Review: Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

Primary Colors: A Novel of PoliticsPrimary Colors: A Novel of Politics by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Until the halfway point, this was a 4.5 star book. I’d just seen the movie of the same name recently so I was interested in reading the book to compare the two. I was also hoping the book would provide more insight into some of the characters’ decisions.

I was impressed by how faithfully the movie recreated scenes from the book; this might just be one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’d ever seen, which is even more impressive when you consider the context in which it was created; the mid-to-late 90s were rife with a lot of failed adaptations.

It’s rather fun to try and guess which characters are based on real people (and there’s a handy list for you to check your work). And the characters here are strong and interesting . . . at least at first. But where things go wrong is, perhaps not coincidentally, where the book and the movie versions diverge. The movie paces the book almost perfectly until the middle point, then skips over a lot of plot to leapfrog right to the big finale. Frankly, this was a good idea.

The book started to lose me around the time the main character had an affair with Susan (based on Hillary Clinton) and other . . . I guess you’d call it plot wandering? The plot and characters that was so taut and relentlessly paced seems to derail as Henry’s angst overwhelms any further direction. Unfortunately, it’s not something that resolves quickly enough and so the closing act drags until the big finish.

There’s also this weird thing about how faithfully the characters resemble the people they are based on and how some of the events very closely resemble things that really happened (such as the Cashmere McCloud/Gennifer Flowers scandal) but other ones are wildly fanciful (I don’t recall anyone in the primary dropping out due to a heart attack, then having his replacement drop out due to a drug scandal).

On the one hand, you recognize that a novel can be fantasy and that the real story of the 1992 presidential campaign didn’t have quite as many fun twists and turns. On the other hand, when you mix reality with fantasy so thoroughly, it creates a distance between the text and the reader, because now I’m not sure what to do with any of this material. I can’t dismiss everything, because some stuff is based on truth. But I can’t believe everything, because some of it is so obviously made up. It started out fun, at first, but eventually it just felt like homework.

So we’re left with a decidedly odd review at the end. On the strength of the characters, their dialogue, their interaction, and their sheer presence on the page, we come to 4.5 stars, maybe even 5 stars. Which is a really good thing, because this novel is almost entirely in dialogue.

On the other hand, the weirdness of some of the plot aspects and the sagging third act meant that after a roaring start, I found myself procrastinating on finishing the book, which means even with such wonderful characterization, the love/hate split I felt leaves me with a respectable, though not amazing, rating of three stars.

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I Did Not See That Coming (Political Edition)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the subject of politics this year, having burned myself out on the subject back in 2013. It was my prolific year on this blog, but also the most frustrating, in part because I ended up politi-blogging so much that I ended up seeking out content that infuriated me just so I’d have something to write about. That ain’t no way to go through life, son. I also wanted this blog to really focus on fiction more, hence the shift in content.

That said, I’m in a rare mood today and I’d really like to go on the record for just how badly one of my predictions turned out, so here are my thoughts on this bit of news: candidate Scott Walker is going to drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

I didn’t write a post about this (see the previous paragraph about political blogging), but I had opinions and predictions. And when the Republican primary process kicked into gear earlier this year, I predicted Walker would be the eventual nominee.

If we could rewind to a few months ago (circa April 2015), here’s what a slightly younger version of Matt would say:

On the subject of the Republican candidates: It’s going to be Walker vs. Clinton in 2016. He’s an obvious choice: he’s from a Democratic stronghold state (Wisconsin has voted blue in every presidential election since 1984) and his big claim to fame is union-busting, which is abhorrent to me, but it’s the kind of thing that can win broad appeal without alienating too many demographics, especially since blue-collar Republicans vote against their own interests so often. He’s not doing great in the polls right now, but let’s look at his competition and you’ll see why I think he’s going to be the guy (not to mention polls this early are basically worthless anyway; just ask President Cain or President Gingrich).

Walker doesn’t have a last name with a ton of baggage like Bush.

He’s not too religious, which gives him more moderate appeal than Jindal or other religious conservatives, but still seems religious enough to win over the base.

Huckabee might be in the lead right now, but that’ll never last. Ditto Santorum.

Christie is damaged goods after the bridge thing.

