Behind most politicians are a bunch of young, overworked, tired and randy staffers, says Lisa Baron, author of the new memoir, “LIFE OF THE PARTY: A Political Press Tart Bares All.”
Baron, who served as a communications and press adviser for several high profile political figures such as California Rep. Darrell Issa, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, spent her early twenties as a sleep-deprived but eager young employee.
Another career highlight for Baron was working for former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, but if you ask her whether it’s true that he told voters that Sen. John McCain fathered a black child, she only has one thing to say.
“How would I know? I was in a Greenville hotel room giving Ari Fleischer [oral sex],” Baron would say.
The uninhibited, honest book, which begins with an anecdote about her sexcapade with former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, takes readers through Baron’s life as a tenacious, underpaid communications staffer who loves politics but encounters many speed bumps on the job.
As a hard partying twenty-something, Baron learns how to work with staunch conservatives who can’t understand her lifestyle.
A Los Angeles-born Jewish girl, Baron appears skeptical of certain religious beliefs, one being that God can inspire humans to make significant decisions and contributions. Though Baron gets into some trouble during her career for staying out late the night before work and writing an eyebrow raising sex column, her passion for politics helps her remain a fun-loving “press tart.”
Baron, whose memoir hit bookshelves on Tuesday, recently agreed to answer some questions about the work.
1. Life of the Party opens with a tryst between you and President George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. Does he know about your book? What do you imagine his reaction to be?
I suspect he’s heard about the book but I haven’t been in touch with Ari since that fateful day in South Carolina. In fact, he still owes me a call back from the message I left him at his office in 1999.
2. Why did you decide to write this book?
I wanted to write a book that explored the idea of professional self-sufficiency in a world full of surprises, instability and scandal. I’m talking of course about the wild world of politics and in my case – southern fried evangelical politics. This idea is particularly relevant into today’s world where politicians are resigning left and right (literally and figuratively) due to infidelity and indiscretion.
We all know what happens to the politician: They hold an embarrassing press conference and then get a talk show. But what happens to the staff? The book looks at what happens when you rely on a boss or a colleague to advance professionally.
As a result of my campaign experience, I learned to carve out my own career path, once away from the bright lights and spotlight of politics and I hope the book encourages others who find themselves similarly disillusioned with whatever line of work they are in to do the same.
3. During your tenure as his longtime press secretary, Ralph Reed set you up on a blind date — with a guy who exposed himself and essentially sexually harassed you on your date. You say you didn’t make a big deal about it because you didn’t want to hurt your career or Reed’s image. Do you think this is something young women must endure early in their political careers?
Sexual harassment is not funny and should be treated seriously and swiftly. On the other hand, Life of the Party is a decidedly light-hearted look at the life of a young girl in politics who started a career in the midst of a political financial scandal, got caught up in some scandal of my own and ended my career as a result of my boss being ensnared in a massive lobbying scandal.
Why did someone else’s bad choice end my career? Because in politics, when the politician you work for wins, your career advances. If they lose, your career stalls out. Potential candidates believe that your former association with loss may somehow rub off on their aspirations. So in politics, just like in Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last performance.
I didn’t want to tell Ralph that I saw the man-bits of the man he set me up on a date with because I was horrified to talk about anything of a sexual nature with my boss, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. As karma would have it, I wasn’t getting off that easy and I ended up having some explaining of the sexual nature to do years later, to Ralph about my girl parts (see Chapter 23: My Burning Bush).
4. In your book, you say you spent much of your twenties avoiding serious relationships. Do you think the death of your biological father had any impact on this?
My twenties remain a bit foggy for me. That being said, I am a girl who worked in a very male-dominated world. That’s why I was focused solely on career and wasn’t too interested in maintaining relationships. I wanted the company of a man, not the complications.
5. Do you think you could have worked with Ralph Reed forever?
If Ralph had won his campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia, I am confident that I would’ve stayed on his team in some capacity. But I also believe that everything happens for a reason and I am thrilled to be a published author with the freedom to express my own views, thoughts and opinions (as opposed to my former role in which I was paid to speak for others.)
6. What do you hope readers take away from your book?
This isn’t just my story. Yes, I open the book in a, shall we say, ‘compromising position’. And then I write about getting sick in Wayne Newton’s trailer on election night 2000. And I share the story of how I become the spokesperson for Ralph Reed during The Jack Abramoff scandal.
But this is the story of any young professional in a job where the hours are long, pay is low, stakes are high and sometimes they are too.
7. Have you slowed down since your wild “press tart” days?
The memoir begins with me in my twenties in a hotel room and ends with me in my thirties, married and expecting our first child. Today my son is four years old and my husband and I are working on more! If you are a mom, then you know that your first day getting up with the baby after too much red wine the night before, is also your last!
8. Do you regret any of your behavior?
A life of no regrets strikes me as impossible. So I try to live a life with as few regrets as possible. That said, I certainly don’t regret getting all of the partying and playing out of my system at a young age. While my life is vastly different now than it was 15 years ago, I look back on my time in politics as the greatest of experiences of my life. I made some of my best friends and saw the country in a way few Americans have.
9. How do you define yourself now that you’re no longer a “press tart”?
Peaceful, happy and in charge of my own destiny!