The latest memoir of the 2008 Presidential campaign is a fake book about fake events by a fake political operative.
Just after the 2008 election ended, as John McCain’s campaign devolved into leaked feuds and anonymous attacks, one story stood out. Fox News reported—according to campaign insiders—that Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin hadn’t known Africa was a continent.
A “McCain foreign policy adviser” named Martin Eisenstadt quickly took credit for the juicy leak. MSNBC’s David Shuster quickly repeated the claim on air, only to have to explain with embarrassment that the adviser in question never existed. And what had been a barely noticed prank discussed only a few blogs became a national story.
The New York Times exposed Dan Mirvish and Eitan Gorlin, a pair of filmmakers, as the culprits. Eisenstadt had morphed from a Rudy Giuliani supporter to an Iraq investment expert to a McCain campaign foreign policy adviser. He had his own think tank—the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy, in honor of the not-very-beloved conservative president—and a consulting firm, the Eisenstadt Group. He was even featured in a fake BBC documentary about “the last Republican.” Now, like the shameless shills they parody, Gorlin and Mirvish have turned their moment in the spotlight into a lucrative venture, with the inevitable book: I Am Martin Eisenstadt.
The Palin scoop wasn’t the first time Eisenstadt had fooled the media—reporters for both Mother Jones and the Los Angeles Times picked up his half-baked musings without bothering to Google the source. (The LAT’s Andrew Malcolm wrote a defensive, nearly incomprehensible correction.) Eisenstadt’s antics were just believable enough – a plan to put casinos in Baghdad’s Green Zone, an accusation that the Jonas Brothers are terrorists. His claim that made it to CBS News and Business Week. A lone liberal blogger, William Wolfrum, managed to do due diligence and figure out that Eisenstadt, his think tank, and his consulting firm don’t exist, their impressive internet presence notwithstanding. In a world where one half-baked idea from a random “strategist” is considered as good as any other, it almost didn’t seem to matter.
In I Am Martin Eisenstadt, the character is fleshed out just as carefully. The neoconservative child of liberal Jews, he worships political strategist Lee Atwater and cares far more about his own career than about the Republican Party. He’ll suck up to any Democrat who can get him on TV and dreams of cushy foreign consulting gigs. Wandering from open bar to open bar, he somehow stumbles onto the McCain campaign just in time to see its members turn on each other like langur monkeys. Eisenstadt inserts himself into every trivial highlight of the 2008 campaign—along with hearing and exposing Sarah Palin’s confusion about geography, he bought Palin’s fancy clothes, he helped get McCain on Saturday Night Live, he helped Obama win over the last superdelegate, he caught Eliot Spitzer at the Mayflower Hotel. But whenever the substantive policy work is being done, he’s off getting drunk at some embassy happy hour. Eventually he’s put into the metaphysical quandary of defending his own existence against vicious liberals who claim he’s a fake.
As irritatingly repetitive and self-absorbed as a true pundit’s memoir, Eisenstadt’s book is also meticulously detailed. The strategies of phantasmal softball teams and the sexual shenanigans of imaginary power players are recounted in detail, with diagrams. Real Washingtonians are also tossed in by the handful; if the idea of former Bush press secretary Dana Perino hooking up with former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff doesn’t make you laugh, this is not the book for you. I Am Martin Eisenstadt also dabbles in foreign policy, with crude portraits of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and other Middle Eastern officials shoehorned in. In one cute joke playing off D.C. narcissism, the names of all 535 members of Congress are listed in tiny print at the end of the index.
There wasn’t much humor in the long, angry 2008 election, and it’s nice to see some levity come out of it all. The exuberantly useless I Am Martin Eisenstadt is certainly more enjoyable than Sarah Palin’s bitter leftovers. But while the authors’ schemes exposed the laziness of the media and the ease with which unsupported rumors can become accepted facts, their book does nothing. Martin Eisenstadt is a good joke, but I Am Martin Eisenstadt is not really a good read. No one reading it will believe Eisenstadt is a real person. Like any good prank, he’s much more enjoyable in action than in retrospect.