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Political tell-alls: titillation and name-calling

February 15, 2010 |  7:38 am

The big political books of recent months may come from and focus on some high-profile figures, but, as David L. Ulin writes today, they're "reducing the conversation to the lowest common denominator." He looks at Andrew Young's "The Politician," about John Edwards; Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue"; Jenny Sanford's "Staying True," about her husband, Mark Sanford; and John Heilemann's and Mark Halperin's chronicle of the 2008 presidential race, "Game Change."

What's interesting about these works is that they are all by (putatively) serious people: a vice presidential nominee, two national political reporters, a key aide to a presidential candidate, the first lady of a state. And yet their insights, such as they are, come off like the witless name-calling of a schoolyard fight. Gossip, innuendo, infidelity, accusations -- that's the best this group of exemplary citizens can stir up....

We live in a society beset by real problems -- healthcare, the financial crisis, the utter collapse of mature debate or discussion on either side of the aisle. Yet score-settlers such as Palin, Sanford and Young never address these issues except through the filter of their branding (knee-jerk conservatism, an embrace of the amorphous terrain of family values, a sense of having been betrayed).

Instead, they offer small-bore recitations, recounting the sins of an unfaithful nation, an unfaithful husband, an unfaithful boss....

The focus here is recrimination, not politics, and not even memoir in the truest sense. A memoir -- a good one, anyway -- is open-ended, full of questions, whereas "Staying True" (or "Going Rogue" or "The Politician") is as closed as a piece of writing can be, a book in which we know the story before we start to read.

Even "Game Change" is the most serious of the books, looks gossipy when compared to its progenitor, Theodore H. White's first massive campaign chronicle, "The Making of the President 1960."

Each of these books, Ulin writes, "lands with a full-court press in the media, as if there is anything in them we don't already know." Yet the media -- including us here at Jacket Copy -- continues to cover them, as though they are news. Because they are news -- aren't they?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: John Edwards. Credit: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press; Sarah Palin. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times; Jenny Sanford. Credit: Donna Svennevik / ABC