The new novel by the Clinton family's favorite Ohio political consultant, Greg Haas, is entitled "The Butcher's Thumb." It begins and ends with the same four words: "The campaign never stops." Coming from arguably the Buckeye state's most accomplished political operative, this thinly-veiled memoir gets closer to the truth surrounding Ohio and national politics than any nonfiction autobiography could approach.

The novel opens with Democrat Al Thornton and Republican Will Kensington in a too close to call presidential election. Haas accurately captures the fear and fervor of Florida 2000 as well as the Ohio Kerry debacle four years later.Echoing the reality of Bush's first cousin John Ellis of Fox News, who prematurely called the election for Bush, our protagonist Matt Risen hears the key phrase that secures the election for Kensington: "We're reversing our earlier prediction and are now declaring Republican William Kensington the winner in Ohio...."

Risen, a Republican spin doctor, and his boss the uber-political Stephen Shay, realize that in order to win a toss up election is to simply chant the mantra over and over again that "our guy won and your guy's a sore loser."

A call comes in from Thornton conceding the election, and then it's quickly retracted. Here Haas' writing is at its best with an air of authenticity. He has the "pudgy" Shay bark into the phone to Thornton: "The networks have declared us the winner. Your people don't know shit! The Secretary of State is sure, we're sure, everyone's sure: we carried Ohio. You lose, buddy!"

Even though he knows the election is undecided, Risen tells the media: "We won. Plain and simple. If he [Thornton] wants to make a mess of this and taint the election process, we'll do what we need to do to ensure that the votes of the American people are counted accurately and fairly." No wonder Al Gore, I mean Thornton, gave up without a full recount.

With Thornton defeated, Shay is already looking to the re-election of Kensington in four years. Ever the strategist, he tells Risen his plan for battleground states in 2004: "We get an amendment on the ballot banning gay marriage, …the Christian Right comes out in droves." Many political strategists believe that Bush's ultimate "win" in Ohio in 2004 had more to do with Issue One, which constitutionally banned gay marriage, although the state had already banned it by statute.

Haas told the Free Press that he primarily wrote the book "to warn of the dangers of hate speech." As one of Haas' strategists explains the messaging, "The grassroots pounding and the tabloids blaring headlines allow our friends at Fox to start up. Then the rest of the media are forced to pick up on it because it's so widespread."

Voting rights advocates will find it interesting that the Ohio Secretary of State's name is "Kennetha Harris." The Rovian character, Shay, states: "We can get a good deal of help from her. Changes to voter registration rolls, ballot issues, all of it last minute so the Dems don't have much chance to react."

In an interview with the Free Press, Haas described a system that would allow zealously partisan secretaries of state like Katherine Harris (2000, Florida) and Ken Blackwell (2004, Ohio) to manipulate elections as "fundamentally flawed." In both cases, Harris and Blackwell administered the election while serving as co-chairs of the Bush-Cheney campaigns.

Any interesting protagonist must have a love interest. Risen has the hots for a progressive photojournalist who tells him, "I am a socialist, communist, Marxist journalist of Swedish and Irish descent from the great state of Texas. And I've got a great ass." Makes me smile and remember the late, great journalist Molly Ivins. The other woman in his life is his teenage neighbor who feeds his oft-neglected cat, "Larry Bird." She's young, but politically perceptive, and has to be chastised when she tells Risen, "That secretary of state in Ohio is a bitch!"

Still, the enduring value of Haas' book resides in his keen understanding of Ohio politics. As perhaps the country's pre-eminent swing state, his depiction of Ohio political nuances and what may have happened in the 2004 election makes this book an essential read for anyone in the election protection movement.

Haas' fictional strategy discussions take on the air of insider revelations. With more than 30 years of experience as a political consultant and Clinton's Ohio campaign coordinator in 1992, he's been in on his share of top level powwows.
v On one level, the Haas novel is the ultimate Walter Mitty whistleblower fantasy. What if I told the truth in the tradition of John Dean? Haas does a better job on a practical level revealing insider politics through the eyes of Risen, a rising star as a campaign mouthpiece in his home state of Ohio. Risen works for a plain-spoken "cowboy" president bent on attacking Iraq. Despite his misgivings, and lack of any tangible facts, Risen sells the war against Iraq because the president's strategist Shay wants it as a centerpiece of the upcoming re-election campaign.

At one point, "President Kensington" becomes a singing cowboy as he discusses policy: "You say Iran, I say Iraq, let's call the whole thing off."

A former CIA agent is brought in to help with the political psychological operations needed to sell the attack on Iraq. "Any subtle phraseology could tie Iraq directly to the attacks here, if done correctly. And as soon as you start linking Iraq to freedom, you'll get a spike in the polling numbers. Spread democracy abroad – we love that shit," the ex-agent advises.

Haas admitted as well that the book also serves as a warning against the rise of an American empire. With an empire comes the inevitable "dehumanization" of people in other nations and against political opponents.

If I had to choose one novel to read on the beach this summer it would be Greg Haas' novel "The Butcher's Thumb." The facts behind his fiction should remind us all how fragile our democracy is, how easy it is to hate, and how much we need courage at this moment in history.

The Butcher's Thumb
By Greg Haas with Robert Loss
2010 iUniverse, Inc.