Paul and Cruz might be serious contenders, but I think they’ve been on the stage too long and people are tired of them.

Of them all, I’d say Rubio could be the strongest candidate for a general election, but I don’t think the current Republican party can handle someone with his background (i.e. non-whiteness) and relative youth, even though he’d be a great candidate to field against the Democrats, especially if he can peel away Latino voters.

Trump is just this cycle’s Herman Cain. Or this cycle’s Trump. Take your pick.

In short: I predict it’ll be Walker vs. Clinton 2016, in which case “go Hillary!”


Obviously, I was wrong; thoroughly, utterly, completely wrong. Walker is the second drop out after Rick Perry resigned a few weeks ago. He was the guy I’d have bet money on. Keep in mind that he’s not the guy I’d have voted for; I’m not a Republican and even if I was, I’m far too pro-union to like the guy. But he seemed like a solid pick at the time, certainly a more sane choice than Trump (who wasn’t even running at that point and was just doing his Trump thing of talking a lot).

Of course, I’d also predicted that Hillary would basically run unopposed, with Bernie Sanders providing a token opposition in an effort to push her platform in a more left-leaning direction. And maaaybe there would be a Biden run, because why not? And now there are a few polls showing the Bern in the lead? Craziness! At this point, I’ve already been so wrong that I’m just going to throw out all my previous predictions and start making new ones.

So, here goes: you saw it here first, I’m calling it for President Bernie Sanders in 2016. Woo, feel the Bern!

But you might not want to take my word on it; after all, my track record for predictions so far has been pretty terrible.

Arizona SB 1062 Postmortem: President Obama’s Silence

Political bloggers and pundits have been talking for a few days about the fact that President Obama hasn’t publicly spoken out against Arizona SB 1062, even as others on the national political did. Both Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake spoke against the bill. Even Mitt Romney is on the record calling for a veto. But not Obama.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a while (and you really should, because it’s part of the title of this blog), I think this is reflective of an understanding of the heat Obama’s presence brings to any particular issue. Republicans might be fragmented and on the verge of splitting into two (or even three!) different parties, they might be realizing that hardline religious conservatism is a bad marriage for fiscal conservatism, but damn it, if there’s one thing that can bring those crazy kids back together, it’s how much they hate Obama and his progressive-fascist-socialist-liberal-anarchist-whatever-ist agenda.

If Obama made a comment on this issue, I think it’s a safe bet that Republicans would bunker down together and tell Washington “stay the eff out of our business” and promptly pass the bill into law. Would Jan Brewer, who was the last line of defense against this bill and is pretty famous for not really getting along with the President, have bunkered down with the rest of her party if the President had tried to tell her what to do?

Considering how the current Republican strategy is exactly that (do the opposite of everything the President wants to do), I think it’s likely.

It’s not like Obama needed to weigh in on SB 1062. His base isn’t going to start wondering, hey, does the President dislike gays? We know he’s our guy on this.

I think Democrats have realized the aggro effect Obama has on Republicans and hopefully this silence on 1062 indicates that they’ve realized how to weaponize it. Silence from the President denied the Republican party its one source of glue which allowed the fractures to widen; fractures which allowed Brewer to veto the bill without expending too much political capital within her own base.

Those fractures are turning into a canyon (Arizona metaphor alert!) and Brewer has one foot on either side on that canyon. Pretty soon she’ll need to jump to one side or the other, but that’s an issue for another day. Right now, what matters is that the President didn’t say anything and that kept the Republicans from building a bridge over their own chasm.

It’s fairly shrewd of Obama’s administration if that’s what they’re doing, even if it’s also depressing to consider how much it illustrates the level of dysfunction that’s going on if it’s better that the President didn’t get involved in this issue. Ah well. The bill is dead and that’s what matters.

Feminism And The “Best Looking Attorney General” Comment

I consider myself a pretty dedicated male feminist, but this whole backlash to a comment President Obama made about California attorney general Kamala Harris has left me wondering. I guess I just don’t see what is gained here; in my opinion, there’s a lot more to lose.

