Making A Difference

A Capitol Hill Whodunit

A novel by an anonymous author on the 1992 presidential campaign mystifies Washington

A Capitol Hill Whodunit
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Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

While Primary Colors has received rave reviews for its style and insight, a few critics have questioned the propriety of its blend of strict fact with salacious fiction. The novel begins with a disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction and the usual rules apply. None of the characters are real. None of these events ever happened."

But the words are disingenuous. The characters and events are all too recognis-able. Jack and Susan Stanton are Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is the governor of a small southern state, a brilliant natural politician abjectly ruled by his sexual appetites. She is the tough-as-nails, super-organised, super-controlling lawyer, willing to accept her husband's infidelity as the price of access to the White House.

Other recognisable players include Henry Burton, who is Clinton's adviser, George Stephanopoulos. Orlando Ozio is New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and stepping in for Gennifer Flowers is Cashmere McLeod. Stanton's mother sounds familiar, "puffing Slims and radiating cheap perfume". Clinton campaign manager James Car-ville as Richard Jem-mons spews his trademark insights wrapped in vulgarities.

The novel is so authentic that White House aide Harold Ickes says some of the scenes depicted could only have been penned by a person who was actually there. Frenzied speculation about the author has tagged insiders such as Stephanopoulos, outsiders like political cartoonist Garry Trudeau, and long shots such as Lisa Grunwald, sister to media adviser Mandy Grunwald. Others include former deputy treasury secretary Roger Altman, the NewYorker's Sidney Blumenthal and political consultant Paul Bengala.

In a classic Washington game of oneupmanship, a number of journalists and political aides have said that while they have been accused of writing the book, they did not, thereby making it clear they could have done it if they had wanted

to. And some say the Washington Post's celebrated reporter, Bob Woodward, might be the author. Woodward has still not revealed the identity of Deep Throat, who enabled him and Carl Bernstein to unearth the Watergate scandal. He did extensive research for his book on the Clinton administration, The Agenda, speaking to more than 250 insiders. His comment was a classic non-denial: "It's a third-rate book, and I will not dignify thequestion with an answer."

Only two persons know who Anonymous is: the author and his/her agent Kathy Robbins. At Random House, the book's publisher, Harold Evans, denies any knowledge of the writer. Time magazine claims to have conducted an Internet interview with Anonymous, in which the author says he/she wants to remain anonymous because he/she wants the book judged on its own merits. And according to publishing sources, Anonymous is negotiating a million-dollar deal for a sequel.

Besides, Primary Colors has spawned a second mystery. If such insider stuff as Clinton calling Stephanopoulos "Master of the Universe" is correct, as Stephano-poulos admits it is, is the rest of the juicy stuff also true? Did Hillary seduce Stephanopoulos? Does she routinely call Bill an 'asshole'? Did she slug him when Flowers told the world of her affair and published a taped conversation with the then governor?

President Clinton, who has not read the book, feels sure that the press will eventually ferret out Mr or Ms Anonymous: "It's the only secret I've seen kept in Washington in three years."

What distinguishes Primary Colors from a trashy expose is that it is a savvy and witty page-turner. Anonymous draws the characters with precision, nailing their thought processes along with their ideological jousting, manic monologues and cynical calculus ("FDR minus polio is George Bush"). And the book ends with a dollop of compelling pragmatism. Only certain kinds of people are cut out for presidency, it suggests. Two-thirds of what the incumbents do is, by necessity, reprehensible. They live an eternity of false smiles, because it's the price they pay to lead. Even Abraham Lincoln had to do it, just so he'd get a chance to stand in front of the nation and appeal to "the better angels of our nature".

That's what it's all about: the opportunity to do that, to make the most of it, to do it in the right way—because there are plenty of people in the game who never think about the folks, much less their "better angels". 

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