Picks and Pans Review: Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms

updated 09/02/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/02/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ed Rollins with Tom DeFrank

Never mind the media army invading Chicago this week for the Democrats' convention; the real business of politics, Rollins reminds us, takes place off-camera. Deals are made, attack ads crafted and elections swung backstage by strategists like Rollins, a former amateur boxer who has become one of the most notorious political consultants since Rasputin. His account of a checkered career, from his stint as an idealistic operative for Robert Kennedy to his gun-for-hire go-around with Ross Perot, is as boisterous and entertaining as the year's other insider look at how we elect our leaders, Primary Colors.

Rollins pulls few punches. Among his sharpest jabs are labeling Perot as "a paranoid lunatic on an ego trip," George Bush as "the worst campaigner to ever actually get elected," and Arianna Huffington, wife of failed Senate candidate Michael Huffington, as "a wily sorceress." He also boasts that he got a meddlesome Nancy Reagan out of his hair by persuading her to tour with her Just Say No campaign while he steered her husband to a landslide victory in 1984.

Rollins isn't quite as harsh on himself; he brushes off his career low point—making false claims that he had paid black ministers to keep their flocks from the polls to seal Republican Christie Whitman's gubernatorial win in New Jersey in 1994—as a case of "careless bravado." He also admits to lapses in judgment, such as working for Huffington. "I've observed and occasionally participated in activities that don't make me proud," he writes. But after leaving the confession booth he's soon pushing his main point again: campaigning is combat, best practiced by tough guys with killer instincts. After all, explains Rollins in his rollicking, if self-aggrandizing, book, "politics ain't beanbag." (Broadway, $27.50)

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