Review by Barry Rubin
No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner br>
Robert Shrum br>
One of the most important decisions any candidate for higher office has to make about their impending candidacy is who they are going to hire as their “media” consultant. For Democrats, Bob Shrum has been in that decision-making mix for over three decades.
In this lengthy memoir, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner
, Shrum memorializes his life in politics, which started after a successful run as a debater, morphed into one of the most sought-after speech writers in the history of U.S. politics (Democrat or Republican), and ended in what many, including myself, consider to be a disappointing conclusion resulting from always being the smartest person in the room.
Shrum’s memory is remarkable, and he does an amazing job in his book recalling many candid, behind-the-scenes moments involving some of the biggest names in Democratic politics - McGovern, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, Gephardt, Gore and Kerry, just to name a few. He expertly details the inner workings - and, often times, dysfunctions—of political campaigns, detailing the many moving parts that must come together in order to achieve a victory at the ballot box.
Frankly, for a book containing the title, “No Excuses
,” Shrum does a bang-up job of making plenty of them. His experience working on eight Democratic campaigns for president resulted in zero wins. And, although Shrum certainly doesn’t deserve all of the blame for those results, he should at least own some of it. Throughout his book he deflects these criticisms back onto the candidates themselves, the campaign managers, the pollsters, the grassroots operations, the media, the lack of fundraising, and uncontrollable events like September 11, 2001.
What he doesn’t account for is his own transformation. From a hungry and visionary populist who would sacrifice fortune for the cause, Shrum slowly became a bigger star than those he would work for - possibly the biggest no-no for a consultant. In many cases, instead of earning media for his clients, he himself became the topic of the news. The more time he spent on Sunday morning talk shows, the less time he focused on creating messages that would resonate with the electorate - and his work suffered. I witnessed this firsthand when Shrum played a huge part in resurrecting a flailing gubernatorial re-election campaign in Maryland for Parris Glendening in 1998; and it played another epic role in one of the worst run campaigns in recent history, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s campaign for governor in 2002 (I know - I “ran” it). The problem I always saw with Shrum was the tendency of his ego to take over a campaign; and these campaigns lived and died by that ego. I remember wondering during one of our film shoots whether or not Shrum was there or Frances Ford Coppola.
Regardless of his results, there is no disputing that Bob Shrum is one of the most brilliant minds in the history of American politics. To this day he is sought after for his speech-writing abilities. His book does a great job of getting inside the heads of every major Democratic candidate for higher office in the last 30 years, many of whom Shrum befriended. It is an eye-opening experience for a former operative like me, and I would strongly recommend this book to anyone in the world of politics or interested in entering into politics (candidate and operative alike). It’s a great view from the center of those smoke-filled (or Nicorette-filled, in Shrum’s case) rooms you hear so much about.