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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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He wins, then loses, then writes about it
By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published August 19, 2007
Tucked in the middle of legendary Democratic consultant Bob Shrum's surprisingly tedious new book are three horrifying words. He's describing a trip through France and Italy and casually notes, "I don't drive."
And Democrats fume about Karl Rove, Bush's outgoing message-meister, and wonder why they keep losing?
Maybe I'm too narrow-minded. Maybe I don't adequately appreciate the political poetry of the man who wrote Teddy Kennedy's soaring "Dream shall never die" address to the 1980 Democratic national convention, not to mention Lloyd Bentsen's "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" zinger to Dan Quayle.
But someone paid big to help candidates communicate with voters, especially a supposed populist champion of the underdog, maybe, just maybe, ought to have more familiarity with navigating a traffic jam than an Italian villa or an Upper West Side cocktail party.
Not Bob Shrum, the image and message guru who's helped elect a host of public servants - from Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to Jacksonville's first African-American Sheriff Nat Glover to Ted Kennedy - and helped lose a bunch of presidential races.
No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner includes some terrific vignettes from nearly four decades in national politics: Ed Muskie's nasty temper; the Al Gore campaign intentionally snarling traffic in New Hampshire to block Bill Bradley voters; Shrum and other advisers warning John Kerry not to follow his gut and oppose authorizing force in Iraq. Memo to candidates: Ignore your consultants sometimes, and you might win.
On Election Day 2004, Shrum writes, a top Kerry adviser informed Gore that it looked like Kerry-Edwards would win Florida. "Gore responded, drawing his words out in his slow southern drawl: 'That'd be good, that'd be good.' Then he paused. 'But what would be better is if Florida ends in a tie and they catch Bush cheating and they put him in jail.' "
Unfortunately, such dramatic nuggets are too few in this 544-page book, which seems aimed more at bolstering Shrum's reputation after another presidential loss (Kerry-Edwards) and settling scores than anything loftier, or more fun. Shrum's famous knack for writing is oddly absent here, and readers have to wade through way too much self-serving minutiae about the shortcomings of other campaign operatives.
Shrum has had a hand in losing a host of presidential campaigns, among them those of George McGovern, Dick Gephardt, Bob Kerrey, Gore and Kerry (he counts Gore as a win, of course), and he's both defensive and dismissive about the so-called "Shrum curse." While he accepts some of the blame, he often writes as though he's weirdly detached from campaign mistakes he recounts.
"An enterprise that had defied predictions of doom by constantly taking risks was now becoming cautious and focus group-driven," he writes of the Kerry campaign, with no mention of his central role in that campaign.
Heading into the 2004 presidential cycle, Shrum had four clients - Gephardt, Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman - to choose from. The national press dubbed it "the Shrum primary," which Kerry finally won after Shrum concluded Edwards was too much of a lightweight, "a Clinton who hadn't read the books."
When he first met Edwards, before his 1998 Senate race in North Carolina, Shrum said he saw a future president. How things changed.
Shrum thinks little of Jimmy Carter and not a great deal of Bill Clinton (too timid to leave much legacy), but nobody gets harsher treatment than Edwards.
Among other things, Shrum recounts Kerry's unease about picking Edwards as his running mate. The Massachusetts senator was taken aback, Shrum writes, when Edwards told him in 2004 about climbing onto the slab next to his dead son in the funeral home, something Edwards said "he'd never told anyone else." In fact, he'd already told Kerry the exact same story in the exact same words a year or two earlier.
The Edwards camp denies that story, and the New Republic has suggested it doesn't ring true, because the anecdote about Edwards and his late son had already been publicly reported in 2003.
But maybe that will be a lasting benefit of No Excuses: Candidates can stop being such slaves to their consultants and instead rely on their own instincts.
Who's to say, after all, that their imagemaker won't eventually stab them in the back with a tell-all book once the campaign commissions stop?