The Power and the Story

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

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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.”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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