We're With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of Politics
is not my normal reading fare. In fact, I would not have given it as second thought, if not for the fact that it's my book club's March selection. So, I was really shocked to find myself enjoying the book.
We're With Nobody is about two men, authors Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian, and their job working in "opposition research", a job that involves digging through public records in search of any negative information that can be used against a political candidate. They do "oppo" to dig up dirt on opposing candidates or in the backgrounds of the candidates they represent (usually Democrats) to help them prepare for anything their opposition may dig up. And, they have some surprising stories to tell about working both sides.
The chapters in We're With Nobody alternate between the voices of the two authors and are written in a very down-to-earth style; I'm not a political person, but they actually managed to make politics intriguing (if every bit as horrifying as I suspected). Both Huffman and Rejebian are former journalists. I became doubly interested in the book when I realized they both once worked as reporters at the Clarion-Ledger, the newspaper in what I refer to as the "Big City" - Jackson, Mississippi. They talk about how their backgrounds prepared them well for their current job, what exactly they do, some politicians they've investigated (mostly without naming names) and experiences they've had in dealing with clerks who will go out of their way to keep the public from viewing public records. Wait till you hear what they had to say about trying to find information on George W. Bush's years as governor of Texas! You'll want to scrape that "W" off your back window, if you haven't already.
Because I live in Mississippi, I recognized a few of the candidates Huffman and Rejebian didn't name and, I confess, I was shocked and horrified to find that one particular fellow whose toughness I admired after Hurricane Katrina was not only a man who should not have been in a position of authority but likely should have been behind bars. His possible crimes were considered too sordid to publicize by the opposing candidate. I talked that over with my personal trainer and we both felt the same. "We need to know these things!" However, for the men doing the research and writing the book, exposing the nasty doings of the people they research is not their place. It's the decision of whomever they work for to expose their opposition's misdoings or keep the information under their proverbial hats. Disappointing for those of us who would really like to know the whole truth when we place our votes.
What I loved about We're With Nobody:
We're With Nobody is very readable and the only book that has ever piqued my interest in politics. I've abandoned a few because they bored me to tears. In general, I tend to be a bit of an ostrich, when it comes to politics. I am well aware that politicians tend to be people who crave power, often without the best of motives, that the system is deeply flawed and awash in favoritism and sometimes crime, that the people we see running for office are at best well-spoken actors with good intentions and at worst criminals. But, somehow Huffman and Rejebian convinced me that I need to pay attention, that we all need the information they spend their time working to provide. They even go so far as to explain how to deal with clerks if/when you need to peruse public records, yourself.
On asking for information without giving away who you are or why you need info:
To always get and never give may seem selfish to some, but offering information to gain information diminishes its value and weakens the interviewer. Questions are a companion; they are a friend. And the more ways you know to ask them, the more successful you will be.
On how unexciting opposition research can be:
All that's left, after a long day of doing research in such a place, is either to retire to your hotel room or drive across the eight-lane highway to the Chili's bar to watch whatever game is on TV. I do not really follow sports, though I'm easily mesmerized by movement on the screen, and in such situations I must concentrate on keeping up with the score and the names of the teams in case someone saunters up to the bar and asks a challenging question such as, "Who's winning?" It's embarrassing to appear to be watching a game on TV and not even know who's playing. Likewise, it's humiliating to spend three days doing intensive research in a small town and come up with nothing of value of interest. You know there has to be something there. There's almost always something there.
On how to get a clerk to cooperate and give you access to the public records you seek to peruse (part 3 of 10 suggestions):
Assume the best, starting out. Smile. Scientists have found that approximately 25 percent of the human population is comprised of assholes; 25 percent, idiots, 25 percent, idiotic assholes; and 25 percent, people who are smart or nice or both. The breakdown is easily observed on any interstate highway. At the outset, assume that clerks are part of the latter group until proven otherwise, and make clear that you are, too. Even if they reveal themselves to be idiotic assholes and you have to fall back on verbal pepper spray, do not make the mistake of assuming a kindred role as a petty nuisance. It will only make things harder, and the people behind you in line will hate you, too. This doesn't mean you can't be forceful.
And, a bit of interesting trivia:
The world "deadline" actually has a deadly origin dating back to the Civil War. In the official records of the Union and Confederate armies is an obscure inspection report from the Confederate captain Walter Bowie dated May 10, 1864. The report describes conditions at the infamous prisoner-of-war camp for Union soldiers at Andersonville, Georgia. In it, Bowie wrote, "On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a dead-line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot."
The word, of course, has evolved into simply meaning a time limit to complete some activity. And though crossing a deadline today generally won't result in being shot, it can sometimes feel like it.
What I disliked about We're With Nobody:
Occasionally, Huffman & Rejebian's stories were incomplete (as a lead-in to other stories, perhaps) or mildly confusing because they chose not to use names. Not using names meant the use of pronouns, instead. I think they'd have been better off at least giving each individual some sort of moniker, like Gubernatorial Candidate A and The Opposition -- anything to make their stories clearer without altering their choice to keep the subjects anonymous.
Highly recommended - It doesn't matter that the candidates are not named. The bottom line is that We're With Nobody contains information that every voting citizen needs to know. If you're a voter in the United States, you should read We're With Nobody, especially if you're someone who likes to bury your head in the sand, vote straight-ticket (occasionally, the best candidate for the job will be the one you'd oppose) or not vote at all. Although there were times I got the players mixed up because of the lack of names, I found the book easily digestible and extremely informative.
Change of topic:
The small handful of people who are following my private Japan travel blog have probably been perplexed at the lack of activity. Just an FYI for all 8 of you: I misplaced my travel diary. And, since the photos are out of order, the farther I get from the trip, the more things get messed up in my mind. It remains to be seen whether I'll get back to updating that blog, but in the meantime, here's a photo of one of the protected Nara deer -- which can be stunningly obnoxious, pushy animals -- begging for ice cream. If you look right above the jeans-clad woman's right shoulder, you'll see that she's holding a green-tea ice cream cone.
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