Must-reads of 2012: politics

What you should have read (in case you didn’t)

As 2012 draws to a close, CJR writers brainstormed the year’s best reads in their beats.

From New York magazine, ”The Romney Economy”, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells. We’re cheating a bit here (the story actually ran in late 2011), but this well-reported piece is one of the most nuanced looks we came across at what Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital actually did, and how the rise of private equity shaped far-reaching developments in the American economy. Reihan Salam’s National Review essay, “Let Us Now Praise Private Equity,” is a good companion piece, offering an articulate defense of the Bain way. And while Wallace-Wells’s article ran before the Bain-related rhetoric really started flying, Steve Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivered a measured, richly reported look at Bain’s management of one clothing chain that set a high bar for scrutiny of campaign claims.

“The Obama Memos: The making of a post-partisan Presidency,” by The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. This article isn’t as flashy as Lizza’s epic 2008 story on Obama’s political raise in Chicago, but it’s full of insights about the factors shaping Obama’s presidency and anchored around a reporting scoop, an important stimulus policy memo from Larry Summers to Obama before inauguration.

Alec MacGillis did a lot of great reporting in Ohio this year for The New Republic, and this big-picture look at the swing state’s political landscape is among his best. Also excellent: this piece on Romney benefactor and CEO of Murray Energy, Robert Murray, and ”his surprisingly generous employees.”

”How Nonprofits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare.” Kim Barker’s exhaustive investigation for ProPublica of “the darkest corner of American political fundraising” was the standout story in a strong body of work.

Sasha Issenberg’s “Victory Lab” corpus at Slate, from a trend-setting February piece on the Obama campaign’s “Narwhal” program to a series of fall posts on Democrats’ voter-registration and turnout strategies. And, while we admit we haven’t yet read it, Issenberg’s three-part series for MIT’s Technology Review, “A More Perfect Union. How President Obama’s campaign used big data to rally individual voters,” looks promising.

Molly Ball’s Atlanticpiece, “Obama’s Edge: The Ground Game That Could Put Him Over the Top”, was a standout effort on an oft-attempted story, and an example of how to do strategy/tactics reporting without falling for the consultants’ schtick. More recent, deep-dive reporting from Ball: “The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year’s Epic Campaign for Gay Equality.”

And, of course, The Onion on “The Vice-Presidency of Joe Biden”. Because, “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway.”

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Liz Cox Barrett and Greg Marx are CJR staff writers and co-editors of The Swing States Project. Tags: , , , , ,