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Primary Colors: A Novel of Politicsby Joe Klein
Synopses & Reviews
He was a big fellow, looking seriously pale on the streets of Harlem in deep summer. I am small and not so dark, not very threatening to Caucasians; I do not strut my stuff.
We shook hands. My inability to recall that particular moment more precisely is disappointing: the handshake is the threshold act, the beginning of politics. I've seen him do it two million times now, but I couldn't tell you how he does it, the right-handed part of it--the strength, quality, duration of it, the rudiments of pressing the flesh. I can, however, tell you a whole lot about what he does with his other hand. He is a genius with it. He might put it on your elbow, or up by your biceps: these are basic, reflexive moves. He is interested in you. He is honored to meet you. If he gets any higher up your shoulder--if he, say, drapes his left arm over your back, it is somehow less intimate, more casual. He'll share a laugh or a secret then--a light secret, not a real one--flattering you with the illusion of conspiracy. If he doesn't know you all that well and you've just told him something "important," something earnest or emotional, he will lock in and honor you with a two-hander, his left hand overwhelming your wrist and forearm. He'll flash that famous misty look of his. And he will mean it.
Anyway, as I recall it, he gave me a left-hand-just-above-the-elbow plus a vaguely curious "ah, so you're the guy I've been hearing about" look, and a follow-me nod. I didn't have the time, or presence of mind, to send any message back at him. Slow emotional reflexes, I guess. His were lightning. He was six meaningful handshakes down the row before I caught up. And then I fell in, a step or two behind, classic staff position, as if I'd been doing it all my life. (I had, but not for anyone so good.)
We were sweeping up into the library, the librarian in tow, and now he had his big ears on. She was explaining her program and he was in heavy listening mode, the most aggressive listening the world has ever known: aerobic listening. It is an intense, disconcerting phenomenon--as if he were hearing quicker than you can get the words out, as if he were sucking the information out of you. When he gives full ear--a rare enough event; he's usually ingesting from two or three sources--his listening becomes the central fact of the conversation. He was doing this now, with the librarian, and she was staggering under it. She missed a step; he reached out, steadied her. She was middle-aged, pushing fifty, hair dyed auburn to blot the gray, unexceptional except for her legs, which were shocking, a gift from God. Had he noticed the legs when she almost went down on the stair? I couldn't tell. Howard Ferguson III had insinuated himself next to me, as we nudged up the crowded staircase, his hand squeezing my elbow--Lord, these were touchy fellows--saying: "Glad you changed your mind. Jack's really excited you could do this."
"What are we doing?" I asked. Howard had called and invited me to meet Governor Jack Stanton, who might or might not be running for president. The governor was stopping in New York on his way to do some early, explanatory wandering through New Hampshire. The invitation came with an intriguing address--in Harlem, of all places. (There was no money in Harlem and this was the serious money-bagging stage of the campaign, especially for an obscure Southern governor.) It also came with
A former congressional aide of mixed race, Henry Burton takes a new job with Jack Stanton, governor of a small Southern state who has his eye on the presidency, observing his campaign, his idiosyncratic lifestyle, and the controversies and scandals surrounding him. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.
A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his not-so-above-board campaign for the presidency.
From the Hardcover edition.
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