- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Francis Bacon famously observed in his essay "Of Studies" that "ome books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." He might have added there are others that should be sent back to the kitchen. In that category I place Dick Morris' "Power Plays."

The author, of course, is the political adviser to presidents, among them, William Jefferson Clinton, whom he turned on in a tell-all book some years back. This one is more in the line of tell-nothing or at least tell-nothing that is new or particularly insightful.

In so doing, Mr. Morris outlines six winning strategies that go something like this. Stick to principle unless you are stealing the other guy's ideas, otherwise called triangulating. Divide your enemies and then conquer. Reform your own party when it isn't winning but don't kill off the beast while you're doing the Lord's work. Master a new technology while your opponents remain rearguard. Finally, in times of national crisis, try to tell the truth to the electorate.

Hard to argue with much of this because it is obvious for the most part. The writing, meanwhile, varies from bland to awful and nearly always is pedestrian and derivative from a handful of secondary sources. There is repetition. There are cliches on nearly every page. How many times does the nation watch in horror until we get tired of the nation and its horror of the moment?

Sometimes, Mr. Morris is just plain wrong and the further from his American base, the more insecure in judgment. It is, for example, obvious that Japan's Junichiro Koizumi has not transformed the Liberal Democratic Party or even come close. Mr. Morris may have been nearer the truth by suggesting Japan's prime minister-for-the-day is the country's Mikhail Gorbachev a fruitful theme he does not bother to explore further. He does a bit better explaining how Britain's Tony Blair managed to change the Labor Party by convincing the party's union bosses that swinging to the right could bring them back to power.

More often, we get one more tiresome rehash of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt as they battle their enemies until victory. But even here, the iconic historiography doesn't quite work. Churchill's principal task, especially after he assumed the top job, was not to convince Britons they were in danger with Adolf Hitler's legions within artillery range of Dover that was hardly the issue. The problem was to rally the nation away from defeatism, a sentiment widely shared within Britain's political class in 1940, and to have done it with words is still mind-boggling.

There are other peculiarities. The author is convinced Al Gore lost the 2000 election because he didn't stick to principle, that is, his extreme views on the environment. If he had, Mr. Morris assures us, Mr. Gore would have won Florida. Well, maybe. But Mr. Gore should have won Tennessee and Arkansas as well, and turning green for those folks is not likely to have worked there either. In fact, Mr. Gore's defeat could be ascribed to many factors not just one pulled out of a hat.

Then, there is the familiar excoriating of Lyndon Johnson and his conduct of the Vietnam War. Who would defend that? But comparing LBJ to Churchill and Roosevelt in waging war is comparing crab apples with mandarin oranges. It might have been more interesting to look at Johnson and Mr. Morris' beloved John F. Kennedy. How candid was JFK in wading into Southeast Asia's Big Muddy? Or better, Johnson's Vietnam with Harry Truman's Korea. The man from Independence may have been more honest in comparison to the man from Johnsonville, but Truman's approval ratings at the end of 1952 don't suggest much of an improvement.

Some of Mr. Morris' best stuff is found in a chapter on George McGovern's successful attempt to reform the Democratic Party after its loss in 1968 to the dreaded Richard Nixon. But the reforms, the author rightly notes, were carried out with the barest shred of legitimacy. So much so that they alienated many Democrats not just the party pols like Chicago's Richard Daley whom no one ever seemed to like, but always got elected. Mr. McGovern would later recognize his error to the credit of the old warrior, but it did him no good in 1972, when he managed to win only Massachusetts and its sister city in the politics of the silly, the District of Columbia.

Pulling political lessons from history is as old as Machiavelli; actually much older, but to rephrase Lloyd Bentsen, Dick is no Nicolo.

Roger Fontaine served on the National Security Council staff during the first Reagan administration.

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