Taibbi’s observation is dead on. At first blush, it seems absurd that politicians should struggle with and find annoying the requirement that they have a reason for running for office. But consider how our system works. The clearest path to political office is planning. It’s doing things like laboriously maintaining contact lists from a very young age; engaging in the mind numbing, ice pick in the eye stabbing work of grass-roots party politics; and building a resume that will impress voters. Consider this reality: It is not uncommon for a young, aspiring politician to serve in the military solely for the purpose of being able to say he/she served our country.
When you view it through that lens, the “annoying problem” Taibbi identifies is easier to understand. The reason most politicians are running for office is that they’ve always wanted to hold public office. Worse, if it’s a down ballot race, the real reason a candidate is running for that office typically is because she’s decided it’s her best stepping stone to higher office, and not even a specific higher office, just any higher office.
So, yeah, concocting a reason for seeking office that the public will digest smoothly is annoying, because any betrayal of the puke-inducing cynicism upon which the campaign actually is based would be fatal. Hence the gallows humor banter regarding “It’s her turn” in the Clinton campaign.
Another takeaway, this one regarding the reports that Clinton supposedly reviewed all her top staffers’ internal campaign emails after her failed 2008 bid. Here again, Taibbi captures the larger importance of what’s reported in Shattered:
Reading your employees’ emails isn’t nearly the same as having an outsider leak them all over the world. Still, such a criticism would miss the point, which is that Hillary was looking in the wrong place for a reason for her 2008 loss. That she was convinced her staff was at fault makes sense, as Washington politicians tend to view everything through an insider lens.
Most don’t see elections as organic movements within populations of millions, but as dueling contests of “whip-smart” organizers who know how to get the cattle to vote the right way. If someone wins an election, the inevitable Beltway conclusion is that the winner had better puppeteers.
Isn’t the reality Taibbi identifies simply a corollary to the development of campaigns as a high-dollar industry, to which many talented individuals dedicate their entire careers, some making fortunes along the way? When I ran for Congress ten years ago, the going rate for a Congressional campaign manager was low six figures on the Democratic side, and likely higher on the Republican side, where there are more dollars sloshing around. And those who work directly on campaigns are in politics what ratings company workers are in finance: the bottom rung. The highly paid “talent” is in the polling, data analysis, and media consulting firms.
So, if the reality is anything other than what Taibbi describes, how could the multi-billion dollar campaign industry possibly be justified?
Like any good writer, Taibbi saves the best, and most important, for last:
If the ending to this story were anything other than Donald Trump being elected president, Shattered would be an awesome comedy, like a Kafka novel – a lunatic bureaucracy devouring itself. But since the ending is the opposite of funny, it will likely be consumed as a cautionary tale.
Shattered is what happens when political parties become too disconnected from their voters. Even if you think the election was stolen, any Democrat who reads this book will come away believing he or she belongs to a party stuck in a profound identity crisis. Trump or no Trump, the Democrats need therapy – and soon.
I’d invite anyone who has even the slightest quibble with Taibbi here to read the posts and comment threads on this site over the past two years. Were you to reduce the blame thrown around here for Clinton’s loss to its bare essence it would be placed squarely on the voters who didn’t vote for her. Yes, therapy, and lots of it, clearly is in order.