There was once an aspiring writer named Ben Rhodes, “in the second year of the M.F.A. program at N.Y.U., writing short stories about losers in garden apartments and imagining that soon he would be published in literary magazines, acquire an agent and produce a novel by the time he turned 26.”  This wunderkind ended up as the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, using his creative gifts to the service of communicating/selling Barack Obama’s vision to the world, among his accomplishments “Rhodes strategized and ran the successful Iran-deal messaging campaign, helped negotiate the opening of American relations with Cuba after a hiatus of more than 50 years and has been a co-writer of all of Obama’s major foreign-policy speeches.”

That is what used to be known as running in fast company. But all good things have to end, and Mr. Rhodes is in need of a new gig. Since it’s possible that term of public service dulled his creative abilities, here’s a handy list of books that might help him rediscover his mojo, and to follow his true calling.

1. A Million Little Pieces– drunk writer finds redemption, writes addiction memoir, and success beckons. It was a big hit with Oprah… until a wee bit of research happened and it turned out that large parts of it were, well, not exactly accurate. Or true.

2. I, Rigoberta Menchu– political activist rises above political repression, gets Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, her book was highly embellished, so in essence she got the Peace Prize for doing nothing, much like Ben Rhodes’ old boss, Barack Obama. So, maybe not the best example.

3. The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things: Stories by JT Leroy. Child of hillbilly hooker, writing heartbreaking stories of staggering genius, Leroy became the newest IT writer, with the kind of stories about the fly-over states (drugs, turning tricks, crime, abuse, damaged characters, and fluid sexualities) that everybody –– at least the smart everybodies –– was certain were taking place in those in-bred red-state hellholes. Oh, wait. JT Leroy didn’t really exist, sort of like Barack Obama’s composite girlfriend. It was useful for selling books, however.

4. There’s always Love and Consequences written by a white woman who said she was half native and half black. Said she was giving voice to people who people don’t listen to. So, basically, she was lying in defense of a good cause. Ben has already tried that. He was this guy:  “One of President Obama’s top national security advisers led journalists to believe a misleading timeline of U.S. negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement and relied on inexperienced reporters to create an ‘echo chamber’ that helped sway public opinion to seal the deal, according to a lengthy magazine profile.” Prevaricating for the greater glory of Obama’s legacy hasn’t worked out so well for Mr. Rhodes either, so maybe not this one.

I’m getting the feeling the modernists really wouldn’t help you, Ben. Go back to the classics. Spend some time with George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell understood (as in “shot-in-the-throat” knowledge) a thing or two about the power of words and the way they can be misused.  Put this gem someplace where you could see it every day (say, tattooed on the back of your hands):

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Do that only if you want to return to the more honest work of producing acknowledged, insightful, entertaining lies, work that is clearly labeled “fiction,” and not use your gifts for artfully misleading the gullible into believing the bull crap you’re serving is actually caviar.


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