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Book Review : Colorado Governor Runs in thePolitical NovelRace

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1988 by Richard Lamm and Arnold Grossman (St. Martin’s: $15.95)

Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm and his friend and media consultant, Arnold Grossman, have written a book, the latest entrant in the politicians’ novel sweepstakes. It is a tale of presidential politics, set in 1988. Stephen Wendell, a strong-willed Democratic governor of Texas, is running for President as an independent candidate. Stemming the tide of illegal aliens to save jobs for American citizens is his issue. The “Re-Declaration of Democracy” is his theme.

The theme is the inspiration of Jerry Bloom, a successful media guru for liberal Democratic candidates who is recruited into the Wendall campaign after being sweet-talked by the candidate, seduced by his pollster, and swept off his feet by the offer of a fee of $1 million.

As the campaign begins to pick up steam, readers learn that unbeknown to the candidate, huge sums of money (including Bloom’s fee) are being funneled illegally into the campaign by a deliciously horrible coalition of rich oil men, right-wing militaristic fanatics and Palestinian terrorists.

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Death in a Mysterious Fire

Late in the day, Bloom learns about all this from his pollster/paramour, who was the first to trace the dirty money connection and who, just before election day, dies in a mysterious fire. Bloom tells the world what he knows. Readers never learn whether Wendell won or lost, only that even a political media consultant has a conscience when you murder his lover.

There are several annoying flaws in the book. Sen. Gary Hart is a friend and colleague of the authors, and he comes out better than any of the other contemporary politicians who figure in the story. It stretches believability to think that Wendell would be oblivious to the fact that millions of dollars were being spent in his name with no clear sense of where they were coming from. And there is a righteous Walter Cronkite-clone named Grant Chase (never trust these folks with two last names) who intrudes too often to pontificate upon what has happened.

Most troubling of all, Bloom’s wife, Anne, is treated by Lamm and Grossman as a petty afterthought. While her husband is cheating and her marriage is crumbling, she is back home in Los Angeles with the kids, taking out her anger by stealing Wendell campaign advertising plans and slipping them to the opposition. What politics does to spouses is no small matter and deserves to be taken more seriously, if it is dealt with at all.

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Good Political Yarn

Yet, these defects are minor. Overall, this is a good political yarn, told in an easy and accessible voice. If it had been spun by just anybody, you could value it at about three hours of light entertainment at the beach or at bedtime and leave it at that. It is something more because it is a novel about an independent Democratic governor and his media consultant written by an independent Democratic governor and his media consultant. What reason could they have for doing such a thing?

There are several possibilities. Maybe they are bored with their jobs. Lamm has been governor for a while and he’s not running for reelection. The excitement of office must be waning. Perhaps it is frustration about the potential for undue influence, especially by foreigners, in American elections. Lamm may really be worried about that and may have found the novel a more effective forum for airing his views than speeches to the Denver Chamber of Commerce.

Then, of course, there is the possibility that the story is best understood as an autobiographical novel, revealing the governor’s ambitions, fantasies, self-image and deeply felt concerns. Lamm’s skill at drawing Gov. Wendell may have something to do with his notions about himself. Finally, there is the awful possibility that Lamm and Grossman know something we don’t know about what is really going on.

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