When Anita Finlay published her first book in 2012, Dirty Words on Clean Skin, I immediately ordered the hard copy Because I was in the midst of my first semester teaching for a new college, I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserved. I skimmed it pretty thoroughly, but in the heat of the 2012 election, I did not absorb it as much as I should have. Recently I acquired a Kindle version and I’ve been reading it slowly and carefully, giving it the full attention it deserves. Just over halfway through, I can report that it is an astoundingly thorough record of exactly what happened during the 2008 Democratic primary.
Many of us where there in the heat of that campaign, and many of us had new political identities forged in that fire. I had been a lifelong Democrat, giving my time to volunteer in every election from 1992, when I was first able to vote in national elections, until that campaign. I gave my first political donation to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as the spring unfolded and the campaign really got nasty. I got involved in active campaigning, making a few cold calls and participating in neighborhood visits in my small Indiana town as the Indiana primary approached. A four-year lurker on websites like Daily Kos and MyDD, I also began commenting in earnest. Since then life has not been the same.
Now I am a political independent. The Democratic party which Barack Obama helms bears very little resemblance to the Democratic party of which I was a constituent for some 20 years prior to the primary and election campaigns of 2008. But it wasn’t just Obama’s ascendancy that changed my mind about politics. While his name has become shorthand for so much that is wrong with the Democratic party and its adherents, he isn’t the sole reason I abandoned my political affiliation to forge a new one. And that is why reading Finlay’s book is all the more important.
In it she painstakingly documents the various rings in the circus that comprise Democratic party politics. With regard to the media, so much that has become legend in PUMA-aligned circles is documented, but so is so much else. Chris Matthews constant bleating of tingles and ex-wives is, of course, there, but so are lesser known quotes that ultimately shaped the national narrative around that campaign. But also represented are stories from everyday Democratic Party voters, from the low-information hipsters to urban DINKS, to the arrogance and disdain of Obama’s well-organized Boyz. It was, in fact, the combination of many of these threads within the Democratic party that turned me off it for good. Most are simply people not worth working with, and their ideas of progress are anything but progressive.
February was an important month in the primary, and just going by memory, it seemed until recently that the campaign was pretty much over by super-Tuesday. But that is a false narrative, as Finlay reminds us in Chapter 7. Obama may have won Iowa in the first contest, but Hillary took New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Arizona on that fateful day. Five of those are Big Blue states. I was, quite frankly, shocked re-reading facts like these. I had to admit that the false narrative of the Obama campaign, aided and abetted by the press, had worked even on me, a true skeptic.
Little reminders like this aren’t the only reason for reading the book. Perhaps my favorite part is how Finlay deftly weaves her own story in the book, starting with her early life and the influences that shaped who she was. She is an extremely likeable person and her experiences, I suspect, are shared by many women in the nation today. Starting with her father and mother, she takes risks sharing personal information about what shaped her in life and how the campaigns of 2008 shook loose in her the desire to reach her full potential, to stop listening to the niggling doubts that are sewn into the framework of most women today.
In addition to the painful reminders of 2008 and all the horrid stuff that went down that year, stuff most of us would like to forget, is the heart of so many of us exposed in her personal story. The tension created by these two strains of narrative is, in a word, marvelous, and makes putting the book down at once both difficult and necessary.
This is not a book one can read in a sitting, no matter how fast one reads. Giving it short shrift will not allow it to serve its purpose in penetrating the mind or the psyche. If you were one who bought the book and didn’t carefully read it as I did, I would invite you to take it up again and take your time. Even if you did, it’s worth a refresher. Dirty Words on Clean Skin is well worth the effort either way. As I said at the beginning, I’m just over halfway through, so I hope you’ll join me in finishing the book this week. Next week we’ll have another post that will feature an interview with the author, Anita Finlay. So get out your copy and dust it off, or get it for your Kindle app on whatever device you use (see this link). We’ve got some talking–and remembering–to do.