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
"In August I'd read Maureen Dowd's New York Times story on a Quayle press conference where he'd said: 'I'm very close to the same age as Jack Kennedy was when he was elected -- not vice president, but president.' What an opening, I thought then. Now, at the conference table, I predicted to Bentsen that, when the issue of experience was raised, as it inevitably would be, Quayle was likely to rehash what he'd been saying and invoke JFK -- in terms of their similar ages, or the number of years they'd served in the House and the Senate. Had Bentsen known JFK? Yes, he had served with him. Did he feel comfortable, if the chance came, telling Quayle that he was no John Kennedy? Sure. The moment was worded, practiced and polished in the mock debates. Bentsen went into the encounter with Quayle armed with a devastating rhetorical polyptych: 'Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.'"
What "No Excuses" tells us is indeed the inside story, and there is no reason to suppose that it is less than entirely accurate. But it leaves the reader wondering whether the inside story goes further than to give us to understand why Clinton won, or Bush lost. We are made to ask what it is that political democracy gives us. The system is utilitarian. But is it a fit object of faith and hope?