Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taking DC by storm: "Smeared"

by Mark Rogers
Publisher: CreateSpace, 2012
ISBN: 1470129604

It is said that Washington DC can cause people who spend a lot of time there to twist a bit, to become less than the idealists they were when they first arrived; there's even a term for it “beltway brain damage,” and Annie is pretty sure the man she lives with is being lost to the many temptations presented by power and influence. Hartford Keepe, on the other hand, is beginning to think that Annie is having trouble understanding the actual realities that have to be dealt with – he's getting really good at the machinations and head games, and has become the wonder boy Chief of
Staff for the eminent (if irascible and arrogant) Senator Harold P. Feldstone, Chair of the Appropriations Committee and a force to be reckoned with.

Tied hand and foot to his blackberry, at the Senator's beck and call, Hart's worked himself to the top of the pecking order, and while he knows he's overworked, and that his job is hell on wheels sometimes, he also feels more and more that he has become indispensable, a media manipulator par excellence, a very valuable commodity, and can't see why Annie isn't happy about it.

But when Hart's ego gets the best of him and he uses his title and connections to rescue a homeless man from the clutches of an over-reaching park security guard (a bit of payback to make the officer look bad who mistreated Hart when he was new to town), a set of circumstances unfolds that even the master of public perception and spin can't quite understand or control – much to Annie's great amusement.

Thomas is definitely not the average homeless man. He is completely out of his element. Not only is he not familiar with even the simplest of devices, the common car (which he refers to as a “horseless cart”) or the radio and tv, but his language is archaic 18th century Colonial. Yet he's clearly highly intelligent, knows quite a bit about Washington and the early days of the Constitution, has great people skills, and can quote founding fathers at will. He cannot, however, remember anything about himself other than that he's pretty sure his first name is Thomas. His manners are genteel and polite to the point where people look at him funny. And Hart can't for the life of him figure out what game he's playing, and vacillates between writing Thomas off as a fraud, or hiring him because his skills at pulling the wool over folk's eyes are good enough to fool someone as sophisticated and cynical as Hartford Keepe.

Where did this guy come from? Is he a fraud? Is he really somehow some three-cornered-hat-wearing Colonial from the 1700s dropped off by UFOs who picked him up in another century? Public interest is growing, and when that happens in DC, public interest turns into influence, which turns into political capital, which turns into machinations, and who better to know how the game is played than Hart? But is Thomas playing a game, or is he just what he seems?

One thing is certain; Washington will never be the same.

I fear those who lean strongly towards the left would find this book annoying, but if they want to understand anything about the views of the opposition, they should read it. I'll be happy to review anything as well written coming from those in strong support of the status quo, just to keep things even, but what I hear from the public (and I live in a very left-centric slice of the world) in these pages is pretty much what I hear from the public on the street, in the stores, and at the pub.

Mark Rogers has done a great job with the dialogue. Having read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, I can see that Thomas'  ways of expressing himself could have come from those times, and the times and places where his confusion with modern life show themselves are entirely believable. This book feels at first like a bit of Twilight Zone which morphs into the kind of inner look at the workings of our government that authors like Alan Drury (“Advice and Consent”) would recognize immediately. Rogers also does a very good job at presenting today's frustrations with partisanship, financial irresponsibility, and the arrogance of those who get too used to Washington.

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