Puppetry or Politics


KSU political science professor writes the book If the name Kerwin Swint sounds familiar, you…

Georgia (Jun 8, 2012)

KSU political science professor writes the book

If the name Kerwin Swint sounds familiar, you likely have encountered the Kennesaw State University political science professor on the airwaves or in print in the past year. He or his work has appeared on CNN; FOX News; the BBC, National Public Radio (NPR); Wall Street Journal; Los Angeles Times; Washington Post; Toronto Star; Daily Mail and The Guardian in the U.K.; Esquire; Rolling Stone; and numerous other media. In 2008 at the height of the Obama/ McCain presidential race he was even on ABC’s The View with Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, and Elisabeth Hassalbeck.

Swint, whose previous books included “Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Legendary Political Operative and Fox News Founder Roger Ailes,” and “Mudslingers: The 25 Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time,” released his newest book, “The King Whisperers: Power Behind the Throne, From Rasputin to Rove,” last March.

“I had been thinking for a long time about a book profiling ‘evil geniuses,’” he said. “I was thinking mostly of political consultants, both in the modern world and through history, that are behind the scenes pulling strings and manipulating politics.”

Swint originally planned to compile a chronological list of whisperers but decided to assign categories so as to gain optimum insight into their character and their effects on their separate worlds. The 10 categories included Machiavellians (Dick Cheney, Alexander Hamilton); spies (Lawrence of Arabia); silver-tongued devils (Cicero, Leon Trotsky); the truly evil (Hermann Goering); fixers (Ailes, James Carville, Karl Rove); and schemers (Rasputin).

“Having this kind of reference to turn to makes developing an antagonist as true to life as possible,” Swint said. “It’s as if someone else had already done my research for me, and all I had to do to come up with a “schemer” or a “spy” or someone “truly evil” to open the chapter and he leaps off the page, straight into my manuscript.”

Politics is a Rough Business

When asked why most of the king whisperers seem to have dark sides, Swint’s explanation comes quickly. “That’s politics,” he said. “Politics is a rough business. When you have the power to run countries, and make deals, you tend to deal with shadowy people — not necessarily evil people — but they do have a dark side.”

The 2012 Presidential campaign is shaping up to be a rough and tumble affair, especially the Republican primaries. Although an overwhelming majority of voters say they dislike the negative campaigning that has become a staple of American politics, Swint says it is highly unlikely the modern day king whisperers will end it anytime soon.

“Negative campaigning is not new, it goes back at least to Roman times, if not before,” he said. “It has always been with us but now it’s on television and more accessible. With the election contribution laws the way they are, it’s the super PAC ads that are doing the damage as much as the actual candidates. Just look at what the Romney super PAC ads did to Newt Gingrich in Iowa — they just destroyed him. But frankly, that was a no-brainer — any candidate running against Newt Gingrich would have done the same.”

Swint says the increased acceptance of personal negative campaigning has resulted in a meanness that has polarized the political arena.

“The campaign follows the candidate into office,” he says. “And the campaign goes on after the election — they listen to their consultants and continue sending out negative mail pieces — so the campaign is never truly over.

“Another factor is the people being elected to Congress are ideologically more extreme,” Swint says. “Look how the Tea Party has become a major force in Republican politics. As a political scientist, it has been a fascinating phenomenon. They appeared rather suddenly after Obama was elected and represented a pent-up demand for certain kind of changes. In certain states, Georgia is one, they are very influential with legislators and governors, but they haven’t had much impact yet at the Presidential level. What will be interesting to watch is if the Republicans win, what will be the role of the Tea party? Does it survive past Obama or is it a short-term phenomenon?

“Another factor is gerrymandering, where districts are redrawn to elect candidates from a certain party, so you end up with either very, very Republican districts or very, very Democratic districts with little middle ground. That leaves very little room for compromise.

“It makes you long for the days of Tip O’Neill or Howard Baker or Bob Dole when the parties could come together and work out their differences. Look at Reagan and O’Neill — they put aside their differences and passed comprehensive tax reform. You can’t imagine that happening nowadays.”

Swint says both parties are guilty. Democrats engage in negative campaigning too, but Republicans seem to be more vicious and more disciplined.

“I did a survey of political consultants as part of my dissertation,” he said. “I found that all political consultants were likely to use negative campaigning but the Democrats felt bad about it.”

Negative campaigning, like most political strategies, is guided by a formula.

“The traditional formula is that you go on the attack when you are slipping in the tracking polls, when you have very good ammunition about your opponent or if there is a real vulnerability in your opponent that you can really hammer home,” Swint said “Unfortunately this formula is starting to melt away. Nowadays all candidates are more likely to go negative because they feel they have to or their consultants are saying they must.”

So who will be the next occupant of the White House? “Mitt Romney is the only Republican that has a chance,” Swint said. “He is the only one that can attract enough independent voters in swing states for the Republicans to have a chance of beating Obama. That may not sit too well with conservative Republicans, especially the social conservatives that want Gingrich or Santorum. But there comes a time where you have to decide whether you’re going to be ideologically pure or if you’re going to win. But it won’t be easy. Politically, the worst thing Republicans have to deal with might be an improving economy. That takes away some of their arguments for getting rid of Obama.”


-- Neil McGahee


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu