The War Room, the latest book by longtime political operative Warren Kinsella, purports to be a guide of sorts, but a more accurate subtitle would have been “You Just Paid Nearly 30 Bucks to Have Warren Kinsella Explain Why He Is a Political Genius.” This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Kinsella’s largely self-aggrandizing oeuvre, particularly as a blogger, a pundit on countless TV and radio programs, and a media critic for the National Post.
Most of the book is composed of Kinsella’s greatest moments in politics masquerading as advice for, um, “anyone who wants to win.” For example, Kinsella’s infamous appearance on Canada AM during the 2000 federal election, when he brandished a Barney doll to make a trenchant point about Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s belief in creationism, is cited as an example of how to be creative.
Alongside the self-centred anecdotes, Kinsella mixes in a few history lessons and some communications theory that should be familiar to anyone who has ever taken an entry-level undergraduate class in the subject. Kinsella’s writing is also quite uneven, occasionally employing awkward asides to the reader and suddenly veering into unnecessary and unprovoked profanity.
Even if The War Room doesn’t work as an advice book, it should at least work as a kind of memoir. However, though Kinsella has been a witness to some key moments and decisions in recent Canadian political history, and despite his carefully cultivated image as a straight shooter, there is little in the book that casts him, or anyone he has ever worked for, in a negative light. When he does write about one of his recent gaffes (specifically, writing on his blog that a female Tory MPP wished she was home “baking cookies”), Kinsella suggests that he intentionally prolonged the controversy to deflect attention from another scandal facing the Ontario Liberals, for whom he worked in the recent provincial election. Kinsella, a Chretien loyalist, also uses the book to revisit the feud with Paul Martin and his team of advisers.
Worst of all, Kinsella’s book will reinforce the negative feelings that most people have about politics. The War Room seems to elevate the importance of backroom advisers. At one point, Kinsella actually writes that Clinton strategist James Carville “used a smart plan to change history and to elect his candidate to the post of president of the United States.” For now, at least, the American people still elect their president, and the advisers simply help with the campaign. Perhaps it is just a poorly worded sentence, but it exposes the deep cynicism that lurks behind the endless campaign platitudes about working families or whatever meaningless phrases that happen to be testing well.