Reading Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites is a bit like catching up with a friend who's been working in cable news and is telling you all the good behind-the-scenes stuff over drinks (assuming, of course, you have a friend with the improbable first name "Tucker"). In Carlson's case, he got a job with CNN, and for all I know, might still be on CNN. I never watch it. But after reading his war stories from his short-lived late-night show "The Spin Room"with it's anything-goes attitude of mocking Canadians, eating on the air, and soliciting free gifts from viewersI almost wish I had. Any writer who can make me want to tune in to CNN, the RC Cola of cable news stations, must be good.
Carlson is an engaging storyteller, but the book really thrives on its endless cast of characters. Sure, lots of things won't come as a surprise to readers who follow politics. Jailed ex-Congressman Jim Traficant really was drunk on TV a lot. Jesse Jackson really is a thoughtless charlatan. Larry King is phoning it in. But it's the addition of those little off-camera details that make Carlson's stories so fun. Traficant stumbling off the set, demanding a hug from a female CNN staffer, while "his toupee looked ready to pounce." Jackson, during a commercial break, staring off into space or muttering "'s**t'... over and over, like a tick." And Larry King's unsolicited backstage advice for succeeding on TV: "The trick is to care, but not too much. Give a s**tbut not really." It's funny because it's true.
Much more follows, from Chris Matthew's manic ADD and Bill O'Reilly's inflated ego to the implosion of the political careers of Pat Buchanan and Bill Bradley. And of course, who could forget James Carville's vivid sex fantasies? Carlson moves seamlessly from one absurd situation to the next, like a Joseph Heller novel or an episode of Monty Python. The description of how Pakistan International Airways operates (Carlson's flight eventually crash-lands) is priceless. The book only bogs down when the author's reverence for Senator John McCain drags on a little too long. But soon Tucker is back, personally responding to his hate mail with short, pithy profanity or confusing non-sequiters.
Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites is a slim, light-hearted book that never dwells on arguing policy, or why conservatives are right and liberals wrong, or why Tucker Carlson wears a bow-tie (no really, no mention of it, no defense of it, no explanation at all). Politics can be deadly serious, as it concerns the important questions in life. But sometimes it's fun to take a break, stay up late one night, and listen to some stories of life's little vanities and foolishnessand laugh.