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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, October 27th, 2004


 

Looking Forward to It: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the American Electoral Process

by Stephen Elliott

Outside Looking In

A review by Anna Godbersen

There are people who cover politics, and people who follow politics, and then there are political junkies, a large subspecies that blends the best and worst of the first two categories. Stephen Elliott belongs to the third category, and I don't think he would object to the junkie metaphor. Looking Forward to It, Elliott's memoirish book about the democratic primaries, has some gambling and drug addiction in the background; he conjures them to explain the lure of politics, for players and spectators alike.

Way back in July of 2003, Elliott was a novelist teaching at Stanford, living in San Francisco ("a city so far left it has ceased to exist"), and writing an article on the primaries for The Believer. But then he got hooked. And by December, he'd given up his apartment, his job, gotten himself a book deal, and begun blowing his advance on the trail with Kerry, Edwards, Dean, and the rest of them. Elliott portrays himself as an amateur, too scruffy to fit in with the career journalists, and probably too invested in the outcome as well. This makes for wonderfully odd observations of campaign life and the candidates themselves. (For example, of Howard Dean's sweet tooth: "The Governor loves sweets. When he sees a table piled high with candy his eyes light up and he presses his fingers together," a characterization charming enough that it would probably never appear in a major newspaper.) He goes on to lose sleep, weight, and his girlfriend; to get a senior Dean staffer to bet against her own candidate in Iowa; and to be told by Dennis Kucinich that he is "more in touch with [his] humanity than other journalists." Elliott, like Joan Didion when she wrote Political Fictions, views the campaign mechanism from somewhere close to the main event, but still outside. The game is weird and amusing, but its stakes are frightfully real; the author is a little out of it, but he cares a lot. Looking Forward to It, which manages to be playful and earnest at once, is a compulsively readable document of those cold, wrenching months when John Kerry became the Democratic candidate for president.


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