AN INTERVIEW WITH BARTON SWAIM …
Swaim worked for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford during his second term in office – witnessing his dramatic 2009 political implosion. He’s currently with the S.C. Policy Council, a group which supports many of the limited government reforms Sanford once championed.
But not anymore …
Elected to the U.S. Congress in 2013, Sanford has become just another status quo sellout. The embodiment of everything he used to rail against.
There’s a reason Swaim’s book – published by Simon and Schuster – is receiving rave reviews, too. It’s brilliant. It’s not a “tell-all,” nor is it even really an attack on Sanford. Instead, “The Speechwriter” is a dead-on depiction of life inside a modern day political spin room – with Swaim demonstrating on every page the supreme talent he brought to the table.
Talent which Sanford wasted …
As for the politician chronicled by the book? Swaim nails him. “The Speechwriter” doesn’t just provide us the occasional glimpse into Sanford’s confounding eccentricities and chronic narcissism – it literally exposes the flawed essence of the man.
And unlike a lot of those perusing its pages, we speak from experience.
FITS founding editor Will Folks – who served as Sanford’s press secretary from 2001-2005 – conducted a brief interview with Swaim on the occasion of his book’s release.
Here’s that exchange …
WILL FOLKS: Before we get into this I’ve got to ask … why the fake names? Everybody knows who “the governor” is, obviously, but why the secrecy on the other characters?
BARTON SWAIM: Not using the governor’s name was my way of saying, ‘This story isn’t about Mark Sanford.’ It’s about me and what I learned about politics. Why the other fake names? Well, the highfalutin answer is: Because I wanted to somehow universalize the story — to make it about something bigger than South Carolina politics in the 2000s. The plainer answer: Because using pseudonyms is more fun. I mean, right?
WILL FOLKS: Your book’s gotten some love from some pretty big names. How’d you get the manuscript in their hands? And were you surprised to see so many noted authors and big-name politicos chiming in so favorably?
BARTON SWAIM: I told a friend in New York that I had written this, and he put me in touch with an editor, and before long it was accepted. None of it happened through the normal channels — I don’t even have an agent.
Now, was I surprised that big name politicos like it? Sure I was. But then, that’s why I labored over this short book for several years — I wanted and expected it to be read and appreciated by a lot of people, including the guys with the big names. We write to be read, don’t we?
WILL FOLKS: So your book has already been blasted – albeit passive-aggressively – by none other than Mark Sanford. He says you were never part of his “circle of trust,” basically implying that you couldn’t possibly know what you’re talking about. What did you think of his comments?
BARTON SWAIM: I can’t blame Sanford for being prickly about it. At the time, all he or anybody else had access to was the promo material — they didn’t know what was in the book. But nobody is going to read this book and think it’s a hit-job on Sanford. He should relax — it’s not going to do him any damage, and anyhow he’s vastly more capable of inflicting damage on Mark Sanford’s political career than I ever will be.
Still, it’s true what he said. I wasn’t part of his “inner circle.” Nor do I claim that I was. I guess he’s assuming that someone would write a book about the allegedly important decisions made by the inner circle of the Sanford administration. Please. Who would even publish such a book?
WILL FOLKS: You’ve got Mark Sanford absolutely nailed in terms of his mannerisms, demeanor, speech patterns, eccentricities, etc. Reading your book was like stepping into a time machine and being back inside his office again – for which I have to say I hate you a little bit. Are you hearing that from other people, though, how well you captured him?
BARTON SWAIM: Yeah, but it was my job to study the guy’s word choice for four years. If I didn’t get him right, I wouldn’t have been much of a speechwriter I guess.
But what I really hope is that I captured Jakie Knotts’ speech patterns too. Maybe I’ll hear from him?
WILL FOLKS: Since going back to Congress Mark Sanford has endorsed fiscally liberal Speaker John Boehner, embraced the market-distorting Export-Import Bank and voted to give Barack Obama fast track power to ram a crony capitalist trade deal through Congress. What do you think of this latest stage in the ongoing ideological evolution of the “Luv Gov?” And what – if anything – is next for him politically?
BARTON SWAIM: “Don’t avoid the question” is great advice, and I try to follow it. But in this case I’m going to duck out. I gather Sanford ran for Congress because he just can’t stay out of politics, but beyond that I don’t know what he’s up to, and I leave it to the voters of the first district to figure out.