Remember when people used to care about government, and the people who made it work? Remember when politicians used to be interesting, colorful, original and unafraid to speak their minds?
Me neither. I'm from Texas, and by the time I was old enough to vote, even the most exciting statewide and local races pitted a conservative white male lawyer against a conservative white male businessman. All politics has theater, of course, and most city council races are, indeed, like a play. A really, really, really boring play, in which people in suits talk about tax incentives in a low, monotone voice.
But there are exceptions, in both history and contemporary politics. Phil Campbell's excellent new book, Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics, tells the story of two of them: maverick US Representative Marion Anthony Zioncheck, who committed suicide in 1936, and writer and activist Grant Cogswell, who ran a grassroots, DIY campaign for Seattle City Council in 2001. Campbell, a former reporter for the Seattle alternative newsweekly The Stranger, was Cogswell's campaign manager, organizing volunteers and wrangling with the media from their de facto headquarters in a neighborhood coffee shop. Zioncheck for President tells the story of Cogswell's insurgent candidacy -- it's the rare political book that's both genuinely sad and funny -- intertwined with a short narrative about Zioncheck's life and career. It's also a story about Campbell himself, who was dealing with stress, unemployment, and at least one harmless prank gone horribly awry, while running his friend's campaign.
Campbell's book is reviewed in the Boston Globe, and an excerpt is available at The Stranger. It's a great book, and well worth checking out, particularly if you've ever worked for -- or even cared about -- a local political campaign. Campbell's the kind of writer who can create suspense even when you know the outcome (I'm not going to reveal whether the underfunded, bisexual punk-rock rabble rouser defeats the moderate incumbent, but you can probably guess), and he does a beautiful job of describing the political and cultural geography of 21st-century Seattle. We need more candidates like Grant Cogswell, and we need more writers like Phil Campbell. Read this book and get inspired.