This might be one of those things that proves what some have argued: that men can’t be feminists. Certainly, I don’t know what it is like to be a woman; all I have to go on is whatever approximation I can reach through sympathy. Maybe I’m caught up in my own male privilege here, though I sincerely hope not. Regardless, here’s my case for why I think the reaction to President Obama’s comment has done more harm than good.

Like all causes, feminism is out to win hearts and minds. That’s the core of the issue, of any issue and virtually any “ism:” try to get people to agree with you, because only through agreement can we achieve the egalitarian society that is at the heart of feminism’s goal.

I hesitate to call this a “game” because that seems denigrating. It’s not a game; we’re talking about the lives and well-being of people. However, the same can be said about politics as a game; it’s a deadly serious game for which the stakes are the lives and well-being of people. These games have certain rules and more importantly, certain strategies.

I try to be more of an idealist than a pragmatist, but at some point, pragmatic concerns must be taken into account. I want feminism to “win,” by which I mean achieve all of its goals and foster a culture where feminism and humanism can be truly synonymous in all respects.

The problem is that this goal cannot be achieved by force. It cannot be achieved by browbeating or shaming or any form of negative reinforcement. No cause can win through these means. The Pondering Humanist articulates this point very brilliantly and although the context in this quote is for atheism rather than feminism, I believe the logic is applicable:

For those of you who have escaped religion, I don’t need to explain how hard it is to get your mind out of the pew. But for the benefit of those out there slinging insults like “Religitard” or “Creationshits”, allow me to explain why you need to turn down the heat. As the entertaining and enlightening Seth Andrews says in his book Deconverted: The Path from Religion to Reason, no one was ever “brow-beaten into an epiphany.” The louder you yell, the ruder you get, the less anyone listens.

I’m not calling feminists rude. However, at some point, we must realize that to win hearts and minds, that means overcoming the patriarchy that has permeated our society. That means realizing that there are those men who are, quite simply put, afraid of feminism are the ones that we most need to convince. It doesn’t matter that they are wrong in being afraid of feminism. It doesn’t matter how misconceived these fears actually are. We know that feminism isn’t going to put every man in chains and remove the “taint of masculinity” from the world. But they don’t know that, and that’s the problem.

When those fearful men see this kind of reaction to what they perceive as an innocent comment, they aren’t going to follow the train of logic about how comments like this are reinforcing a pernicious belief that women are judged by appearance. They are going to see a reaction that confirms their fears about feminism and they are going to dig their heels in and resist listening to everything else feminism has to say. They are going to believe that feminism will create a world where a man has to be afraid of everything he says. Again, it doesn’t matter that that’s wrong. It’s a real fear for him and it will cause him to oppose feminism simply because he fears it, because he does not understand it, and because he fears what he does not understand.

No, it’s not right that these small-minded fears being allowed to “get their way.” It should be incumbent upon those fearful men to open their minds and grow up a little. But if they were capable of doing that on their own, they would already be feminists and the world would already be better. Feminists have to be more than just “right” in this scenario; feminists have to be out to win.

I don’t think the reaction to the comment was oversensitive, like others have claimed. I understand the reaction and I understand how much it rankles to be told to allow a comment to pass, because isn’t that how we got into a rape culture in the first place? However, I do think that this time, it did more harm than good to the overall cause of feminism. I think that it was a battle that should not have been fought, because whatever victory was gained through President Obama’s apology was lost by all the men who don’t identify with the feminist cause and are now shaking their heads thinking that all their heads and thinking “man, those feminists sure are crazy.”

What it comes down to is the tired, but nevertheless accurate statement: “pick your battles.” Or, if you prefer, the Confucian saying “the man person who chases two rabbits, catches neither.” This doesn’t mean to simply allow any comment to pass unchallenged for fear of alienating non-feminist men. It does mean, however, realizing that any cause, no matter how noble, no matter how just, only has so much capital to spend in the arena of public opinion. Shouldn’t we be saving that capital for the kinds of comments that truly garish and offensive?

Sticking to your guns wins battles, this is true, but diplomacy end wars. I think that this was a battle that feminism should not have fought, because the media firestorm eclipsed whatever progress was made. But maybe all that does is prove that men can’t be feminists and I’m completely wrong in all of this. That’s entirely possible, too.