The best coverage of American politics is to be found not in the country's newspapers, but in its booksby Denis MacShane / June 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
The Race by Richard North Patterson (MacMillan, £16.99) Journals 1952-2000 by Arthur M Schlesinger (Penguin Putnam, £25)
Barack Obama’s victory in the US Democratic primary has been widely covered in the British press. But one of the puzzles of the coverage of the US presidential race in the age of the internet is why British journalists are given so much space in our newspapers. The race is gripping, but as our London-based commentariat pontificate, surely it makes more sense for interested readers to go straight to the source. nytimes.com, Newsweek, as well as Slate, Drudge, Huffington and the campaign sites themselves means we get US politics as they are cooking, not reheated by British correspondents.
Yet better still than US reporting, which can get repetitious, is the writing of American authors—both fiction and non-fiction—who often give much better accounts of what is going on. Nothing you will read about John McCain will be as good as Richard North Patterson’s The Race, simply the best novel about politics since Joe Klein’s Primary Colors. The Race’s hero is a senator who was captured and tortured by enemy forces when his plane was shot down. This is not McCain over Vietnam, but the handsome Corey Grace over Iraq in the first Gulf war. Patterson puts a decent distance between his hero and McCain, but although not quite a roman à cléf, The Race also features, in thin disguise, Rupert Murdoch, Colin Powell and various conservative political pastors like Jimmy Swaggart and Bob Jones.
Corey Grace, a Republican, has to decide how far he will go in bowing before religious and media interests in order to win the presidential nomination. His opponent is a Catholic senator who condemns homosexuality and promises the religious lobbies all they want to hear on abortion and stem cell research. The Race is located in the Republican camp, but takes the reader into the heart of political darkness that the ad hominem and misogynist ad feminam brutality of the Clinton-Obama fight has revealed.
For the Democrats, there is no better guide to the mood and passions of a presidential contest than Arthur Schlesinger’s marvellous journal of US politics, covering the years from Truman to Clinton. Schlesinger, a pure-blood public intellectual, was close to every important Democratic political figure of the second half of the 20th century (as well as many on the right, like Henry Kissinger, whose description…