Has Partisanship Ruined Political Writing?

Since today is election day (EVERYBODY REMEMBER TO VOTE!!!), I thought I’d throw caution to the winds and talk politics. But wait, you say, isn’t this a blog to celebrate good writing? Why yes, it is. And that is exactly the question.

I know that there are a number of politicians and those who work in government who are actually excellent writers. Certainly, historically, some beautiful writing has been composed by the leaders of our country — hello, Gettysburg Address, anyone? But, at least to me, it seems that in recent years, books are written with a distinctly red state or blue state point of view. If there is a liberal Democrat who loves Ann Coulter’s way with words, or a conservative Republican who thinks James Carville has a snappy style, please let me know.

As I was Googling this topic today, I found a really interesting website, orgnet.com. This company licenses software that does network analysis and network visualization. What I found intriguing was one of its network visualizations showing the patterns of top-selling political books at the end of 2006 (click on image for a view that doesn’t require a magnifying glass):

Top Political Books, Dec. 2006

Visualization reprinted by permission of orgnet.com.

What this visualization shows is clusters of readers, based on book-buying data. Politically right readers are represented in red, and unsurprisingly, focused on books reflecting their political views. Similarly, politically left readers (represented by blue) bought books espousing a more liberal bias. Books represented by purple tended to be linked more toward the blue than the red, and started to subdivide into clusters centering around religion or the economy. According to Valdis Krebs, the only “bridging” books, i.e. books bought by both red and blue readers, were THE LOOMING TOWER: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Lawrence Wright), and a novel, THE INNOCENT MAN (John Grisham).

Now, a caveat: I know I am probably grossly oversimplifying what went into this visualization. Everyone is encouraged to read Mr. Krebs’ 1999 white paper on book networks, “The Social Life of Books: Visualizing Communities of Interest via Purchase Patterns on the WWW” to gain increased understanding of the topic.

I believe the question still stands, however. Is there any political writing out there that you all believe is worthy, regardless of the politics behind the writer? I honestly want your opinions on this one.

Remember to vote!

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

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7 Responses to “Has Partisanship Ruined Political Writing?”

  1. Jill Says:

    Political writing that is worthy regardless of the politics behind the writer?

    Well – that’s a great question but I would have to say that there is a lot of political writing that isn’t written with any politics in mind, if you know what I mean, and then there is political writing that is more writing than it is politics but yet it’s political.

    So – for example, Margaret Mead or Betty Freidan – are they political writers? I don’t know – but what they wrote was very political, you know?

    When it comes to social issues, nonfiction can be very political, without being political. Likewise, some fiction – even just good against evil.

    But, of course, if you like politics, you can find political writing anywhere almost!! But then maybe that’s more a function of being cynical?


  2. toddiedowns Says:

    Excellent point, Jill. I confess, when I was thinking of the topic, I was considering mostly books written about politics in general as opposed to social issues. Even “historical” books written these days about politics often seem to have a partisan bent that warps the history.

    I did read an amazing book about two years ago called “Running of the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power” by David J. Rothkopf. A Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade in the Clinton administration, Rothkopf wrote about the history of the NSC from its inception to today in what I honestly felt was a remarkable even-handed overview of the subject. For example, the two presidents Rothkopf focused on as having the most thoughtfully run foreign policy operations were Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. It’s a fabulous book, and the last in recent memory that I can think of that covered the world of politics (or at least some aspect of government) without casting partisan stones.

  3. Jill Says:

    Oh – that reminds me, one of my favorites is The Color of Truth about the Bundy brothers during the JFK administration. By Kai Bird. Highly recommend it as an overview of what led to Vietnam going the way it did and the brains behind it.

  4. toddiedowns Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Jill! It will go on my To-Read list.

  5. Barbara Brink Says:

    I don’t know if it’s possible to have an unbiased political book these days. People are divided by so many issues and it’seasy to find things you disagree with in the candidates presented. Their political choices and their personal lives are “out there” for everyone to see. Just as Hollywood celebrities now find their lives an open book for all the world to be appalled at, so do politicians. Back in the fifties and early sixties, hollywood stars were protected by the studios and either given a fake backstory or at least had their indescretions covered up. (Think JFK and Marilyn Monroe) What would happen to that administration with our current media frenzy? Would JFK have been able to survive the fallout or would his presidency be overshadowed by his personal weaknessess?
    As you say, even history books show the writer’s partisan bent. Maybe not blatantly but you can see it. What I find really offensive is newspaper writers that are supposed to be reporting on politics and instead give their opinion. Perhaps everyone wants to be a columnist these days. Negative diatribes get the most attention.

  6. toddiedowns Says:

    Boy, I hope it’s still possible to have an unbiased political book. Unlikely, perhaps, but at least possible. There has to be a pocket of writers somewhere who can still analyze a given set of factors objectively and reach a conclusion not based on a predetermined political mindset. Of course, even if such an idyllic set of people existed and wrote such a wonderful book, whomever did not agree with their conclusion would try to paint them as playing for the other side.

    But a girl can dream. . .

  7. Valdis Krebs networks patterns of political book buying | Writes Like She Talks Says:

    […] Thanks, Valdis (and Toddie Downs). […]

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