By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – When I was a little boy, my father took me for a haircut every other Saturday from a small town barber who had a love for children and an irascible wit.
The barber loved gags, tricks and novelties that would make a kid laugh. Joy buzzers? Yes. “Whoopee” cushions? Always. And for the very young, there was always the “pull the quarter from behind the ear” bit. I always loved that, because I got to keep the quarter and a quarter would buy a lot in 1964.
For those in journalism whose lot it falls to cover politics at any significant level, there come moments of searing clarity, brutal insight and stunning disappointment that can only be compared to learning the secret of a magician’s sleight-of-hand.
Much of modern politics reminds me of my childhood barber, who taught me the value of paying attention to small details so as not to buy into the notion that my left ear really dispensed quarters.
In their intriguing and entertaining new book, “We’re With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics”(William Morrow, 191 pages, $15.99), former Mississippi journalists and current political research firm partners Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian reveal the predictably sordid but reliably comic processes and strategies used to determine which candidates win elections in this country.
Huffman is a former environmental researcher and aide to both former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore and former Mississippi governor and current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. Rejebian is a former communications director and adviser for both the Jackson mayor’s office and to the state attorney general’s office. Both were talented news reporters for The Clarion-Ledger before leaving the newspaper business.
The authors focus on their trade – political opposition research or “oppo” – which is best defined as seeking, finding, documenting, vetting, and ultimately packaging political dirt on opposing candidates or potential candidates for use by the politicians they challenge. But what is key to understanding the world that Huffman and Rejebian work in and that we as voters exercise our franchise in is that this “oppo” isn’t the creation of fertile minds in ad agencies.
This research is factual information contained in public records or available to be verified by doing what both journalists and detectives do best – identifying and interviewing sources, digging through records, and taking the occasional risks inherent in obtaining such information.
The “truth” obtained in the quest for political opposition research can run the gamut from prior arrests to medical secrets to pre- or post-marital indiscretions. And, it is also refreshing to learn, Huffman and Rejebian have also been forced to confront another kind of truth – the fact that there are still some honorable politicians out there with absolutely no skeletons in their closets. “We’re With Nobody” has the frenetic pace and energy of a John Grisham novel and is a truly compelling read, but it’s a cautionary tale as well.
Business Week’s Bret Berk offered this review: “Voters who read this compelling book may be less likely to vote under the influence of the kind of dirt Huffman and Rejebian spent their careers digging up.”
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org