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.”

THE TRUTH...

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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