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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Road to Washington Is Paved with Dead Dogs

Posted by on Sun, Jun 1, 2014 at 3:18 PM

  • ELIZABETH WARREN: She’s smart.

Every modern political memoir begins as a country song. Even the most privileged politicians paint their backgrounds in sepia tones of hardscrabble upbringings in order to coax sympathy from their readers. All the dead relatives are paraded out one more time, financial troubles are crooned in seductive tones, the scratches and bruises of childhood and early adulthood are shown to the reader with a solemn, self-aware dignity. I'm just normal folks, the politician affirms, just like you.

Senator Elizabeth Warren's new memoir, A Fighting Chance (Metropolitan Books, $28), certainly doesn't buck the political-memoir-as-country-song trend. The book opens with a lie Warren told as a child in order to preserve her mother's dignity, it continues through her divorce, and she also talks—a lot—about the deaths of her dogs. It gets to be a little much; you can practically hear the twang of the steel guitars as each dog dies in turn. I'm not suggesting that Warren didn't come through struggle to get where she is now—her poor Oklahoma upbringing is far more suited to the country-song treatment than, say, Mitt Romney's blue-blood attempts to woo his future wife while on his Mormon mission in Europe—but I am suggesting that Warren doesn't need to follow this formula to make herself likable. She's already likable—intensely so—because she's a smart woman who doesn't always say what's popular.

Even though political writing now lives on Twitter, political memoirs are still powerful tools. They encapsulate a politician's worldview and establish a narrative that voters can assign to the candidate. In modern parlance, they create a brand. Speaking as someone who believes in Warren's politics and who would like to see her run for president in 2016, I think her brand is smarter than this book, but it wasn't written for the political junkies. It's written to normalize Warren, to transform her from Fox News' big-government, anti-business monster to a woman who has devoted her life to defending the poorest and most vulnerable Americans from predatory banks...

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