Local Columnists

Steve Kraske: Missouri governor candidate Eric Greitens shines brightly in new book

Former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens smiled at a rally where he announced his candidacy for Missouri governor.
Former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens smiled at a rally where he announced his candidacy for Missouri governor. The Associated Press

Eric Greitens hasn’t asked, but here’s my two cents about the next step he should take in his fledgling campaign for Missouri governor.

Send your aides out to buy as many copies of the new book Charlie Mike as you can get your hands on. With more than a million bucks in the bank, your campaign can afford a few.

Spend all that dough on the book and pass ’em out instead of doughnuts at campaign stops.

The book is an absolute gift to a candidate largely unknown in Missouri. Greitens is a former Navy SEAL who started a St. Louis-based organization called The Mission Continues, which provides paid public service fellowships for wounded veterans.

Greitens, a Rhodes scholar, learned that many fellow vets want to continue their service, and this was his answer.

The book chronicles Greitens’ path to starting this worthy organization and the success it’s had. And it does something more too — it’s a testament to Greitens’ character, resolve, tenacity and toughness. His all-American goodness just oozes forth on page after page.

All those traits, by the way, just might serve a new governor well.

The timing of the book’s release is pitch perfect too, as far as Greitens is concerned, with a publication release date next Tuesday as the race gathers momentum.

This is no campaign-produced propaganda piece. The publisher is Simon & Schuster. The author is Joe Klein, one of this country’s pre-eminent political columnists, who writes for Time and has written for The New Yorker. One of his seven books was a number one best-seller, Primary Colors, a fictional account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign that he famously wrote anonymously.

In other words, Charlie Mikea military expression meaning “continue the mission” — will sell.

Klein does something in this book that he doesn’t often do. He positively gushes, and Greitens is the beneficiary. Check it out:

▪ He’s “sure, smart and solid” and as “physically tough as anyone in the force.”

▪ Tattoos? Are you kidding me? Doesn’t drink. Not a drop.

▪ He’s a superior runner and a boxer who started with no natural skills but who kept showing up at the gym day after day, stunning his black mentor. “The trainer began to suspect that this white boy was different — diligent, respectful, able to withstand pain, stubborn as a rock,” Klein writes.

▪ Greitens spent his breaks from school working in refugee camps around the world and once worked with — who else? — Mother Teresa in Varanasi, India.

▪ In the cubicle where he toiled during his first SEAL command, Greitens dutifully removed the photos of the nearly naked women on Harleys and replaced them with quotations from Churchill and Patton and this one from Thucydides:

“Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

Got that?

Greitens’ mother could hardly have been more effusive.

The book chronicles Greitens’ handling of a drug epidemic that hit his squadron in Thailand in 2004, which the protagonist met head on. Once, when another officer questioned him, Greitens responded: “Sir, guys can’t do drugs and shoot bullets past other guys’ heads.”

At another point, he wrote an essay for a superior officer about how Emerson’s philosophies might apply to the SEALs. In his paper, Greitens challenged SEAL training and culture and ripped it for its heavy focus on sex and drinking.

The superior officer wound up calling the work “brilliant.”

“He was intent on living a life of consequence,” Klein concludes about Greitens. “He was an American anachronism, a credulous outlier in a society drifting toward cynicism.”

Klein says little about Greitens’ interest in becoming Missouri’s 56th governor. Greitens, 41, faces huge challenges in this next rung of his life. He’s never held public office. And he used to be a Democrat.

But Charlie Mike goes a long way toward papering over those problems. Greitens should hand it to every Missourian he meets.

Steve Kraske: 816-234-4312, @stevekraske