Thursday 18 September 2008

In praise of...Michael Tomasky

I'm reading Hillary's Turn, Michael Tomasky's account of Mrs. C's campaign for the Senate in 2000. It's a real page-turner, on a par with Bob Woodward's classic The Choice about the 1996 Clinton-Dole race. Even if (like me) you're not a Hillary fan, Tomasky's book offers some fascinating insights into the senatorial election process and some interesting background on the history of New York politics. 

For those who followed the protracted Clinton-Obama struggle earlier this year, there are also some intriguing parallels. It's not just that many of the main players in Clinton's primary campaign - Penn, Wolfson, Ickes et al - cut their teeth in the Senate race (though Hillary was also helped in 2000 by David Axelrod, now Obama's campaign mastermind). Part of the fascination also lies in seeing how the recent campaign inherited many of the faults of the first one. Hillary's 2000 bid was dogged by the same in-fighting among campaign staff, the same problem of what to do about Bill (then, as now, more of a hindrance than a help to his wife's chances), and the same issue of how to get a rather stiff and earnest candidate to come across as warm and empathetic. But Tomasky's book also shows the growth of a candidate, and it's clear that the Hillary who ran for president in 2008 was a smarter and sassier politician than the ingenue who took her first nervous steps in New York in 2000.

One of the most surprising revelations of the book, in retrospect, is that the demographic group whom Hillary had most trouble winning over was white women - precisely the section of the population that in 2008 comprised her most devoted supporters. It's difficult to recall now just how suspicious both middle and working class women were of the then first lady back in the late '90s.

Reading the book has made me want to seek out other work by Tomasky. I was aware before of his articles in the New York Review of Books, and of his excellent coverage of the presidential election for the Guardian. I wasn't aware, though, that he has a reputation as a liberal interventionist. He's written about the problems of the American Left and contributed a chapter to The Fight is for Democracy, edited by George Packer, which I've just got hold of. All credit to the Guardian for appointing someone with Tomasky's views to the editorship of Guardian America, rather than some US proponent of the paper's Milne-Pilger-Steele orthodoxy.

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