Primary Colors is a fictional backroom account of a current—1996—presidential bid by Jack Stanton, the Democratic governor of a southern state.
Henry Burton tells the story. Stanton doesn’t offer Henry a job; he absorbs him into his staff.
The grandson of a famed civil rights leader, Henry had worked for a congressman after college before abandoning the Beltway for a teaching gig. Henry thinks he’s being used as “racial cover,” but he’s very impressed by Stanton’s ability to connect with ordinary people.
He’s less favorably impressed with Stanton’s truth-stretching facility, nevertheless he finds a comfortable perch where he can observe the internal operations of the campaign while “working the phones, doing stuff.”
The novel is packed with historical and political trivia from FDR’s presidency forward: who ran, what made them good candidates, what brought them down.
Primary Colors captures the aspirations and intensity of Stanton’s political campaign as well as the idealism, audacity, dedication, duplicity, and stupidity of the campaigners.
The negativity with which the Democrats regard news organizations like The Washington Post and NPR, which today are trashed by Republicans seems odd, but as I write this in January 2020, the rest of Primary Colors feels very contemporary.
Allen Drury plunges readers into American politics as it might be played if violence becomes a political tool.
Sometime in the post-LBJ era, Air Force One has crashed, killing an American president on his return to Washington after garnering his party’s nomination.
The Speaker of the House, William Abbott, assumes the presidency until elections can be held. He carries on the policies of his predecessor, Harvey Hudson, keeping American troops in Africa and Panama and retaining Orrin Knox as Secretary of State.
That continuity brings Abbott into direct confrontation with a coalition of extremist groups out to control the presidency by electing Ted Jason, a man they think they can control.
Preserve and Protect is a stronger novel — there’s less author commentary — than the other three novels in Drury’s series.
Readers are left in no doubt as to Drury’s position, but here they have the pleasure of thinking they figured it out themselves.
The characters met in earlier novels seem to have grown more complex, the issues less clear.
The book slips from political novel toward political thriller.
Drury pulls all the threads together skillfully in a shocking — but totally logical — conclusion.
Preserve and Protect by Allen Drury
Doubleday, 1968. 394 pages. 1968 bestseller #6. My grade A-.
In Convention, veteran Washington reporters Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II take readers behind the scenes to see what happens at a national political convention out of sight of TV cameras.
Unfortunately, what happens out of sight of the TV cameras isn’t much more interesting than what readers see on TV.
Charles B. Manchester, Secretary of the Treasury and heir-apparent to the President, appears to have his party’s nomination sewn up.
Then Manchester utters an off-the-cuff comment at a press conference, which turns everyone with a stake in building a new defense system against him.
Manchester’s honestly believes the new weapon is not needed. He won’t back down, even if it means losing the nomination.
What is interesting from a contemporary perspective is that the plot hinges on use of a secret computer stuffed with data about the convention delegates. That may sound tame, but when Convention was written 50 years ago most people had not heard the term computer and Big Data was still a baby.
Other than that, there’s not much new or interesting in the novel.
I don’t need to tell you that with a little nudge The Great American Electorate will rise up to support The Honest Man.
You’ve seen this plot before, and the characters are as cliché-choked as the plot.
Note to subscribers: I apologize for not posting this review Tuesday as promised. Apparently I deleted it instead of scheduling it.
By Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II
Harper & Row, 1964
1964 bestseller #10
My grade: B