How timely: today we’re looking into opposition research, one of the more let’s say colorful parts of the modern political animal… My review copy of We’re with Nobodywas provided courtesy of LuxuryReading.com, which also hosted the original (shorter) post of this book review on October 9, 2012 (available here).
We’re With Nobody
Let me start with a disclaimer: I worked in public policy and was government-relations (i.e., lobbying)-adjacent for a number of years. I lived and worked in Washington, DC for a decade, and worked on federal and state health care and regulatory issues in Philadelphia at a law firm and with a multi-national pharmaceutical company and, for a brief volunteer non-profit stint, in Chicago during law school. I have a lot of opinions and biases from those years, based on personal experience, which inevitably color anything I read on politics/political life. I come in with baggage. I’ve seen how the political machine works up close and personal. There’s a reason they say that law and sausage are two things you never want to see made… Government is not pretty; the politics of making your way into and through government is not prettier. The game is nasty and ugly, even when it doesn’t want to be, because the stakes are so high and the drive to win so intense.
Enter We’re With Nobody.
The authors, Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian, are opposition (“oppo”) researchers. They are, in short, the guys who dig up the dirt. They roam about the country following up on rumors and suppositions and allegations, trying to figure out what’s wrong with the guy their client is running against – and, usually, also what’s wrong with their client. In the cynical field of politics, these guys are the ultimate cynics. They accept nothing without facts and will go to extraordinary lengths and undertake serious personal risks to track those facts down – risk that have included guns and threats and being followed around by scary looking characters.
With a set-up like that, how can the book not be fascinating?
I don’t know. But it was not.
I am going to admit something right up front (well, up front at the point in the review where it first becomes relevant): I didn’t finish this book. I couldn’t. I simply could not get into it. The book is told in alternating voice by the two authors. I read through two chapters of each author then skimmed through the remaining chapters. Why? Because the two chapters I read sounded so much like echoes of one another that I couldn’t gin up enough interest to keep reading.
I don’t know why I had this strong a reaction. It may, in part, be a little bit of burn-out from all the negativity in the current political campaign. I’m a little irritated with the smearing of names on both sides of the aisle at the moment, so my patience may have been a little shorter than usual from the get-go. Plus, as I mentioned in the opening, I have a set of political biases on hand already, and oppo researchers and the guys who hire them lie squarely in the middle of those biases.
But that isn’t all of it. I think it’s also because I very quickly tired of reading how oppo research is necessary and they aren’t really “digging up dirt” so much as making the political process more transparent. Each author must have mentioned that this is just a job, they don’t have any personal feelings about the people or rumors they investigate, they are looking for truth not dirt at least five times in the short number of pages that I read. They can’t understand why people get suspicious or cranky when they trundle in to local courthouses and public records offices because the American public has a right to know what is what about the people who want to govern them.
In theory, I agree. But in practice, it’s way more complicated – and less pretty and public-interest-spirited than that. I guess the book felt like an apologia for the political process status quo. In and of itself, that wouldn’t necessarily turn me off – but the fact that it was done in a largely repetitive manner did.
It isn’t a long book (less than 200 pages), and it’s a topic that usually sparks my interest (if for no other reason than because I want to argue with the points made) – but I just couldn’t make myself finish it, which is saying a lot. Another person, another time and maybe this book will resonate. For me, not so much.