Down to the Crossroads: On the trail of the 2008 US election – Review

24 November 2009

Written by: Tom Cowie

There is nothing like exposing a superpower by writing about its sociological decline and need for solidarity through political science.

The United States, facing fiscal turmoil and health care catastrophe, was the destination for Guy Rundle as he left studying in Sweden in 2008. His motive was to cover the US Presidential election through the eyes of those that voted.

Former Crikey editor Jonathan Green persuaded Rundle to take on the year-long challenge. Along the way he maintained a blog at Crikey, met deadlines for The Age, Arena and Spiked Online.

He wrote about the election in a humorous manner and researched the hell out of many of his points without weakening his coverage. Rundle’s resulting collection is Down to the Crossroads: On the trail of the 2008 US election.

The book, which won The Age Nonfiction Book of the Year 2009, is primarily about those that suffered through the recent economic collapse. It gives rare insight into what it really means to be an American, where “you can hold down a full-time job and still be perpetually homeless, without health insurance or pension plans.”

The diffusion of the class system and the deterioration of trust towards political entities quickly becomes the driving force behind the book. Rundle illustrates this sentiment through gonzo journalism – the truth without the need to be objective – which is outlined carefully through sarcastic statements and anecdotal cab rides.

What Rundle does not do – which would perhaps ruin his angle – is interview the candidates. Every other media outlet took that route, but Rundle went against the current to cover the people, those directly affected by the results.

Instead of conceding to a cliché, Rundle manages to cut and paste parts of speeches, analysing their relevance to the current problems in the US. Using political dialogue in this way allows Rundle to interweave historical correlations, voice his opinions and brandish his research. It is an impeccable technique that traces the route of American pride and the sadness that accompanies its patriotic decline.

And why wouldn’t he write about those that are closely affected by red and blue coloured states?

It is not hard to see the despair through another hope-laden speech.  The fact that “blame [was] being sheeted home to the average person, who is apparently running up too much debt” was the attitude in the bars and coffee houses where Rundle found his inspiration.

Rundle spoke for the people by talking to the people. Seeing first hand what is often shielded by outdated ideologies, such as the idea of America being the land of freedom and opportunity. It is a superb stance and far removed from the mainstream political coverage that was often shrouded with controversy and celebrity endorsements.

The fact that the United States was crying out for change becomes very apparent. Yet, on the coattails of Obama, Rundle outlines exactly what actually needs to change, instead of endlessly stating that often overused c-word.

This intimate look into the actual toll of the economic crises – eight years of depression brought on by “Bushatred” and the uncomfortable position of better health care – has more impact than a simple profile piece on each candidate.

It is refreshing to read a commentary that could have come out of any backyard in America. Rundle manages to produce an entertaining journey into the heart of America, without giving into the tabloidisation that became the 2008 election.

This is a book about the relationship between politics and people, an idea that got lost somewhere between Obama Girl and celebrity support.

Rundle’s account of the campaign and his insight into the American life is accurate and necessary.

Meghan Lodwick is an Australian-American dual citizen. She is completing a Graduate Diploma in Journalism at La Trobe University. Her blog is called For the love of beans!

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