Democrazy

by Trey Radel
Reviewed by Editor

Expectations are a funny thing. They’re usually too high, or too low…expectations get us into trouble more often than not, which leads me to the tired old saw, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Sure, but we do anyway and in the interest of full disclosure here, when asked to read the “True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness & Finger Food” written by a Republican ex-congressman…I did judge. I tried not to, after all as a reviewer it’s vital to keep the book you’re tasked with reviewing at arm’s length, as far as personal impressions or feelings (or politics) go. Nevertheless I chose to accept that I had judged this book’s author, and thus the book too, but that I would try and read it with an open mind.

Damned if it didn’t work.

I have come away from Trey Radel’s book, Democrazy, with not only respect for its author but also with the sheepish admission that I enjoyed it. It read well, didn’t belabor its points, and offered smartly-arranged hops back and forth in its timeline, which kept the narrative light on its feet, not an easy task for an autobiographical book about a D.C. politician, especially one who got busted buying cocaine from an undercover copy and was pressured (forced, maybe) to resign. Okay, now that the elephant in the room has been properly identified, here’s the gist:

Trey Radel is a young man on the up and up, he’s fresh-faced, energetic and storms his way into the Grand Old Party. Quick-minded and ambitious, he snags a congressional seat in the 19th district in Florida and jets off to Washington…landing square in the snake pit. This man is not like the rest of his party, or even the other men and women on the Hill. He takes the subway to work, rocks out to all styles of music you certainly wouldn’t expect when you picture a stereotypical be-suited Republican stooge. Even the chapters are named after rock songs ranging from Public Enemy to Dinosaur, Jr.

This is a book, first and foremost, that stands as a confession by Mr. Radel

Inevitably the pitfalls begin to make themselves known to Congressman Radel: the incredible stress, the scheming and borderline fraud perpetrated by colleagues. A ‘hold the party line’ mentality that ensures nothing significant will ever be achieved…the all-nighters in garishly-lit offices, the drain on one’s energy and the strain on families. Of course, a hostile and capricious press doesn’t help. Radel sees all this and, rather than run from it, he grits his teeth and forges on…unfortunately requiring a great deal of “assistance.”

…and she runs for the shelter of her mother’s little helper…

Look, I’ll leave for the reader all the juicy tidbits about the lies and manipulations of not only the Congresspersons themselves, but all the aides, assistants, lobbyists and other hangers-on. They’re better read and digested in the belly of Radel’s book. Regular pull-quotes add nice touches throughout, keeping the tone quick and agile, and showcase the author’s voluminous knowledge not only of his former profession, but of music; nearly every kind that has jostled for chart position over the last forty years. The book, at times, does tend to skip across some moments and events where I would like to have had more detail and scene-setting. What you should know is that this book is not an exposé, at least not in its spirit. Nor is it a hatchet job, although it may have such effects on a few people still dodging vipers in the D.C. pit. This is a book, first and foremost, that stands as a confession by Mr. Radel, and that is why I liked it, despite my misgivings before I received my review copy.

The ’shame’ book, the no-mercy self-immolation is not an invention of Radel, in fact Karl Ove Knausgaard’s magnum opus My Struggle is still selling off the shelves all over the world, with books 5 and 6 still being translated. Democrazy is a Washingtonian’s variation on that theme, a self-confessed “non-writer” taking on the task of stripping away all his defenses and offering up his story of Rise and Fall without any caveats. That’s what makes this book a good read. Is Mr. Radel funny? Yes, he is, and whatever he may say, he displays solid writing skill, which will grow if he commits to it. Now out of D.C. and glad to be, he’s got the time to do it. Is it all the stories and damning portrayals of how corrupt our halls of power have become? Well sure, that’s enjoyable…but that’s not it either. To me it’s the nakedness of Radel’s confession, his unwillingness to offer up a single excuse for his decline and fall from power, that makes Democrazy an entertaining and, at times, a moving read.

When I sat down to speak with Mr. Radel, he mentioned that he hoped if nothing else his son might read the book and not only avoid his father’s mistakes, but with any luck, will understand what happened in those tumultuous months and that his father was just a man in a snake pit, who got bitten a few too many times.