Mark Salter Caught Up In 'O' Speculation

UPDATE: Well! It looks like I may have been wrong about this:

Time's Mark Halperin claims to have solved the mystery of the anonymous author behind O: A Presidential Novel, saying that the scribe is none other than former John McCain adviser Mark Salter.

Halperin reports that his finding has been "confirmed by sources," but also points to a number of other clues, including the fact that "there is a story early in the book based on a real-life tale that would have been known only to a McCain campaign insider such as Salter."

No one has confirmed this, least of all Salter, because of an obvious reason that Alex Pareene points to this morning: "The book has not been well-reviewed." Indeed, the virtue of anonymity is that the author can quietly slink away from this, and perhaps get on with their lives.

As I said earlier, Salter's previous work, with John McCain, tends to take a lofty tone. While it mostly serves the cause of erecting the McCain mythology, it's nevertheless aiming to inspire. O, on the other hand, is a pretty constipated blast of bitterness and cynicism. One would rather not believe that Salter had anything to do with this, but then again, maybe this is campaign-fantasy, score-settling slashfic intended for an audience of one: Senator John McCain.


If you are like, say, 54 other people currently working within four blocks of my present location, you are probably wondering, "Who wrote this 'O' book that I am hearing so much about, because the publisher keeps telling me to say that I didn't write it?" Did, say, Howard Fineman or Sam Stein write it? Maybe! Did I write it? Well, is the book filled, stem to stern, with silly punctuation games? No? Well then: probably not. But today we have some new "buzz," courtesy of Page Six, speculating that maybe the book was written by longtime McCain speechwriter and aide-de-camp Mark Salter, whose "adjective-filled style is similar to the 'O' author's."

Adjectives, eh?

The book isn't flattering to characters loosely based on Obama's inner circle and other political figures. In a nod to Sarah Palin, "The Barracuda" is described as a "lusty librarian" with "thick hair piled up high, chin out, defiant, taunting, flaunting that whole lusty librarian thing, sweet and savory, mother and predator, alluring and dangerous." O himself is suspected of having a split personality -- "Good O and Bad O."

My whole take on the anonymity of the author is that in all likelihood, the identity is being kept a secret because if you were to know in advance the name of the author, everyone would say, "Meh," and move on with their lives. Salter, on the other hand, is a really good writer. His involvement in a book about the Obama administration isn't a light I'd hide under a bushel -- my expectation would be that such a book would be entertainingly pugilistic and grudgey.

But in a long line of books written for and with Sen. John McCain, a constant theme has been an optimism that it's possible to make transformative and inspiring decisions that change the world for the better. So I find it hard to square all of that with the ending of "O."

He had rejected the script for the recording that would air that night and rewritten it himself. He wanted Americans to know he recognized he had made them a promise he couldn't keep. He couldn't change politics, because it required self-denial; it required a change in himself, in other politicians, in Washington, and in voters that none of the parties were selfless enough to make.


Americans would make their history, and his too, in the bargain. He and the country were theirs to do with as they wished, at the service of those restless, discontented dreamers.

If that had stopped as some sort of indictment of Obama, I could believe it. But a full-on castigation of "other politicians" and "voters," collectively bound as an inalterable, selfish mass, would be a fairly new frontier of cynicism for Salter. The failure to include the traitorous media in this indictment strikes me as uniquely un-Salterian. Just about everything you need to know about what Mark Salter thinks about the 2008 campaign is contained within this Oct. 20, 2008 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg -- he's not a guy who's internally capable of pretending that Obama has a "split personality" between a "good" and "bad." It's all bad, all the time.

Of course, this straining against personality might be a good reason to stay anonymous, too. But hey, I'm prepared, as always, to be wrong about all of this! Regardless, if Salter wrote it, I'd be pretty confident that the book's sex scenes will at least be better than Jonathan Franzen's.

Who do you think wrote 'O'? Take a look at HuffPost's slideshow of the top suspects.

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