A Book You Should "Reed"

Matt Towery

6/12/2008 12:01:00 AM - Matt Towery

Does any of this sound familiar? A Democratic presidential nomination is essentially taken away from a candidate because of a fight over delegates' credentials at a national nominating convention.

How about the first ever African-American nominee for president? Or an election that ends with no candidate having the requisite number of electoral votes? Or a shrewd U.S. speaker of the House who is forced to choose between ambition and the nation's best interest? How about a sex scandal involving a prominent political figure?

You might think that I am describing current or past real political events. But I'm not. Instead, I'm giving you just a small taste of a new novel written by what some might guess to be the most improbable of authors, onetime Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed.

Before both fans and detractors of Reed start typing emails (to me or on sites where this column runs) let me state for the record that regardless of how one feels about the author, Ralph Reed's book, "Dark Horse: A Political Thriller," is a fast-paced, well-written and compelling novel. It takes the reader into the world of backroom politics much in the same way that John Grisham takes readers into the world of the practice of law.

While I've read nothing but positive reviews of the book, a few who commented felt the storyline wilted here or there, or that certain scenes seemed unrealistic. The problem with those critics is that they never played at the highest levels of American politics. Reed has, as have I, although Reed still plays and I only observe, poll, comment and thank the Lord I'm out of it all.

There is little doubt that Ralph can be controversial, and when really revved up, as in the 2000 election on behalf of George Bush, he can be as partisan and tough as any political operative I've known. He has his detractors. Don't we all?

But after an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor of Georgia two years ago, Reed began to mellow. I should know, because we have known each other since we were teenagers.

At times over those years I've been tough on Ralph. I would tell when I thought he was being too pious or duplicitous. I even told him not to run for lieutenant governor in 2006. "Ralph," I said, "there's one thing I've been that you have not, and that is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Georgia. It wasn't fun in 1990 when Georgia was controlled by the Democrats. But I didn't have surrounding me the controversy that you do, and I think it will make it impossible for you to succeed."

Reed, who at the time was being hit with "guilt by association" with his former friend and now disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, chose not to follow my advice, feeling that to leave the race would appear to be an admission of having done something wrong when he had not. He remained in the race and endured what he acknowledges was near living hell. And he lost.

But in doing so, Reed probably bettered himself. He learned the realities of being the actual candidate, instead of just being the power behind the throne. And he learned, I would guess, a little bit more about the real world, as opposed to the D.C. Beltway view of America.

Lest anyone think my praise for this novel is out of bias, one need only reference my comments in the New York Times just days before his primary election two years back, when I bluntly said that Ralph Reed would need to pull out "a miracle" to win his race. I'm sure that thrilled him.

No, I recommend this book for two reasons. First, it's so well written and energetically paced.

Second, I know all that Reed has seen and done. When you have covered the ground he has, dealt with the power with which he has dealt, shot political bullets and dodged them as well, and have also had the courage to put your own name on a ballot, you are truly qualified to take readers into a world they may know little about.

Politics can indeed be a dark and harsh business. And "Dark Horse" exposes that side without destroying one's belief that there is some good in our system as well. More importantly, the reader can take solace that the author, while taking his storyline from years of being in that world, appears to be heading to a much lighter and happier place: the world of best-selling author and, at least for now, of being a just plain private citizen.