Playbook for our times
The genius of a great villain lies in knowing that the decent, law-abiding family men and women viewing his antics may publicly proclaim that they loath him, but that they’re most likely secretly cheering him on—until he fails. This is in comparison to the crime-fighting goody two-shoes caped crusader types out to take him down, because Batman, beyond his costume, is not only boring, but a preachy upper-class twit. After all, the Joker likes to present himself to the public as an unfiltered truth-teller, a liberated soul out to do what everyone secretly wishes they could get away with.
If Tom Wolfe, with his linen suits and homburg hats, is a dandy among novelists, then Roger Stone, who dresses like an impeccably-tailored 1930s mobster, is a dandy among political operatives. He’s been called the “The Dirty Trickster,” by The New Yorker, and the “Sinister Forrest Gump of American Politics” by reporter Jeffrey Toobin.
Last Friday, Netflix released a documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone,” which extensively interviews Roger Stone (and Donald Trump), tracing the life and career of the man who claims he has been out to make The Donald president since 1988, and who claims paternity over the methods and messages of the winning Trump campaign.
Stone likes to brag he was the youngest (at 19) to be mentioned in the Watergate hearings. He takes pride in having been mentored by the notorious Roy Cohn, the lawyer-fixer who served everyone from Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his anti-communist witch hunts, to Ronald Reagan. (Like so many notables in our legal profession, Cohn used to say, “Don’t tell me the law. Tell me the judge.”)
Having helped elect Reagan, Stone partnered with Paul Manafort and Lee Atwaler to connect Washington’s powerful with clients like Ferdinand Marcos. His critics say he is a genius at being a publicity hound, but that his claims to being at the center of things is exaggerated.
Beyond chronicling its subject, the documentary relies on “Stone’s Rules”—the maxims he’s been plugging since 2009 when he came out with a book titled “Stone’s Rules for War, Politics, Food, Fashion, and Living”—to lay out today’s political landscape in terms of Stone’s life and time. Some of those mentioned in the film:
1.“The past is f—–g prologue.” Whether true or not, success today can always be explained as having been made possible by a conspiracy to betray past greatness, in Stone’s case, the unfair persecution of Richard Nixon. Think of the ongoing rehabilitation of Marcos.
2. “It is better to be infamous than to never be famous at all.” Only the weak and ineffectual worry about taste, tact, propriety and ethics. Say anything today to ensure being the headline tomorrow. You can always take it back, which guarantees another headline the day after.
3. “The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring.” (As Gideon Resnick of the Daily Beast pointed out, this was a famous quip of Oscar Wilde). No one likes the facts. No one likes reason. What people crave is excitement and to hear what they already believe.
4. “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civil political action.” Everything is relative, so there is no good, or right, side; there is only the winning side, because to concede otherwise is to limit your ability to win at all costs.
5. “Hate is a more powerful motivator than love.” Perhaps the most basic insight of Stone’s political playbook. You must fuel rage, even if you have to invent facts, because rage is the best shield against argumentation, and instantly kills debate—and it brings people to the polls.
6. “To win, you must do everything”; 7. “Attack, attack, attack. Never defend”; 8. “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack”; 9. “A man isn’t finished when he’s defeated, he’s finished when he quits.” All self-explanatory, as well as 10. “Nothing is on the level.” There’s no such thing as good sportsmanship or a fair game.
The documentary ends with Stone sneering. “I revel in your hatred because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me,” he says. And for this political cycle at least, in America and here, he can claim he’s been right—so far.