William F. Buckley
Robert Shrum has written a book in which he tells all, or at least leaves one hoping that what he has told is all there is to tell. If, in the dawn's early light, freshly empanelled fathers convened to found a civil society, you could discredit anybody who came up with the idea of political democracy by the simple expedient of handing him Robert Shrum's book, "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner." I interpose a personal note, which is that after a dozen hours with Mr. Shrum on television, I came away liking him, but this is testimony less to his virtues than to my weakness for happy scurrility.

Bob Shrum is a political campaign manager who has had great victories and spectacular losses. He has succeeded with dozens of senators and representativeds and governors but has failed in guiding eight Democrats who sought to be president. In this book he tells you with the candor of a postulant seeking holy orders what he does for you if you are his candidate. To be sure, you have to qualify for his patronage. You have to be left-minded, though not a doctrinal socialist. You have to have a prospect, even if dim, of success. You have to have access to money. And you have to have at least a measure of malleability: What's the use in hiring Bob Shrum if you are going to ignore all his advice?

Mr. Shrum tells us in his book about his dealings with his candidates. There are great stories told, and one doesn't want the reader to be discouraged by thinking that Shrum is opening up the equivalent of a pharmaceutical inventory of mind-altering drugs for the voters. There is enough méchanceté in Shrum's narratives to preserve the spice of modern politics. If venality were entirely spruced up, the descent to hell would be without any charm at all, and the very meaning of temptation would be lost.

Consider a single item. The year is 1988. George H.W. Bush has picked Sen. Dan Quayle as his running-mate, and Quayle is debating Democratic opponent Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. What is about to happen is one of the most decisive political wisecracks of modern times. Bush-Quayle went on to win against Dukakis-Bentsen, but for a moment, Bentsen's line dominated the news. Here is the story, as revealed by Shrum:


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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