Republic Of Spin


Republic Of Spin –
An Inside Story Of the American Presidency
By David Greenberg
W.W. Norton & Company – £27.99

Liberalism will become an enclave conviction of a shrinking minority unless those who call themselves liberal reconnect their faith in tolerance, equality, opportunity for all with the more difficult faith in the dirty, loud-mouthed, false, lying business of politics itself. This disdain is cynicism, making as high principle.

                                                            Michael Ignatieff (”Letter to a Young Liberal”)

From Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, presidential historian David Greenberg herein recounts the rise of The White House Spin Machine
And what an eye opening read it is.

Republic Of Spin – An Inside Story Of the American Presidency, is a tantalising, variable history that traverses more than a hundred years of vibrant, vivacious politics; the seeming catharsis of which, comes to an equally tantalising head this Friday, January 20th. The day tolerance and intelligence will leave The White House (with Obama’s exit) and misogynistic mayhem will enter The White House, (with Trump’s arrival).

That said, this book’s 448 pages of sweeping, startling narrative, essentially takes us behind the scenes, wherein, we are all the more potentially enlightened, as to how the tools and techniques of image invention actually work. On the way, we meet Woodrow Wilson convening the first ever White House press conference, Franklin Roosevelt huddling with his private pollsters, Ronald Reagan’s aides, crafting his nightly, news sound bites (well who else was going to craft them – most certainly not he after all), and let we forget, George Dubya staging his ”Mission Accomplished” photo-op.

If that weren’t enough, we also meet the many backstage visionaries who pioneered new ways of gauging public opinion and mastering ye me/me/me/media…

Furthermore, Greenberg examines the many profound debates Americans have waged over the effect of spin in politics by asking: ”Does spin help our leaders manipulate the citizenry? Or does it allow them to engage us more fully in the democratic project? This book illuminates both the power of spin and its limitations – its capacity not only to mislead but also to lead.”

Indeed, its six Parts (‘The Age Of Publicity,’ ‘The Age Of Ballyhoo,’ ‘The Age Of Communication,’ ‘The Age Of News Management,’ ‘The Age Of Image Making’ and ‘The Age Of Spin’), are, if nothing else, something of an irredentist revelation; that in (equally revelatory) truth, most of us have known all along. A pivotal aspect of the book, which the author brazenly writes about in the Introduction: ”[…] in the broadest sense of the term, spin has always been a part of politics. Politics involves advancing one’s interests and values in the public sphere, and political leadership means winning and sustaining public support. From the orators of Plato and Aristotle’s day to the European monarchs who superintended their images, leaders have always given thought to the words and images that will help them remain popular and achieve their goals.”

Had such a sad, tremulous indictment of political leadership and array of home-truths, not run utterly r-i-o-t throughout the 2016 American Presidential Campaign, Republic Of Spin – An Inside Story Of the American Presidency, would be no-where near as urgent a read as it invariably is.

In fact, in a mere handful of months from now, it will – in all its rambunctious repository of hindsight – prove nigh irresistible. Mark my words; even if only to read the following from the book’s final chapter, ‘Barack Obama and the Spin of No Spin’: ”The sheer pervasiveness of spin inevitably leaves an unpleasant after-taste. The heavy investment in crafted talk and burnished images can make our political rhetoric and theatre feel empty and even meretricious. Because it’s ubiquitous and unremitting, and because it stands in opposition to the straight-up truth-telling that we idealize, spin is always going to strike us as a vexatious or lamentable feature of modern politics. Paradoxically, though, our persistent worry about spin, while at times debilitating, keeps us vigilant about its abuse. And ultimately democracy has to make for duelling perspectives; politics always demands a give-and-take. As long as the public remains sovereign and public opinion reigns supreme, the debates will go on, the disputes will rage, the media will yammer and thrum, the people will make their arguments and form their judgements, and spin – much as we might crave relief from its relentlessness – will endure as an essential part of our political world.”

How’s about that for a touch of ”yammer and thrum?”
If you think Messrs. Campbell and Blair were the most notorious Prince Regents of Spin, read this. You won’t be disappointed.

David Marx


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