Cleland is a warrior in the truest definition of the term, but he's best known for the battles he's waged on floor of the U.S. Senate and in the power parlors of
His is an unlikely journey that begins in the small town of
For any Baby Boomer familiar with Cleland's story, the turning point in his life came in the crucible of
The image of Cleland chasing a Secret Service agent in his wheelchair to deliver a letter protesting the Kerry attack ads is straight out of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Cleland recounts the horrors of the months he spent at Walter Reed and the respect he has for the physical therapists that helped him regain mobility. Physical therapy isn't easy and Cleland's words make you feel the pain right along with him. And when he describes the nights spent in the amputee ward you can almost hear the moans of the wounded and taste the stench of disinfectant on your tongue. It's powerful prose that helps you understand his absolute desperation to get back his life.
When he is finally discharged he's still a young man with nowhere to go. He returns home to his high school bedroom and the life he left behind. It's here that he encounters an even larger foe than the Viet Cong. Depression takes over and he self-medicates with alcohol and everything that comes with it. Rehab follows. What comes with it is the revelation that since no one in tiny
He runs and - and wins - a seat in the Georgia Senate and begins a 40-year career in politics. Stops along the way take him through several successful and unsuccessful political campaigns on the state and national level. We're also treated to behind-the-scenes anecdotes about political figures ranging from Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush, to Senators Kerry, Byrd and Kennedy.
You'll wonder why no major news outlet has picked up on his Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky story. It's the type of tabloid tale that usually sends everyone from The Huffington Post to Matt Drudge into overdrive. I won't spoil it for you here, but it does shed some light on the scandal that led to
Cleland is a life-long Democrat and this donkey brays when given the opportunity. He so deeply regrets his vote to enter the
"I have dreamed many dreams that have never come true,
I've watched them vanish at dawn.
But I've realized enough of my dreams, thank God,
To make me want to dream on."
Max Cleland with Ben Raines, from Heart of a Patriot
His story of campaigning for Senator John Kerry and the Swift Boat attacks that ultimately sank his run for the presidency is political drama at its best (or worst). The image of Cleland chasing a Secret Service agent in his wheelchair to deliver a letter protesting the Kerry attack ads is straight out of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Cleland speaks often of trying to be "strong at the broken places". It's more than metaphor. It's a mantra and call to action for himself and a generation. Max Cleland's memoir shows the full measure of a patriot, but most of all it tells the story of someone who gets up when he is knocked down by using whatever means he can.
Author: Max Cleland with Ben Raines
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Penned: October 2009
Time Out: At 259 pages, it's a quick read with an uplifting message.
Beach Worthy: It's a little chilly at the beach right now. I'd advise cracking this one open with a nice glass of port while sitting beside a roaring fire.
Available: $17.16 from Amazon.com (hardcover)