1990s >> 1996 >> no-1102-june-1996

Book Review: ‘Primary Colors – A Novel of Politics’

Energised by contempt

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics by Anonymous (Chatto & Windus, 1996, £15.99 hb.)

Actually, despite all the hype, it’s quite good. Whoever wrote it knows how to use words. They know how to stab politicians in the back too. Whoever wrote this novel clearly worked on the 1992 Clinton primary election campaign. They saw the man for the pseudo-caring, vulgar little swindler that he is. Read this novel and, if you ever did before, you will it hard to take Clinton seriously again.  This novelist does to Clinton and those like him what Tariq Ali’s Redemption did to Tony Cliff and Ted Grant. Great stuff: all leaders deserve to be exposed in such nakedness, grotesque for all to witness.

The language of this novel drags vulgarity to new depths, but there is no sense of it straying from reality. The cynical role of the spin doctors is depicted superbly. Not that there are any longer specifically US phenomena: features of an uglier, inferior political culture. These days Major calls European leaders “a bunch of shits” and his cabinet colleagues “bastards”. As for the power of spin, read Nicholas Jones’s new hardback, Soundbites & Spin Doctors (Cassell, 1996, £17.99) or Margaret Scammell’s Designer Politics: How Elections are Won (St Martin’s Press, 1995, £15.99) to remain in no doubt that manipulating the media is now the key part of any successful election campaign in Britain. The old cry “that Britain will soon be as bad as America” has now virtually come to pass. Despite the insights of the accounts by Jones and Scammell, the sordid strategy of utter dishonesty, energised by almost complete contempt for those who vote, was most powerfully presented in Primary Colors—a work of fiction, but only just.

Steve Coleman

Postscript: It was revealed in July 1996 that the author of the novel was Joe Klein.

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