Saturday, April 25, 2009

Down to the Crossroads, by Guy Rundle

I'm quite partial to Guy Rundle's world view and politics. In this running commentary and reportage on the 2008 American primaries and election campaign, Rundle riffs on all that has been wrong with left-of-centre politics, why the Democrats have been so useless at providing a real alternative to the status quo.

Rundle admits an initial cynicism with the simple 'hope' and 'change' message of Obama. He writes about things as he sees them through the campaign, so we get the author's initial reactions to what he sees and hears, without the revisions that the final election result would later prompt. Hence there are passages where Rundle thinks Obama is running a bad campaign, or doesn't know what he's doing. We're lucky it wasn't the political pundits running the Obama campaign, or the outcome would have been very different.

Rundle shows (even by his own example) how political experts and commentators were really wrong, and didn't pick up what was happening out in voterland. People wanted change, but didn't know how to make it happen. They just needed someone to come along who could convey it in a language that was not drenched in the cynical, day-to-day political / media language that we hear everyday. Lots of people criticised the Obama message as all pie-in-the-sky stuff, but maybe they were wrong, and people did want inspirational language and little detail.

No matter how you feel about Obama, you must be impressed by his achievement. A candidate that came out of nowhere, managed to capture the Democratic nomination against the presumptive heir Hillary Clinton, and then went on to win the presidency. He did this without a traditional powerbase, but rather mobilised a genuine grass roots movement. Let me say this again, because I think this is what makes him unique and a bit of a genius: he mobilised many, many people who would not usually give a fig about politics, got them door knocking and donating money, got them to actually believe they could make a difference. This is an extraordinary achievement, and I think it has not really been that well noted in the media.

Now whether he delivers is another thing altogether. Maybe he'll turn out to be a complete dud. Whatever happens, he certainly changed the language of politics.

Down To The Crossroads is a pretty free wheeling ride. It's warts and all first person journalism. Rundle's a pretty snappy writer, and he likes to use lots of pop culture references. Sometimes these references jar, sometimes they're a bit self indulgent or tacky. Yet on the whole I found this a really enjoyable ride, and I think Rundle does a terrific job at summarising cultural and political phenomena in a snappy and pithy language. He made me laugh quite a bit too.

This is a book that takes a leftish political angle, so if your politics are more conservative, you may not enjoy Mr Rundle's commentary. His style is pretty scruffy too. But it all worked fine for me. If you want to read a book that will make you feel positive about politics and the possibility of change, you should give this book a go. It deserves a strong fan base.


"The right never understood why those two words - 'hope' and 'change' - could command such power, could push millions to be out putting leaflets in letterboxes on cold March mornings in Billings, Montana. They mocked those who brandished such motifs, never realising that is was they who could not understand the deep meaning of those two single syllables, that their incomprehension was a measure of their own killing cynicism. Given a time machine, I would, of course, go back to the start of the primary process and sign-on - figuratively and perhaps literally - to the Obama campaign from the get-go. To be honest, my thinking for several months of it corresponded to Hillary Clinton's advisor Mark Penn, whose internal notes to his candidate suggested that the whole rainbow politics thing was an illusion - 'save it for 2050'."

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