The Power and the Story

What’s a good way of predicting presidential races? Find the candidate with the best story to tell.


Forget who’s got the bigger “war chest,” it’s
the candidate with the best story to tell who’s got the real advantage in presidential politics.
Armed with this provocative thesis, historian Evan Cornog proceeds to reexamine pivotal presidential
elections as a battle between the candidates’ life narratives. Andrew Jackson, for example,
was catapulted to enduring fame (and viable candidacy) in 1815, when he triumphed over a superior
British force at the Battle of New Orleans. Never mind that the conflict, coming two weeks after
the formal conclusion of the War of 1812, was militarily irrelevant.

That story, and many that follow, in Cor- nog’s long (and repetitious)
volume point to a disturbing trend: what Cornog calls “the relative unimportance of truth.”
From George Washington’s cherry tree to George W. Bush’s conflation of 9/11 and Saddam
Hussein, it’s clear, “A good story trumps a true story almost any day.”

Cornog occasionally oversells his point, yet this is an important and
deeply disturbing work, as it fully explores the decisive power of myth in our choosing of a national
leader. This is a truly disheartening view in our media- defined era: It’s not, “May
the best man win”; it’s more like, “May the best storyteller (or spinmeister)
prevail.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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