Joan Didion’s, “Political Fictions,” Is a collection of about ten essays that primarily deal with how presidential campaigns are so staged that almost everything you see a candidate say or do, right down to how many steps it takes a candidate to walk from the Oval Office to greet a group of reporters is choreographed. It more or less covers the period from 1981 to 2000, with a heavy emphasis on 1988 to 2000. There are roughly ten essays, the reason I can’t give a correct figure is because so many of the essays have what you would call separate chapters. 

Out of the ten essays, there are five that are nothing short of outstanding, insightful, and riveting… So much so that the other five are somewhat of a disappointment.

The one about President Ronald Reagan and his years in the White House is fascinating and funny. Mr. Reagan, in a sense, went from a motion picture actor and TV star, to literally playing the part of the President of the United States. In the evening he would receive a schedule of the things he had to do the next day, and as he went down the list he crossed out each one he had just finished, and when everything on the list was completed that was more or less the end of his work day. He performed the duties of the President no different than if he was following a script for a movie and what was expected of him that day… What shots he would be in, exchange of dialogue, following the directions of the camera person and director. 

In contrast to the one on Reagan, the one on the Central American debacle was nothing short of a moral and humanitarian disgrace. The Reagan administration at the time was trying to get more money from the Congress to support the army and government in El Salvador which was under attack from leftist communists. What would become known as “The Massacre of El Mazote,” where the Salvadoran army went into a Peasant village and killed between 750 and 900 innocent civilians, more than half women and children and babies, many burned to death and buried beneath a church. The optics and coverage of such a massacre would have killed any aid to the Salvadoran government. The administration, along with advisors from the American embassy, never verified
The massacre, and reporters could not get close to the scene, so it wasn’t until six years later the true story came out, not the one put out at the time, that if it did happen it was the communists dressed in army outfits that committed the murders.

It was essays like the two above, and three others that make this book of essays so worth the read. The other five are good, but not nearly as compelling and somewhat convoluted.

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