The cover art of A New Kind of Party Animal says it all. There is a picture of a greenish gray backpack, the kind students carry books in with four buttons and an American Flag on it. The top button says VOTE in big letters over an American Flag theme background. In a row below that one are three buttons. Two are red, white and blue, the left one being a donkey with one star and the othe being an elephant with three stars. The rightmost button is a blue and brown mother earth, as seen from high orbit with no clouds. Across the front pocket is the subtitle 'How the Young Are Redefining "Politics as Usual"'. There is a light sprinkling of red, white and blue confetti above the author's name, Michele Mitchell.

Michele Mitchell got out of College somewhere in the early 1990s, and went straight to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where she landed a job as a House Staffer. She talks about cutting her teeth there on the healthcare debate, where the Congress played cynical games to pit one generation against another so that they could curry favor with the seniors that do vote at the expense of the young that don't get it yet. To make sure your blood is boiling, she goes through a similar explanation of what happened on the Social Security question a year or two later. Mitchell spares no pains to make it plain that a lot of what goes on in Washington is driven by the need to look good for the sound bite on the evening news.

For a more positive idea about what politics should be, she points to people like Quillie Coath, Jr., of Durham, North Carolina and Kim Alexander of Sacramento. Quillie runs a P.R.O.U.D. (Personal Responsibility To Overcome with Understanding and Determination) Program that is all about taking troubled youth and giving them an after school environment where they have positive opportunities. Kim Alexander is working to make Democracy more transparent through her website ( and nonprofit, The California Voter Foundation. Both of these peoples examples, and several others, make the case that solving our problems won't be done by finding a better sound bite, but rather by digging in and making a difference in the lives of ordinary people in the community.

Particularly interesting to me is the way Mitchell describes how language works on Capitol Hill. She explains how many people work there for a couple of years and then have a "come to Jesus moment." At that point they either "drink the cool aid" or get fed up and go on to something else. She has some unflattering descriptions of people that have bottles of Scotch in their desks to help them through their moments of guilt about having been on Capitol Hill too long. If you want some insight into how it feels to be a twenty something foot soldier in the Washington system, this book is a must read.

Tian Harter

I mailed A New Kind of Party Animal to a new kind of party animal not long after I took this picture.