For most college seniors, a final project is required to conclude their strenuous undergraduate careers. For recent Yale grad and first-year College of William and Mary law student Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06, this project, the year-long senior essay, became much more than his ticket to graduation. A 50-page political science requirement served as the foundation for Kennedy-Shaffer’s 200-page critique of the Bush administration’s rhetoric regarding the war in Iraq.
After facing rejection from numerous publishing houses, Kennedy-Shaffer ultimately got the go-ahead from Universal Publishers, and “Denial and Deception: A Study of the Bush Administration’s Rhetorical Case for Invading Iraq” was published in July.
“I’ve been astonished at the incredible outpouring of support for the book,” Kennedy-Shaffer said. “The Facebook group on the book now has over 200 members.”
Although labeling President George W. Bush ’68 a bully in a published work might intimidate most writers, Kennedy-Shaffer said his passion for politics and for discovery and revelation of the truth override the inhibitions that could hinder such pursuits. At Yale, he is usually referred to as “AKS” and will long be remembered for his decision to pose naked on the cover of Rumpus magazine to further his Yale College Council campaign.
Former YCC Vice President Marissa Brittenham ’07 said Kennedy-Shaffer always “contributed his whole self” to the YCC, though some of his work caused conflict because it involved criticizing the organization itself. The nature of his book, Brittenham said, is consistent with his efforts to be a reformer and concentrate on “scandals and wrongdoings” on the YCC.
“[The book is] a very Alan kind of thing,” Brittenham said. “He was always dedicated to getting publicity for the projects he worked on.”
Merely mentioning Kennedy-Shaffer’s name to upperclassmen on campus tends to elicit various suggestive responses: raised eyebrows, long-winded sighs, nostalgic grins and snorts, or more often than not, all of the above.
Kennedy-Shaffer said his work is nothing less than an “academic study”, a statistical analysis of rhetoric and public opinion that intentionally avoids the coloring of featured material with partisanship.
The book, Kennedy-Shaffer said, is composed of three essential parts, each of which is an extension of the research he began at Yale during his senior year. The first part discusses the history of presidential rhetoric, and the second follows with a carefully constructed literature review. The review is specific to the Iraq war and the speeches Bush has delivered up until the present on the issue. The book concludes with an extensive statistical analysis comparing various accounts of the war and their subsequent effect on public opinion.
Political science professor Stanley Flink, who advised Kennedy-Shaffer’s senior project, said Kennedy-Shaffer was the kind of student who was clearly interested in the material and always contributed to discussions. The fact that Kennedy-Shaffer has become a published author less than a year out of college did not surprise Flink, both because of Kennedy-Shaffer’s passion for the subject matter and because of the changing nature of the publishing industry.
“Publishing has changed radically from the old days,” Flink said. “[Now] there are so many small publishers, and digital publishing and opportunities are greater than they used to be.”
But some who knew him during his time at Yale said they question Kennedy-Shaffer’s credibility as an authority on the subject.
“Most people I know are pretty skeptical about the whole thing,” one Davenport senior said. “How is Alan Kennedy-Shaffer qualified to write what he deems the ‘essential’ volume on Bush’s rhetoric?”
Despite such views regarding his legitimacy as a source on Bush’s rhetoric, Kennedy-Shaffer expressed a deep sense of commitment to his work. He said he views his book not only as a project that happened to expand but also a duty imposed on him by the knowledge his research uncovered. And at the end of his senior year, when his paper came to a close, he did not feel the typical relief that comes at the conclusion of a massive project. For Kennedy-Shaffer, the task was incomplete.
“I had more to say,” he said. “I felt obligated to myself to finish.”
Yet even with a book to his name, a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale and a promising legal education in his future, Kennedy-Shaffer is far from finished. He plans to use his legal education to move directly into politics and government. He admits that writing another book is a definite possibility, though he has no plans to begin a new project in the immediate future.
“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” he said. “I’m still involved in promoting ‘Denial and Deception’ and responding to people’s questions.”
Although Kennedy-Shaffer has been busy promoting his book, he has been in contact with some of the Yale professors who he said were integral to the birth of “Denial and Deception”. He spoke fondly of political science professors John Lapinski and Flink, the former helping with the statistical aspect of the project and the latter aiding Kennedy-Shaffer in the conception of the “bigger picture”.
For aspiring authors, Kennedy-Shaffer has a paradoxical recommendation: Don’t think about writing a book.
“If I had set out to write a book about the war in Iraq, I would probably not have completed it,” Kennedy-Shaffer said. “Having a much smaller goal in mind really turned into [something] much bigger.”