The Best Quotes From Joe Klein’s Politics Lost

I just finished up Joe Klein’s Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You’re Stupid and I enjoyed it even though Klein is ideologically left-of-center (which means that I disagreed with him on more than a few things).

Klein has covered a lot of Presidential campaigns and some of the “inside baseball” quotes and insights he came up with in the book were really fascinating. The book isn’t chock full of quotable material — it’s more of an easy read — but here are a few memorable quotations that you political junkies out there may enjoy:

“Can you imagine sending Lincoln out with the Gettysburg Address in this atmosphere?” the Republican consultant Mike Murphy once mused to me. “My biggest worry would be: What sound bite would you get on the evening news? And whatever you got, it would be immediately subsumed by some blowhard reporter saying, “Lincoln campaign insiders said the speech was an attempt to win support from veterans groups and a test of a new, shorter speaking format.” Why should any politician even try for eloquence in those circumstances?” — P.16

“Jody brought me in to see the President (Carter), who was working in the private room, adjacent to the Oval Office…Powell described my story to the President and said, “Mr. President, it’s my assessment that Joe represents the first serious threat to this administration.”

Carter looked at me with those pale blue eyes and said quietly, “Well then, you’re just going to have to lie.”

I chuckled, belatedly and uncomfortably. I was thirty years old. This was my first conversation with a President. Carter seemed to grow more serious. “I’m not joking, I can make life difficult for your publication. I have certain powers….”

“Well, Mr. President,” I said, “I’ll certainly try to…” and both Carter and Jody cracked up: another Yankee taken to the cleaners.” — P.44

“In late May of 1976, Ronald Reagan had Gerald Ford on the ropes in the Republican race for the Presidential nomination. It was a development every bit as stunning as Jimmy Carter’s surge from nowhere on the Democratic side: no incumbent president had ever been defeated in a primary campaign*. After some critical early losses…Reagan won in North Carolina and Texas, and then clobbered Ford in (four more states). An unsigned White House memo distributed after the Texas loss concluded, “We are in real danger of being out-organized by a small number of highly motivated right-wing nuts.” — P.62

The GOP was nearly obliterated in the first post-Watergate election, losing forty-three seats in the House and four in the Senate. They were now outnumbered two to one in the House and, with only thirty eight seats in the Senate, didn’t have the numbers necessary to mount a filibuster. “It was no wonder that many thought the GOP would go the way of the Whigs,” wrote Republican political consultant Craig Shirley in Reagan’s Revolution, his account of the 1976 campaign. “Republicans it seemed, could only win the Presidency when Democrats screwed up, as in 1968 or 1972, or when they nominated a popular war hero like Eisenhower.” — P.66

“It was a phenomenon that the economist Adam Smith had warned against two hundred years earlier when he noted that “wanton and even disorderly mirth, the pursuit of pleasure to some degree of intemperance [and] the breach of chastity” did not necessarily hurt a nobleman, who could sleep late after a night on the town, but “the vices of levity are almost always ruinous to the common people, and single week’s…dissipation is often sufficient to undo a poor workman for ever.” — P.94

“Rove’s assumption was that the voters had three basic questions about a candidate: is he a strong leader? Can I trust him? Does he care about people like me?” — P.144

“Discipline and dignity are every bit as important to the political equation as humanity and sadly, candor. It is also very curious that (when it comes to mavericks) — Jerry Brown, John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot, and Howard Dean — the candor is unleavened by warmth: American mavericks, especially of the fanatic-reformer variety, tend to be angry loners, cold fish, egomaniacs. I have no idea why that’s the case — although the egomania may well be compounded by the lavish early reviews they receive from rogue-lovers like me.” — P.163

“I told Kerry about Elaine Kamarck’s great line. “The reason why Howard Dean got Iraq right (from the Democratic perspective) was that he was the only one of the major candidates who didn’t get a classified intelligence briefing from the CIA.”

Kerry laughed and then he frowned. “There’s more than a little truth to that,” he said.” — P.196

The Bush campaign had always believed that Teresa Heinz Kerry was a major asset…for the Bush campaign. “We decided to put Laura Bush out front as often as possible,” said a campaign strategist. “In part because she really was a huge asset. But also because we figured Teresa would demand equal time.” — P.215

James Carville — and Bill Clinton — tried to convince Kerry to make major changes in his campaign. In one phone coversation, Clinton told Kerry, “If I hear you say one more word about Vietnam, I’ll vote for George godd*mn Bush.” — P.219

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