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More fun than informative

Looking for deep Democratic strategy? This book isn't it. But if you want to hear how Barbra Streisand stepped in dog poop, this political operative's telltale tome is for you.

Published February 11, 2007


A more erudite reviewer would tell you to stay away from former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe's new memoir, What a Party!

That critic would bash 400 pages of self-serving partisan bluster, surely noting that McAuliffe was among the biggest culprits in turning national politics into a big-money cesspool. He would scoff at McAuliffe constantly depicting the Democrats as the party of the little guy, even as What a Party! makes it sound like McAuliffe rarely hung with anyone who couldn't afford a personal chef and pedicurist.

All valid points. But me? I'd rather read about Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow sucking face beside Bill and Hillary Clinton at Camp David than another lament about the demise of public campaign financing.

This inquiring mind is thrilled to learn that Barbra Streisand, after initially refusing to allow bomb-sniffing Secret Service dogs onto her Malibu Hills spread for a Clinton Library fundraiser, promptly stepped in Secret Service dog turds.

I appreciate reading that just before then-Rep. Bill Nelson flew into space in 1986, the Kennedy Space Center patched through a call from McAuliffe hitting up Nelson for $5,000.

"Holy cow, Terry, I'm about to go up in the shuttle," Nelson said. "Are you nuts?"

What a Party! is loaded with shameless spin, self-promotion and ridiculously sweeping attacks on Republicans. It also happens to be a terrific read that should make partisans of all stripes laugh out loud and appreciate the colorful passion - and absurdities - in American politics.

You've probably seen McAuliffe's overcaffeinated spinning on cable news shows and understand why one prominent South Carolina Democrat likened McAuliffe to "a ferret on crank."

But even the most loyal Republican may finish this book, co-authored by Steve Kettman Jose Canseco's collaborator on Juiced, appreciating McAuliffe's scrappy and ever-amiable style. McAuliffe even throws out praise for Republican true believers such as former Republican National Committee chairmen Ed Gillespie and Haley Barbour.

McAuliffe's wife, Dorothy, is from Winter Park (daughter of elite Democratic fundraiser Richard Swann). What a Party! is naturally loaded with Florida anecdotes, from his wrestling an alligator to nab a $15,000 check from the Seminole tribe to lamenting how weakly Democrats handled the 2000 election recount.

The self-depicted savior of the Democratic Party somehow never mentions his dubious decision to make Florida's unsteady former gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride (his father-in-law's buddy) one of the DNC's top-priority candidates in 2002.

McAuliffe aims his harshest intraparty criticism at the John Kerry campaign team. "Political malpractice" is how he labels Kerry's gentle treatment of President Bush, and he is apoplectic that Kerry finished the campaign with $15-million unspent.

"You want to tell me that John Kerry would not have found the 59,000 votes he needed to carry Ohio if he had spent an additional $15-million running ads there the last month before the election? Of course he would have."

McAuliffe could have spared his readers pages of details about him and Bill Clinton palling around on the golf course, in the West Wing or at the Julio Iglesias manse. For all the time he spent with the Clintons, he doesn't shed much light on their relationship.

But love him or loathe him, McAuliffe is one of the most colorful and successful true believers in Democratic politics, and, as Bill Clinton can attest, he's a heck of a lot of fun.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or

The book

What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals

By Terry McAuliffe and Steve Kettman

Thomas Dunne Books, 416 pages, $24.95

On the Web:

[Last modified February 11, 2007, 07:33:47]

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