Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DOGFIGHT by Calvin Trillin

Calvin Trillin, the man who brought us Deciding the Next Decider, is back with DOGFIGHT: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse. Fans of politics and/or poetry will like this, as will folks who like stuff that is funny.

The book opens with this poem as a prelude:

Let the Barking and Biting Begin
by Calvin Trillin

Mitt Romney put Seamus on top of the car.
("He liked it up there, and we weren't going far.")
Obama, in boyhood, while in Indonesia,
Once swallowed some dog meat without anesthesia.
Though dog lovers wouldn't be either man's base,
A dogfight seemed what was in store for their race.
And people were saying, "We wonder which dude'll
Emerge as the pit bull, and which as the poodle."
The next two chapters of the book cover the start of Obama's first administration in 2008 and the mid-term elections in 2010, followed by a number of chapters about the Republican primaries, including poems savaging many of the contenders (much as those contenders savaged one another). By page 83, though, it's pretty clear that Mitt Romney is going to be the GOP candidate, and Trillin gives us this gem:

The Republican National Committee Selects a Campaign Slogan
by Calvin Trillin

Our slogan's been chosen.
We think it's a hit.
We'll shout from the rafters,
"We've settled for Mitt!"

By page 95, we're back to mention of President Obama's administration and his campaign. Trillin gives us "A Rejected Campaign Slogan" for the Obama camp: "With confidence low and firms still not hiring,/'It could have been worse' is not too inspiring." Poems and the occasional prose piece (e.g., "No Coordination, No Communication", which discusses how closely Super PACs worked with candidates and the complete lack of transparency there) carry us through the primary season to the conventions. Much of the book is written in longer poems composed of rhymed couplets, interspersed with the shorter poems singled out here in this post, and it's an effective way of conveying both the facts and the passage of time. Here's a brief snippet from Chapter 30, "First Debate":

. . .
Of those awake when ll was said and done,
Most had this thought: The challenger had won.
Mitt's answers, whether factual or not,
Were clear and crisp, and all those answers got
Delivered with a quite commanding style.
The President seemed listless all the while--
Less certain of the points that he would share
And wishing he were anyplace but there.
So Democrats looked on with some dismay.
"The President," some said, "is MIA."
The book winds down with the results of the election, but not before Trillin takes a few swings at Todd Akin and other Republicans who made what can charitably be described as "mistaken" statements about rape, as well as noting that the GOP's new voter legislation to prevent voter fraud was unnecessary. In the end, his book focuses on the relief felt by the people in the state of Ohio, who were now free to go to the grocery store without being assailed by pollsters or the press . . . and a reminder that the next election cycle starts in thirty months or so. "Dogfight!"


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