The Innocent Have Nothing To Fear
By Stuart Evans
257 pages, $24.95
By Michael D. Langan
“A week is a long time in politics.” - Sir Harold Wilson
“The Innocent Have Nothing To Fear” is the title of this political novel by Stuart Evans, who writes for TV shows and political campaigns. (There used to be a difference.)
“Nothing to fear” the title asks? Being innocent these days seems to be a joke. Actually, in the novel it’s the tag line of a Trump-like candidate whose proposed oppressive Bill of Rights goes too far.
This novel is supposed to be a dark comedy, a summer read from a veteran political insider. It’s occasionally funny. There are plenty of inside-laughs as reporters console each other with words like “America’s better than this,” after a paint bomb goes off in the middle of the night outside Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans during the Republican Convention. Maybe you had to be there.
The novel has mixed value.
Evans must have known that a brittle work beginning with a New Orleans’ Republican National Convention would be eclipsed by the actual horrors of the 2016 presidential race as it got underway. That doesn’t stop him from trying to frame enough affinities from a snarky make-believe presidential race that will broadly align with its counterpart now underway between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“Welcome to my hometown,” J.D. Callahan, Evans’s main political operative intones, “America’s favorite party town.
Broke, full of garbage, half the city on strike, 29 percent unemployment, the highest murder rate in the civilized world … a town so corrupt that even a casino went bankrupt before it opened because the politicians were so greedy they couldn’t wait to steal it all.” It’s a place “where cops were hiring themselves out as hit men on their off-hours.”
The fictional Republican National Committee knew what they had to do as they welcomed delegates to New Orleans in July. For a successful convention, Stevens writes, they needed “a massive and ready supply of sex and alcohol and a local culture that made it damn near imperative that you take advantage of both at every opportunity.”
The Republicans’ choice was whether they’d choose Governor Armstrong George or Vice President Hildy Smith, Callahan’s candidate, who are as different as they could be, and enough like Trump and Clinton in real life for even the politically tone-deaf to figure it out. Gov. George, of Colorado, inveighs against terrorism and minorities. He is a fire-eater, a new contender for president.
Smith is the governor of Vermont. She is a tame illustration of Clinton. She doesn’t have an email trail, or Benghazi or Bill’s errant sexual history bugging her. She does have adoring female staffers like Lisa Henderson attend her. Lisa is totally dedicated and suspicious of political consultants like Callahan. “And, like a nun, she had married her job, and her job was Hilda Smith.”
The joke went that she had a perfect recipe for beef Bourguignon – for one.
Lisa hated Callahan.
Occasionally, there’s some nuance in the novel. Describing how the candidate and the adviser link together out of necessity during a campaign is interesting. Callahan observes about Hildy and himself, “You entered each other’s lives for a certain period and you became, invariably, the most important person in each other’s universe. Often they came quickly to hate their dependence on you, resenting you when you were right, never letting you forget when you were wrong.”
At other times, reading is similar to watching week-old Fox updates. A few items that advance the plot follow.
“A staggering global economic crisis” seems to have popped up, and the Chinese are threatening to call in U.S. debt, and there is a lot of it.
The seated President has just kicked out his vice president.
Seems the Veep sold stocks based on information from intelligence briefings. The President has reached out to the governor of Vermont, Hilda Smith, and “a squeaky-clean Republican of the old school,” for his new vice.
In another run-up, we observe tech guys in a broadcast truck outside the White House and near the Corcoran Museum on the north side of the Pennsylvania Avenue. They’ve been dispatched to handle a presidential announcement from the White House, whatever it is. Dan Huang, the tech in charge, has seen his $38-an-hour salary slip to $25. Times are bad, and he’s not happy.
The question is: what will the president announce? Re-election? No, they think. He’s probably taking a walk.
For the talk, the Pres wants to sit on the corner of his desk. One of the techs says, “If he wants to do it in boxers, we’ll shoot it.” “The guy waddles,” Huang says. “He’s got ‘flop sweat’ through his suit.”
The President’s aide, Emily Lazar, wants him seated behind the desk. She’s from North Carolina and has a pleasing drawl and lots of legs. She and the president have been sleeping together for years.
Art does imitate what passes for life in politics. On June 20, 2016, a front page piece in the New York Times, “Clinton Ticket? The Chemistry Will Be Crucial,” uses an example from the HBO comedy “Veep,” of the importance of ticket balance for the coming presidential election.
The illustration in the article offered features Selena Meyer…” She is “the foulmouthed title character portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus who stumbled her way into the presidency … hilariously overshadowed by her charming and more competent running mate.” Point: never have a better running mate in the second slot.
What’s sad about this book is that it mirrors what America has come to expect of Washington and local politics: scandalous behavior. Mix in a couple of crazy half-brothers of J.D. Callahan’s, some dye bomb explosions to upset the drunken conventioneers, add an assorted mix of FBI and a gossip columnist who knows a lot about weapons, and you’ve got what?
Well it’s not a convention that normal people would want to attend. You can see why many Republicans are skipping the convention in Cleveland.
The premise with “The Innocent Have Nothing To Fear” is obvious. It apes an un-pretty reality with candidate Armstrong Jones marshalling “the ugliness within us all” as Evans writes.
Well, maybe not all of us.
There’s some tricky stuff at the end when Callahan takes a walk on Hildy to run his brother Paul’s campaign for public service commissioner in New Orleans and avers the importance of family. If you believe this, you’ll believe the whole megilla.
In the end, when voters’ trust is lost the worst is thought. We’ve seen so many fake film shots on TV of the Capitol and White House burning or exploding, unreal until now, that we begin to wonder if D.C. is still there or not, or if we even care.
Michael D. Langan worked in the federal government in Washington, D.C., for 20 years. Occasionally, it seemed longer.