Author's Notes for the 2009 Revised Edition
Currents of Power: A Modern Political Novel may not seem so modern any more.
Written between 1994 and 2001, it's a snapshot of state politics just before the Age of the Internet and just as many aging urban machines were crumbling. Emerging technologies, 24-hour news cycles and unprecedented campaign spending have deeply changed the way candidates seek office. And no political novel will ever be the same, either.
One hopes there are some enduring questions, dramas and emotions in political campaigns on display in Currents that are relevant today and will be for awhile. Why does a person seek office? What are the qualifications, the paths to power? How does a campaign affect the candidate's family? When does the candidate want to strangle the staff? What is the feeling when you learn you've won? Or that your long career is abruptly over?
Shortly after Currents came out in 2001, we saw the stunning rise of the internet in presidential politics (Howard Dean 2004). In the '06 cycle, campaign websites became a must. By '08, every candidate had a "new media" team and blog. Hopefuls were launching candidacies, organizing, fundraising, You-Tubing and everything else on-line.
We've seen dramatic changes in campaign mechanics. The voter targeting done in Currents by strategists Blake and Pulver seems quaint with today's use of microtargeting software. There's been a stunning increase in the cost of campaigning. As I reviewed the expenditures of some of the campaigns in Currents, I laughed out loud at how puny these figures are, chump-change. Likewise, of course, with campaign contribution levels. And in just a decade, we've also watched the ascendancy of campaign specialists, hired guns and rented strangers.
Our socio-political landscape has changed, as well: changing immigration patterns, the rise of exurbia and a growing acceptance of intermarriage, for example. Some of the ethnic characterizations in Currents may have been accurate in the '90s, but Boss Johnny Czyz seems cartoonish now in a more homogenous United States.
When I decided to revise Currents, I faced a dilemma. Do I keep the original intact as the way things were in the late 1990s or do I update? Give Butchie a blog? Thelma's levitation becomes a YouTube sensation? I opted to keep it in its 2001 form, albeit leaner and crisper. A snapshot. Maybe in the sequel, Graciela will Twitter.
The characters in Currents are all fictional. All composites. Identities have been changed to protect the guilty. While I have left it to readers to play guessing games as to which fictional character is modeled on which real character in Illinois or Chicago politics (and believe me, we have some real characters), I will reveal the inspiration for one character. One of the Currents candidates - Shawn Petacque - enjoys a meteoric rise. His embrace of community organizing, multicultural politics and new technology was, in part, inspired by State Senator Barack Obama from his days in the State Capitol. I added a goatee and Venezuelan wife.
Reactions to Currents of Power usually please me. A few readers say they cried at the end...that particularly pleases me. Some readers have wondered about the compromises made by each candidate, particularly the two finalists. How much did these candidates know about the use of spies, deceitful push-polls, dirty tricks and dirty money? And if they knew, would they halt it?
I've tried to depict the realities of campaign life...it's not all laughs and lust, kids. Plenty of grunt work, lonely nights on the road and begging for money. The Currents candidates are people, too. There will be a son, spouse, grandfather and ex-lover who will cause them trouble. A candidate has some bad stew before the big debate. The toilet overflows on Election Morning at another candidate's house.
While I've snipped a few minor characters and subplots from the original Currents, the "Revised Edition" remains faithful to the 2001 edition. And the fundamental metaphor of the tale - streams become rivers and crash through the Capitol doors in a flood of democracy - was demonstrated in lyrical fashion in the recent Presidential campaign.
Currents of Power has been used as a textbook in a university "Politics and Fiction" course. It has been read by potential candidates weighing a run. I hope it inspires readers to seek office themselves or at least volunteer for a campaign. Enjoy the river ride!
Chicago, Illinois, 2009